When I first began my job as an Assistive Technology Coordinator in my district back in 2008, the lines between educational tech and assistive tech were pretty crisp. I worked exclusively with students in special education classrooms who needed a way to access the curriculum or a way to communicate effectively in the classroom. I worked with my teams to match the correct tools to help close the existing barrier for identified students. Over the subsequent years, I have seen these lines become a little blurrier in my district, for a few different reasons. First, many of our special education parents were asking that their students be educated alongside their peers in a more inclusive setting. Second, as we moved into using the Chromebook as a 1:1 universal tool in our district, students had access to technology resources that were typically reserved only for students with a demonstrated need. Finally, I had the great opportunity to attend the UDL Summer Institute at Harvard University in 2015. I guess you can say this is where I had my “Aha” moment (to quote the great Oprah Winfrey). I had the opportunity to hear directly from my mentors Dr. David Rose and Dr. Thomas Hehir; champions of UDL and inclusive education. But what is UDL and what role does it play in creating access for all students?
Put simply, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that is designed around making changes at the curriculum level so that all students have an opportunity to learn. Instead of a “one size fits all” mentality, UDL asks educators to consider three guiding principles when designing lessons:
- Multiple Means of Representation-we know that there are many types of learners in a classroom. If you assign a novel to students, some students may choose the printed book, others may choose an auditory or text to speech version, Still, others may decide to watch a movie version.
- Multiple Means of Action and Expression-we know diverse learners also need a way to demonstrate they know. Again, some students do just fine with one type of assessment, but what about the learner who is visually impaired, or has severe motor disabilities? Could students have a choice in how they are assessed?
- Multiple Means of Engagement– we know diverse learners differ greatly on how they show engagement. Some students love to work in groups with their peers, others like to work alone. In other words, the internal motivation and interests of the students are considered.
Lucky for us, many technology tools are available to all of our students so that they can take a much more active part in their learning; making all of us gradually release some of the responsibility we play in teaching students and giving more control to our students. I see my job evolving as well. Assistive Technology will always be around. Special education law mandates it; however, I can now lend some of my background knowledge in closing barriers for all students with the help of a dizzying array of technology tools; and by keeping the UDL principles in mind. I’m working alongside my EdTech peers more and more and personally, I love that the lines are blurry. Our goals are the same; using technology to create learning environments where all students have equal access, actively participate in the process and experience success.
Anne JacobsonAssistive Technology Coordinator
Maine Township High School District 207
Park Ridge, IL
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