The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, developed at CAST, encourages educators to embrace the idea of learner variability as an asset in pursuit of student-centered learning opportunities. Starting from a place of acceptance of learner variability enables educators to use UDL principles to design ways for all students to engage, understand, and respond in more meaningful ways. Considering learner variability at the outset of instructional design can enhance a teachers’ ability to recognize and lower barriers to provide student-centered learning with technology for all.
General educators can serve as content specialists and special educators offer expertise in navigating the natural variability in the classroom. All students can benefit from student-centered learning and collaborative design, especially those students using assistive technologies. Collaboration between special educators and general educators builds the foundation to design cohesive, inclusive, and accessible student-centered learning opportunities.
The Center for Inclusive Technology in Education Systems (CITES) uses an iterative design-thinking process, in partnership with local districts, to identify and refine a set of teaching practices that enhance the development of a balanced and inclusive technology infrastructure.
Actions educators can take with technology to support student centered learning include:
- Prioritize student-centered learning by using technology supports with personalized learning, UDL, or multiple pathways implementation.
- Collaborate with special or general education in design and planning.
- Address the use of AT for students with disabilities in instructional design and delivery.
Weaving Together Universal Design for Learning and Accessible Technology Tools to Personalize Learning for All Students
Sheldon Independent School District (Houston, Texas)
Sheldon Independent School District (ISD) serves approximately 10,000 students in Houston, Texas. Six years ago, the district started moving toward a personalized, student-centered learning model. For example, the district developed “Compass Schools” at the elementary level, offering families and students choice among two science, technology, engineering, and mathematics schools; two high-tech schools; and two schools focused on performing arts and the visual arts plus instituting personalized learning pathways at the middle and high school levels. The district shared that it has undergone a systemic effort to address the needs of unique learners by providing training in the use of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to all teachers, both general education and special education teachers, as well as instructional staff and district leaders. Sheldon ISD’s mission statement highlights a belief in the importance of personalized learning to ensure that all students graduate college and career ready and embracing technology and UDL principles were key elements in helping meet that vision.
In the last 3 years, the district launched preservice professional development activities with a 4-day conference focused on the needs of individual learners and special populations, helping teachers learn how to use and apply accessible technology tools in the general education classroom. Reflecting a district belief that personalized and accessible learning tools should be available to all students, the district used local funds to purchase districtwide licenses for supportive access tools. For example, all teachers in both general and special education have access to a digital repository of UDL strategies and supports, as well as technology tools with built-in accessibility features. In addition, classroom teachers receive student profiles that outline students’ cognitive processing strengths and weaknesses and suggest potential strategies and technology tools to support learning. These profiles are used during professional learning communities and collaborative planning to align technology supports with content and lesson delivery. The district shared that the use of accessible technology supports for all students is woven into its district improvement plan. Teachers are encouraged to reflect on student strengths and learning needs as they plan lessons and integrate technology supports to personalize learning. The district shared that sometimes personalization means a device or technology; other times, it may be a relationship and connection: “Personalization is an attitude of finding the ‘hook’ for each student, whether the environment, the device, or [a] personal connection.”