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.



Closed captions help all students

YouTube logo and Closed Captions logoWith tertiary education institutions turning to online learning and creating videos of lectures, the need to caption these videos could be more important for all students than first realised. The findings of this study show the need for more work in this area, but early results show that captioning benefits most students, with or without disability. This finding could transfer to the general community. 

“When queried whether captions were helpful, 99% of students reported they were helpful (5% slightly, 10% moderately, 35% very, 49% extremely). We were unable to determine differences among students with and without disabilities, as we did not track individual survey responses.” Interestingly, in this study 13% of respondents indicated having a disability, but only 6% were registered as such.

young female at a desk with laptop, coffee cup and notebookVarious reasons were given for the benefits of closed captioning – noise in their listening environment, unclear speech in the video, spelling of new or unfamiliar words, and being able to take notes just by stopping the video and not needing to rewind to listen again. Students with English as a second language also benefitted. Although these results show the need for more research, they found there was a 7% increase in student results compared to the previous year’s students who did not have captioning. The article also discusses the cost of captioning and other options, such as speech recognition. The title of the article is, Closed Captioning Matters: Examining the Value of Closed Captions for All Students, and is published in the Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 2016.

Editor’s note: Anyone who has seen the results of “automatic” online Google captioning will know that the results are very haphazard. It is good to see how captioning is now being seen within the scope of universal design and could be more widely applied.


UD in Higher Education

view of university of seville library with students sitting at desks. bookcases are in the backgroundWhile inclusive education at all levels is written into policy documents, strategies for implementation are sometimes few and far between. Barriers in many forms still confront students with disability in educational settings, whether it be the built environment, attitudes of staff and other students, or the design of the curriculum. 

The main the main objective of this paper, Inclusive University Classrooms: the importance of faculty training is to identity, describe and explain barriers and aids related to faculty that students with disabilities experience in classrooms. The paper is by a cross-disciplinary group from the University of Seville in Spain. Reference is made to the work by Australians Valerie Watchorn and Helen Larkin on this topic. It is interesting to note the recent frequency of articles by Spanish authors appearing in the literature on different aspects of universal design.

The picture is of the library at University of Seville.


Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Logo of the Ed Media and Technology conference proceedingsHere are links to four recently published papers on UDL from Proceedings of EdMedia: World Conference on Educational Media and Technology 2016 in Canada. Some articles will require institutional access. Here are the links to the abstracts: 

Getting Them Excited: Designing an online course based on the ARCS Model to encourage attention, relevance, confidence and student satisfaction in a general educational humanities class.

Using Multimedia Solutions for Accessing the Curriculum Through a UDL Lens

Theoretical Framework Regarding the Usability of Augmented Reality in Open and Distance Learning Systems

Designing Universal Access for Open and Distance Learning through Human Centered Ecological Design (HCED)


Learning is for everyone: free technical article

Wayfinding picture yellow background and black symbols show toilet and baby change The eLearning Industry website has some interesting articles for anyone interested in inclusive learning ideas. “Designing eLearning that is accessible for people with disabilities isn’t easy. The key is to find ways in which basic principles of good web design, along with the principles of Universal Design, can improve access to and the experience of eLearning for all learners, regardless of ability.” In their free technical article they examine several important issues related instructional design and accessibility: 

  • Legal requirements for accessible web sites.
  • Problems encountered by people with disabilities who use educational sites.
  • Guidelines for accessible design from various government and private organizations.
  • Assistive technologies that aid learners with disabilities.
  • Developing accessible eLearning using the guiding principles of Universal Design for Learning.