IKEA hack to promote student interest and choice

A boy and girl look at a children's wood spinning wheel.
Credit: ikea.com

An IKEA hack to promote student interest and choice. Intrigued? Read on to discover how a simple product is used to implement a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) checkpoint.

Educators with knowledge of UDL likely recognise its benefit in engaging students, supporting understanding and representing their learning. The challenge is found in finding the time to explore strategies to implement UDL.

We are here to help! This post commences a series that discusses simple tools or strategies, including the IKEA hack, to implement UDL principles into teaching and learning activities…right away!

First, some background orientation. UDL Guidelines assist educators to vary instructional methods to provide greater access to, and interest in, learning. The UDL guidelines work with three principles, including providing multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression.  Each principle in the guidelines is then divided into checkpoints that break the principles into meaningful descriptions with actionable parts.

This post focuses on the first checkpoint, ‘recruiting interest’ in the ‘engagement’ principle. One way to achieve this is to optimise individual choice and autonomy.

A simple strategy is to use choice boards. A choice board is a tool that provides options for students to choose different ways to learn about a particular concept. Choice boards are often presented as a 3×3 grid graphic organiser. However, to cater to different ages and interest levels, the choice board concept can be extended to clickable choices on a digital platform or a choice spinner. This is where IKEA’s LUSTIGT ‘Wheel of Fortune’ chocolate-wheel style spinner comes in. Cover the spinning wheel segments with student learning options to create a fun and interactive choice board-style tool.

For older or more experienced students, the ‘flipped classroom’ model is a strategy to optimise autonomy.  This is an approach where students are provided with content to consume independently prior to working with it in the formal learning environment. The approach supports students to prepare for the next learning sequence at their own pace. Multiple formats of presenting the content should be used. Ultimately, less formal class time is taken working through the initial content, allowing students to engage in deeper learning activities and apply their knowledge and understanding.

There are more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning on the CUDA website.

Return to Online Learning

A colourful illustration depicting a webinar on desktop and laptop computers.As schools and tertiary institutions in parts of Australia return to online learning, making the experience workable, inclusive and meaningful for all students is at the forefront of many educators’ minds.

Online learning requires educators to be active and directive in facilitating learning. Setting guidelines and expectations up front is paramount to include and engage all students. Just as in the face-to-face environment, when we educate online, relationships are still at the heart of learning. Creating a presence in the online environment is a key element.

Katie Novack and Tom Thibodeau share ways to create an online presence in their book UDL in the Cloud. They also show how to identify potential barriers to learning, develop a detailed syllabus that inspires and motivates students, and delivery strategies and help to scaffold students’ time management skills.

Inclusive Schools Australia has done some of the preliminary thinking with a one-page quick-start guide to inclusive online learning. It gives examples of specific activities aligned to UDL checkpoints.

Then, to go deeper, Educause provides the transcript and slides of a webinar they hosted by CAST. It aims to support educators to reach all students in the time of COVID-19. The learning shares how UDL can be applied to remote instruction. It discusses some best practices and provides resources to integrate UDL into courses and programs.

This is valuable for considering ways to address access, build meaningful learning, and support independence in course or program design under the current conditions.

The National Center for Assistive Education Materials has a dedicated resource hub for information on assistive technologies. This is useful information on how to use assistive technologies or other resources to support learners to access online learning. The site hosts webinars focusing on tools and resources to support the transition to remote learning in response to COVID-19. The list of resources is extensive. Of particular value are the webinars on making accessible videos, captioning videos and making documents and slides accessible. Recordings, slides and handouts are available to watch or download.

Read more about UDL and online learning in a previous post.

Functional Maths for Refugees: The Role of UDL

A woman using a claculator and computer for functional maths tasks.In a previous post, we explored the use of UDL in migrant and refugee education. The focus of this post is on functional maths for refugees and the role of UDL. Everyday maths is needed for things such as recipes and bus timetables. 

In her paper, Joana Caniglia, highlights both the necessity for and complexity of mathematics for everyday functions for refugees establishing themselves in a new country. She writes in the American context, but the maths skills noted are, of course, relevant in Australia. Some of these functions include navigating public transport timetables, buying groceries with a different monetary system, shopping for necessities, and applying for social services.

Caniglia says the complexity of the mathematics required by these activities poses a significant barrier for adult refugees with limited English and interrupted education. 

