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:

Providing Multiple Means of Action and Expression

Our students need to interact with materials and curriculum in different ways (Principle 2 of UDL). If they do not have this option, it creates a "barrier" towards learning. UDL classrooms look to provide students with "access" towards the curriculum in different ways. It helps our students understand the "How" of learning.

For example, the other day I had my students read an article. I provided students with an electronic copy, which contained hyperlinks to other news sources. This gave students an opportunity to access supplemental materials to watch video clips or listen a podcast of the subject area.

We discussed key vocabulary words that would appear in the text. Students created "Bumper Stickers" (for our visual learners) to define the term. They had to draw a picture to represent the concept, create a slogan (to define the term), and actually write out the term on the "Bumper Sticker." Students were asked to verbally share their responses to the class (for our auditory learners), so that we could better understand the vocabulary term. This worked much better than having the students copy the definition from a book.

After reading the article, I had my students discuss the article by "speed dating." Students were divided into pairs. One person was in charge of listening, while the other student was in charge of talking. After about a minute of discussion, the listener "paraphrased" what they heard to their partner (for our auditory and hands-on learners). After this occurred, we had each group take turns sharing what they had talked about to the entire group. Students threw around a "magic discussion ball," which was their ticket to talk!

After discussing the article, my students had to respond to the "Big Idea" of the article. I gave them some options for expressing their ideas. Students could write out their ideas in a Microsoft Word document or they could use a program called Audacity to create a verbal response in the form of a Podcast. Both options checked for understanding. All activities were designed from the beginning to take learner differences into consideration. An IEP didn't influence my teaching. UDL influenced my teaching.

Providing Multiple Means of Representation

Imagine teaching a group of students about Lobsters. Many of them may have come from different backgrounds, where they may have never seen one before. We know from brain research that to actually learn material, we need to give our students opportunities to connect with it in different ways. How do you do it?

Providing students with multiple ways of representing material (Principle 1 of UDL) is all about giving students a chance to connect with material via their senses.  Here are some of the key ingredients:

• options that customize the display of information
• options that provide alternatives for auditory information
• options that provide alternatives for visual information

How would a typical UDL lesson about lobsters works? As your students begin shuffling into the room, you try activating your student's prior knowledge, by asking your students to get out their notebooks and write down 3 facts about lobsters. Many of your auditory learners hate this activity, because they hate writing. As your students finish you ask them to share their answers with a partner. After a brief discussion, you transition into a quick vocabulary lesson about the different parts of a lobster.

Students read a section of their textbook to find the answers, however, you have obtained physical and electronic copies for your students to use. You love the flexibility! Jimmy loves the opportunity to zoom in and see the text better, because of his vision impairment. Suzy likes zooming in so that she can concetrate on one sentence at a time. Bobby likes clicking on the vocabulary hyperlinks and listening to the proper pronunciation of the word.

You provide students with a worksheet, which asks for students to record a definition, synonym, and draw a picture of what the vocabulary word means. This twist on vocabulary allows your students to connect with vocabulary on several different levels. Your visual learners love the opportunity to draw lobster claws, tails, and eyes!

It's time to discuss the material. You have arranged an opportunity for the local grocery store manager to bring in a lobster this day. As you are going through the vocabulary terms, the students are identifying the parts on a real life lobster!

This is just a quick example that I came up with, but realize that you need to provide students with multiple ways to connect with material. Simply lecturing and then giving students a worksheet doesn't always work! Our goal is to create expert learners, who are able to connect and learn from material in different ways!

For more resource and ideas, check out:

What is Universal Design for Learning?

Whenever anyone asks me about my blog, I always tell them that it's not a Web 2.0 blog. There are tons of blogs out there that can give you technology to use. I always tell them that my blog is about creating learning opportunities for ALL students through a concept called Universal Design for Learning. That's usually the point where their eyes glaze over!

