April Market Showers Bring UDL Flowers

April showers

One of the panel presentations and discussions at the May 2015 Software & Information Industry Association’s (SIIA) Education Industry Summit, focused on Universal Design for Learning (UDL). During the panel, some recent, noteworthy mentions of UDL in the marketplace were shared. Like UDL “market showers” released in April 2015, they caused May to become the perfect time to share the beauty of their blooms, brightening the opportunities for all learners.

The First Shower

An article by Kim Greene titled “The Growing Case for UDL”, featured in the Spring 2015 edition of Scholastic Administrator. What I particularly liked about this article was how it mentioned the benefits of UDL on addressing the needs of all learners within the K-12 learning community, not just special education. It prominently featured an implementation at Susan B. Anthony Middle School in Revere, MA–Adam Deleidi, the Assistant Principal at the school said, “There’s a misconception that this is a technology or special education initiative. It’s not either.” In fact, the article shares that in the past two years since starting their UDL implementation in the 2012-13 school year, “special education and discipline referrals are down by 50 percent” and “out-of-school suspensions have plummeted by 70 percent….”

The implementation at Deleidi’s school is a perfect example of how relying on UDL as a foundation for your approach to learning results benefits throughout the school for all learners.

The Second Shower

An article reviewing the benefits of UDL in the higher education setting titled “7 Things You Should Know About Universal Design for Learning”, posted on Educause. Similar to the Scholastic Administrator article, it emphasized the ROI that schools realize through UDL implementation. In particular, the article mentioned how the “University of North Carolina System … incorporated UDL into its College STAR initiative.” More specifically, as part of its STAR initiative, at “East Carolina University, … a STAR program for students with identified learning disabilities resulted in a 90% retention rate, higher than the retention of the university as a whole.”

Thus, through high-quality design implementation, UDL helped East Carolina University realize a meaningful ROI by retaining more students.

The Third Shower

A whitepaper titled, “Ed Tech Developer’s Guide: A primer for software developers, startups, and entrepreneurs” published by the United States Department of Education’s Office of Educational Technology. Within the section titled, “Opportunity 8: Making Learning Accessible to All Students,” UDL is prominently featured because the UDL “guidelines encourage instructional practices and educational content that embrace the widest possible diversity of learners.” Borrowing from the broader context of Universal Design (“designing products and spaces so that they can be used by the widest range of people possible”), what the Ed Tech Developer’s Guide argues is that when you leverage UDL, “not only do you facilitate school district compliance with civil rights laws, but your apps will become much more beneficial to your users as well, even those who may not have specific learning disabilities.”

So, an intentional focus on UDL during product design and implementation benefits all learners.

The Fourth Shower

A section of the draft legislation on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) titled “PART G—INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGY EXPANDS CHILDREN’S HORIZONS (I-TECH)” mentioned UDL. The proposed legislation recognizes the significant benefits of the UDL guidelines, calling for funding and coordination of implementation support for programs consistent with the UDL principles. It specifically calls for State Education Agencies to be able to use funds to provide “technical assistance to local educational agencies to … use technology, consistent with the principles of universal design for learning, to support the learning needs of all students….”

Again, the key aspect to this proposed legislation is that it recognizes the power in the UDL framework to “expand the horizons” of all learners.