Universal Design for Learning at the University of Vermont

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Better Learning by Design – Round 2

Hi everyone,

Just a note to let you know that the initial planning for the 2nd Annual Better Learning by Design Conference is getting underway.  The tentative dates are May 17-18, 2011.  Some of the suggestions and comments from last year’s conference will be incorporated into this year’s schedule.  Start thinking about what you would like to present at this year’s conference as the RFP will be hitting email boxes in the next couple of months.

We are looking forward to more vendors, more presenters, more attendees, more information, more tracks, more fun and a whole lot MORE.

If you missed last year’s conference you are welcome to look at the blog that was created during the conference.  The site address is https://blog.uvm.edu/udl-2010conference.  This blog will give you a flavor for what is to come.  We plan to have basic and advanced track presentations so that the people who participated last year will be able to gain additional insights this year.

Mark your calendar and let’s get excited about UDL.

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CAST UDL online modules

I was in a consultation with a faculty member who told me that the UDL online modules by CAST were very helpful in learning more about UDL.  I thought this would be a good time to link to them on the blog while it is fresh in my mind.


These modules are written for pre-service and in-service K-12 teachers.  However, the content can be applied to the higher education setting as well.

You might also be interested in CAST’s YouTube channel.


Enjoy and let me know what you think.

Holly Parker, UDL@UVM grant team member

A collection of UDL resources

Presentation PPT file and TRIO Documents, and CAST UDL Representation Sheet
“I’m Autistic” on You Tubehttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hKzY3u_cUhk
Neurotypicals on wikipediahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neurotypical
CAST Resources

How to Keep Students Engaged in Class
Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants- Marc Prensky
UDL Multiple Means of Representation Sheet
Diigo (online collaboration tool)
CAST UDL Blog (Example of how to facilitate a class or training session and keep info organized in a blog)
UDL Online Training Modules! (CAST)

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Better Learning by Design Conference – University of Vermont – May 17-19, 2010

The University of Vermont, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Project invites you to attend “Better Learning by Design.” This three-day conference gathers nationally known experts and offers the opportunity to become knowledgeable in the theory and application of UDL principles. As defined by The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, UDL is “a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that provides for flexibility in the ways:
-Information is presented
-Students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and
-Students are engaged in the content
visit the conference website


The Moral Arc Of The Universe Bends Towards…UDL?

Forty-five years ago yesterday, I stood before the Alabama state capital building with a diverse (a word not in our lexicon of ethnic adjectives then) crowd of people on a rainy afternoon and listened to the Reverend Martin Luther King, a very tired Martin Luther King, deliver these words: “the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice.” 25000 people cheered and then slowly made their way back to the airport to board the two-prop DC-3s that would take them back to where they had come from. Today, those planes seem ancient!
I had flown to Montgomery with an interfaith group of ministers and parishioners from Syracuse, New York where I was learning to be an urban teacher.
It had been a tumultuous week in the South and I was far enough distant in age from my parents to finally take the risk and do something big to act out my evolving social consciousness, an action I knew they would not condone. I only joined the last day of the march. But my presence was welcomed by those that had walked the 54 risky miles from Selma. My presence was not welcomed by some others of those along the way into the city who decorated the route with an occasional Confederate Flag and called us names and shouted at us to go home where we belonged. We were well protected by national guardsman on the edges of the march and seasoned parade marshalls who helped us close ranks to gain some distance from angry onlookers. I expected to hear what I heard then. I knew I was safe as long as I stayed with the crowd.
I did not expect to hear what I heard yesterday as the United States House of Representatives passed the most important piece of health care legislation since medicare was signed into law by Lyndon Johnson on July 30, 1965. Racial and homophobic slurs were thrown at John Lewis, Andre Carson, Barney Frank, James Clyburn and other Democrats who decided to walk through Tea Party protesters at the Capital building rather than enter through another entrance.
How far have we come? And how far have we to go? Why, as King said, when the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, do such actions inspire such hateful reactions? Surely the passage of this health care bill is another act of civil justice for thousands of citizens of this country. And yet we have the specter of hundreds of adults emulating the very behavior we legislate against in our schools. Bullying. Overt bullying, modeled and taught and sanctioned seemingly by one of our two political parties, with no one from the minions standing up and saying, “stop.”
This is a very scary time in the brief history of our democracy. Frogs die rather than escape when water in which they swim is slowly heated degree by degree to the boiling point. The political climate in this country is becoming more and more toxic for democracy, degree by degree, slur by slur. The legislative branch of our federal government is broken. I feel like a frog in a country where the air around me is becoming increasingly poisoned and pieces of my world are dying.
It makes me wonder how many of those Tea Party shouters, or even their elected representatives, had good teachers and successful school experiences? I wonder how many were ever with teachers who thought much about their learning? I wonder what their schools were like? I wonder where they learned that it was okay to behave like that. That it’s okay to send faxes of trees with noosed ropes hanging from their branches to the majority whip of the United States House of Representatives and other minority members of congress.
Universal Design for Learning, for all its good points, does not directly address issues of classroom climate. Much is inferred from the application of UDL principles, but UDL is contentless when it comes to relationship building as a pre-condition to learning. UDL, for all its good points, does not directly ask that faculty teach students how to recognize and deal with difference – differences in opinion, differences in gender, differences in ethnicity, differences in intellectual preparation, differences in prior knowledge. I wonder if it should? Is UDL merely a set of strategies to enhance the metabolism of learning in educational settings? Or is it also a set of strategies that embraces openly and explicitly that the teaching/learning dynamic that UDL promotes is also a moral framework that asserts that the right of every student’s learning to be respected. I would like to suggest that UDL is a moral framework that accedes to every learner the right to be recognized and heard and challenged and yes, pushed in a learning environment that nourishes and extends their humanity, never ever diminishing it before their peers or anyone else.
UDL is but one link in this particular universe, the moral universe of the classroom. A second and equally necessary link is the diversity that exists within the classroom itself, the diversity of natural human differences that invite the presence of UDL strategies. There are other links, I’m sure. But let me end here by asserting that our work is moral work and the outcome of this work is just – as in “justice” – learning. It is my hope that as a result of the work we are doing, the children of our students will never learn to bully from watching their Moms and Dads bullying people with whom they have a disagreement. It is my hope that those Moms and Dads would have learned when they were in college that they were smart enough, that their voices would be heard, and that they were important contributors to a learning community in which everyone was better off for the presence of each one. Maybe we can make Representation, Expression, and Engagement operational principles for just learning. I know it’s a stretch, but maybe???

