People have worked and studied from home for several years. It is not a new concept, but it has evolved. e-commerce has become online shopping, and e-learning has become online learning. Living life online during COVID times has become the new normal. It’s likely that online learning will continue to evolve and that means open education resources need to keep up.
Most people were not taught digital accessibility in school. Consequently, it likely it comes as an afterthought to designing open education resources. Similarly to a building, it takes far more effort to make it accessible after it is built. This point is made by Josie Gray from BCcampus in Canada.
Gray’s presentation slides and speaking notes explains how to create inclusive open education resources (OER). First she takes you through the basics of UDL and some digital information. Subsequent slides explain the best ways to make links, data tables, audio, and video. Colour contrast, images, text descriptions and displaying image captions are also covered.
The last part of the presentation discusses the “average” student, social model of disability, and other factors affecting accessibility. This is a useful document for anyone producing online educational material.
As these are speaking notes together with presentation slides, it makes for easy reading and understanding. A good example of document presentation style for others to follow.
Teachers who have embraced UDL are great advocates for the process of designing learning programs that include diverse learners. However, not all teachers like the ideas – resistance to change being a major factor. This was one of the findings from research on teachers’ perceptions of UDL (Universal Design for Learning).
Perceptions are unlikely to change by mandating instructional changes and consequently other methods need to be found. That is one of the findings from a research project on UDL.
Students benefit socially, emotionally and academically with UDL. However, the successful implementation of UDL is based on teachers’ perceptions. Consequently, promoting equitable instruction requires a positive perception of the UDL model.
Teachers need to see evidence of student success. Real systemic change requires time for teachers to properly learn and implement UDL strategies. That includes professional collaboration, and peer and administrative support.
This qualitative case study was designed to understand teachers’ knowledge and perceptions of UDL. It was designed to identify the barriers to implementation and how to overcome them.
Participants were teachers who had implemented UDL from a public charter school serving only students in Grades 3-11 with low incidence disabilities. Twenty participated in an online survey, seven participated in an individual interview, and three participated in a group interview. Data were coded and analyzed for common themes.
Participants expressed resistance to change, negative impressions of UDL, and disability bias.
Recommendations for administrators included strategies for implementation of UDL, periodic collection of teachers’ perceptions of UDL for formative purposes, modeling UDL for teachers, monitoring teachers’ lesson plans, and classroom observations.
This study contributes to social change by identifying teachers’ perceptions of their own knowledge, needs, and barriers to implementation of UDL in order assist administrators in effectively preparing them for delivery of instructional services to enhance learning for all diverse and struggling students.
Is Universal Design for Learning (UDL) gaining momentum? Answer – it looks like it. UDL has been around for some time, but not all educators have the opportunity to develop UDL skills. A UDL approach values diversity and supports all students to learn.
The NSW Education Department has a UDL planning toolfor educators. It covers the basics and has links to other resources and videos. It mentions obligations under the Disability Standards for Education. However, UDL is for all learners – they are just good teaching and learning strategies. However, it is unknown how widespread UDL practice is in Australia.
The University of New South Wales has additional resources for higher education. Most resources link to CAST whose work is considered the gold standard in UDL. While these resources focus on school and university education, it is also applicable to continuing professional education and staff training.
An Irish study
The Centre for Excellence in Universal Design has been promoting UDL for more than ten years. It has strong links to the School of Education at Trinity College Dublin. This has lead to UDL gains in higher education. But they wanted to find out if UDL is gaining momentum in school education.
They found that curriculum development is shifting towards a UDL framework in Irish schools. It was most established in the middle years, and increasing in primary years. Teachers who engaged in professional UDL learning were more likely to embed UDL into practice. However, learning opportunities for UDL are limited. This lack is not a personal teacher one – there is a lack of policy support.
Responding to student diversity has become a key policy priority in education systems around the world. In addition to international and national institutional policies, major changes are underway in instructional practices and pedagogy in many national contexts. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) has become a key pedagogical approach used in education systems which seek to promote inclusive and equitable education in response to student diversity.
Despite Ireland’s policy commitment to inclusive education, UDL has been traditionally focused on the higher education sector with little discussion about the role UDL can play at primary and second-level education to achieve inclusion. Furthermore, there has been no research to date on the extent to which education policy reforms are introducing part, or all, of the aspects of the UDL framework.
The purpose of this paper is to examine the extent to which UDL is gaining momentum in Irish primary and second-level education through an analysis of curriculum policy. This paper examines the development and evolution of UDL in Irish education policy over the past decade by exploring the use of UDL in national educational curriculum frameworks.
