Universal Design for Learning and Innovation Blog
My burning question: How can educators design
their classes to be more inclusive to benefit a
greater number of students?
My First Formal Teaching Experience:
I remember back in one of my first teaching placements while doing my Bachelor of Education through Trent University when my practicum advisor told me that I was too creative. As if creativity in education was a bad thing. He liked practical activities straight out of the textbook. He was afraid of trying new things, and hated the fact that I was comfortable coming up with my own activities for the grade 5 class that we were co-teaching. I had a horrible experience with this practicum advisor as he always assessed my lesson plans negatively when I strayed from the textbook, even though I made it clear in my lessons plans that I was following the Ontario curriculum. In my next classroom placement my mentor or practicum advisor loved all of the creative poems, games, and math activities I came up with for her grade 1 class. She even brought the principal and other teachers in to see one my classroom activities as it involved reading while making sock puppets. Then this activity led to students creating stories with the sock puppets they had created. The students seemed to appreciate this creative style I used too, which was the most satisfying moment of that teaching placement. I always wondered why the first teacher I worked with was so resistant to creative teaching practices. He wasn't a bad teacher, and he cared about his students, but he was afraid. He didn't hate me, he feared the way I taught. If he had to come up with his own ideas, they might not work, and he might fail in the process. I know I have, but I keep trying new methods anyway.
Creativity and UDL:
In the cover for this blog page, I use a bowling lane to represent Universal Design for Learning. This is reference to Shelley Moore's (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYtUlU8MjlY) analogy that teaching is like professional bowling. To reach the outside pins, or marginalized students, we have to throw the ball at an angle, or get creative to try and reach the hardest to reach students, while reaching all of the other students as well. This doesn't happen by simply repeating things from a textbook or following a syllabus that was not made for your students. It involves knowing your students and coming up with creative solutions never thought of before. I'm not saying you have to have the most creative ideas to be a successful educator, but you need to overcome the illusion that practicality is better than creativity, it's not. Mueller, J.S., Melwani, S., & Goncalo, J.A. (2012), in their article "The bias against creativity: Why people desire but reject creative ideas" in the journal of Psychological Science, demonstrate that uncertainty creates a bias against creative practice and causes people to fear creativity. As educators we need to embrace uncertainty to encourage creative practices. We also need to inspire others to lean towards creativity in the face of uncertainty. Otherwise, we keep educating some of the same types of students while completely ignoring others. That sock puppet activity that I tried and was afraid might fail benefitted two underachieving readers in the class who were extra motivated to read for the first time. Had I stuck to the textbook, I may have missed their potential for reading.
Mueller, J.S., Melwai, S., & Goncalo, J.A. (2012). The bias against creativity: Why people desire but reject creative ideas. Psychological Science, 23(1), 13–17. doi: 10.1177/0956797611421018
SSHRC-CRSH, Shelley Moore: Transforming Inclusive Education:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYtUlU8MjlY Published on Apr 4, 2016
This picture was created by OPSEU (the union representing teachers in the last provincial college strike) in response to Don Sinclair's (A representative from the college council) response that the future of teaching is unclear in a gig economy and some jobs might be replaced by machines. For more rediculous statements by Don Sinclair, this is a link to the audio in which these statements are provided.
Teaching with Emotion
Werner (2016), although referring to the study of global issues, states:
"Expressions of feeling-such as surprise, anger, wonder, uncertainty, awe, consternation, commitment engage the interest and imagination of students, extend their involvement with the subject matter, and imbue the curriculum with the kind of personal significance that impels rather than hinders learning" (194)
Students should be excited to take part in lively discussions, group projects, and case studies. Too often in computer courses, from my experience, the teachers become like robots, simply allowing students access to learning/testing software and allowing the software to do the teaching. I know I have fallen into this trap before when using this kind of software. It's easy to do. What teacher wouldn't want a software program to do all of the marking for them? The problem is the student experience and achievement. Letting a student learn on their own from a computer program doesn't infuse them with excitement for the course or the subject matter. The computer program does the bare minimum, and it shows with student achievement. In these computer programs at my school there is a standardized, and internationally recognized Microsoft Office Specialist Exam. If the student scores over 70% they officially become certified. The problem is that only half of the students in all of the classes being taught at our school achieve this score. Meaning that only half of the students in the class can use this certification to advance their careers once they graduate. To me, this number is unacceptable and I plan to make sure that at least 80 percent (or more) of my students achieve this certificate at the end of this semester by infusing emotion into it and by not relying on the GMetrix computer software to run my classes.