There is ton's of research out there about the concept, from world-class experts in the field. CAST is one of the leading organizations in UDL research. Yet when people take my classes, read articles about UDL, or go to UDL workshops, they often don't have a clear vision of what it is. So over the next couple of days, I'd like to give my spin on the concept that is impacting the way ALL students learn.

Universal Design was originally intended to design better products, buildings, and environments for the widest range of users possible. From the start, modifications are taken into consideration, to reduce cost and eliminate potential problems. UDL takes the same concept a step further and applies it to education, answering two questions:
  • How can we get learners to "access" (or "get it") information? 
  • How can we eliminate the "barriers" (or roadblocks) towards learning? 
 Imagine walking into a shopping mall and trying to get through the doors. The automatic doors that you enter were universally designed for people with strollers, wheelchairs, or who simply didn't want to open a door by hand.

Television closed captioning was originally designed for people suffering with hearing impairments. It was quickly adapted and used by everyone. Spouses who want to watch TV without waking their husband or wife use it. People who work out in a gym use it. It's not meant for hearing impairments.

What does a UDL classroom look like? 

UDL and technology go hand in hand! Because of the flexibility and capabilities of technology, you can impact all learners! Take for instance, you have a reading assignment for your students to complete. You provide your students with a digital copy from the beginning, taking into consideration the diverse students you have in your room.

Johny, a student with vision impairments automatically benefits from this adaptation. He can zoom into text and easily understand what he's reading.

Carla likes to highlight text. She uses the highlighting features of Adobe to take notes and understand what she's reading.

Jamal has difficulty reading and tries to avoid it like the plague. However, if someone is reading along with him, he finds it easier to comprehend the text that he's reading. You can allow Jamal to use a text-to-speech program like Voki to comprehend the text.

Sam has trouble with understanding vocabulary. The hyperlinks built into the digital copy of the text, allow him to understand key vocabulary words. Sarah is one of your gifted students, who uses the same hyperlinks to read advanced information about the particular concept.

That's Great, But I Don't Have Computers

Not all of us are privileged to have computers for all students in our rooms. Take the same reading assignment and take some different spins.

Maybe you provide options for students on how they will read the assignment. You provide highlighters for the Carla's of the world. You allow the Jamal's of the world to read with another student. You may want to provide your students with post-it notes to write down questions they may have about vocab, the text, etc. Or come up with the "main idea" for each page.

Maybe you have your students take notes in the text. You give them the option of writing out sentences, words, or using pictures to describe key concepts.

The Sam's of the world may need a dictionary to look up words or actual pictures of key vocabulary words to understand. The Sarah's of the world may need a higher level reading article provided for them, which you used the advanced Google search feature (article from this blog) to do it.

Fitting it All Together

We all learn different ways. In order to create understanding, we need to be able to perceive, interact, and engage in learning in different ways. UDL is about understanding the learners in our classrooms, by eliminating barriers and creating access (or opportunities) for all students to learn.

3 different guidelines were designed to create succcessful learning experiences for all of our students. I'll get into more detail later. But here's a preview:

1. Multiple Means of Representation
2. Multiple Means of Action / Expression
3. Multiple Means of Engagement

Mother Nature's Contribution to UDL

Environmental responsibility is becoming a part of our culture more and more each day. Everywhere you turn someone is "going green!" Schools, businesses, and consumers are playing there part!

The Mother Nature Network (MNN) is a site devoted to exploring environmental issues from many different perspectives. Naturally if you are a Science teacher, you would benefit from this site. If you teach in another subject area, you may be tempted to turn away and ignore this post. However, there are some great resources for all subject areas, which would encourage inquiry-based thinking from all of your students.
  • The Earth Matters section contains all of your Science-friendly information about energy, animals, etc. History teachers have a section on Politics!
  • The Health section could benefit Health / Phys. Ed teachers with discussion topics like fitness / well-being.
  • The Lifestyle section could easily be used by Art teachers, who want to discuss art / culture and even fashion.
  • The Green Tech section could easily be used by Computer Application teachers, who want to share "green" technologies with their students.
  • The Eco-Biz & Money section could be used for Business and Economic teachers. Even Personal Finance is covered in this section!
  • Food and Drink could enhance any Home Economics class!
  • Your Home could enhance any Agriculture, Personal Finance or Tech Ed course!

