Universal Design for Learning at the University of Vermont

September 24, 2010
by Cristal G. LeGault

Periodic Table of Visualization

I am passing this great stuff on from Ross Peterson-Veatch, PhD out of Goshen College.
“A local High School Math teacher (who happens to live on my block),
just sent me this cool link. I thought I’d pass it on. Seems like a
great way to promote exploration of visuals in teaching and
presentation. Doing a “mouseover” on any of the “elem…ents” will
generate a pop-up example of that visualization concept.

Have a look:

The larger web site is about “Visual Literacy” and has some fascinating stuff on it.http://www.visual-literacy.org/ Enjoy!”
I went to both sites and found them VERY useful and a great example of the UDL principle multiple means of representation.See MoreA Periodic Table of Visualization Methods www.visual-literacy.org

September 17, 2010
by Charles Rathbone

Reform or Transform: What is the vision of UDL?

Wil Richardson is one of my favorite bloggers.  He’s a 2o year veteran teacher who now oversees instructional technology and communications at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, NJ.  He’s my favorite visionary these days on all things learning.

In this reflection, he draws attention to the NYTimes magazine article this past Sunday on the Quest To Learn school in NYC, a school organized around gaming.  The school involves sixth and seventh graders and will add a class a year until they are grades 6-12.  Pay particular attention to the video that is linked at the end of his reflection.  This man’s vision for the activity based, collaborative learning that goes on at Quest is a transformative vision, one that contrasts nicely, and somewhat discouragingly,  with the vision of reform advocated in Time magazine’s theme issue on education this week.  The two futures laid out couldn’t be more different.

I think we who work to make University teaching more accessible to a wider range of students need to be tweaked by transformative examples such as Quest.  I don’t know about you, but so often it just feels like we are playing the higher education game, making learning more easily attainable for our UVM students when perhaps what we should really be thinking about is how to change the game, not how to improve the game.  Some questions for us:

Should we be thinking about how to help faculty change the game?

Does gaming itself play any role in what we should be advancing to faculty?

Is gaming so much a future vision that it creates a learning setting beyond UDL?

How can we advise faculty on the facilitative uses of technology when we ourselves are relatively limited in our own use of it to serve our needs and purposes?

Is UDL a reformative practice or is it a transformative vision?  What should it be?

If our goal were to be transformative, what technologies and web-based programs would be useful for us?

It’s questions like these we should be considering from time to time, and it’s people like Will who can help us think through our responses.  When you get into his blog, scroll down through it and read the statements from parents who attended back to school nights at their sons and daughters schools.  Ouch.

September 15, 2010
by zahrens

Videos Accelerate Community Learning. Can Higher Education “Sign-In” to this?

This TED talk intrigues thought to using shared videos to enhance and communicate learning in ways that print can not.  Video’s and the web are accelerating the ways in which we spread ideas and communicate.  Videos can be translated into any language. There are computer programs that automatically put videos into words.

Direct Link to Video :http://video.ted.com/talks/podcast/ChrisAnderson_2010G.mp4

ZACK’S Takes Away’s from Video.

Videos packs more data, and our brains are uniquely hardwired to decode it.

We (our planet) watches 80 Million Youtube hours/day

Rise of web video is leading to “Crowd Accelerated Innovation”

Business/Organizations are wasting Billions of dollars on Print

The crowd dictates desire through shared videos and in turn pushes innovation/learning forward.

Reflection/Discussion Prompt

The concepts that Chris Anderson speaks of makes me think of open learning communities where all information is shared for the better learning of the group.  One concern that I have heard voiced on the topic of  open source and education is that it is not credible and it has no way of being made official.  And to an extent I agree with this.  Information should  be a credited, especially in higher education.  However, this does not mean that higher education organizations should shudder at the thought of sharing intellectual property.  There is a huge amount of value in this structure.  Chris quickly addresses this topic in his video as he champions the use of video as a better medium for transferring information.  He states that organizations are wasting “billions” of dollars a year wasting there time with print.  A bit extreme but his point is clear that videos, especially when used in a cooperative manner, have the tremendous ability to push learning and “Crowd Based Innovation” forward in faster ways than academia and society has seen before.