The paper highlights how UDL is slowly and implicitly emerging in education policy at a national level but suggests further momentum could be gained from its inclusion in Initial Teacher Education (ITE) and professional development programmes.
By exploring the development of UDL within existing policy contexts, the paper argues for a more explicit commitment to UDL as part of ongoing curriculum reform at the primary level, the review of Senior Cycle, and Ireland’s broader inclusive education agenda
Reducing cognitive load means reducing the mental effort required to do something. Making designs easy to use and understand is part of the solution. Whether it’s digital information or walking the street, we can all do with some help by reducing cognitive load so we can process the important messages.
Leverage common design patterns: keep things familiar
Eliminate unnecessary tasks: make it easy to stay focused
Minimize choices for easy decision making
Display choices as a group: to help with decisions
Strive for readability: make it legible
Use iconography with caution: they aren’t always intuitive
Yablonski’s website explains further the concept of cognitive load. Every time you visit a website or a new environment your brain has learn something new. You have to do two things at once – focus on learning how to get around and at the same time, remember why you are there. The mental effort required is called cognitive load. If you get more information than you can handle, the brain slows down. We can’t avoid cognitive load, but designers can help minimise it.
Special arrangements for university students who identify as having a disability is not an inclusive response. Hence many will try to manage without the assistance available to them. But taking a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach can provide both assistance and inclusion. A thoughtful article by Bethan Collins provides an occupational therapist’s view of UDL and the benefits for all.
Collins writes from her experience as a disability officer with a university. Students struggle for a variety of reasons such an inaccessibility of classrooms and reading material. The social aspects are essential for group work and discussion sessions but often disregarded. And of course, if one aspect of learning is a struggle it reflects on other aspects.
Occupational therapists understand the importance of meaningful activity, not just doing the task. Collins makes the point that the three tenets of UDL are a good start, but the importance of the activities around learning are not discussed.
UDL fits well with occupational therapy philosophy. Each client is treated as an individual with personal goals. Choice in how to do something is key.
As a disabled student, occupational therapist and lecturer, Collins concludes with,
“… that there is a very important place for an inclusive curriculum (based on UDL) and also that we, occupational therapists, are in an excellent position to promote this approach.
Interoception is an internal sensory system where you notice physical and emotional cues. Most people develop this system and gain awareness of their internal cues as they grow up. But not everyone does. Dr Emma Goodall’s workshop, Interoception: A universal design approach, enlightened us and linked it to universal design in learning (UDL).
Emma explained how poor awareness or misinterpretation of our internal body state, like feeling thirsty or hot, makes it difficult to regulate our emotions and behaviour. Then she took us through some interoception activities so that we were all able to notice our own bodies.
After understanding the theory and having a practice, we were able to consider interoception in our own lives and apply it in other settings. It is particularly useful for teachers of school children who have difficulty learning. Emma explained how students and teachers are more engaged at school and there are fewer suspensions and exclusions.
Emma made the point that when children and young people have not yet developed interoception skills they will struggle with their emotions and with social interactions. Even just being around others may be difficult for them to manage. This will, of course, affect their ability to learn in and out of school.
Presentation slides and paper
The slides from Emma’s presentation give an overview of interoception and how it applies to children and young people. The title of her presentation is,Interoception as a universal design for learning strategy to support well-being and engagement in learning in education for all children and young people.
There is more in Emma’s published paperwhere she explains how educators, families and other professionals can implement interoception activities. Other contexts where it is useful is the justice system, mental health and aged care.
Access to information during the COVID-19 pandemic became even more problematic for some users as everything went online. So what can UD, UDL and Accessibility do to help to combat ableism?
An articleby John L. O’Neill discusses Universal Design, Universal Design for Learning and Inclusive Design. In this context, the concept of Inclusive Design has a focus on the digital world. He covers the history of each, much of which will be known to UD followers. O’Neill argues that all three can be combined in innovative ways to ensure access to information. This is logical because each has the same goal – inclusion. He uses a case study where he merges the UD principle of perceptible information, the tenet of multiple means of representation from UDL, and adaptive systems from Inclusive Design. This perspective is given the title of “Abilities Design”.
O’Neill claims ableism underpins barriers and that undoing ableism is not a form of charity. Legislation that requires access and accessibility does little to change ableist attitudes.
The title of the articleis, Accessibility for All Abilities: How Universal Design, Universal Design for Learning, and Inclusive Design Combat Inaccessibility and Ableism.
