Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Thinking about Relationships...

Anyone who has been around education knows that there are always initiatives....always. Some make sense while others don't. I have the privilege of working with a number of different future and practicing education professionals in helping them understand the role that technology could - or should - play in the education of students with disabilities and other diverse learning needs.

About three years ago, I was invited by a colleague, Dr. Maureen Angel, to do a guest presentation in her class. The class was comprised of future special education administrators and schools psychologists and focused on technology applications in special education. I was asked to help paint the 'big picture' of technology use with relation to the education of students with disabilities. My viewpoint is (albeit, perhaps a biased one) that technology has the potential to be beneficial in almost every aspect of educating students with disabilities. However, as I was presenting, questions started to arise as to how technology - specifically assistive technology - fit into various initiatives and mandates - Response to Intervention (RtI), Universal Design for Learning (UDL), Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) and the Assistive Technology (AT) mandate within IDEA. We had some lively discussion about these but I decided to put together a graphic to begin fueling the discussion and think about the relationships between these various initiatives and mandates. The graphic has been revised several times as my thinking has changed over time.

Let me see if I can break this down.

UDL is predominantly made up of, in my opinion, two components - differentiated instruction and universally designed materials. I am using the term differentiated instruction loosely to refer not only to Tomlinson's concept of Differentiated Instruction but also to the concept that there is a pedagogical side to UDL. A teacher needs to know how to design and implement the tenets of UDL - multiple means of expression, representation and engagement - across a variety of learners. These strategies and techniques should be grounded in research based practices that have been shown to be effective with students.

UDL cannot be accomplished without access to universally designed materials. Universally designed materials are based not only accessibility guidelines and standards - leading to accessible instructional materials - but are flexible to provide multiple means of representation and engagement.

Assistive technology, by its nature, is a compensatory intervention that allows a student to do something that he or she would not be able to do without the assistive technology, ultimately resulting in enhanced performance on a given task. Universally designed materials and accessible instructional materials, by their natures, are ready to be use by individuals with a variety of needs. However, while universally designed materials and accessible instructional materials will meet the needs of many individuals, some individuals will still need to use additional assistive technologies to access these materials. The design elements of these materials are such that assistive technologies are able to work well with these materials. It is the difference between using assistive technology to approximate access and using assistive technology actually achieve it. I maintain that there continues to be a need for AT and that UDL does not, in itself, replace AT but make it easier for a user to use AT to interface with instruction and instructional materials. It is the combination of fully realized UDL (grounded in good pedagogy using materials that are truly universally designed) and the use of AT that provides access to the curriculum.

So what about Response to Intervention? Well, if the thought process behind RtI is to provide levels of support that are grounded in scientifically valid interventions to specifically target areas in which students are having difficulty, doesn't it make sense that those interventions also take into consideration UDL? In some way, UDL has an influence on RtI....but I am not sure the full picture of this influence has yet been realized or understood.

Now...some disclaimers. There is - or should be - a relationship between RtI and AT. However, again, this relationship, I think, is still not yet well defined. There is also a relationship between RtI and the curriculum. I just didn't note it here. UDL, as pointed out by Edyburn (2010), is a construct - one that is still being conceptualized and brought into practice. There is a lot we still need to learn about UDL (and that holds true for AT as well) before we can realize its full implications or understand its effectiveness.

This representation of relationships is one that is in constant development. I welcome thoughts and ideas to allow this continue to grow.


John said...
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Paul Hamilton said...

Thanks very much for this, Brian. It is helpful in my effort to understand these relationships. I'm still fuzzy on the Response to Intervention bit, but this helps. As your understanding evolves, I hope you'll share the progression of your thoughts and revisions to the graphic! I'm pretty sure I'll be sharing the graphic and referring to this post in some of my upcoming presentations.