Recognizing Differences

Promoting universal design(s) for lifelong learning

Recognizing Differences - Promoting universal design(s) for lifelong learning

Providing options

A central tenet of the universal design for learning (UDL) framework considers the importance of providing learners with options. This is underscored across a number of the UDL guidelines that focus these around options for recruiting interest, options for sustaining effort and persistence, options for perception and comprehension. I like the way this image conveys options from the message. Clearly Dunkin Donuts has their customer’s experience in mind when they offer a cup of coffee. Many options are offered in how that coffee can be created and consumed and each of these (or combinations) could be considered. Certainly this is one of the many reasons I return to this coffee shop as a satisfied consumer. This is the way we want learners to engage and understand as well. By offering options we are better assured that we are reaching the range of learner tastes and preferences!

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Finding another kindred UDL spirit 10 hours from home


Yesterday was a day of exploration in the Wakefield/Melrose, MA area in a place I plan to live soon. A wonderful opportunity to embark on a UDL Fellows opportunity with the UDL brain trust at CAST and Boston College. I am honored and excited.

As I browsed the streets of these small towns yesterday I stopped in a few shops of interest to look and ask questions. One of these was a local yoga shop. As we chatted and exchanged questions we also discussed these plans for my move and direction. As with most of my experiences in the past, I somewhat dreaded the often asked question, “what is UDL?”. To most of us in the field that is an easy answer and brings forth lots of shared enthusiasm around learning opportunities, research in the neurosciences, and possibilities opened through digital means. As I began explaining however, this individual quickly replied “oh, UDL..sure!”…”I’m a special education teacher here in the area” ..”I love UDL”. How refreshing that experience was in our shared enthusiasm. I’m more encouraged that this will continue to become a term all understand!

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Smart searching with a smart web resource

The LearningPort is a wonderful resource of professional development sources around the country. I especially like the way that “smart highlighting” is in play when I search specific keywords such as “universal design for learning” for the National UDL Center among their listings and look what appears! This type of targeted highlighting is wonderful for offering visual cues to a reader.

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History in the making

It is a wonderful thing to watch important events like these happening in our world. History in the making for individuals who are trying to access the same information as us all…just in differing ways. Thumbs up!

http://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/2010/10/08/president-obama-signs-21st-century-communications-video-accessibil

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The enjoyment of introducing students to the importance of UDL

Today marks the conclusion of another successful week of teaching graduate students about the framework of universal design for learning (UDL). This is our eighth year of offering this course at GW University in Washington, DC and I’m always encouraged when students leave the week long institute stating that they’ve learned so much. This speaks to me as an instructor that we’ve accomplished what we hoped — to impart the information they needed to learn, to clarify clear goals that they understood, and to engage them in a learning experience that engaged their interests.

Indeed, so much has changed and evolved in the field of UDL since our first offering of this course in 2003. Texts have been written, websites have debuted, the UDL principles have been clarified and expanded, and legislative references to UDL have helped to anchor a definition and direction. These are exciting times. Unfortunately, so many educators still need to understand the what, how and why of UDL.

As students left our institute this week, I was impressed with their ability to grasp the big picture. To quickly identify the differences between UDL and assistive technology and why each are important. To recognize the effective design of an online course portal and why this design helps to highlight the critical features of a course, offer multiple means of representing the course information, and encouraging multiple avenues that engage the learner.

Every educator hopes that their students will assimilate new knowledge in their classes. As they practice their craft, they become true guides on the side in this learning process–recognizing the strengths and interests of the learner, sharing the vast array of information and resources and, designing an instructional setting that can reach and meet learners through their multiple neural channels.

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A successful conference on universal design for learning

Last week I had the pleasure of attending and presenting at the Better Learning by Design Conference in Burlington, VT. This was a wonderful opportunity for like-minded advocates of universal design for learning to gather and discuss best practices. The focus of this conversation centered around UDL in postsecondary settings — an important place for the framework of UDL. Both Dr. David Rose and Skip Stahl opened with insightful messages as our keynoters and their materials are also listed. Worth a visit!

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The iPad: A great little mobile device

I’ve been recruited! Having just sat through an hour long APPLE demonstration on the iPad, I can now say that I am converted. I want to get my hands on one of these very slick mobile devices. Not only is this electronic device the size of a small book, the thickness of a 1/2 inch pad of paper and weighing just 1.5 lbs but, this tool has an amazing array of features and apps.