There are so many useful resources and articles on this site. As our society changes and our students grow more passionate about "going green," this site could provide different ways of representing concepts and tapping into your student's interests.

Creating Your Own Living Breathing Textbook

Are you frustrated with the limitations of textbooks and textbook companies? First of all, it's expensive. Secondly, you may only be able to buy new textbooks every five to ten years. Thirdly, by the time you get your hard copy textbook, its out of date.

What if you want to customize your student's learning experience?Maybe you want your students to have up-to-date information and access to current events. What do you do? Head to the copy machine. What if there was a better way? A way to customize your student's learning experiences, embed current event articles, and show YouTube videos.

Well, there is in fact and it's been around in awhile. It's called Livebinder.

What is Livebinder?

It's a self-proclaimed "3-Ring Binder of the Web," allowing you to organize information in Tabs and Subtabs. You can add PDF Word documents, PDF PowerPoints, embed websites, embed YouTube videos, and pictures. It allows you the opportunity to create a living and breathing textbook! One of the best reasons to check it's free!

Check out some of the samples on Livebinder.

How Does this Relate to UDL?

Livebinder is an excellent tool to use when Universally Designing your lesson plans. It's a great way to customize materials, providing a way to provide multiple ways of representing material in the form of PowerPoint, YouTube videos, etc.

My Experiences

I have been using Livebinder for about two months now and I absolutely love the capabilities. There are some things that I've had to get used to. For instance, you have to create PDF copies of PowerPoints and Word documents to upload them into your binder.

Yet, it is so easy to do. It's even easier to customize your binder and allow your students to receive a customized learning experience. I love the fact that you can set up your binder so that it's private. It's worth a shot whether you are a teacher, coach, or administrator.

What's Holding You Back from Using Prezi?

Many of us are scared of trying new things. Especially when it comes to technology. We are scared that, in the words of one of my graduate students, "we will break something that we cannot fix." These are the words of a true "digital immigrant," or someone who knows what life was like before the Internet!

What's the problem with this? Our kids are "digital natives" and technology is something they like to use, because of the possibilities to create, collaborate, and experiment. Our kids are not scared of technology. Why? There's always the "Undo" button. Unfortunately they learn that this is not always the case in real-life.

So to all of you "digital immigrants" (including myself)...can I ask you a question? When you have to do presentations in class, what do you normally turn to? Let me guess...PowerPoint. Many of our kids are "PowerPointed" out. In the past I have written about another alternative called Prezi, yet many of us are scared to use it. Why? We just don't know how and we are scared of breaking something!

Buffy Hamilton from Creekview High School (GA) has an excellent site (titled Prezi 101) armed with video tutorials, cheat sheets, ect. to get you more comfortable with Prezi. Whether you are a beginner or an expert, it's worth a look.

What's also nice is the fact that there are many sample Prezi's for you to look at...just in case you have never seen one before. This resource tool is an excellent way of learning how to use Prezi or teach your students how to use it.

How Does this Relate to UDL?

In this posting, you are the student. This site is providing you with multiple ways to learn materials from the beginning through video clips, hands-on activities, samples, etc.

You may have sat in staff development sessions encouraging you to use this tool. Maybe you even had someone tell you how to use it. For our auditory learners, this is great. But you have severely limited learning opportunities from the start for your visual and tactile (hands-on) learners. If staff development had a Universal Design framework from the beginning, certain supports would already be in place.

For example, you may have want to break teachers into smaller learning groups, where they can play around with this techonogy and learn/listen to an expert walk them through on a projector screen. You may have another group of teachers who feel pretty comfortable with Prezi, why not have them "teach" the other teachers?

We all know that we forget how to use things after the fact. Why not email teachers a Word document with links already embedded, so that they don't have to manually type them in? Why not provide links to short video tutorials for teachers who need to "see" it?