I have tried to focus on all UDL guidelines to help my students this semester, but more specifically, the engagement guidelines.
Emotional Investment and UDL
I started to provide students with more choices in class, whether that is the choice between which case study they would like to tackle, or the choice in how to learn the content best. They might choose a tutorial video, PowerPoint presentation, group work, or through a game (although, many prefer a tutorial video or game). This helps with the first two guidelines, but I believe infusing emotions and passion into the course really help to minimize distractions, which is the third sub-guideline in the engagement category. If you remember watching a movie, t.v. series, or sporting event that you were emotionally invested in, it would have been pretty difficult to distract you or you might feel like attacking anyone who does try and distract (nothing can distract me during Game of Thrones). By showing excitement for Microsoft Excel and providing students with challenging and engaging case studies, I limit the potential distractions and threats to my students' learning.
The results so far have been great! Every single student in the class reached over 70% on the midterm which is very similar to their final, certification exam. I hope to keep students engaged for their benefit and achievement on their final exam. Without emotion, one cannot hope to reach all students.
Werner, W. (2016). Teaching for hope. In R. Case & P. Clark (Eds.), The anthology of social studies: Issues and strategies for secondary teachers (Updated ed., pp. 193–197). Vancouver, BC: The Critical Thinking Consortium.
There is an example of a Kahoot quiz from both the teacher and student perspective that I created above.
If you have ever tried using a student response system such as Nearpod, Poll Everywhere, Kahoot, or Socrative, you might find that these are fun ways to gather information from students that include: quizzes, discussions, and poll questions. It is amazing to see student responses live that can be anonymous or not.
The only problem with this is that it isn't usually followed with any specific pedagogy in mind. If you ask a teacher what the student benefit of using this is, they might tell it's fun, or the students love using it, but if asking about what the true learning benefit is, or does the technology replace older methods like having students write responses on the board, or leaving sticky note responses, this will be tough to answer.
Another issue is that not all tablets and cell phones are created equal. I have used Kahoot quizzes and have accidentally left out students who still use flip phones that aren't internet friendly. Illac (1970) writes, in his article "Why We Must Abolish Schooling," when speaking about the disadvantage of that low-income students face in schools, "it is not their access to traditional schooling that separates them, it is their access to things like 'conversation and books in the home to vacation travel and a different sense of oneself'”. Things have changed since the 1970s, but there are still students who have less resources than others outside of the classroom. In the context of student response systems, they may not have equal access to cell phones and tablets required to engage in these activities. One should not assume that we all have equally working cellphones to make these activities work.
Therefore, two questions need to be kept in mind when designing lesson plans that involve student response systems: First of all, What is the point of the activity and is helping students learn? If you want students to strictly remember facts in a fun way, then student response systems are great, but they don't involve higher order critical thinking so we need to keep that in mind. Secondly, do the students have equal access to engage in the activity? Assuming that students have equal access to the activity would be reckless and inaccurate. Tablets and laptops could be provided before hand by the school library (hopefully).
Illich, I. (1970, July 2). Why we must abolish schooling. The New York Review of Books, 15(1), 9–15.
Based on talks I have had with colleagues, they like the idea of Universal Design for Learning, but are worried that it might create a lot more work for themselves. This makes sense. As educators, we have a lot of work to do between marking, prepping, and attending weekly/monthly meeting on top of active teaching hours. However, designing a course around UDL principals does not have to a lot of extra work if given the appropriate resources. This led me to find three of the best websites for providing educators for universal design in the classroom.
1.CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology):
CAST offers some training courses for educators who are serious about UDL design. Although, I am not impressed with the $1000 price tag considering the courses are not given by an official and accredited university or college. However, there are some interesting case studies and resources for parents and teachers on universal design in the classroom.
2. National Center on Universal Design for Learning
This website is probably the most impressive out of the three I have provided. Resource links and examples are attached to each UDL guideline. Multiple resources or teaching tools are provided to educators to help their students meet all of the UDL guidelines and checkpoints.
