Advocating for the implementation of UDL in our education system. By David Lepofsky, Visiting Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School

I look forward to speaking at the May 31-June 2, 2017 conference on strategies for advocating for the implementation of UDL in our education system. As one illustration, on April 3, 2017, the Special Education Advisory Committee of the Toronto District School Board, which I chair, passed a comprehensive recommendation to TDSB on needed reforms to promote inclusion for students with special education needs. In that motion, among other things, was the following:

Recommendation 9. Ensure Universal Design in Learning Is Used in Classrooms across TDSB

TDSB should develop, implement and monitor a plan to ensure that all teachers and teaching staff understand, and effectively and consistently use, principles of Universal Design in Learning (UDL), and differentiated instruction, when preparing and implementing lesson plans and other educational programming. For example:

  1. TDSB should survey its front-line teachers to find out how much they now know about or were trained in UDL and differentiated instruction, how much they incorporate UDL and differentiated instruction into their lesson plans, and what supports would assist them to practice UDL and differentiated instruction in their teaching.
  2. TDSB should develop, implement and monitor a comprehensive plan to train its teachers, other teaching staff, teaching coaches and principals on using UDL and differentiated instruction principles when preparing lesson plans and teaching. Training on UDL and differentiated instruction should be mandatory, not optional.
  3. TDSB should include knowledge of UDL and differentiated instruction principles as an important criterion when recruiting or promoting teachers, other teaching staff and principals.
  4. TDSB should ensure teachers are provided with appropriate resources and support to successfully implement the UDL training.  This could include appropriate adaptive technology and sufficient planning time for teachers who are sharing a team-teaching role. TDSB should also develop strategies for monitoring and assessing how effectively UDL and differentiated instruction are incorporated into lesson plans and other teaching activities on the front lines.
  5. TDSB should develop a specific strategy for monitoring and reinforcing the use of UDL and differentiated instruction in situations where a teacher in a regular classroom has very limited exposure to their students with special education needs, e.g. where a student, placed in a special education class, only spends an hour per day in a regular class.
  6. TDSB should review any curriculum, text books and other instructional materials and learning resources used in its schools to ensure that they incorporate principles of UDL.
  7. TDSB should ensure that teachers in the areas of science, technology, engineer and math (STEM) have resources and expertise to ensure the accessibility of STEM courses and learning resources. This should include ensuring that any math coaches hired under the new Ontario Government math strategy have the expertise in UDL and differentiated instruction, to effectively assist teachers in meeting the needs of students with disabilities.
  8. TDSB should provide teaching coaches with expertise in UDL to support teachers and other teaching staff across TDSB.
  9. An annual UDL/differentiated instruction training report should be presented to SEAC and TDSB trustees. It should include the training done in the past year and planned for the following year; including summary of the training content, audiences and learning outcomes.

 

Since the late 1970s, David Lepofsky has been active in a volunteer capacity, advocating for new laws to protect the rights of persons with disabilities in Canada. In 1980, he appeared before the Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons on the Constitution of Canada, on behalf of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind for an amendment to the proposed Charter of Rights, to guarantee equality rights to persons with disabilities. The efforts of a great many combined to lead Parliament to pass the disability amendment to the Charter.

David will be offering a plenary on the Thursday morning of the conference as well as a workshop later that day.  

Why discuss UX in Education?

While UX has been a crucial lens in Industry for quite some time, the field of Education is still reticent to embrace it. Why the sudden pressing need to change this status quo? And why does this Conference focus on UX?

Universal Design for Learning has made giant strides in North America over the last five years, in both the K-12 sector and Higher Ed. There has been rapid growth and spread across sectors and across the continent. Communities of practice and hubs of excellence have emerged. The Second Pan-Canadian Conference on UDL will be the occasion to celebrate this coming of age. However the UDL discourse runs the risk of remaining theoretical and irrelevant unless it tackles a significant hurdle: one cannot genuinely implement UDL in the classroom if one does not take the time to consider the learning experience from the learner’s perspective. Hence the unavoidable UX angle.