For more on Universal Design for Learning, visit

The Law of the Land Constitution Site

Can you believe that there are topics, which seem boring to our students? :) I know that I'm being sarcastic, but there are topics that students need a little extra push.

When I was in school, I lacked the desire to want to learn about the US Constitution (sorry history teachers!). That is why it is so important to provide students with different ways to motivate and engage them to push through material that may not interest them.

The Law of the Land is an interactive site from Weekly Reader, devoted to teaching students the US Constitution. Take a stroll through the site and you will be amazed!

  • The Framers Section provides students a monologue from each of the most important architects of our constitution.This section is provides flexibility for students to learn, where students can listen or read the text of a historical figure's monologue.
  • The Timeline is an interactive timeline, where students control "Paul Revere" as he travels down the timeline. Students can listen or read about historical events. There is also an interactive quiz that students can complete about Paul Revere.
  • The Constitution section provides an interactive section teaching students about the actual US Constitution. There is also an interactive quiz for students to complete.
  • The Bill of Rights section provides an interactive section explaining what the Bill of Rights and its importance. There is an interactive quiz for students to complete.
  • The Constitutional Challenge section is probably the most impressive section on the whole website. Students can complete an interactive trivia Jeopardy game with a colonist as your "Alex Trebek."
I highly recommend using this site in elementary and middle school. It may not motivate high school seniors, but it could be used to teach lower level government classes. Just keep in mind, when students can interact with material in different ways, it does increase their level of motivation. Give it a try!

SPECIAL NOTE: You do have to be a subscriber to get this game. Click here for info.

The Need for Flexible Materials through Lifty

When you are universally designing lessons for your classrooms, we need to take into consideration the flexibility of the materials that we offer students. Take for instance a traditional reading assignment.

Many students are comfortable with a traditional photocopy, which they can highlight and "mark-up" the text. However, photocopies offer limitations. For instance, students with visual impairments may have difficulty reading from the same photocopy as a student without these difficulties. Students who need the extra support of listening to text, do not have the flexibility of copying and pasting the text into a program like Voki.

When you are designing lessons for ALL students to learn, you need to consider the flexibility of materials. Can you access materials online for students who need extra support and resources? Can you manipulate the text for students with visual impairments? Can you access a digital copy for students to access at home? These are all questions you should consider.

If your course requires traditional reading assignments from classic texts, you may want to take a look at Lifty, an online library of free eBooks. Litfy was offers several different categories of text: classics, romance, crime, and literary fiction. There are literally thousands of different titles that you can check out. It may give you the flexibility and availability that your students need.

40 Inspiring Blogs Every Special Education Teacher Should Read

We live in an age where a "one-size" fits all approach to education doesn't work. Crammed into our classrooms today are students with IEP's, 504's, GIEP's, etc. How do we teach to all of our students? When we universally design our instruction, we provide opportunities for ALL students to learn.

Many of the instructional strategies that are used to teach this segment of our population can enhance instruction for all students. Whether you are a special education teacher, teach AP courses, or are sandwiched in between, you may want to take a look at the following Blog Article: 40 Inspiring Blogs Every Special Education Teacher Should Read.

The resources are divided into several different sections:
  • Special Needs Teachers Share - gives insight into strategies and supports that work in SPED
  • Inspirational Resources - is jam packed with inspirational material aimed at inspiring educators, while dealing with the everyday challenges that exist in SPED
  • Creative and Inspirational Teaching Blogs - are resources that ALL teachers should take a look at. If you want to "perfect the art of teaching," this may be the section that you want to take a look at. Personally I like "The Teaching Palette."

This article is found within the Special Ed. from A to Zed blog. This blog contains numerous articles and resources that will enhance instruction within your classroom. You don't have to have students with IEP's, 504's, or GIEP's to utilize the strategies found within this blog. As education advances, all teachers will benefit from the information contained in the blog. Here are some of the ideas found within the site:

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