Universal Design for Learning (UDL): It’s About the Students.

At our live meeting last week, my partner mainly affirmed the modifications I had made to my AP Chemistry lab design project. My partner didn’t have many suggestions for improving the paper itself, so I focused mainly on improving my report’s structure and clarity, rather than adding any new ideas. If I could revise my paper a second time, I would add a few words about accessibility, especially after what we have learned in our class over the past week. After all, accessibility isn’t just a good idea; it’s the law! According to Section 504, for example, students with disabilities must be given opportunities to achieve the same results and benefits as students without disabilities (Smith, 2017). Of the several modifications I proposed for my lesson, two were particularly relevant to the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) philosophy.

First, I decided to allow, rather than prohibit, my students to use the internet to research possible experimental designs prior to writing their own procedure. The original lesson, which was given to me by a College Board AP Summer Institute trainer, contained this prohibition mainly as a guard against plagiarism. I wrote in my paper about how this modification would parallel the changing role of the teacher in the 21st century classroom, from the sage-on-the-stage to the guide-on-the-side. My original paper did not mention how this modification would increase variation of student engagement, which is one of the three primary elements of the UDL Guidelines (CAST, 2015). If I could revise my paper a second time, I would add a section describing how students with disabilities and/or sensory impairments might deepen their involvement in the project if given the opportunity to find relevant online video clips, visual aides, blog posts, especially if I took the time to locate, vet, and share a few of these resources with my students. The original assignment had absolutely no support for this. I must admit that any disabled student in my AP Chemistry course in the past would be likely to take a passive role while his or her lab partners would do most of the thinking, discussing, and decision-making about how to design the group’s experiment.

Second, I decided to change the post-lab assessment to incorporate peer editing and feedback via electronic comments. Again, this change in the assignment reflected an evolution in the teaching role, because I wanted to open up the revision process, so that the teacher was not the only person providing feedback to the learner. But I’m afraid I missed the mark in regards to UDL again here, because I was only imagining students providing typed commentary feedback to one another. The third UDL guideline, variation of action and expression, emphasizes the value of allowing students to express their knowledge in different ways (CAST, 2015). One refinement I might add to this feedback function would be to provide feedback in the form of audio clips. I recently learned about a web-based tool, Kaizena, which allows students and teachers to leave audio feedback, which opens the door for disabled and/or impaired students to communicate more effectively about their writing (Carey, 2015). In a fully online classroom, this sort of interactive peer reflection could also be facilitated via online hangout, similar to our live meeting earlier this week. I suspect that allowing audio comments, whether asynchronous or synchronous, would be helpful to all students, not just those with disabilities or impairments. This is perhaps the true genius of the UDL guidelines; inclusive design, after all, isn’t just a way to address compliance for specific disabilities, but rather a way to increase accessibility for all people (CAST, 2011). In the end, we educators should remember that good lesson design isn’t just about the teacher. It’s also about the student.

References

Carey, J. (2015). Leave voice comments in Google Docs with Kaizena [Web log comment]. EdTechTeacher. Retrieved from http://edtechteacher.org/kaizena-jen-carey/

CAST. (2011). UDL at a glance [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/resource_library/videos/udlcenter/udl 

CAST. (2015). About universal design for learning. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html#.WI4edhsrLD4

Smith, T. E. C. (2017). Section 504, the ADA, and public schools. LD Online: The Educators’ Guide to Learning Disabilities and ADHD. Retrieved from http://www.ldonline.org/article/6108/

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