Editor’s Note: I am not sure that inventing another design category based on inclusion takes us any further forward. However, it is an example of how designers new to inclusive concepts can use existing frameworks to help their design process.
From the Abstract
Discussions about accessibility surged at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic as people became more dependent on accessing information from the web. This article will explore different disability models to understand the oppression of people with disabilities. It will examine how the different principles and methods of Universal Design, Universal Design for Learning, and Inclusive Design can be combined in innovative ways to ensure that all citizens have access to information without barriers.
There is a myriad of academic papers on the topic of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). So it’s good to get some practical assistance from practitioners. A guide from Canada provides a great introduction for newcomers to the topic. The three key areas for designing learning are multiple means of:
The guide lives the message with easy to understand text and logical structure. Here is an excerpt from the Introduction:
“Post-secondary instructors are facing more challenges nowadays because the student population is increasingly diverse. Students with diverse cultural backgrounds, skills, abilities, interests, experiences, and social-economic status require instructors to reflect on their teaching practices and adopt user-centred approaches for course design and delivery. But how do user-centred approaches look like in practice? And how can instructors deliver quality learning outcomes to maximum number of students? Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a curriculum design, development, and delivery framework that could help answer these questions.
Occupational therapists work with just about every human condition you can think of. Their clientele is diverse, but are their professional teaching methods suited to a diverse population? This question is the subject of a new article from the United States.
The article reports on a survey of occupational therapy (OT) educators. They found that while most respondents knew about Universal Design for Learning (UDL), less than half could define it.
The article discusses how the respondents fared with the three tenets of UDL: multiple means of engagement, representation, and expression. They found that OT assistant education used some UDL techniques such as games, feedback and incentives. These strategies were not evident at higher education levels.
OT educators focus is on ensuring all content is delivered. That’s because the content covers such a broad spectrum and is subject to accreditation standards. However, the American Occupational Therapy Association has identified research priorities to find teaching methods that maximise learning for practitioners.
The authors sum up that with the recent pandemic the “need for a greater understanding and implementation of UDL tenets is more important than ever.” It will ensure today’s students become competent practitioners.
Abstract: This exploratory research surveyed educators’ use of universal design for learning (UDL) in occupational therapy education. Most common methods of engagement were displaying enthusiasm, providing examples, and offering learner feedback; representation was primarily offered through class discussion, lab experiences, and images; methods of action or expression were most frequently class discussion, projects, practicums and tests. The type of program, years of educators’ clinical experience and faculty rank influenced some factors of UDL implementation. Further use of UDL principles that could facilitate improved learning outcomes of diverse learners within occupational therapy education is discussed.
Beware the diagnosis – it leads to stereotypes and misplaced assumptions. This was one of the findings from a research project at Griffith University. A common assumption is that people with autism find it difficult or stressful in social situations. For example, university discussion groups and making presentations. An assumption that follows is online learning would be their preferred learning method. Turns out this is not the case. Indeed, they had difficulty with online content for three key reasons. And these are also experienced by neurotypical students:
Students had problems identifying which parts of the online content were most important
They needed clarification of content by instructors to aid their online learning
Students found it helpful when the instructor communicated links between content across the weeks or modules.
So, the diagnosis is not the person. The research paper includes a literature review and a survey of students who identified as having autism. The paper has much useful information regarding the design of teaching and learning. The major point is that what’s good for students with autism is good for everyone.
Abstract: Online course delivery is increasingly being used by universities to deliver accessible and flexible learning environments. As this mode of delivery grows it is important to consider the equity of the learning experience for all students. As online delivery may reduce challenges and stressors present in face-to-face delivery, it could be suggested that it may promote student learning for specific student groups, including those with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. However, little is known about the experience of learning online for students on the autism spectrum. This article presents findings from two studies: a systematic review of the literature and a survey of students on the autism spectrum studying online. From the systematic literature review, only four previous studies were identified reporting on this topic. Findings from two studies identified that the online environment provided both facilitators of and barriers to the learning experience for students on the autism spectrum. Although the online environment provided flexibility for learning, how design factors are employed in online delivery may unintentionally create barriers to the learning experience for students on the spectrum. An outcome from this study has been the creation of a suite of resources to assist with course design and delivery. Implications for practice or policy:
• Consider the impact of course design on students with diverse learning profiles. • Not all students disclose their diagnosis, so ensure methods of accessing support are clear. • Work proactively to ensure that interactions with instructors and are responsive and flexible to facilitate the online learning of all students.