UDL vs Special Ed: Is inclusive education achievable?

A boy wearing a grey hoodie is wearing glasses and holding a pencil. He is sitting at his desk in the classroom. Other children are in the background.There are two points of view about universal design in learning (UDL). Some say it is the way to go, but others say it is not in the best interests of children. An article in the Irish Times presents both views. The National Council for Special Education supports the inclusive approach and cites the model developed in New Brunswick, Canada. Learning together helps create an inclusive society – it’s not just about education itself. Segregated children become segregated adults. 

The general secretary of a Catholic schools association makes the case against inclusion and maintaining segregated learning situations. He points to some of the issues not addressed by proponents of the New Brunswick model. These appear to be more on the basis of a philosophy not being a teaching method.

The National Council for Special Education is looking at the issues closely. In their Policy Advice on Special Schools and Classes, they explain the background work they have done on this topic in preparation for their report to the UN in 2020. This is a good reference document for anyone wanting to know more about the UDL approach to school learning.

Incidentally, UDL in higher education is taking off. To an outsider, it is not clear why schools are not following suit. Both institutions are obligated under the UN Convention to establish inclusive education. 

The Iris Times article is titled, Is Ireland at a Crossroads of Inclusive Education?  An article of the same name can be found on EBSCO Information Services by the Irish Association of Teachers in Special Education.

Not sure what UDL is about?  Have a look at CAST information – it is a leader in this field or go to their website for more. There are related posts on UDL in the UD for Learning section on the left hand menu of this site.

 

Videoconferencing: Zoom in to hear

Nine people are shown on a computer monitor.Online communication is great for staying connected, but it is not kind to people with hearing loss. A great blog post gives some excellent tips that everyone should consider when using Zoom. You just don’t know who in your group is finding it difficult to hear. There are two main issues: One is clarity of speech due to inadequate microphone, sitting too far away from the screen, background noise and/or the echo from the room (like the bathroom sound). The other is the delay between sound and vision so lip reading is impossible. And of course, talking across each other because of the transmission delay.

The blog post, Making the Most of Zoom, explains how the features can be used to best advantage for everyone to hear what’s going on. For example – how to change the video layout so that the active speaker is the largest view to make lip reading easier. Using the chat facility, lighting, muting when not speaking, and using the wave-hand function to get heard in turn. While this is focused on Zoom, many of the tips can be applied to other online apps and programs. There are links in the article to other resources and Zoom information.

You might also be interested in The Conversation article, How to help students with hearing impairment as courses move online

Thinking UDL for all learning situations

Adults seated at tables in a classroom setting looking forward to the instructor at the front of the roomWhether doing on-the-job training or giving a seminar presentation, we should all think about utilising the principles of universal design. Universal design for learning (UDL) isn’t just for schools and universities. The aim is to get the message across as clearly as possible – but our audiences are diverse. A resource that has a set of universally designed slides as well as the academic version in a paper is a refreshing change. The link to the resource begins with the slides about universal design and applying it to learning. Showing an example of a wordy slide and how to turn it into a slide with just key take home messages is very useful for anyone that makes presentations.

The academic paper covers the basic ground of UDL, which is familiar territory to experienced practitioners. The focus is on including people with disability rather than creating separate material. However, there will always be some people who will need separate or additional learning material. As with universal design in the built environment, all learners benefit regardless of the learning context. Good for anyone new to the topic.

The title of the academic article is, “Tips for Creating Inclusive and Accessible Instruction for Adult Learners: An Overview of Accessibility and Universal Design Methods for Adult Education Practitioners”.

Cartoon drawing shows a person shovelling snow from steps next to a ramp. The text says, clearing the path for people with "special needs" clears the path for everyone.Editor’s comment: I look forward to the day when all presenters take the time to create slides for learners instead of slides for their own teaching benefit. I shake my head when a speakers says of a slide, “oh I guess people can’t see that” and then goes on to explain it. They lose me at that point.

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 room Shari Eberts explains in her blog article how people with hearing loss use most of their brain capacity to interpret sounds. Consequently there’s 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. Everyone will need to remember what to do. In learning situations it’s 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 sufficient 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. The title of the blog article is, Does Hearing Loss Make it Harder to Remember Things

Creating videos for learning

A woman is fixing a camera to a tripod.Many teachers and instructors are making their own videos for their learners. With today’s technology it’s becoming easier. But how to make the videos universally designed for online learning? A paper from Ireland gives really practical advice from preparing videos to editing for universal design. It lists step by step activities for planning and preparation, script writing, filming and a detailed section on equipment. The key concepts for editing are also included.

Captioning used to be very expensive when done by outside contractors, but YouTube and Google have improved their technology and made it possible for do-it-yourself captioning. This is a big step forward and really no excuse for not doing it. We know that captioning helps many people to better understand content regardless of their level of hearing. It’s also handy when you can’t have the sound on or if it’s not in your first language.

In summary, videos allow educators to engage with students and prepare learners for practical sessions. Inaccurate or poorly designed videos can confuse and cause disengagement. Educators often lack time as well as training, but with the practical advice in this article, they can improve and thereby save time in the long run.

The title of the article is, Practical Recommendations on the Production of Video Teaching Resources.  

