Reaching and Engaging All Learners Through Technology
Learning about both Universal Design and Differentiated Instruction and the ways to use technology as a tool to enhance students’ experience, had had both a practical and a philosophical effect. Of course the philosophical effect that exposure to these concepts has had will bleed into practical applications in the future, but for now, there are several key ways that this course can change a classroom starting today.
First, the practical effects are several, starting with a re-thinking of rubric creation. A poorly written rubric can be as cryptic as a letter grade that bears no explanation of its origin. A well-crafted rubric, however, delivered to students before an assignment can not only offer students a guide toward success and empower them to strive towards exemplary work, but it can show students that things like effort and creativity can be as important as content mastery (Laureate, 2011a). A student who may struggle memorizing facts and figures can see on a rubric that aspects of learning (such as thorough research or excellent presentation skills) in which they excel are also rewarded.
Another practical application of the knowledge from this course has been the development of a specific lesson plan that can be a jumping off point for better designed lessons (lessons designed with UDL and DI in mind). The specific lesson chosen to redesign using UDL and DI was one that was previously considered to be a standard, ‘if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it’ lesson that had little room for inclusion of technology or differentiation. But once the idea that everything can be designed to allow for every student’s success has been implanted, it is easy to see how nearly every lesson can be re-worked and improved. So, this lesson has been not fundamentally altered, but expanded to include more opportunities for students to learn in different ways, giving each student a better chance at mastery. Also, in redesigning this one lesson, it has been made apparent that a re-design of the classroom’s furniture and function is in order, to accommodate students who need to break out to do further learning before moving on to practicing their new skills.
Perhaps more important than the immediate practical changes that can be implemented, are the more broad scope philosophical or mind-set changes that have occurred. For example, in preparing the presentation on Universal Design for Learning seen here (http://ivorytusk.net/udl/), it became apparent that instead of designing lessons and then wondering how they will work for some students afterwards, all students must be considered from inception. This seems almost needlessly simple to state, but once one starts to think about lesson planning, that is not usually how it works. Typically a lesson is designed and differentiation is an afterthought. But if lessons are designed with UDL and DI in mind from the beginning, there will be ample opportunities for every student to not only absorb the content material, but then demonstrate his or her knowledge. If designed correctly and with flexible modes of learning and assessment, lessons will not have to be differentiated in the traditional sense (meaning retro-fitted to accommodate one or two students) because these flexible lessons will allow for all of the students to work within the same parameters.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2011a). Assessing Students. [Webcast]. Reaching and Engaging All Learners Through Technology. Baltimore, MD.
UDL Guidelines. 2011. National Center On Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from:http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines