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UDL principles guide teachers in how to customize instruction to meet the individual needs and preferences of each student

How to use UDL-inspired technology to reengage students

UDL principles guide teachers in how to customize instruction to meet the individual needs and preferences of each student

Key points:

  • To improve student engagement, strive to create a positive learning environment
  • Offer multiple means of engagement using technology inspired by UDL such as voice/screen capture or different ways to present a project

While schools have largely returned to normal classroom instruction, some ripple effects of the pandemic remain. Educators are searching for a spark to re-engage students in the learning process. According to a recent survey, 38 percent of students reported decreased motivation to excel in school. In comparison, 80 percent of educators feel the pandemic made students less motivated.

In some cases, children traumatized by the pandemic struggle with mental health issues. In most cases, teachers may only need to provide different opportunities and multiple means of engagement to increase participation.

Motivating students starts with building a positive learning environment. The first steps require educators to create a physically and emotionally safe classroom where each student is valued and respected. Fostering student connections, encouraging voice and choice, adding relevance to lessons, and nurturing student ownership results in a supportive community where students feel comfortable as active participants in their learning.

Each student approaches learning uniquely. Prior knowledge, interests, learning styles, language skills, and physical abilities affect a child’s aptitude for learning and achievement. Meeting children where they are and differentiating instruction can mean the difference between a fully engaged learner and a passive learner who tunes out.

An effective, research-based framework for personalizing instruction is Universal Design for Learning (UDL). UDL principles guide teachers in how to customize instruction to meet the individual needs and preferences of each student. The three underlying principles of UDL are Multiple Means of Representation, Multiple Means of Action and Expression, and Multiple Means of Engagement.

Multiple means of Representation

The intent is to present information in various formats like text, images, graphic organizers, video, audio, or practical activities. Assistive technologies to enhance perception and understanding include screen readers, automatic flyers, voice recognition programs, and closed captioning, to name a few. Some students understand better when presented with “dual coding” opportunities whereby students who both hear and see a concept explained gain a better understanding.

Multiple Means of Action and Expression

An essential element of UDL is offering students a variety of ways to express their knowledge. Does a student feel more comfortable writing about a topic, creating a video, discussing a subject, or representing their knowledge through other creative outlets? Allowing students to present learning stimulates their desire for autonomy and choice and encourages ownership.

Multiple Means of Engagement

Engaging students in multiple ways is an excellent incentive for sparking motivation to learn. Students vary in their learning styles and abilities, and providing options for communication and engagement can break down barriers and promote a positive learning experience.

Incorporating UDL principles in your classroom can be enhanced by several technologies. Look for tools that provide variety, like:

Using technology to represent knowledge

What works for some students doesn’t work for all. Providing students with various formats to help them absorb and comprehend information audibly or visually increases academic success. Augmenting instruction with voice, video, and screen capture ensures students experience learning equitably.

Example: Some students comprehend better by listening. Others learn faster by reading text. Still, others struggling with reading comprehension learn best with a text-to-speech option. Teachers know their students’ preferences, and technology provides the means to engage all students equitably.

Using technology to express knowledge

Giving students a choice of ways to demonstrate knowledge can increase motivation and promotion of student agency. Creating videos, presentations, audio recordings, written essays, art, images, or music requires thoughtful planning and the use of executive functions. Technology opens up the world to students and, with guidance from teachers, prepares students for college and careers.

Example: Children with language barriers may opt to express their knowledge through a written text, an oral or visual presentation, or a group assignment/project.

Using technology to enhance engagement

Fostering student and teacher connections is essential for developing social relationships and moving lessons forward, and technology is natural for enhancing engagement. During the pandemic, with online instruction, technology was indispensable. Lessons and materials were distributed digitally, and human interactions occurred through a computer. Classrooms are up and running again, and technology still provides us a means to communicate.

Example: Teachers can run polls via computer and instantly gain feedback on classroom task design. Teachers can communicate instructions audibly or visually. Students and teachers can share socially or give or receive feedback on classwork. Certain technology allows teachers and students to annotate lessons or respond to assignments.

We’re on the other side of the pandemic, and technology use in the classroom is stronger than ever. Enhance your classroom learning environment and re-engage students with various opportunities and multiple means of engagement using technology inspired by UDL.

How to create inclusive learning environments with UDL
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