Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Module 6: Universal Design for Learning/Assistive Technologies

The world isn't equally accessible to all people. There are many challenges that we have to be able to function and succeed in our worldly activities.  In the past, people have tended to emphasize the deficits in others' ability to function in the world. This has led to always talking about people being handicapped and disabled. This can cause a great divide between groups. 

Here is a TED Talk (TEDMED) video of Emilee Mullins who talks about what the term, disabled, means to her. She is a double amputee who is an Olympian runner and motivational speaker.  This will cause you to rethink your perspective of what it means to be called "disabled."

Having Special Needs
Consider, if you will, that all humans have special needs. It is just a matter of degree. It might be the need for glasses for reading, the need for an auditory reader because someone has vision problems or the need for alternate means of communicating because someone has Lou Gehrig's disease or cerebral palsy.  As we get older, we might review articles on our computer screens at 150% so that they are easier to read.  It's all a matter of degree.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a combination of pedagogy and technique that acknowledges the different levels of needs. UDL uses brain-based research to identify the need for addressing multiple methods of representation, expression and engagement of learners with information and knowledge. It involves instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments. 

The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) is a leader in the field of UDL. Here is 5-minute introductory video on UDL.

UDL is all about presenting new ideas through different perspectives. Here is a Canadian Star Trek video perspective about UDL. Watch this and decide if it is an effective method for representing information in another format.

How do you feel about UDL now?  Did you understand what the videos were trying to convey?  Was one video more effective than the other?  Is it enough to just represent information in a different manner or does design play into the situation as well?

Do you think that you know enough to integrate it into your teaching environment?  Maybe watching videos about information is not your favorite means of learning.  In the spirit of UDL, here is an informative article entitled  Technology and Learning: Meeting Special Student's Needs (.pdf)  It might look a little familiar but it is a great parallel with the video.


For Visual Learners, this UDL Infographic depicts the various cognitive areas of UDL, applications and resources that you may find useful in your classroom. 

The Difference between Universal Design for Learning and Traditional Education
So what is the difference between UDL and K-12 Traditional Education?  You need to understand that before you can even hope to implement it into your classroom.  The Understood Team created a useful chart to compare the two approaches.  Review it with your classroom (or learning/teaching experience) in mind. It addresses a number of aspects including focus, accommodations, classroom setup, and grading. 

Applying UDL in Higher Education
Now that you have developed a foundation about UDL, how can it be applied in the real world classroom?  The answer is not direct. It all depends upon the learning situation that is involved. Read/watch these resources to see some best practice and good ideas for integrating UDL into course design.  Both of them are situated in a post-secondary learning environment (Notice the diversity you non-NK12 Teacher candidates), but consider how these strategies might work at the lower levels.

San Francisco State University is a leader in using UDL in Higher Education. They created a website that addresses how to UDL could be applied on campus entitled Using UDL on Campus.  This is a 30-minute workshop on using UDL in your teaching. You don't have to complete the workshop, but the support documents are what give it depth. You will see that they follow the UDL principles by sharing the information in video, audio and printed formats. They even deepen the content by providing videos of case stories. Use the Quick Links on the side to find a wealth of additional information.    

Differentiated Learning
Recognizing that students have varying backgrounds, levels of readiness, preferences in learning, and interests is important if you are going to be able to address their needs. You will need to Differentiate your teaching styles to address their learning needs. You try to meet students where they are from an educational perspective. UDL is a strategy that is based upon differentiated learning and teaching. Read this article, Differentiated Instruction and Implications for UDL Implementation, to see how these strategies work together.

Assistive Technology
While UDL involves strategies to benefit all learners, Assistive Technologies (AT) are devices (some electronic and some not) that increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. UDL is a teaching practice while AT is something that you can touch. 

There are many Types of Assistive Technologies. (These technologies are grouped by manufacturers but they are explained on each of the websites.)  Not all AT are electronic, but this list includes a variety of ways that people can interact with technology to function in the world. They may involve input devices that control computers using a variety of methods. They may be output devices that allow computers to communicate with people through Braille, voice, visual representation or even physical activity. 

Examples of UDL and Assistive Technologies

iPads in the Special Ed Classroom
This is a blog run by a special education educator. This page is a treasure-trove of resources. It explains a variety of benefits of using tablets (yes, I know that it is iPad-based, but think "tablet") as computing tools for students. These are from the teacher's, student's and education's points of view. Explore the many resources in the right column as well.

Universal Design in the Workplace
Universal Design can refer to learning or it can refer to accessibility in the workplace. This can mean a great deal when we want to make the workplace a welcoming environment for people with special needs. While UDL has 3 areas of implementation, UDW (UD in the Workplace) has 3 as well: 1) Workplace environment, 2) Workplace technologies, and 3) Workplace policies and tasks.

How Do We Apply Universal Design for Learning?
Now that you have been introduced to UDL and experienced the needs for using such strategies, the question remains about "How to implement UDL strategies." The Readings and Watchings that you just completed will provide a strong foundation for the activities that you will be completing for your assignment.

Return to your eLearning Module 6 to receive your specifics for the Assignment.

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