Scholarly article on topic 'Universal Design for Learning: Enhancing Achievement of Students with Disabilities'

Universal Design for Learning: Enhancing Achievement of Students with Disabilities Academic research paper on "Educational sciences"

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Procedia Computer Science
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{"Universal design for learning" / "students with disabilities" / technology / STEM / achievement}

Abstract of research paper on Educational sciences, author of scientific article — Margaretha Vreeburg Izzo

Abstract This paper defines universal design for learning, presents examples of how universally designed technology hardware and software applications promote increased learning, and provides examples of how professors integrate UDL and technology into college settings to enhance learning outcomes of all students, including those with disabilities. UDL strategies enhance the quality of higher education through the creation of more flexible and student-centered learning environments. UDL strategies enhance learning for all students, including students with disabilities who are majoring in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), one of the most rigorous academic disciplines, but also one of the most financially rewarding careers.

Academic research paper on topic "Universal Design for Learning: Enhancing Achievement of Students with Disabilities"

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Computer Science

Procedía Computer Science 14 (2012) 343 - 350

Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Software Development for Enhancing Accessibility and Fighting Info-exclusion (DSAI 2012)

Universal Design for Learning: Enhancing Achievement of

Students with Disabilities

Margaretha Vreeburg Izzo *

Ohio State University Nisonger Center, 357 McCampbell Hall, 1581 DoddDr. Columbus, Ohio 43210


This paper defines universal design for learning, presents examples of how universally designed technology hardware and software applications promote increased learning, and provides examples of how professors integrate UDL and technology into college settings to enhance learning outcomes of all students, including those with disabilities. UDL strategies enhance the quality of higher education through the creation of more flexible and student-centered learning environments. UDL strategies enhance learning for all students, including students with disabilities who are majoring in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), one of the most rigorous academic disciplines, but also one of the most financially rewarding careers.

© 2012TheAuthors.Published byElsevier B.V. Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of the ScientificProgramme Committee ofthe 4thInternationalConference onSoftware DevelopmentforEnhancing AccessibilityandFightingInfo-exclusion(DSAI2012)

Keywords: Universal design for learning; students with disabilities; technology; STEM; achievement

1. Introduction

Numerous researchers cite the gap between enrollment and persistence in postsecondary education between students with and without disabilities, resulting in limited opportunities to gain high skill employment [1] [2]. Statistics on the science and engineering workforce show that only about 7% of graduate students in science and engineering were persons with disabilities [3]. Sevo [3] observes that universities are willing to make physical accommodations for students with disabilities, but creating a welcoming climate has yet to follow suit. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) strategies address these inequities by enhancing the quality of higher education through the creation of more flexible and student-centered learning environments. UDL


1877-0509 © 2012 2012 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. Selection and/or peer-review under responsibility of the Scientific Programme Committee of the 4th International Conference on Software Development for Enhancing Accessibility and Fighting Info-exclusion (DSAI 2012) doi: 10.1016/j.procs.2012.10.039

strategies enhance learning for all students, including students with disabilities who are majoring in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM), one of the most rigorous academic disciplines, but also one of the most financially rewarding careers.

This paper defines Universal Design for Learning (UDL), presents examples of how universally designed technology hardware, software and tech applications promote increased learning, and finally, discusses how professors integrate UDL strategies into college settings to enhance learning outcomes for all students. Students entering college are more diverse, including international students with varied ethnic and cultural backgrounds; and students with an array of learning, attention, psychological, and physical disabilities [4]. This increase in the number of diverse students challenges professors to embrace a wide range of students, and address needs of students with disabilities to make higher education more accessible [5]. To help address these challenges, legislation [6], educational research, and teaching practice [7] promote UDL as a strategy for raising academic standards for all students. This paper discusses how universally designed teaching practices enhances the engagement and achievement of students with disabilities who are majoring in STEM, an underrepresented population within the STEM disciplines.

2. UDL Defined

The Higher Education Opportunities Act of 2008 (HEOA) is the first federal legislation passed in the United States to define UDL:

Universal Design for Learning is a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that — (A) provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and (B) reduces challenges in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient. [6].