3. UDL on Campus:
This website focuses on UDL in higher education. I found the section on what to consider when creating a syllabus to be very helpful. There is even a training video provided to go over how to make your syllabus more accessible to all students.
These three website gave me a few ideas on how to improve my course and syllabus design to better meet the needs of all students. Click on the titles above to go to these websites. If you are reading this and know of any other resources for UDL guidelines, let me know in the comments section!
As educators, how do we know we are doing what is best for our students? An easy answer is that we don't, but another possible solution is being mindful of who they are and how to teach them based on their own skills, background, age, and all kinds of experiences that make up the unique individuals in your classroom. In his article, “Teaching as Contemplative Professional Practice,” Flakenbeg (2012), asks teachers to be mindful of their students in a similar way that someone practicing meditation is aware of their breathing and inner thoughts. This is great while teaching, but one can assume with more experience we all get better at this with more teaching experience. It's all about knowing your audience and after a few years of teaching, it becomes easier to be aware of your audience during a lecture or class discussion. While being mindful is important during class, what about after, and what about this reflection thing that we keep telling our students to do, but we never have time to do for ourselves?
Self-Auditing for Student Success
I am a big believer in that education is never a perfect science, and we are always learning and improving our methods to best suit the needs of our ever-changing groups of students. Based on Kolb's (1984) work, and his learning cycle, we know that learning is the process of experience and reflection (Kolb, 1984, p. 38). This is why educators ask students to reflect on their experiences in the classroom. The question is, how often do teachers and instructors actually do this? Upon thinking about this, I realized that I don't take as much time to reflect after my classes on what went well, what went poorly, and how can I improve my teaching methods to be more inclusive by matching the UDL guidelines. I recently created my own self-audit or self-regulation worksheet with Excel and it has helped me to take a more student-focused approach in my Microsoft Excel class. See what I did there? I used Excel to track my Excel class marks. You could call this Excel inception!
This organizer helps me to organize my journal notes so I can self-assess and improve my lesson design if it could be more inclusive. This took a bit of work to organize, but is paying off by keeping me aware of what is working and what isn't in my teaching strategies. For the full workbook, click on the file below to download.
Teaching is a humbling profession. What works well with one group of students may not work so well for another. Also, it is hard to tell when to instruct, scaffold, or allow students to self-inquire and discover the contents of the subject for themselves. Teaching is not always an exact science. On the bright side, this allows educators to be creative to find new solutions.
Recently, while teaching in my Microsoft Excel class, I found myself over-teaching/instructing when I should have been facilitating instead. I instructed my students how to complete a task, they were given exact instructions on how to complete the task, and I even went around to help those students who needed it-and there was a lot of them! The instruction I had provided at the class did not help. One might assume that the students needed more instruction or clarification but I found out in my next class that the opposite was true. I gave out a similar task at the beginning of class and gave no instructions, and no talk on how to complete the task. The only thing I offered was a picture of an order form I had created in Excel and told my students they needed to use the same information and either duplicate a similar design, or be creative with the formatting to create something new. Below was the example I provided.
I was a little worried at first that this would be too challenging for my students and we had just begun exploring formatting options in Excel. However, they seemed completely engaged in the activity and were able to complete the task in one class. The best thing was, they did not need my help either. Like a puzzle, they were able to put the pieces together without my help. Below is an example:
Some produced a copy of the order form that was very similar to mine, which was acceptable and encouraged. Some students even chose to create a different design such as the one below:
This was a creative example and demonstrated to me that perhaps I was over teaching/instructing in my previous class. Letting students create their own order form allowed them to come up with a product, while being engaged in the process. By offering students a choice to try and duplicate the source file or come up with something new, the students had the multiple options to complete the task which falls under the "Provide Multiple Means of Engagement" section of the UDL guidelines.
Educators should try and be creative and design their class like a puzzle to be solved. Just like a puzzle, varying strategies may exist to get to the same end goal. You wouldn't over instruct someone on how to complete a puzzle because where is the fun in that?
