Designing for universal success

graphic of a word cloud related to universal design for learning. Some of the words are: recognition, engagement, action and expression, strategic, networks, learner variability, multiple means of representation.Universal design in learning (UDL) began in the 1980s as a way of designing learning programs to incorporate students with disability. Now it is apparent that UDL is increasing success rates across the spectrum of learners. To keep up with the digital age universally designed software tools are being developed and applied. UDL software is not specifically for students with disability. Rather it is to enhance the learning experiences of all students. In an interview with  Dr Deb Castiglione, Nicole Martin and Trey Conatser of the University of Kentucky find out what UDL software can do for learners in a Q & A session. The way this is written is also a good example of relating information. Here is part of Castiglione’s response to the question, how is UDL different to accessibility?

“UDL is about incorporating principles and strategies to meet the needs of all learners (including those with disabilities) from the beginning of course/content design/development. By integrating accessibility practices into the mix, you can reach a larger percentage of student needs. For example, if you were to caption a video, not only would you meet the needs of an individual that is deaf or hard of hearing, but captioning also benefits English language learners, students with reading difficulties, as well as those whose hearing ability is affected by noise, or in situations where playing sound is not an option (e.g. no speakers, quiet environment such as the library, sleeping children/spouse, and so on).”


e-Learning for everyone

Shane Hogan is speking at a seminar. He dressed in a grey shirt and tieE-learning is taking off in this new digital age. Shane Hogan from Centre for Excellence in Universal Design based in Ireland shows how to make sure the maximum number of people can access and participate in e-learning programs. Using the example of creating e-learning for the public sector on disability equality training, Shane explains the steps they took in the development, and the ways in which content was presented. For anyone involved in e-learning, the 18 minute video is well worth watching to the end. He also addresses employee industrial issues and concerns over privacy and successful course completion.



Hearing loss makes it harder to remember

Adults seated at tables in a classroom setting looking forward to the instructor at the front of the roomIn Shari Eberts’ blog article, Does Hearing Loss Make it Harder to Remember Things? she explains how people with hearing loss are using most of their brain capacity to interpret sounds. Consequently there is not much left over for remembering.This is particularly the case where there is a lot of background noise. In information situations, such as fire training, this is an important factor in ensuring everyone will remember what to do. In learning situations it also a significant consideration. This finding supports the case for instant captioning of live events and closed captioning in pre-filmed situations. A study on student learning also found that captioning helped learning. Where captioning is not possible, reducing cognitive load is another strategy. That means selecting places where background noise is minimal, speaking clearly and not too fast, using a microphone, and allowing sufficent time for questions. Other studies have found that visual information is more easily remembered by everyone, so pictures and videos would work well in information sessions and instructional situations.  


Inclusive Digital Access: An inclusive training method

A blackboard with the words, I want to learn more about information science and technologyWalking the walk and talking the talk in training sessions is an important factor in adult learning. So when running a course on digital access, the course designer and facilitator needs to think about both their learners as well as the learners of those taking the course. The way to do this was the subject of an interesting Masters study in Canada using ethnographic techniques. The conclusion lists some useful points that every course designer and trainer should think about regardless of the topic.

In her introduction, Keshia Goodwin makes some pertinent points, “The result of a design is dependent on the outlook of the designer, and the design process they use. In very general terms, standard designs follow the standard design iteration process: define the problem, collect information, brainstorm and analyse, develop, test, revise, repeat. The designer continues this process until the design performs as expected. There may, or there may not be feedback from the potential user of the design while the designer tests for solutions.”
“While developing my design I learned that not only did the learners need to be aware of what an end user may need; I, the instructor, needed to be conscious of, and accommodate learning barriers to my end users. I needed to be inclusive in my instructional approach, and, be accommodating to what my audience may need when I delivered training. The design, at that point, had come full circle, being inclusive and accessible to learners, and to the learner’s future audience”

The title of the study is, Inclusive Access: An Inclusive Design Approach to Digital Accessibility Skills Training



Now listen carefully

young girl in a classroom setting looking at an iPadListen closely. To some people, these are words are of little help. No matter how carefully they attend, some of the words go missing. The result is reduced listening comprehension. Hearing aids, FM hearing augmentation systems, and cochlear implants do not provide the speech clarity required to understand every word that is said. This is where captioning comes to the rescue. Research into captioning in learning situations is showing how much students of any age can benefit. This is regardless whether they have good hearing or not.

Anyone who has clicked a YouTube video for Google automated captioning knows it is useless, albeit sometimes funny. Automated captioning programs have improved a lot lately. For example, Interact-AS is designed for school children from about age 7 upwards. The teacher wears a microphone and the in less than two seconds words appear on the student’s computer or tablet. The before and after results show both children and teachers just how much comprehension is being is being lost. 

You can read more about this technology and the benefits to students who didn’t realise how much they were missing. Children who are deaf or hard of hearing are usually diagnosed before they reach the age of 7. Low levels of hearing loss is not always apparent in children who, for example, might have experienced many ear infections. As a consequence they would miss out on the benefits of this technology. Perhaps this further research will reveal the need for routine hearing tests for all school age children. It will be interesting to see how this technology develops and how soon it will become mainstream for all students as an aid to staying focused and learning from both listening and reading. You can read more about the value of captioning in higher education settings for all students.


UD strategies for online courses

Logo of the conference SITE 2017, Society for information and teacher educationThe days of a lecturer or instructor standing up in front of a classroom expounding their knowledge are fast disappearing. Online learning is becoming the way of the future. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) aims to provide materials with flexibility to meet each students’ learning needs. UDL is also pertinent to any presentation in any context. In a conference paper by Bauder and Simmons, digital tools and strategies are discussed that can be used in the creation and development of online and hybrid courses. The goal is to maximize student learning outcomes through a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) perspective.

The presentation slides are very informative and give good advice to anyone making presentations to any group of people – the strategies are based on inclusive thinking and practice. Lots of examples are given. You can go to the website to see the abstract and download the text version. The presentation slides are on a separate tab within the page. 


Being smart from the start: addressing the needs of diverse learners

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) has many followers with much academic writing and conferences about the topic. Indeed, Google searches on “universal design” usually bring up more items on UDL than any other topic. Matt Capp provides an Australian perspective in “Is your planning inclusive? The universal design for learning framework for an Australian context”. The paper published in Australian Educational Leader can be downloaded from Informit, but it will require institutional access for a free view. UDL can be applied across all learning situations and people of all ages.

Abstract: In June 1994 the Salamanca Statement called for inclusion to be the norm for students with disability. Goal one of the Melbourne Declaration aims to provide all students, including students with disability, access to high-quality schooling. The Declaration also seeks to reduce the effect of disadvantage, such as disability, on students. Unfortunately, this is not always the reality in Australian schools. Long standing schooling practices are ineffective for some groups of students, and continuing to do what we have always done will perpetuate rather than eliminate the achievement gap (Edyburn, 2006). One solution to addressing the needs of diverse learners, such as students with disability, is the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. UDL as a set of principles allows teachers to develop inclusive lessons by planning to the edges of a class, rather than to a core group of learners. Supports and scaffolds are proactively built into the instructional methods and learning materials enabling all learners’ full participation in the curriculum (Hitchcock, 2001). Retrospectively fitting lesson plans with adjustments based on flawed assumptions about the homogeneity of a core group of students consumes much time, and money, with only modest effectiveness. These retrospective adjustments are only the first step towards inclusion (Edyburn, 2006; Hitchcock, Meyer, Rose, Jackson, 2002). By being ‘smart from the start,’ UDL allows classroom teachers to develop lesson plans that are inclusive for all students.