Identifying and overcoming barriers to learning lies at the heart of UDL. 

Caniglia‘s paper reports on a year-long project that sought to uncover a mathematics educator’s assumptions brought to the teaching of functional mathematics skills for small groups of refugee women. One of these assumptions is that maths is a universal language.

Although some mathematical calculations and strategies may be used universally, difficulties in academic language arises for refugee learners. Maths words and symbols have double meanings and English expressions can be confusing, just for starters.

In addition to a range of myths, Canigla also discusses a number of cultural themes that arise. One of the themes is that A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words, But An Object and Gestures Are Worth More. She discusses how the UDL tenet of multiple means of representation supported refugee women in acquiring mathematics vocabulary. Using UDL, Canigla was able to guide the women’s development of vocabulary for measurement and cooking by using pictures, utensils, recipes, bus schedules, and newspaper advertisements.

For further reading on maths for English language learners, see the following references:

The papers above were written by Judit Moschkovich, who is a founding partner of Understanding Language. This is a workgroup of the Stanford University Graduate School of Education.

There are more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning on the CUDA website.

UDL to Support Migrants and Refugees

A Class Of Diverse Higher Education Students Using Laptops In a LectureThis week, we take a look at using Universal Design for Learning to support migrants and refugees in English language learning in higher education.

A reader recently requested more information and references for using UDL on this topic. A great request! It is one that helps to highlight the flexibility and possibilities of UDL for making learning accessible to all.

All learners bring their own unique variability to their learning. Migrants and refugees may bring a learning profile with additional complexities. This may be due to their history, or priorities and experiences in becoming established in a new country. UDL principles provide a particularly appropriate design model, with their emphasis on design practices that cater for diversity. There’s more on this in a previous post.

An article by Katherine Danaher explores how to meet the learning needs of refugees and migrants. Her specific focus is in tertiary blended online English courses. With many tertiary providers moving to online courses during the coronavirus pandemic, this is of particular relevance.

A key feature of UDL is to consider barriers to learning prior to designing the course or lesson. Danaher explains the potential barriers of refugees and migrants in her paper. She highlights some of these barriers as being literacy, lack of prior experience, cultural factors and age.

Perhaps the most useful information in the paper is gleaned from the ‘Course Design’ section in the article. Specific pedagogies and frameworks are highlighted as being beneficial in teaching these learner groups in higher education. Flexible design, individualisation, a constructivist inquiry approach and UDL are all recommended.

Danaher quotes the National Center on Universal Design for Learning in explaining that the research-based principles of UDL are particularly appropriate for refugee and migrant learners, providing “. . . a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone – not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.” She argues that by using UDL the diverse needs of refugees and migrants with differing educational backgrounds, expectations and goals, can be catered for.

Other links to UDL for migrant and refugee learners include:

A paper by John Bensemen on the needs and responses to refugee learners with limited literacy.

Education, Immigration and Migration is a book by Arar, Brooks and Bogotch that explores how educational leaders face the issue of refugees, immigrant and migrants in educational institutions.

Refugee Background Students Transitioning Into Higher Education Navigating Complex Spaces “untangles the complex nature of transition for students of refugee background in higher education, locating it within broader social trends of increasing social and cultural diversity, as well as government practices and policies concerning the educational resettlement of refugees”.

And stay tuned for an upcoming post on UDL in mathematics teaching and learning for refugees and migrants.  

Getting Started with UDL

Illustration of five people in an open-plan office with some principles of universal design evident, including alternative seating options and wide spaces between furniture.My pathway to Universal Design for Learning (UDL) was long and winding. I first came to Universal Design (UD) through architecture and the built environment. Discovering universal design felt like a deep breath out. It is all about designing with respect and consideration for all – designing with accessibility, usability, pleasurability for all who may use the building. It. Just. Made. Sense.

Naturally, the application of UD to learning makes sense as well. If you value the diversity that each of us brings to our teaching and learning, it’s good to have a tool that frames and guides teachers and learners. It helps maximise and utilise this diversity.

UDL aims to change the design of the environment rather than to change the learner. When environments are intentionally designed to reduce barriers, all learners can engage in rigorous, meaningful learning. CAST

The UDL framework is a three-part guideline. It promotes multiple options for key parts of a learning experience:

    1. engaging students
    2. explicit teaching
    3. students’ action and expression of their learning

UDL celebrates learner variability. It supports practical, realistic and achievable means of providing learning experiences that cater to a broader range of students. 