I am always surprised at how even seasoned UDL practitioners still avoid discussing the learner experience. They will happy try to tackle potential barriers but will do so within a process that is exclusively based on their own experience and feel of the classroom. Why are we so reticent as a field to do embrace the notion that the learners have their own UX?

When I bring up the concept of UX in the Masters courses I teach, it usually takes in-service teachers several weeks to grow even moderately comfortable with the concept. The power dynamics remain strong in schools: the global ethos is still that we as teachers are there to make decisions; learners are there to accept them. We have internalized the notion that learners know little, that they can make few decisions and are incapable of voicing lucid and constructive preferences. And unfortunately quite a few teachers embark on their UDL journey with these thoughts still firmly in place.

To be effective a UDL approach in fact needs to be grounded on a firm understanding that youth have their own culture, ways of thinking, as well as their own preferences and use of the resources they encounter. Our views, habits, use of tools and resources, and even our interpretation of knowledge vary widely from theirs. We will be unable to carry out a genuine ‘barriers analysis’ of our curriculum and classroom practices without first becoming curious about the learner perspective. This is why it is so essential to become comfortable with the notion of UX and to use it effectively to deepen our understanding of what UDL needs to achieve when transforming the classroom experiences we design.

The relief is that industry has, for some time now, developed a wide and fascinating use of UX. The field of Education at this stage merely needs to bridge this gap and borrow concepts, lenses and research which have now matured, in order to transform the teacher-centric school cultures that are too often still prevalent. This is a giant step forward this Conference hopes to trigger so that ‘UDL of the 21st century’ might be built on a genuine understanding and appreciation of the learner experience, rather than just a teacher-centric perception of what this ought to be.

We hope that the learner voice will permeate this event, that the notion of UX will feel congenial to many as they leave the Conference, and that the field as a whole will move towards an interpretation of UDL that pays more than lip service to the notion of ethnographic exploration of the learner experience from within youth culture.

Frederic Fovet is a member of the Organizing Committee of the Second Pan-Canadian Conference on UDL, and Program Chair. He is an Assistant Professor (Fixed Term) in the Faculty of Education, UPEI. He is also an Inclusion and UDL consultant.

The Call for Submissions is still open till May 1st. Visit: http://www.udlconference.ca/preparing-your-submission/

Tis the season!

Spring 2017 has seen a remarkable activity around UDL. First the AHEAD Ireland Conference, in early March, brought together practitioners and advocates from around 23 countries to examine UDL implementation in Higher Education. In many ways this gathering also examined essential questions about what UDL means in terms of conference organizing and participant engagement, and broke new frontiers. The UDL-IRN annual Summit took place immediately after, bringing together renowned voices and new implementers; it gave further momentum to the debate around how to unroll UDL effectively in the K-12 sector.

The UPEI June UDL Conference now gets ready to carry the torch for a few more months of buzz and exploration around UDL, this time across sectors. The conference will include five streams and hopes to bring together the full cross-section of stakeholders: Higher Ed instructors, K-12 teachers, Student Services, Instructional Designers and Students. UDL implementation is a rich, complex and multilayered process and this conference hopes to evidence the interconnectivity of these voices within the process of roll out within institutions.

UDL advocates are therefore particularly spoiled this spring and the UPEI conference will represent the last chapter of a three month buzz of international activity, dialogue and networking around the topic of UDL implementation. It is unsurprising that this global voice is gaining in momentum and eloquence. EDUCAUSE recently named it as one of the seven ‘2017 Key Issues in Teaching and Learning’ (ELI, 2017). Regardless of your sector or your institutional affiliation, UDL is – it can be said unequivocally – a framework, a lens on teaching and learning that you cannot avoid or disregard as pedagogy progressively metamorphoses for the 21st century.

Whether you are only just dipping a toe in the water, or are a seasoned implementer seeking a high level dialogue around the intricacies of full implementation, the June UPEI Conference on UDL, Bringing UX to Education: UDL and Inclusion for the 21st Century, will offer you a taste of this tantalizing, global, networked discourse taking hold of Education. See you there! #udlpei17

ELI (2017) The 2017 Key Issues in Teaching and Learning. Seven things you should know about… EDUCAUSE. Retrieved from: https://library.educause.edu/~/media/files/library/2017/2/eli7141.pdf