Have you ever sat through a lecture, or presentation at a meeting and thought, "Did the presenter forget there would be actual people watching this"? Maybe because the presentation is boring, the background and text contrast is awful, the font is too small, there is too much text, or the person is simply reading from his/her slides. Here is a hilarious example of what I am talking about, and I have definitely seen way too many presentations like this by Don McMillan:
Check for Accessibility
Some of the mistakes that presenters make, as Don Mcmillan demonstrated in the video above, can be found by clicking on a new button in PowerPoint called the "Check for Accessibility," which can be found in the backstage view of PowerPoint. When I have used this, it has pointed out when my contrast between text and background could be improved, when font is too small for the audience, and suggests when other elements such as images, graphs, tables, or other visual content can be improved with the consideration for people with various disabilities.
Don't Blame PowerPoint, Blame the Presenter
Despite all of the options we have available to us with presentation software such as prezi, keynote, emaze, Haiku Deck, PowerPoint is still the best presentation software if you know how to use it.
Below I will demonstrate all of the ways that help to make your presentations more inclusive while using PowerPoint to provide the first guideline to UDL principles-"Provide Multiple Means of Representation," with the main focus being on providing students with options for perception.
1.1 Offer ways of customizing the display of information
Text to Speech :
Speakit is a free Google extension that you can upload presentations to under your Google drive account that will read text, notes, and alternative text (describes pictures, graphs, and tables). The app will also read the words on web pages to students as well.
Power Talk is an add on to PowerPoint that is free and will read the text and background text that describes pictures, graphs, and tables that can be found in PowerPoint. All you have to do is download this software, add it into PowerPoint, then remember to use descriptive text to any picture, table, or chart.
1.2 Offer alternatives for auditory information
Speech to Text:
Before starting a presentation, Windows XP can use an accessibility feature called ShowSounds which will instruct programs like PowerPoint to represent auditory information visually by using captions or text bubbles. To do this, on the start button in windows, click control panel, then click accessibility options, or Ease of Access, then click ShowSounds or use text or visual alternatives for sounds (Windows 10)
1.3 Offer alternatives for visual information
I am an extremely visual learner, so I have a bias towards visuals in presentations and tutorial videos. I have to remember that some students might not prefer visual information to text. This is why I now offer a script of everything I intend to say in a presentation or tutorial video. By uploading a Word document as a script ahead of time, students can alter text by formatting keywords in bold, by increasing font size, or deleting information that they don't need.
To create presentations that are inclusive, one has to consider the needs of every audience member. Some might have auditory/visual challenges, and these needs should be considered when developing a presentation.
One of the outcomes of the UDL guidelines is to create goal-directed learners. Setting goals has be shown to increase motivation in students (Locke and Latham, 2002). Setting goals can also increase student achievement. An online goal setting intervention, conducted by Morisano, Hirsh, Peterson, Pihl, and Shore (2010), was delivered to college students over a four-month period and the results showed a 30 percent increase in average in grade percentage when compared to a control group.
Defining a Goal
In my own practice, I noticed that I had seriously neglected to create goal-directed learners by neglecting guideline number 6: "Provide options for executive functions". I was not helping students with their goal-setting and not allowing them to think about or even communicate their goals to their peers or myself.
This semester, I wanted to seriously change that so I had students discuss goals on our LMS website. I was able to help students discuss and refine their goals based on research by Schunk (1990) who describes a good goal as one that is specific (clear and well-defined), Proximal (can the long-term goal contain shorted goals within it), and is the appropriate level of difficulty (challenging, but achievable).
Resources to help students track goals
Educators can help their students with tracking their goals by taking advantage of tools that are readily available. On my learning management website for example, I have just started using the calendar feature, and this has helped many students schedule when assignments and projects are due. It seems like common sense, but I had never used this before, instead, just relying on outlining key dates at the beginning of the semester.
If you don't have access to a learning management website, you can also setup a Google calendar for the class. The added benefit of using this application is that students can track their goals as well as important dates for the course on their phones. Microsoft Outlook also has a great scheduling application for students, but unlike Google, does not have a place where students can track their goals.
Top 3 Applications for Monitoring Student Progress
This mobile app helps students track their studying habits and will reward them with "high-fives" if they reach a goal that is set, maybe read class contents for 3 hours each day. Through the app, students can also reach out to coaches who can help them stay on track whether their goals include, educational goals or health goals.
This mobile app is probably my favourite when it comes to monitoring goals. It allows students to take distal goals and break them down into smaller (proximal) goals. It is also very easy to use and students can share and have fun by adding pictures and messages of their progress that can be shared.