For instance, the iPad has the same adjustable view that alternates on a turn between portrait or landscape. Using the keyboard is simpler in the landscape view that allows a wider keyboard reach for accessing keys. Direct link to the YouTube selection or a downloadable NetFlix app provides seamless access to movie views. The device also packs with a case that doubles as a stand. Thus, the iPad can become a display for sharing photos, a stand to watch a movie or perhaps a stand to hold the iPad that has been set as my alarm clock :)

In addition, Apple has loaded this tool with a set of Accessibility features and functionality. The ability to have voice-over capability to listen to the words on a page, the ability to enlarge the view with the touch of a finger, and the ability to have the pages automatically turned. Words within text can also be explored with a direct link to an embedded dictionary. Great tools to support reading. I just wish they would lift these tools up into the main part of the device instead of subsumed under “Accessibility”. Functions such as these are universally appealing to all learners — not just those needing access for a special need!

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Multiple ways to represent information..

Yesterday while attending the Virginia Transition Forum, I had the wonderful opportunity of hearing a parent describe an example of universal design for learning (UDL) in action. They shared how when they were first introduced to the great software program Inspiration (a graphic web/ outlining tool) they thought of their son and how this tool would be so beneficial for him. As they noted, their son was one drawn to sharing his projects through more visual means. Writing was often a struggle and developing his thoughts in linear outlines proved to be a challenge. He had more success when showcasing his strengths through more visual means. As she introduced her son to this graphically rich outlining tool, he quickly began to conceptualize a model of his thoughts around an assigned project. When his Mom demonstrated how this same visual outline represented the same linear text outline, “his mouth dropped open and he looked at me with a look of amazement”. At that moment, her son had what we educators refer to as important “ah-ha” moments. He had found an important tool that could allow him develop his assignments in a mode that worked for him yet satisfied the content needed for the task at hand. Multiple opportunities for him to represent information!

The National UDL Center has recently realized a series of wonderful videos that support the importance of this approach. To explore, visit the following weblink at http://www.udlcenter.org/screening_room/udlcenter#video0

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The new Horizon Report 2010 has some interesting projected trends…

At the EDUCAUSE ELI 2010 conference in Austin, TX this week, the folks at New Media Consortium shared some interesting trends from their recently released 2010 Horizon Report.  As noted in their projected trends, notice some of the following across anticipated years until adoption:

One year of less: Mobile computing and Open Content. For many of us this is no surprise. Mobiles are everywhere and these authors confirm that these include cellphones, netbooks, smartbooks and other devices that offer the “form and function” of many laptops/desktops. So, we are on the go and we have access everywhere. Sounds like this will be fueled by the continued growth of wifi access and multiple applications that run on these tools.  Access to Open Content is also be an encouraging trend that supports what many educators have been doing by exploiting the power of widely available tools on the web. As these authors contend, “the notion of open content is to take advantage of the Internet as a global dissemination platform for collective knowledge and wisdom, and to design learning experiences that maximize the use of it”.

Two – Three Years: Electronic Books and  Simple Augmented Reality. This is another exciting trend. The growth of e-books has been amazing and, as such, often seems to include new functions and tools. Several upcoming announcements from major technology players indicates that we may finally see more functions in these tools such as color highlighting and background screens, enhanced multimedia functions, faster processing and even the ability to create material. Wider access to digital books will also be available.  The second trend here, simple augmented reality, offers (in my opinion) a promising opportunity for educators. As these authors note, this has been popular in many game based websites. But the opportunity here to maximize a virtual environment to teach a task, share an experience, or extend an opportunity are amazing. This will be important for those with disabilities that are confined by limits in their mobility.

Three – Four Years:  Gesture-Based Computing and Visual Data Analysis. For those of us who use data in our work, the latter of these will be quite helpful…offering opportunities to explore and share information through visual means. However, the trend in gesture-based computing supports so many opportunities for the future. Here we see the continued expansion of all those “cool” functions that make computing quick and “to the touch”. Think about how convenient access is on your iTouch with the touch of your finger. This close responsiveness to the computer by human touch or gesture interaction will continue to evolve in many applications. Again these authors note, “The distance between the user and the machine decreases and the sense of power and control increases when the machine responds to movements that feel natural.”  I see these developments as extremely empowering for many individuals who have lost their physical capabilities or range of motion.

These are exciting times for realizing the power of technology in teaching and learning.

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