The inclusion of UDL in the reauthorization of the HEOA demonstrates its escalating importance. In contrast to the adoption of Universal Design into architecture, UDL concepts and practices are not broadly integrated into policy and practice within higher education. The framework of UDL consists of instructional approaches that provide students with choices and alternatives in the materials, content, tools, context, and supports they use. According to CAST, there are three basic principles of UDL [8].

2.1 Multiple means of representation

Presenting content using a variety of teaching strategies enhances achievement for students who have different learning styles. For example, students with learning disabilities whose learning strength is using visual or kinesthetic modes are at a disadvantage during a lecture, which relies on auditory processing skills. Instructors who present information using multi-modal teaching will increase the probability that students will acquire the key content of a topic. Examples include using a mixture of media to relay concepts such as lectures, podcasts, texts and web resources ranging from YouTube videos to multiple versions of class notes posted by several students for each class.

2.2 Multiple means of strategic engagement

Providing numerous opportunities for students to interact with the content maximizes student learning. Instructors who use lectures as their primary means of delivering content risk losing their students' attention for a many reasons. Some students who are taking notes may miss key concepts because they fall behind in taking

notes. Other students plan on listening to the lecture, but their minds wander off. Students learn better when they are actively engaged by answering questions, discussing the content or applying what they are learning to actual problems. Professors who present key concepts, provide guided notes that require students to think independently about applications and then share these applications in small or large groups will increase student engagement with the content. Increasing the time students engage with the content t by listening to a lecture, watching a video or computer-animated demonstration, reading a website, or talking with their peers about the content will enhance retention and ultimately, increase achievement.

2.3 Multiple means of expression

Some student may not be motivated to study for a test, but are highly motivated to create a multimedia presentation that will be posted to the class website to demonstrate their knowledge of a topic. Structuring assessments so students have multiple opportunities to demonstrate their learning through multimedia projects, written papers, or shorter and multiple quizzes throughout the course will learn more in a class than if students have and one comprehensive exam at the end of a course.

These UDL principles provide students with options for learning and different methods of assessments to express knowledge. The UDL framework challenges educators to rethink the nature of their curriculum and empowers them with flexibility to serve a diverse population of learners [9].

3. Universal Design and Technology

Designing inclusive learning environments using technology creates optimal conditions for accommodating the changing needs of multiple constituents [10]. Courses designed using principles of UDL and supported by universally designed technology provide students with options to access the content multiple times in different settings while using a variety of technology applications. With the growth of the Internet and technological innovations, many learning environments include computers and other devices that help students learn more efficiently. According to Mapou [11], computer software provides assistance to students with disabilities and other learning challenges gain access to course content that prior to the digital age were unavailable to learners with special needs. These universally designed devices can reduce the need for formal accommodations for college students with disabilities. Examples of several different types of technology are provided in the discussion below.

3.1 iPad/iPodTouch

The iPad is a tablet computer with a 9.7-inch touchscreen, built-in keyboard, digital video camera and Internet connectivity and the iPodtouch is a smaller handheld device with similar capabilities as the iPad. Over 200,000 apps are available for download to the iPad or iPodTouch. Apple designed accessibility features into both of these devices. For consumers with vision loss, the iPad, iPhone and iPodTouch has VoiceOver technology which will audibly speak what is on the screen and what the user is interacting with. For those with limited vision, the iPodTouch touch has a color inverting features to enable white text on a dark background. The contents of the screen can be enlarged or zoomed [12]. Numerous researchers are incorporating these devices and various apps to provide instruction or supports for persons with disabilities. Examples of several studies follow.

• Increase reading proficiency: An elementary school principal in California created a forward thinking reading program by pairing iPods and print books that has increased reading comprehension scores among non-proficient readers. Students can check out books from the school library and then follow-along with an audio recording from the school owned iPods. Once students listen and read the book, they take a quiz to

test their comprehension. If they pass, they can progress to another book on the playlist. Students who were non-readers in the past are now increasing their reading scores at the same rate as their peers who are reading proficiently. The principal said, "It was motivating to the kids - they liked checking out more books and using their iPods to listen to the stories [13].