Abstract:  Instructional videos are widely used and potentially highly effective and flexible teaching tools. They are increasingly employed in practical skills training in the fields of science and healthcare. However, educators may struggle to source suitable videos demonstrating safe and suitable techniques. In addition, academic staff may lack the resources and expertise needed to produce and edit effective video in-house. This article provides an overview of the planning, shooting, editing and sharing of video footage to produce effective teaching resources. The aim is to provide guidance for academic staff who wish to develop customised teaching videos and successfully integrate them into their teaching.

Christianity and inclusive education

The cupola of a Christian church.Supporting concepts of inclusion is one thing; putting it into practice is another. “The Challenge” is the title of a book chapter about including children with disability in Christian schools and giving them access to a Christian education. An interesting discussion about faith and inclusion using a case study to illustrate points. The discussion gives yet another voice to the inclusion discourse‍.

Abstract  Christian educators advocate that faith and learning should be holistic and integral to Christian education, but is this available for all students? The inclusion of students with disabilities does not have a strong record of implementation within Christian Schools. This chapter briefly recounts the history that led to the legislation mandating inclusion, and discusses the very real issues that concern teachers and parents today. The question posed is: should children with disabilities be enrolled in Christian schools? Responding in the affirmative, nine research-based strategies are described in detail, which provide solutions to the challenges faced in inclusive classrooms. Children with disabilities are capable of learning; and in order to receive a holistic Christian education they need to be included in Christian schools.

“The Challenge”, written by Marion Shields, is a chapter in Revealing Jesus in the learning environment:Experiences of Christian educators. It is open access. 

Learning Styles: Is it a myth?

Two pairs of women sit at a table with paper and pens. One of the pair looks to be explaining something to the other.The idea of learning styles is something many of us have encountered. But is there evidence to support the application of learning styles? Perhaps in the past it was helpful, but looking forward and using the principles of universal design in learning (UDL), perhaps not. Whether you are doing a webinar, an e-learning program or a scientific seminar it’s worth taking a moment to consider the differences in your audience. A paper from Andrea Antoniuk discusses many aspects of learning and how we can move forward with UDL and away from the traditional learning styles concept.

The title of the article is Learning Styles: Moving Forward from the Myth. In the conclusions Antoniuk says that there is no valid reliable tool to support learning styles. “Despite being debunked, learning styles remain a thriving industry throughout the world, as many books, research studies, education courses, and assessments maintain the concept of learning styles. As a growing number of teachers utilize evidence-based practices, learning styles are being replaced by universal approaches, community building, cognitive science, and motivational practices.”

 

Neurodiversity and overseas study

A young man in a blue academic outfit is smiling at the camera and is giving the thumbs up sign. Many courses include overseas study either as an option or a compulsory part of the program. This is because cultural exchange is considered a valuable enhancement to the overall education of the student. But what about students with autism? An article on this topic reminds us that people with autism, with the right accommodations, can enhance learning programs. This is because they can bring a fresh perspective, another way of thinking. Consequently, there is opportunity to enhance the overseas study experience for everyone. So, making overseas study more inclusive is a win-win all round.  

The article provides two case studies that highlight what makes an overseas exchange a success for people with autism. Such improvements are, in the end, good for all students and educational institutions.  The authors sum up at the end: 

“Both cultural observation and self-evaluation are central objectives of a university’s drive to provide opportunities for cultural competency. Thus, although the participation of students in the autism spectrum poses plenty of challenges, their increasing access to study abroad opportunities could enhance the study abroad experience. As such, while the challenges are many, we move from a framework that adjusts to the needs of these students to an inquiry into the ways in which they can contribute to enrich the study abroad experience. The case studies presented here certainly show how an inclusive program, through proper orientation mechanisms, could be beneficial for all participants’ self-awareness and ability to reflect.”

The title of the article is, How to Run Together: On Study Abroad and the ASD Experience.  In Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, Vol. XXXII, Issue 2 (January 2020): pp. 104-118.

 

Voices of people with autism in a book

Front cover of the text book.The autism research field has changed a lot in the last 20 years. One of the key findings is the impact the research process has on people with autism. So including the voices of people with autism is really important. With this in mind, a new version of a text book has sections written by autistic contributors from all walks of life. Neurodiversity is a relatively new concept and area of study. There is still much work to do in understanding the diversity of ways autistic people navigate the world around them. 

There is a separate link to the discussion on how the authors went about including people with the lived experience of autism. This link also gives a short chapter by chapter review of the book’s content.

The title of the book is, Autism: A new introduction to psychological theory and current debate. It’s by Sue Fletcher-Watson and Francesca Happe. 

If you want a more personal approach to autism, you can read a transcript of an interview with Louis Scarantino – an autism advocate.  

The Autism Research Council has published its research priorities for 2019.

Two people, one UDL story

A silhouette of a person between two rows of books on library shelves.Two people give their perspective on inclusive (or not) education. One is a teacher, the other a student with a disability. Their opening statements provide a context for the article. They trace some of their experiences seeking to overcome barriers to inclusive education, classrooms and teaching. The teacher’s experiences show that colleagues were, and are not, interested in inclusive education. Students with disability lack a voice and are separated into special education classes. The student story includes an action project – taking fellow students to the streets to photograph barriers to inclusion and making a case to the mayor. Both the teacher and the student conclude by saying they want to find ways of helping people with disability advocate for themselves. Clearly, no-one is listening at the moment. Bottom line: there is much academic writing about universal design for learning (UDL), but it seems policy and practice still lag far behind.

The title of the article is, A Duoethnographic Journey of Inclusion to Access.
By Ashley Cartell Johnson & Courtney Hineman of  Miami University.