Monday, April 8, 2013

UDL & There’s an App for That!

Recently in my instructional technology program we have been studying Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  At its very core UDL is a set of principals for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.  Furthermore, it provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone.  This is not the single, one-size-fits-all approach that we have seen all too often in K-16 education.  Instead, it is a flexible approach that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs, because every student brings a huge variety of skills, needs, and interests to learning every day.  As educators we need to have a better framework to make this work within our classrooms.  With that idea in mind CAST, a nonprofit research and development organization, put together a more expansive, three tier approach to UDL.  It looks like this:

1.) Educators need to present information and content in different ways.  In order to do this UDL looks at providing Multiple Means of Representation.
2.) Educators need to differentiate the ways that students can express what they know.  In order to do this UDL looks at providing Multiple Means of Action and Expression.
3.) Educators need to stimulate interest and motivation for learning.  In order to do this UDL looks at providing Multiple Means of Engagement.

For more information about UDL check out the CAST website.  They also have a great introductory video for those that have not heard of UDL before.  

Our assignment this week was to take a look at ten apps that can help a specific situation implement a more UDL enhanced learning environment.  I took a close look at a fictional, but very realistic situation where a group of early elementary teachers come to their technology integrationist with a desire to more effectively implement UDL in their classrooms.  All their students have iPads, but the teachers are unsure what specific apps might help them in this situation.  I took on this challenge and put together a great list of eleven apps, targeting each one of the three UDL guidelines, that includes links, descriptions, and additional references for each one.  These apps fit really well with the UDL assignment, but ultimately if you are looking at a few great apps in an elementary (or even secondary) setting these may fit the bill.

Click the icon above for the full document!

I encourage you to take a look at my list and see what you think and please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

At the end of the day I am still not ultimately set on UDL as being a “guiding core of the educational system of the future.”  I believe that with its age, its over 20 years old, combined with the lack of real progress and change it has exhibited over time may lead to its downfall.  There are too many misconceptions around UDL and what it means and how it actually even looks in our classrooms.  The idea is great, but the implementation on a day to day basis seems a bit difficult and hard to complete.  Even UDL advocates have had a hard time actually proving that UDL has huge benefits in education on a large scale.  CAST has been able to prove that UDL works well in single classrooms, but even they have had a hard time replicating and scaling this across multiple grade levels and school settings.  In the end I firmly believe in the ideas and the core of UDL as it sits in the learning guidelines, but in its current state there are too many questions that prohibit me from wanting to use UDL on a regular basis.  This is only my experience with UDL over the past two weeks and if yours is different – or even similar – I encourage you to let me know your thoughts below.   

Thanks for reading!