Getting Started with UDL

Universal design for learning can be implemented in any learning scenario: pre-school, school, higher education, online or face-to-face.

Due to the depth of the framework and changing existing practice, getting started with UDL can be daunting. However, some simple steps can help you get started.

First, clearly define the learning goal. Next, consider learner variability and identify barriers that learners may face in reaching the goal. Then, plan flexible and meaningful assessments. Actively design the learning experience using the UDL principles of Engagement, Representation and Action and Expression, and finally, reflect on the learning engagement.

The CAST website is the birthplace and home of all things UDL, including suggestions for implementing each of the UDL framework checkpoints. You can also read more widely on the premise and goals of UDL so that for you, too, IT. JUST. MAKES. SENSE!

See more on Universal Design and more practical suggestions on Universal Design for Learning on the CUDA website.

How Does UDL Support Cultural Diversity?

A montage in the shape of the world, captuing the diversity of humans.In a time when cultural diversity and the recognition of systemic inequity is in our shared consciousness, how does UDL support cultural diversity?

Joni Degner cites a range of measures in her article, How Universal Design for Learning Creates Culturally Accessible Classrooms, including:

    • co-designing learning and seeking student input and feedback,
    • seeking out students’ lived experiences and personal stories,
    • recognising students as cultural resources in developing culturally responsive learning,
    • developing a culture of connection, and
    • considering the language and discourse in which our students are immersed

Drawing on the UDL framework, embracing diversity in content and practice is the recommendation in the article, Diversity and Equity in Learning. Key suggestions include:

    • Assume students are diverse in ways that you cannot see. This may be related to race, national origin or socioeconomic status. Or it may relate to ethnicity, physical and neuro-disabilities, sexual orientation, or spiritual beliefs. There are many other possibilities, too.
    • Design group assignments and intentionally mix groups. At times, require students to work purposely with others they may not know. Ensure students in the minority are not isolated. Encourage or help set up diverse study groups.
    • Examine and consider revising texts, resources, guest speakers, examples, and authors. Include contributions from diverse scholars.

Against these suggestions, how do your teaching and learning experiences shape up?

To further your practice or understanding, read the article Culturally Responsive Teaching and UDL. It explains key terms and theories and links to the research. The article supports the understanding of Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) in addition to UDL. Loui Lord Nelson and Patti Kelly Ralabate also focus on CRT and UDL in their book, Culturally Responsive Design for English Learners.

See more on UDL on the CUDA website.


DI and UDL: Is there a difference?

A woman in a blue shirt and a long pig tail has her hands upturned and eyes wide in a pose of confusion.Confused about the differences between Differentiated Instruction (DI) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL)? A previous post explains the two concepts in basic terms, and from two perspectives – one from Katie Novak and the other from New Zealand Ministry of Education. But what about the literature on this topic? 

 A recent systematic review provides an insight into the views of the two approaches to inclusion. And yes, there is a bit of “fuzziness” between the two.

The systematic review confirmed that confusion exists when examining the two frameworks. They explored twenty-seven peer-reviewed articles and found three interpretations of the two approaches. One was to diminish one approach in favour of the other, another was to include DI within UDL, and incompatibility was the third approach.  

The authors conclude the approaches are complementary theories; DI is embedded within UDL and that DI is a model independent of UDL. However, descriptions of the interrelationships in the literature tended to rely on perception rather than evidence. 

The authors reference studies that show they are both are inclusive pedagogical models. They have the potential to transform education systems by counteracting the existing one-size-fits-all approach. 

The article provides a salient overview of the importance of pedagogical approaches that aim to reach all students, as a foundation to truly inclusive education.

The title of the article is, ” Exploring the interrelationship between Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Differentiated Instruction (DI): A systematic review”. It’s open source from ScienceDirect.

There are more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning on the CUDA website.

Marie Kondo and UDL – What’s the Connection?

You may well be wondering what Marie Kondo and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) have anything in common! Well, I could make an analogy about tidying up our teaching practice. Or, cleaning out old beliefs about UDL being for ‘Special Education’ only! But the analogy is that UDL and Marie Kondo are both about sparking something within us.

