Hi I’m Lynne Silcock from the Ministry of Education, and I work in the assistive technology team. Most teachers that I’ve talked to really want every student in their class to succeed. But for a student with a special need it’s sometimes really difficult to know how to make them succeed.
The biggest evidence we have of course is ‘that attitude is everything’. If you really want somebody to succeed, it will happen. But teachers also often need something else, something more concrete, that they can do in their classrooms to help people succeed. That’s where Universal Design for Learning, coupled with technology, can be so powerful.
If you imagine a student in your class, for example, who has dyslexia, or who is blind perhaps, or has difficulty writing - doesn’t have a pen or can’t use a pen well - or even perhaps doesn’t have arms. We have to think of strategies that will help these students to learn. Universal Design gives us something really concrete to use to help us figure out what we can do to help them. Universal Design is the thinking framework, the way we can address the needs, and then couple that with technology it gives a really powerful result.
So Universal Design looks at three main things. It’s the receptive, ‘How do people access the learning materials in the classroom and the learning activities?’ So for a person who can’t read, a worksheet is not very useful. For a person who’s blind it’s even less useful. So having things electronic and having things adjustable, so the blind person can output it in braille, the person who has no reading skills can output it in speech, things like that. The thing with Universal Design is about designing it that way. So designing it right from the beginning. So the design of the classroom activities, the design of the materials that you use in the classroom are designed for flexible learning pathways so people with different skills can access the material.
So the first one is reception - How you can interact with the learning materials. The second one is expression - How you express yourself? And the traditional method, of course, has been by pen. Not very useful for somebody who has no arms. Not very useful for someone who has a dyspraxia type condition or fine motor skill problem where it’s difficult for them to write. So having flexible means for the student to be able to speak their knowledge, to be able to show their knowledge using images or video, multimedia. There’s so many options nowadays if you look at technology and what it can offer. There’s also clever things like voice recognition, so you speak to the computer and the computer will write for you. The third part of Universal Design is engagement. It’s really the ‘why’ of learning.
That’s the Universal Design framework, a summary. If you add technology into those options, into the modern classroom, you can see that the flexible learning pathways that are developed by that enable many more students to be able to engage with the curriculum and succeed.
For most people, technology makes things easier, but for a person with a disability it makes things possible. What we want to do in a classroom is not to assess students for what their disability is, but assess their abilities and talents.