BY JENNA GRAVEL
In “Curricular Opportunities in the Digital Age,” a paper for the Students at the Center project, David Rose and I aim to describe how technology can be used to create more student-centered learning opportunities for diverse learners within a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) context. We describe how applying the principles of UDL—provide multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement—to teaching practices can leverage the promise of new media to support students with varying strengths, weaknesses, and interests in reaching deep levels of thinking.
During the writing process, David and I experienced an interesting paradox: it felt strange to communicate the benefits of technology through the static, printed page. We felt limited in the ways in which we could support our readers in understanding what it was like to learn in the kind of technology-rich, student-centered environment that we describe.
Through the Students at the Center project, we were able to resolve the contradiction. David and I were offered the opportunity to create a “UDL version” of the paper—a version that transforms the written word into an interactive, learning experience. In this digital environment, we are able to apply the three principles of UDL and offer a range of features to support diverse learners.
The UDL version of “Curricular Opportunities in the Digital Age” was used this past fall at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Dr. Thomas Hehir’s class Implementing Inclusive Education. The UDL version not only supported the learner, but also served as a model of the kinds of learning environments that students could create and utilize in their own classrooms in the future.
The students’ reaction to the UDL versions of three articles, including “Curricular Opportunities in the Digital Age,” was overwhelmingly positive. Many students commented on how the embedded coaches and mentors supported their understanding of the content. They also appreciated how the reflection prompts encouraged them to make connections to their own experiences and beliefs. Several students valued the “Author Prompts,” as these prompts offered a window into our perspectives as authors/curriculum designers. Most importantly, many students communicated that the UDL versions helped them to access the articles at a deeper level. Had they been reading in a traditional print environment, these students did not believe that they would have arrived at such a sophisticated understanding of the content.
David and I invite you to explore this UDL version and to experience for yourself the “student-centered learning in the digital age” that we describe in the paper. The tech-enhanced features in the UDL version are summarized below.
UDL technology-enhanced features
The text-to-speech feature reads selected text aloud. This feature is useful to learners who have decoding weaknesses, who are English language learners, and/or who enjoy hearing text read aloud.
The multimedia glossary provides learners with the definition of words that may be unfamiliar to them. Whenever possible, an image is included with the definition to offer multiple representations of the term. This feature is beneficial to learners who are struggling readers, who are English language learners, and/or who have limited background knowledge on the topic.
This feature provides immediate access to cross-linguistic support. The feature supports learners who are English language learners as well as native English speakers who may be learning Spanish and want to increase their vocabulary.
Visual organizer/concept map
The visual organizer/concept map offers learners a visual representation of the concepts in the article and supports learners in organizing content. Learners can also choose to use the visual organizer/concept map as a navigation tool and jump to sections of the article that pique their interest.
The mentors offer unique perspectives that learners may find relevant to their own interests and backgrounds.
“Reflect” and “Check your Understanding” prompts
These prompts encourage self-reflection as learners make connections to their own lives and assess their comprehension of the content. Furthermore, the “Check your Understanding” prompts offer learners instant feedback in order to support their learning.
The “Learn More” feature links to tools and resources that offer learners the opportunity to delve deeper into concepts that they find personally relevant and meaningful.
Several videos are embedded to offer learners an alternative representation of particular content.
Throughout the article, David and I have included our thoughts as to why we decided to include particular UDL features and how we think those features will support learners.
UDL feature highlights
These icons highlight the different UDL features that we have embedded into the learning environment. We hope these highlights serve as explicit examples of ways to integrate UDL.
Jenna Gravel is a doctoral student at Harvard Graduate School of Education and a Teaching Fellow for Thomas Hehir’s course Implementing Inclusive Education.