Universal Design for Learning Literature Review

Effectiveness of UDL in Online Learning Environments

Computer technology is an essential tool for UDL as it is ideal for producing diversity.  Educators who implement UDL deliberately or intuitively find it effective, especially in an online environment. Technology has enormous transformative powers. Whether it is speech-to-text, or text-to-speech, technology can rapidly convert from one media to another. By giving the learner a choice of format, you are more likely to engage them. Once engaged, the learner will be motivated to overcome any barriers from deficits in their recognition or strategic networks.

A group of educators, Maya Eagleton, Kathleen Guinee, and Karen Langlais (2003) deliberately utilized UDL for "The Hero Inquiry Project".  Their observation is evidence that UDL is a best practice. They had focused on learners with disabilities and yet they found that they challenged all learners. In their conclusion they use the keywords "motivated" and "enjoyed". These are true indicators of success and success for learners also means success for teachers.

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In "Raising the Awareness of Online Accessibility", Lori Weir (2005) found that by deliberately gathering from special needs students who took her online courses, she improved accessibility for all.

In a study of auditory feedback, Phillip Ice, Reagen Curtis, Perry Phillips, and John Wells (2007) found it far more effective than written feedback. Not only was marking time reduced when instructors did not have to convey nuances in text, but the amount of feedback was more than doubled. Learners in the study sent unsolicited emails expressing enthusiastic satisfaction with this modality. As well as boosting the recognition and strategic networks, audio feedback gave an enormous boost to the learners affective network as they reported feeling not only more involved in the course but a belief that their instructors truly cared about their learning.

My own experiences of UDL from both sides of the digital chalkboard have been very positive. As a learner, I have appreciated multiple formats provided by instructors in online courses for multiple reasons. One instructor provides her PowerPoints in three formats. One is a standard PowerPoint, another is an audio PowerPoint and then the third is the handout showing slide and notes in rich text format (.rtf). I prefer reading to myself rather than being read to, as it is faster and I retain more, so I chose the handout. This also matched my less than high speed Internet connection as it was the quickest file size. In another course, the videos are offered in two sizes. Again, I choose the quickest. The amazing thing is that I know that most of these alternatives are just a click of the button once the material is digitized.

In developing curriculum for Credenda Virtual High School, technology is a constant source for engagement, recognition, expression, and assessment. A chemistry lesson begins with the goal and then provides a link to a humorous online survey to discover if the learner was part of an atom, what part they would be. It then has text and images discussing the relative sizes of the parts of atom followed by a video that provides similar information in audio and images. The video is converted to the very popular compressed Flash format by Videozilla. This program also allows me to crop out the most relevant section of the video. Text size, color, bolding, and italics can be used in a consistent manner to emphasize key ideas. Answers to questions can be hidden by setting text color to background color then learners need only select the answer area to reveal. For text heavy sections, I can copy and paste the text into Flipz, click record and read it aloud, click publish and then place Flash file in the web page. The StudyMate practice review gives learners the choice of flashcards, matching, or fill-in-the-blank. Finally, the assignment is repurposed as a Word doc so the learner's time is spent on practice rather than copying. Being online makes it easy to support all three learning networks.

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