September 14, 2010
by zahrens

Trends in Disability Education

Learning-Disabled Enrollment

Dips After Long Climb

Students Served Chart

Percentage of Students Served (click enlarge)

After decades of what seemed to be an inexorable upward path, the number of students classified as learning-disabled declined from year to year over much of the past decade—a change in direction that is spurring debates among experts about the reasons why.

The percentage of 3- to 21-year-old students nationwide classified as having a “specific learning disability” dropped steadily from 6.1 percent in the 2000-01 school year to 5.2 percent in 2007-08, according to the most recent data available, which come from the U.S Department of Education’s 2009 Digest of Education Statistics. In numbers, that’s a drop from about 2.9 million to 2.6 million students.

Positive Trends (Article Excerpt) – About 80 percent of children who are classified as learning-disabled get the label because they’re struggling to read

To Read More Go to Edweek.org website.

September 1, 2010
by Charles Rathbone

Observations for Doing Cooperative Learning in Higher Ed Classrooms

David and Roger Johnson, one a counselor educator, one a special educator, set out in the early 1970s to define and refine the successful practice called cooperative learning.  Embraced by special educators, cooperative learning as a task structure became a major tool to achieve the integration of students receiving special education services under PL 94-142 into regular classroom settings without sacrificing the integrity of the academic program.  Other task structures, individualized learning and competitive learning, usually led to inequitable achievement outcomes.  Cooperative learning, when done well (as the Johnsons advised) usually meant every student learned more than they would either doing the work alone or in traditional ability grouped fashion.

Cooperative Learning groupwork has become a mainline instructional practice used by all educators who want to promote high rates of learning for all students, most especially those students at the margins.  Many of the attributes of good cooperative learning fall within the three principles that guide the design of Universal Design for Learning practices advanced by CAST and the Universal Design for Learning Project at UVM.  Regardless of the target audience, all cooperative learning activities must adhere to the basic criteria for effective cooperative learning as set down by David and Roger Johnson in the early 1970s:  positively interdependent tasks, face to face interaction, group processing, individual accountability, and the learning of small group and interpersonal skills.

Others have carried out lines of research into the effectiveness of cooperative learning task structures that can be helpful to us.  Of particular interest to me is the work of Elizabeth Cohen and Rachel Lotan of the Program for Complex Instruction at Stanford University.  Cohen and Lotan used expectations states theory, a theoretical base for understanding small group interaction based in sociology, and created an approach to planning cooperative group work endeavors called Complex Instruction.  Their addition of status theory to the basic criteria laid down by the Johnson’s in the 1970s is a helpful addition to teaching teachers how to plan, teach, assess, and understand cooperative learning activities.

It takes time and training to become an effective cooperative learning educator.   To think that higher education professors could be successful cooperative educators by virtue of their advanced degrees is patently absurd.  Deep content knowledge has little in common with deep pedagogical knowledge.  To teach group work practices successfully requires familiarity with what cooperative learning is and how to use cooperative learning practices in the college classroom with late adolescent / young adult learners.  We have much to learn about how to do this, how to teach college professors how to use cooperative practices.  But we have very broad shoulders upon which we can stand.  To get us started, I’d like to offer this set of observations.

ed 24 students at ems

Observations Regarding Effective Groupwork in College Classrooms

1.  Knowing how to work in a group is not an inherited trait.  Successful group practices can be taught.

2.  Effective group work has both task and interpersonal requirements.  Students need to know how to negotiate both sets of issues.

3.  Small groups naturally evidence a range of ability for any given task.

4.  The nature of a group task affects how well a group can work collaboratively.

5. Teachers need to take class time to orient students to collaborative projects and practices.

6. Group work should be graded on a point system.

7. Posting realistic benchmarks increase the quality of student work.

8.  Permitting students to put their own particular “spin” on a group product will increase student motivation to do their work well.

9. Being honest with college students about the particulars of cooperative learning procedures is the best path to follow.  Honesty is key to helping the groups solve their own unique issues of working together.

