Monday, March 26, 2012

Universal Design for Learning = Learning Transparency

I have been teaching for many years; first as a studio art teacher and then later moving to higher education. In art class, I noticed that my students learned in varied ways, all reaching the same content knowledge but taking their own path to get there. My job was to set the learning goal and teach the students how to use the tools for learning. Once the students had the tools and knew how to use them, they created their own individual learning path to the end point. They were able to show me that they had accomplished the learning goal. What was wonderful in art is that the process of learning was transparent.

Once provided with the knowhow and tools, you could see the student work their way through problem solving; however, when I transitioned to higher education, I realized that this process that was so effective in art was missing. The process was not very transparent and the tools for learning were and are often one note- texts to read. By exploring tools that could be used to make the process more transparent, I became an advocate of the theory of Universal Design for Learning. Rooted in architectural theory of creating open physical access to everyone, UDL provides open access to tools for learning. In the same way curb cuts, elevators, ramps and automatic doors have been seamlessly embedded into public buildings to make access easier for all people, so does Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL seamlessly embeds accommodations/tools into the learning environment. UDL is based upon cognitive research that advances the findings that our brains take in information in three ways: recognition learning, strategic learning and affective learning. In order to truly learn something it should be presented in three ways, so students can:

• Recognize it through multi-modal presentation
• Work with the information through expression and apprenticeship
• Engage actively with information to apply it
(Center for Applied Special Technology; Teaching every child in the digital age).

Translation: it is the ability to identify objects/concepts, act upon these objects/concepts and attach significance to objects/concepts that connotes true understanding.

How is this done through UDL? UDL can be accomplished by seamlessly embedding the teaching and learning with multiple modalities of informational delivery, technology, materials/tools for knowing. Students work with technology, with traditional and modified materials and across discipline boundaries to explore information and visibly show what they know. Learning is accommodated so that the process of learning becomes transparent. Using video, MP3 audio recording, (free graphic organizers on the web for brain storming), text to speech screen readers, and IM chat can all serve as tools that make taking an online class more accessible for students. Offering the students the option to create online presentations using PowerPoint , mp3 and/or opening up a virtual classroom with a SmartBoard online can create a multimodal experience for students to show what they know.

The use of accommodations or assistive technologies are often pigeon holed into being centric to students with disability; UDL contends that the use of assistive technology and accommodations universally assists all students to achieve at their highest level. UDL asks the professor to move from center stage and allow students to work through materials using varied tools for learning and showing knowledge. The professor becomes the guide stewarding the student towards clearly set learning goals.

Please contact me if you would like more information about how you can create a UDL teaching environment. On June 1st , Angie Millman and I will be presenting on UDL at the Emerging Learning Design Conference at MSU. Hope you can join us.


Center for Applied Special Technology: CAST. org

Rose, D., Meyer, A.(2002). Teaching every student in the digital age. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Rose, D. Meyer, A., Hitchcock, C. (2005). The universally designed classroom. Accessible curriculum and technologies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Educational Publishing Group.