Free Universal Design Tools for Distance Learning!

The California Alliance for Inclusive Schooling (CAIS), Orange County Department of Education (OCDE), and Chapman University’s Thompson Policy Institute on Disability recently joined forces to produce a webinar series about technology, distance learning, and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Not familiar with UDL? The general idea — which was originally developed by researchers at the Center for Applied Special Technology in collaboration with Harvard University — is that, because every student learns differently, accessibility should be built into lesson plans so that every student can understand and benefit from the same curriculum. This is especially crucial in the distance-learning environment. (Want to know more? We recently interviewed Dr. Mary Falvey, professor emerita of special education at California State University, Los Angeles, about how UDL works in practice.)

While the UDL webinar series is meant to help educators make their curriculum more accessible for every type of learner, CAIS also compiled their resources into a padlet that parents can use as a reference in conversations with our kids’ teachers (whether they’re multiple subject teachers, single subject teachers, or education specialists) and IEP teams. 

  • The padlet — called “Using Tech Tools to Universally Design Distance Learning” — focuses on how educators can use different online communication tools and digital platforms to create the most inclusive, flexible, and accommodating virtual classroom possible. 
  • The webinar included in the padlet discusses the benefits of different tech tools as they relate to UDL’s three core principles — engagement, representation, and action/expression — and how versatile they may be for students with different disabilities. 
  • The padlet looks at free tools like Zoom, Canvas, Flipgrid, Edpuzzle, Apple Clips, and Adobe Spark, and how they can help students respond to teacher prompts, participate in class conversations, and create presentations and fun videos for assignments.
    • Many of these tools help K–12 students engage with assignments because they allow for creativity and personalization. For example, Flipgrid — which lets kids record video responses to questions — offers a variety of stickers, backgrounds, text, and other fun designs that kids can add to their videos. (You can find this discussion starting at 26:38 in the webinar video.)
  • The padlet also includes a folder called “Additional UDL Explainers: UDL Extension Activities” that contains links to media that explain the concept of UDL. Again, while these resources were compiled for educators, they can help parents better understand UDL concepts and language, which in turn can help us advocate for accessible curriculum and better accommodations for our kids during distance learning.

You can check out the entire padlet here and stay up to date with CAIS and Chapman’s webinars here.

We’d love to know: Do you think Universal Design principles could improve your kid’s distance learning experience? If you try any of the tools and suggestions mentioned in the padlet, what were they, and how did it go? Let us know in the comments below! 

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