Navigating UDL and Technology In the 21st Century Classroom

In a world where Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is the standard for learning is structured, there should be fewer missed opportunities to engage students. Obviously this is important so we may use modern technology to its full advantage in order to level the playing field for students with disabilities and special learning needs. If I were to encounter an administrator who was hesitant to invest funds in staff development to support UDL, I’d point out that universal design also supports students who, for a variety of reasons, don’t tend to engage well in traditional teacher-led, textbook-based learning. These reasons can include unique preferred learning styles, varying personalities, and barriers presented by differences in culture, home language, and/or socioeconomic background. Even simple technology features like the ability to pause and replay a YouTube video, or to enable subtitles with a simple mouse click, can make a tremendous difference for a student with any of the challenges listed above.

Of course, faithfully implementing UDL in all classrooms is a tall order. In addition to the obvious challenges of limited time and funding, there is also an attitude among many educators that technology is contributing to an outbreak of increased cheating, including plagiarism, students sharing answers, and erosion of the security of high-stakes tests. To teachers who are nervous about such threats to the validity of assessment, I would offer the glimmer of hope that technology may help us detect plagiarism much more quickly and objectively via such checking apps as LiveText and Turnitin. 

There are even more powerful tools for detecting dishonesty coming very soon. My school district, for example, has been evaluating a new form of software that allows teachers to access their students’ active browser tabs and URL histories, and even to partially control the active windows of their devices. While these functionalities give teachers a lot of exciting new ways to streamline classroom instruction, they also open the door to an unprecedented level of access to what students choose to read and watch, including what they do with their devices during non-school hours. I am concerned about potential overreach that is possible with these technologies. I recently participated in a webinar in which privacy expert Amelia Vance pointed out that all of our new and powerful forms of electronic tracking of students may contribute to a so-called surveillance effect, which may inhibit the formation of the trust between students and teachers (A. Vance, personal communication, April 5, 2017). I would hope that teachers, administrators, and parents can work together to create a new set of norms that will help us optimize the environment for student learning in ways that are equitable and motivating, while at the same time monitoring our students well enough to ensure their safety and honesty.

Perhaps the most important thing teachers can do in order to support these efforts is to design learning activities that take full advantage of the technologies currently available to their students. The SAMR conceptual framework, although far from perfect, gives teachers a useful tool they may use to evaluate the quality of technology use in their lesson designs (Dunn, 2013). My Demo Course incorporates a brief SAMR that asks teachers to reflect on which level a lesson utilizes–substitution, augmentation, modification, or re-defintion (Dunn, 2013). This tool reminds me of the Bloom’s taxonomy that I learned two decades ago when I was starting my career as a classroom teacher. In fact, Bloom’s taxonomy itself has been updated to make more explicit connections to specific measurable learning outcomes (Iowa State University of Science and Technology, 2017). I think it’s useful for teachers to consider, as they write the learning objective of a lesson, which Bloom’s level and/or SAMR category the lesson fits into. The bottom line is, it’s more difficult for students to cheat when we ask them to answer questions and solve problems that don’t have a simple, single correct answer.


Dunn, J. (2013). New pedagogy wheel helps you integrate technology using SAMR model. Retrieved from Edudemic web site:

Iowa State University of Science and Technology. (2013). Revised Bloom’s taxonomy. Retrieved from


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