As discussed in the initial post in the series, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) provides a framework to help educators consider ways to engage diverse learners with course content and experiences. The UDL Center offers three principles to accomplish this challenging approach: provide multiple means of representation, multiple means of action and expression, and multiple means of engagement. In this post, we tackle principle 1 – multiple means of representation.
One Message – Multiple Means
The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) outlines three strategies for educators to use to provide multiple access points to course content:
- provide options for perception, including the use of graphics, animations, and video to make course concepts more clear
- provide options for language, mathematical expressions and symbols, including providing specific supports to introduce new vocabulary, connections to previous understanding, and access to content in multiple languages where possible
- provide options for comprehension, including “highlighting patterns, big ideas and critical features of course content”
5 strategies to provide multiple means of representation
- Highlight key features with annotated documents
One key difference between expert and novice learners is their ability to identify the “big ideas” in course readings (I remember as an undergraduate history major highlighting every other line of text in course readings). Through long training and experience, faculty are able to pick out what is essential from a reading much more efficiently than students. We can help to train students to identify these key features by modeling our thinking by occasionally providing annotated readings. I do this with research studies in my doctoral courses. With a “marked up” article that I’ve analyzed, students can see what key elements an “expert” looks for in critiquing a study. This can be easily accomplished with hand-written notes either photocopied or displayed on a document camera, or via a Word or PDF document using annotation features.
- Emphasizing key points in lectures
Similarly, it can be difficult for students to identify the most critical points of a lecture. When I use slides, I often use key colors or bold or underlined fonts to draw attention to key concepts. The same can be accomplished by writing key words or pictures on the whiteboard as well.
- Utilize concept maps to identify patterns
One of the most helpful ways for students to see patterns and connections among and between course concepts is to offer them (or encourage them to create) graphical representations of how ideas connect. Concept maps, either hand drawn or created with specialized software, can visually represent complex systems and connections. One of my favorite Web-based tools to create concept maps is Mindmeister, which enables individual or collaborative development of concept maps.
- Leverage digital and audio books
All students read differently. While many students still prefer traditional printed books for college courses, digital versions of books allow for customization of font size and style, the ability to look up unfamiliar words as they read, and the ability to highlight and add notes to the text. For other students, audio versions of books may help them both understand and retain the information more effectively.
- Consider open educational resources
Open educational resources are Web-based resources that are freely accessible and open for use in educational settings. OER can include a wide range of digital media related to course content including video, audio, interactives, and animations. Through a Creative Commons License, many of these resources are available to embed in courses requiring only attribution.
These ideas are meant to be illustrative rather than exhaustive. Many of these strategies are probably not new to you. I hope, though, that the organizing framework of UDL will help you to more strategically and systematically provide multiple means to offer course content.
What strategies like these do you use in your teaching?
Please post your comments below.