10.  Group work usually takes longer than teachers want it to.

11.  Small groups are better than big groups.

12. Heterogeneous ability groups are preferred over homogeneous ability groups.

13. Good group work needs to be publicly recognized.

14. Presentation skills are different from groupwork skills.  If you want good presentations, teach and model good presentation skills.

15. College departments should be responsible for promoting the skills and knowledge for working productively and gracefully in a group setting in their coursework.

16. The majority of college students come to college having had negative cooperative group experiences in secondary education.

C. Rathbone
September 1, 2010

August 31, 2010
by zahrens

Teacher Innovation in the Face of Fear

picture of book image

“It was Jane who introduced us to the notion of “cat people.” Cat people are those of us who like our routines and generally stick to doing things the same way unless someone makes us, or convinces us, to do things differently.  There’s nothing wrong with being a cat person; in fact, most of use fall into this category, and most of our students do, too.  The problem is, tendencies, habits, and comfort zones can sometimes get in the way of productive teaching and learning.  Somewhere in our resistance to change lurks a fear.

Fear of failing is the elephant in the teachers’ classrooms – the question we secretly harbor but rarely utter aloud.  Fear of our students’ failure keeps us locked in the same practices that have become comfortable and familiar.  It’s also what keeps teachers in front of the classroom lecturing instead of turning learning over to the learners.  WE can speak of the student-centered classroom, but the worry that students lack the skills to pull it off can prevent teachers from taking those first steps toward productive group work. ” ( Pg 109. Frey, Fisher, Everlove. (2009) Productive Group Work: How to Engage Students, Build Teamwork, and Promote Understanding. ASCD)

In business, innovation and risk taking are the lifeblood of success.  In a constantly changing environment adaptation is key for the survival of a business. Without this, there would be no profit. Education, how ever always seems to take the blame for being the innovation laggard, stuck stagnant in the box of tradition.  I would like to challenge this assumption by challenging our educators to blend what they feel they must teach into the desires of their students.  The learners, these  so called “digital natives” are graduating into this ever changing, ever the more competitive work environment.  That is what they expect. There is no reason to NOT try new approaches to their education.  There is a reason to fear failure but, that is not reason enough to deprive today’s “learners” with a chance for an innovative and progressive educational experience.



August 18, 2010
by zahrens

Good Technology, Bad Study Skills for College Students

Computers, highlighters, notebooks, flashcards, ipads, pens and pencils are all used to help students study.  But how does someone study?  This article explores research done by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that finds that more college students are using their computers to study, but they are doing it mindlessly.  Furthermore, just because a majority of today’s college students have the tools to study, does not mean that they know HOW to study.

Universal Design for Learning places an emphasis on letting students gain access to more structure to help support and manage their learning experience. Tools such as webspiration.com can help students break down  information into meaningful chunks.


I feel that it’s important for educators to not take for granted that students may not be the best decision makers when it comes to studying.  A lot is going on in the worlds’ of young college students and keeping this research article in mind is important you look up and see a classroom  of eyebrows peering over the backs of laptop screens.

Article Link:
College Undergrads Study Ineffectively on Computers, Study Finds: Students Transfer Bad Study Habits from Paper to Screen

Tool Link:

August 17, 2010
by Ellen Patricia McShane

Multicultural Universal Design Checklist for the Physical Environment

Academic Support Programs (ASP) decided several years ago to assess the effectiveness our office space.  Our goal was to make our offices as inclusive, welcoming, and universally designed as possible.  We used the basic premises of Universal Design to create the attached Multicultural Universal Design Checklist for the Physical Environment.SLBmulticultural checklist

This checklist has 11 questions designed to assess an organization’s physical spaces to determine if they serve all students well, with a particular emphasis on students and staff who are not from the dominant culture.  We enlisted UVM students from our ASP Student Leadership Board to conduct the initial survey in 2008.  In 2009, our students conducted surveys of other UVM offices, including another review of ASP’s space.  Each review produced a written report, which included recommendations for ways to adapt the office space.  The first report from 2008 is attached for your review.Multi Report ASP 2007

Please use this checklist to evaluate your own office or personal space.


August 10, 2010
by Cristal G. LeGault
1 Comment

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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