Universal Design for Learning

This week’s blog is on Universal Design for Learning or UDL. UDL was created by the Center for Applied Special Technology to provide a framework for creating curriculum that is accessible to everyone and also reduces barriers for learners with disabilities. There are three primary principles that guide UDL:

  1. Provide Multiple Means of Representation:  All learners vary in the way they perceive information. In addition, some learners may have: visual or auditory impairments; learning disabilities; or are English language learners. Thus instructors should present information using multiple modalities (e.g. audio, visual, textual, symbolic or mathematical equations) to make the information accessible to all learners.
  2. Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression:  Learners with physical disabilities may have difficulty navigating a learning environment. F2F classrooms have to be designed so that these learners can negotiate the space. Also, these learners may need assistive technology to allow them to fully participate. Online learning provides an excellent platform for learners with physical impairments.  It removes the obstacles of having to navigate a physical classroom environment.  However, we as instructional designers still must consider how the media/tools we use work with enabling devices and assistive technology.
  3. Provide Multiple Means of Engagement:  All learners have different abilities to sustain attention to a topic.  Those with learning disabilities or ADD/ADHD may require shorter units of instruction.  However, breaking information into small pieces, or chunking, has been shown to benefit all learners.

I first learned about UDL about three years ago during a course on creating an inclusive learning environment. The instructor provided us with hypothetical courses that had students with disabilities and/or impairments and we designed curriculum that made learning accessible to these and all other students. At first, I thought using UDL principles when creating curriculum placed an unnecessary additional burden on teachers. It was not until I taught an actual Earth science class when I realized the value of UDL. For example, students were having trouble with an assignment because they didn’t understand the academic vocabulary. If I had created a lesson plan that pre-taught certain science terms (UDL Checkpoint 2.1 Clarify Vocabulary and Symbols) the students would have learned the higher level lesson topics much quicker.


This week work and school collided in a bad way. At work I am creating a series of videos on screencasting. I have broken the screencasting best practices down into four phases:

  1. Plan: Write a script and storyboard your screencast and practice your delivery;
  2. Record: Make sure you have a clean, quiet, and visually appropriate place to do your screencast. Make sure your desktop is free of personal/private information. Use a good quality mike and the appropriate screencasting software.
  3. Edit: Remove major flaws in the audio and video.
  4. Publish: Choose the right format and file size for the server.

The truth is, I only know a little about screencasting. I attended a webinar on the subject and was counting on getting help from the screencast expert at work. Then came this week’s school assignment that required the creation of a screencast of a learning management system (LMS). I chose Moodle as my LMS and decided to record it on Articulate Storyline. I recorded the screencast and then added the audio later. I only had a vague idea of what I wanted to say and it took several takes to sync the audio to the video. Right off the bat I violated my own rules for screencast by not planning (strike one). I then tried to publish the screencast but Articulate Storyline does not allow you to publish as a single .MP4. Instead, if publishes the video of each slide as a separate .MP4 and the audio as separate .MP3’s. Thus I violated number 4 of my best practices by not matching my desired file format to the actual output of the software (strike two). I then decided to use Articulate Replay and completely re-record my screencast. I again recorded the screen shots and added the narration separately. The funny thing about Articulate Replay is that it only has very crude editing tools and it took a lot of effort to sync the audio and video. Thus I violated No. 3 of the best practices (strike three I am out). However, I learned a valuable lesson. Going forward I will do as I say not as I do.

Addie Subjectives

I am taking a course this semester on the Design and Instruction of On-line Courses at UMass Boston (INSGSD 684). As an assignment this week, the instructor asked us to consider what she calls course subjectives. These are the unwritten questions to consider when you are designing e-learning or on-line instruction. They are in contrast to the course objectives which should be well defined statements regarding what you want learners to do or know after they have completed your training course. The instructor asked us to try to reflect on a list of subjectives developed by Autumm Caines (see http://autumm.edtech.fm/2016/01/27/the-subjective-addie-an-unmeasurable-look-at-an-id-standard/). These include:

  • What does this course mean to you?
  • Will this course feed learners souls?
  • Is there some aspect or assignment in this course (or that you envision for this course) that particularly tugs on your heart?
  • How will you understand your students’ point of view throughout the course?
  • Are you ready to learn from your students?

When I first saw these I have to admit that I rolled my eyes and chuckled a little bit. As a very analytical person, I considered a few of these to be somewhat esoteric (e.g. Will the course feed the learners souls?). I didn’t know how to deal with the exercise and decided to put it away for a while and come back to it. When I did come back to it with a more open mind, I was able to understand the point of the exercise. To me, subjectives are the unwritten aspects that I should consider when designing a course.   I agree with some of the subjectives that Ms. Caines identified and will consider going forward. Others on the list seem less accessible to me and my teaching style and will not be carried forward. The point is that the concept of subjectives is to develop your own that best fit who you are as a person and instructor. Some subjectives that are important to me include:

  • How will I know I am reaching all the students in the course?
  • How can I allow students to pursue their own interests within the confines of the course?
  • How do I create curriculum that is correct for my learners (i.e. not to simple or complex).