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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

GUEST POST - Lindsey Wright

Why UDL is Necessary for Education Technology

By: Lindsey Wright
We live in a society that espouses equality for all. It is, in fact, the central tenet of American philosophy. However, consider the difficulty providing guidelines to encourage a uniform approach to education that ensures equal opportunities for each student. It sounds like an impossible task given the diversity of students and wide range of curricular goals. Adding into the mix the fact that digital technology is taking more and more schools online only emphasizes the challenge of individualizing education for each student.

The Universal Design for Learning provides a structure of principles upon which to build specific uses of educational technologies to provide each student equal opportunity to learn. Indeed, such guidelines are necessary for effectively applying technology to education in the classroom. The flexibility of technology tools for education is their great strength, but it also requires a solid strategy to guide their use. In terms of each of the primary tenets of the UDL strategy, education technology at once excels and poses a challenge.

Providing multiple means of representation is the substance of Principle I. Technological solutions that allow for transmission of information beyond the scope of conventional lectures or presentations fit this bill quite nicely. This is especially so when students can acquire information through interaction with technology individually or in small groups, as for instance in so simple an activity as guided online research in class. The most basic challenge is taking care not to simply adopt a technological substitute (digital slideshow) for the same old “sage on the stage” approach (lecture). However, once the Pandora's box of digital media for education has been opened, careful consideration of how different technologies can provide multiple means of representation is essential to avoid weak or ill suited activities.

Principle II's multiple means of action and expression are easily provided through technological options. Teachers need only give students rein to choose the media or tools they wish to use to complete assignments. Of course, that is simultaneously the pitfall: teachers must be prepared to assess how well different technologies fulfill assignment objectives. An easy solution is providing suggested technologies to students to provide a range of suitable options for action and expression, but this too requires careful consideration of how well different tools will cover the range of student needs, as well as awareness of when something else might still be necessary.

Perhaps the most significant concept in relation to technology is the multiple means of engagement of Principle III. This addresses stimulation of interest and motivation to learn. Without engaging students' desire to learn, the endeavor is moot. Technology's interactivity is its greatest asset in this regard. Interactivity may not be synonymous with engagement, but anything that makes learning active, even only superficially, is a step in the right direction. However, that potential for merely superficial engagement constitutes the challenge here. Without making the effort to ensure student technology use is meaningful, it's easy to be lulled by the appearance of engagement their interaction with it creates.

Technology is often touted as the solution to many education problems, and rightly so. The growing range of digital tools and resources in classrooms provides a broad selection of options to reach individual students and accommodate their various needs. However, one of the greatest challenges of effective education technology use is how to manage and utilize that diversity. In a way, this problem of how to use technology in education well replicates and reveals the underlying need for individualized education that UDL seeks to address. With that in mind, UDL's principles can serve as the guiding strategy for meaningful technology use. The outcome is a population of interested learners striving to continue the educational process throughout their lives.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lindsey Wright is fascinated with the potential of emerging educational technologies, particularly the online school, to transform the landscape of learning. She writes about web-based learning, electronic and mobile learning, and the possible future of education.

 Here are a couple of her most recent posts:

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