• Communication App: The Speakall! App offers a user-friendly, customizable program that helps students with autism improve their communication and classroom behavior skills. The Speakall! App was developed by the Engineering Project in Community Service (EPIC), a team of engineers and undergraduate students at Purdue University in Indiana. The app uses traditional communication aides such as low-tech picture exchange communication system in which children trade pictures for items desired and a mid-tech electronic device that speaks out constructed sentences. Student need to drop and drag or touch images to construct sentences that the iPad then speaks for them. This app has been used by both elementary and high school students with severe disabilities, including autism [14].

• Daily Living Skills: Cannella-Malone et al. [15] used iPod touch to teach cooking skills to high school students with severe disabilities using video prompting and activity schedules. Students learned to follow an activity schedule that was programmed to an iPod touch and then followed video prompts to complete the tasks within the schedule. Students generalized the skills learned to other settings and activity schedules.

3.2 Digital Pen with audio recording

The digital pen converts handwritten notes into digital records so students can transfer their notes to a personal computer. Once digitized, students can edit, highlight, and review their notes as they study for tests or prepare projects. Students can transfer key concepts to Powerpoint or excel documents or insert examples from other sources such as class texts or related websites.

Several versions of the digital pen include audio recording features so students can record class lectures and discussions and listen to the audio recording of the lecture while they read their notes. If students miss key points they can make the corrections to their digital notes, resulting in more accurate notes. Digital pens provide opportunities to engage students in the content using both audio and visual supports, therefore maximizing two learning modalities and ultimately increasing engagement with the content, often resulting in increased achievement. Digital pens provide a critical support for students with and without disabilities.

3.3 Tablet PC

The Tablet PC is a portable computer with a rotating screen locking on top of the keyboard, transforming the notebook computer into a notepad for handwriting directly on the screen. The active digitizer and digital "pen" models natural handwriting with options for pen, felt-tip marker, or by highlighting key points on the screen.

In a recent study, researchers reported that using Tablet PCs to record STEM lectures with audio and visual displays enhanced the achievement of students with disabilities [10]. This example and others are discussed to demonstrate how technological supports increase success of all students, including students with disabilities, regardless of educational level or setting.

4. Incorporate UDL into College Courses

ULD is a teaching approach that ensures students with a wide range of abilities can access course content and ultimately succeed in college. From a neurological standpoint, students learn in different ways regardless of their cultural, economic, or disability characteristics. People process information using many strategies; no two people have the same strengths and weaknesses in learning styles. College students do not have one general learning aptitude but many learning abilities; a disability or challenge in one area may be compensated by abilities in another [16]. Adopting flexible teaching strategies that eliminate barriers helps meet the needs of diverse learners.

UDL integrates a variety of strategies such as multi-modal teaching, differentiated instruction, cooperative learning, self-monitoring, embedded assessment, relevant context, and demonstrated learning via multiple media. In addition, UDL integrates accessible technology into the teaching and learning process, thereby harnessing a set of technological innovations such as YouTube, podcasts, iPads and electronic voting machines often called clickers. UDL encourages a student-centered approach whereby the learning environment enhances the independence of all learners with a minimum of retrofitting, reducing the need for individual accommodations.

Establishing clear learning objectives of a course renders subsequent decisions about UDL approaches employed much easier. For example, if "be a responsible, scientifically literate citizen" is a learning objective for a large biology course, then teaching — and testing — the names of the stages of cell division takes low priority. Similarly, engaging in small-group discussions about policy options regarding breast cancer (where some understanding of cell division applies) takes high priority; that such discussions provide an alternative means for strategic engagement is even better. Several UDL strategies are provided among specific STEM disciplines that represent a broad range of course levels and class sizes from 5 to 300 students.

4.1. Architect students learn universal design

One required course for all City & Regional Planning (C&RP) students encourages integration of information from many disciplines, including the seven principles of universal design, as students learn to incorporate different purposes and users into a facility. C&RP classes offer multiple examples and non-examples of factors one must consider in planning design requirements of facilities. Accessibility features are discussed in groups and assessed through projects, papers, and exams. Because classes employ audio streaming with visual presentation of facilities, students can view lecture portions of classes at their convenience and use asynchronous, threaded discussions to comment on the accessibility of design features.