If your students like using fitbit, this is basically the fitbit of goal-setting. I love this app as it allows students to choose a wide variety of goals, such as research, read, drink more water, save money and a lot of other possible goals. It also provides various ways to track goals.
When it comes to helping students achieve goals, we as educators need to allow students to discuss their goals, help them to refine these goals, be explicit in setting due dates, and finally, allow students to track their progress by using new and fun applications.
Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2002). Building a practically useful theory of goal setting and task motivation: A 35year odyssey. American Psychologist, 57, 705–717.
Morisano, D., Hirsh, J. B., Peterson, J. B., Pihl, R. O., & Shore, B. M. (2010). Setting,elaborating, and reflecting on personal goals improves academic performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 95(2), 255264.
Schunk, D. H. (1990). Goal setting and self-efficacy during self-regulated learning. Educational psychologist, 25(1), 71-86.
I always believe in creating a culture of assessment in my classroom so that I am always assessing my students, and they are able to assess me through feedback. A suggestion for improvement that I got from one of my students two years ago was to start using YouTube tutorials. My student could not keep up with the pace of my Microsoft Excel lecture and mentioned that she learns things easily by watching YouTube videos. Although I was new to this, I thought I would give it a try. Also, because I was new at this, I had some students help me create my own YouTube page called "Mike's Office".
UDL guidelines ask educators to design a curriculum or course with these guidelines in mind:
1) Provide multiple means of representation
2) Provide multiple means of action and expression
3) Provide multiple means of engagement
YouTube tutorials can help with these guidelines as outline below!
Learners have options for perception as there are alternatives to auditory information. This relies on the teacher providing closed captions so that the tutorial can be read as well as heard. While adding captions, I have also posted the script below the video in the description box so that there is an alternative to visual information as well.
Action and Expression:
Students can create educational playlists on their own channel and add your videos and their own to be watched again later in preparation for exams or assignments. By reflecting on this piece of UDL guidelines, I realize that I could give students more control and perhaps get them to create their own YouTube videos to share and collaborate with others. This might be a great discussion topic for my next blog!
Students can choose where to watch and when to watch a video that you have created. This can minimize distractions as students can choose their environment for learning that might be outside of the classroom. As I mentioned in my last post, students can stop, pause, and slowdown a video as they wish which provided multiple means of engagement. YouTube can also foster collaboration and community. Students from all over the world can interact and communicate about your educational content. Recently, I asked students to let me know what they thought of a tutorial I had made, and I received 200 comments about what they liked/how to improve it from students all around the world.
To make course designs universal, educators need to use mediums like YouTube that the students are already using and can easily grasp and control. YouTube can also eliminate barriers to learning as the videos are completely free to watch (provided that the student has internet access). If you are an educator and are reading this, let me know if you have ever tried creating educational YouTube content and how it benefited your class.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provides a new lens and framework for instructional design to accomodate all kinds of learners. It involves adding simple things into our classes that make learning more accessible and inclusive for all students. The best explanation or reference I have for UDL is provided by Shelley Moore in this video below:
Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYtUlU8MjlY
As Shelley explains, education is like bowling. If the pins are students, we as educators want to be able to reach them all with one minimal shot or design. We don't want to leave any behind. We can do that with a more universal design of our classes.
The image below from www.udlcenter.org shows three ways in which educators can break down barriers for students by providing multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement.
CAST (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author.
I would like to focus on how educators can incorporate technology into the classroom with UDL in mind. Although technology is not necessarily dependent on technology, it helps to facilitate its integration. This blog will showcase different tools that you might find useful in your teaching practice. I've already used one! A YouTube video. Yes, something as simple as a YouTube video can knock down barriers that might exist in a traditional classroom.
Using a YouTube video allows students who need more time to take notes to pause and play a video at their own will. Closed captions can help students who are hearing impaired so that they can see what the speaker is saying. Lastly, students can also control the speed of a YouTube video as well. I have had some students tell me that I tend to talk a little fast when I get excited, so this was a useful feature when watching a video lecture I had prepared. If we compare these options to the UDL guidelines, we can see that these types of choices offer students multiple ways to engage in the material. In my next blog post, I want to dive deeper into how to use UDL with YouTube in the classroom.