Friday, September 21, 2007

Thinking about UDL...

I was approached by an administrator the other day who asked me to explain 'UDL' to him. I began explaining that UDL is a shift in thinking and curriculum material design that allows teachers to meet students at the individual level and offer tailored scaffolded instruction while hooking into those things that engage the each student. I gave some brief examples, all of which, involved some integration of technology and spoke to the UDL tenets of Multiple Means of Expression, Engagement and Representation. He listened intently and then said, "Well UDL is basically a rehash of differentiated instruction with technology, right?" I paused, sighed (I have heard this perception before) and tried to explain it again. However, I'm not sure that I was successful.

Since that experience, I have been sincerely thinking about Universal Design for Learning (UDL) with respect to bringing it from a theoretical level to a pragmatic level that is easily understood by teachers to implement in their classrooms. In thinking about UDL, it struck me this morning (in the shower...where the best thinking occurs) that the problem with UDL is that it is a goal, a state of being, that has not yet been reached and, consequently, has not been experienced. This, I think, or at least is my thinking at this point, is the crux of the issue. We are in the process of moving towards this UDL utopia and, therefore, filling in the blanks. So, please indulge me as I ramble and try to add some thoughts to those blanks.

UDL, I believe, has two major components: universally designed materials and universally designed instruction. I will try to speak to both in turn.

UDL, as many people know, came from UD, or Universal Design. UD comes from the field of architecture. No new news there. However, this piece, I believe, plays a crucial point in realizing UDL. The key here is that curriculum materials used in the provision of instructions must be designed in a way that meets students 'where they are at'. A couple years ago, I heard Dave Edyburn describe UDL as a built in control panel for curriculum materials where teachers would just have to choose the right setting based on the student (e.g., readability, prior experiences, degree of pictoral support, etc.) and the curriculum material with automatically adjust to meet the student's needs. Well, I think it is safe to say that we have a long way to go here. However, steps, like NIMAS, are being taken to move in this direction. This 'design' level has much to do with establishing and setting policy as well as law. But since we do not currently have UDL designed curriculum materials, that leaves us in a sort of UDL primordial ooze.

In the interim, we look to existing and emergent technologies to adapt existing materials to, hopefully, approximate UDL designed materials. Text readers and the addition of picture supports to text, multimedia adaptations or integrations into various academic experiences add depth and provide differentiated experiences for students. The incorporation of various Web 2.0 and other digital technologies allow students to express themselves in a multitude of ways.

However, regardless of whether teachers are using UDL designed materials or attempting to approximate UDL designed materials through adaptation, there is a pedagogical component to UDL. Specifically, a teacher needs to:

  • Differentiate instruction for diverse learners.
  • Know strategies, resources and tools that can be used to differentiate instructional experiences for students.
  • Know how to use these strategies, resources, and tools.
  • Know how to teach the students to use these strategies, resources and tools.

To this end, there is an interesting line of study that discusses the relationships between technology knowledge, content knowledge, and pedagogical knowledge. Quoting from
Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge (TPCK) attempts to capture some of the essential qualities of knowledge required by teachers for technology integration in their teaching, while addressing the complex, multifaceted and situated nature of teacher knowledge. At the heart of the TPCK framework, is the complex interplay of three primary forms of knowledge: Content (CK), Pedagogy (PK), and Technology (TK).

I believe that it is only with universally designed curriculum materials and the use of the those materials within sound pedagogy that has been influenced by UDL tenets that UDL will be realized.

Just some thoughts...

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