Because architecture is an applied field, C&RP faculty also use multiple means of strategic engagement. For example, many courses and studio classes have students apply what they learned to solve real-world problems with real clients. Instructors offer multiple means of expression; for example, students select and complete four of five potential projects as a team. The team also selects a final project where they summarize key points of the course with a mix of text and images. In some courses, students also design their midterm exam according to format (essay, true/false questions, multiple choice questions, or mix of those) and weighting of multiple formats. Students receiving time accommodations for exams can receive oral exams that include nested sets of questions according to previous answers.

4.2. Professors increase student engagement with electronic voting machines

A physics professor increases engagement of students by using hand-held electronic voting machines called clickers to answer multiple-choice questions during lectures. The instructor asks a sequence of questions to test students' understanding of key concepts. The distribution of answers chosen for each question appears,

and the instructor then leads class discussion to clarify any misconceptions. In an experiment to test the effects of clicker technology, two sections of the same physics class were compared; one class used the voting machines followed by discussion of the questions asked during voting; the other class did not. No statistical differences on pretest measures of students' knowledge of physics concepts existed between the two treatments. Students who used the clickers earned final examination scores approximately 10% higher — the equivalent of a full-letter grade — than those of students who participated in traditional physics lecture [17]. Students reported that using voting machines helped them learn. These data could not be disaggregated by diversity due to inadequate power within ethnic and disability categories. Students with visual or hearing impairments in classes using voting machines will require appropriate accommodations; for example, questions in accessible formats for students with visual impairments and interpreter services for students with hearing impairments.

The clicker-use data above were also analyzed for gender differences. In traditional physics classes, male students outperform female students. However, in clicker classes, the performance of male and female students was not significantly different, suggesting that clickers and class discussions improve performance of female students. Such methods may increase the performance of women in challenging courses and could encourage more women to pursue STEM disciplines

4.3 Professors create multiple assessment opportunities

The multiple methods of representation and engagement inherent in UDL provide the breaks that punctuate an otherwise long lecture. Students work in cooperative groups; at least once each class period, each group must provide responses to questions from the current lecture topic, such as, "Should our state screen for more genetically based birth defects, even though this is expensive?" Groups are called randomly to report their thoughts; subsequent groups are called to add comments. All groups submit their answers at the end of each class period for credit.

Many professors realize that performing well on an exam within some arbitrary period is not consistent with their stated learning objectives. This can place the instructor in a quandary: Why are there time limits on my exams? UDL suggest that unlimited time exams will meet the needs of the students with disabilities and all other students who may benefit. We found that the major benefit of this unlimited time policy is reduced apprehension among some students. In fact, very few students take more time on exams; the major exceptions include foreign students using dictionaries, and we accommodate their needs by "assigning" a teaching associate (TA) to proctor the exam, just as with time-limited exams. Another UDL strategy for administering exams that reduces anxiety and increases opportunity for students to demonstrate what they know is to permit each student to bring one page of notes to exams. This has the added benefit of helping some students organize the material covered on the particular exam. In practice, we have also found that permitting such notes helps students appreciate that the instructor will make good on a promise to not produce a "memory exam."

UDL principles can be liberating for faculty members. For example, the objectives for science courses at most universities include expectations for students to recognize connections between science and political issues such as global warming or stem cell research, to appreciate the history of science, and (often) to recognize ethical implications of scientific applications in society today. These topics are difficult enough to teach, much less assess in students. Standard testing methods do not lend themselves easily to such topics, no matter the student. The multiple means of student expression inherent in UDL guidelines provide a solution. For example, we have students prepare policy statements on issues such as global warming that include sufficient biology to justify the proposed policies as well as discussion of societal impacts and ethical implications — to meet our underlying course goals.

5. Conclusion

Professors are attuned to the need for greater flexibility in instructional design while maintaining high standards to teach STEM students with and without disabilities. Universal design offers a promising approach to meeting the learning needs of all students. The UDL framework challenges educators to rethink the nature of their curriculum and empowers them with the flexibility to serve a diverse population of learners. Researchers must further develop and validate universal design principles and strategies across contexts and constituencies, so that more students with diverse backgrounds continue to access and succeed in college and gain the skills needed to join the STEM workforce and make significant contributions to our global community.


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The content of this paper was funded in part by NSF Award number HRD-0833561 and U.S. Department of Education, Office of Postsecondary Education Award number GRT00021456. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this chapter are those of the author and do not reflect those of the National Science Foundation or U.S. Department of Education.