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An Educational Journey for Students with Disabilities

Often students with disabilities have a difficult time adjusting to college life. The main adjustment problem arises from the differences between the high school and college experience for students with disabilities. High school students with disabilities are actively supported by their school, their teachers, and the administration. Once a student with a disability enrolls in college, they find that they now have to advocate for themselves. There is often minimal support for students in the college experience. In an effort to explain the difference between high school and college, Academic Support Programs (ASP) at UVM developed the following chart. This one page analysis of what a student experiences in high school as opposed to college easily defines the differences.
Download a Disability Service Comparison of K-12 and University Word Document

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Video – Building Healthy Communities through Universal Design

Building Healthy Communities through Universal Design
The broadcast discusses the principles of Universal Design and its application in building healthy communities. Speakers discuss the evolution of this design philosophy and describe its influence on social and physical environments, architecture, communication, and product design as they relate to health and well-being. Speakers highlight global examples of communities and projects that have utilized Universal Design to support healthy lifestyles and more inclusive and welcoming places.
The group being interviewed is from the Institute for Human Centered Design in MA. They are being interviewed for a NY Public Health segment. The video includes an introduction by the NY Commissioner for the Department of Health.
The video lasts just under an hour and raises many interesting issues – the Institute initially began with building design and are expanding into other areas including education.

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Universal Connections for UDL @ UVM

I am struck repeatedly by how the Universal Design for Learning principles at the core of our project reach so far and so widely into the fabric of the university. We knew at the beginning that we would be deeply involved with faculty and their courses and with students with disabilities. But we have quickly learned that we are connected with other constituencies and furthering the mission of the university in many more ways. Among the connections are:
• the challenge to retain more of all students who are admitted, not just students with disabilities;
• the obligations of teacher education programs to incorporate UDL into the preparation of pre-service teachers, so graduates are prepared to use them in their own teaching from pre-school through high school;
• the goal to increase the number and success of first-generation college students;
• improving the university’s ability to serve the needs of the growing number of immigrant and refugee families and students in Vermont;
• the effort to increase the number of international students at the university, the traditional one or two semester visitors, but especially those who will be completing degrees at UVM;
• the desire of staff and student services generally to be more welcoming of the increasingly diverse students, staff, and faculty in our community, and more successful in meeting their needs on campus;
• the obligation of the university to provide accessible facilities and services to all, in every area;
• the connection between Universal Design for Learning and effective marketing and communications within the university and from the university to prospective students, staff, and faculty, and to alumni;
• the desire of department chairs and deans to promote effective faculty development;
• the deep-seated desire of most faculty to be excellent teachers.
I suppose we could say the usefulness of learning UDL is universal in the university. It really is better to Design for Universal Learning.
Larry Shelton

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