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?
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.