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Bryan Cichy-Parker: Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning in the Education Classroom

As an Education professor, Bryan Cichy-Parker is in the unique position of teaching future teachers how to teach, and he leads by example. From group assignments to advance organizers, Bryan uses a broad variety of techniques to help his students stay engaged and achieve their goals. Nearly all of the techniques he uses reflect the basic Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principle that the teacher should provide multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression in order to design learning experiences that are accessible and effective for any student, regardless of need or ability. In Bryan’s classes this might look like a word wall or crossword puzzles to introduce and reinforce critical vocabulary, or student-made posters on the classroom walls to provide visual representations of key concepts throughout the term.

Beyond specific tools and techniques, adopting UDL into your teaching philosophy informs everything from syllabus format to teacher-student communications. Designing learning experiences and interactions that anticipate diverse needs from the beginning, rather than trying to accommodate them after the fact, can have a profound effect on teaching practice. As Bryan puts it, incorporating UDL into your teaching “makes you a more humane teacher,” and that’s something worth passing on to all students.

Watch the video below to hear Bryan discuss UDL and how the philosophy enhances his teaching:

Universal Design for Learning – Inclusive by Design

According to the National Center on Universal Design for Learning, UDL is “a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn,”. Rather than “retrofitting” a learning activity or environment to accommodate the needs of one individual student, UDL principles encourage designing learning activities and environments to be inclusive of students with various needs from the beginning so that accommodation is less likely to be needed at all. In fact, research shows that designs that help students with special needs learn better also help all students learn better. It turns out that having access after class to slides shown during lecture improves learning outcomes for all students, not just students who have specific accommodations for it.

UDL principles consider three key kinds of brain networks: Recognition Networks, Strategic Networks, and Affective Networks, and recommend that learning situations be designed to offer multiple ways for students to encounter content, express what they know, and invest emotionally in their learning tasks. Flexible learning experiences that give students a choice of how to engage with content and demonstrate understanding not only equalize opportunities for students of various needs and abilities to succeed, but also encourage all students to actively manage their own learning. That is an important outcome for everyone.

UDL Resources to Explore

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