Carefully folded washing placed neatly into drawers.
Sparking joy: Neatly folded clothes in a chest of drawers.

This post explores Guideline 7 in the UDL framework. It relates to engaging learners. Specifically, the guideline is about recruiting the learner’s interest. Just as Marie Kondo implores us to value items that ‘spark joy’, in Guideline 7, the UDL Framework recommends working with students to ‘spark excitement and curiosity for learning’.

But how? Engagement is based around three checkpoints in the UDL Framework.  The first is optimising individual choice and autonomy. This is about empowering learners to take charge of their own learning. Second is optimising relevance, value, and authenticity for learners to connect with learning to experiences that are meaningful. The last checkpoint is to minimise threats and distractions in order for students to feel safe and take risks in their learning.

In her book, Design and Deliver: Planning and Teaching Using Universal Design for Learning, Loui Lord Nelson dedicates a chapter to ‘Engagement.’ She links to the research in addition to providing examples of what the checkpoints look like in practice. To resonate with a range of educators, some examples are given for learning experiences with younger, middle years and then high school students.

There are more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning on the CUDA website.


Differentiated Instruction and UDL. What’s the Difference?

A photo of a woman wondering different thingsSchools work hard to meet the needs of their learners. There are various frameworks of inclusivity, which sometimes can be confused. So what is the difference between Differentiated Instruction (DI) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?

In Pathways to the Future report, the West Australian Department of Education explains,

“Inclusivity is not just for students with disabilities, but also for all students, educators, parents, families and community members. Inclusivity is an attitude or belief system that becomes embedded in policies, practices and processes. It needs to be nurtured in every educational setting.” (p.30)

The above quote is both an inspiring and practical statement of inclusivity, it is also embedded in global and national legislative obligations.

Australia signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2008. Together with the Disability Discrimination Act and the Disability Standards for Education, schools have a legal obligation to provide inclusive practices that ensure full equality and protection for persons with disabilities, under the law.

So what’s the difference?

So how do teachers and schools work to meet these legal/moral/social obligations? All teachers know that DI, or “differentiation”, is expected to meet the individual needs of learners. But when UDL enters the pedagogical mix, how do they align? 

UDL expert and author on the topic, Katie Novak, created a dinner party analogy to explain the difference. The illustration is that making individual meals for each guest is akin to DI. The host chooses what each guest will eat, despite individualising it for them. UDL, on the other hand, is a buffet. All diners have choice and the diner drives that choice.

The New Zealand Ministry of Education Guide, explains the two another way. It suggests that UDL is an “overarching approach focused on the inclusive design of the whole learning environment at the outset”. They state that DI, on the other hand, is a strategy that addresses “…each student’s individual levels of readiness, interest, and learning profiles”.

In the two minute video below, Katie Novak explains the dinner party analogy.

There are more practical suggestions on reducing barriers to learning on the CUDA website.

Online Learning Technologies and UDL

Image of a laptop computer in which an online learning lesson is taking place with a teacher standing in front of a chalkboard.Students around the globe are learning online. How do we make the most of online learning technologies and UDL?

David Rose, Jenna Gravel, and Yvonne Domings explain that UDL goes beyond digital technologies.  They discuss this on their question-and-answer on the CAST website. The team acknowledge that modern technology makes implementation and elaboration of UDL easier. Next, they remind us that the UDL principles are guides to successful teaching for all students. As such, educators apply the UDL principles with and without digital technology.

With students around the globe learning online, digital technologies in education have come to the fore. As a result, many resources and critiques of technologies have been shared. Find these on official education sites and social media.

A useful example is the ‘Resources’ section of the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority (ACARA) website.  In addition, the Digital Technologies in Practice section contains a range of resources.

Without making direct links to UDL, there are many connections to the three UDL principles. One example is in the online information pamphlet called ‘A–Z Digital Technologies vocabulary F–6. For instance, this outlines the language of digital technologies, correlating directly with Checkpoint 2 in the UDL framework. Importantly, there are also new links to materials that may help you get a deeper understanding of the key ideas and key concepts of Digital Technologies.

In addition, if you are seeking a starting point for making a connection between online learning technologies and UDL, the article, Making Your Classroom Smart: Universal Design for Learning and Technology’ by Carrie Anna Courtad provides a match between technology tools and each of the three main principles of UDL.

Finally, read more on ICT and UDL on our website