Insights

The need to think of UDL and ensuring resources are as inclusive as they can be

John Galloway, a Bett Awards judge, sat down earlier this month to discuss the concept of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) with our Communications and PR Coordinator, Cleo Fatoorehchi.

As an Advisory Teacher for ICT/SEN and Inclusion for Tower Hamlets, John has experience in thinking about how educational products can work for all students. He explained the intention of UDL in a few words: “when you are creating a resource for teaching and learning, you make that resource sufficiently flexible that students can work with it in the ways that they prefer.”

This is especially important for educational suppliers to think about as they are sending their applications in for the Bett Awards 2019. So John answered all our questions about UDL.

Q: What would you say is at the core of UDL?

John: The key to UDL is about flexibility and choice. It’s about giving the learner as many different ways as you can to engage with, and to respond to, the information – and putting control for that with the learner. So the learner has a choice about how it is that they receive the information, how they respond to the information, and how they express what it is that they now know.

Q: What does it mean, more concretely?

John: Well, UDL has three main elements:

• Multiple means of representation,
• Multiple means of expression, and
• Multiple means of engagement.

And it’s almost like a Venn diagram, with the three pieces fitting together.

Multiple means of representation is how the information is presented to somebody. Whether it’s visual, text, or sound, multiple means of representation is finding things that people connect with. For instance, if you were doing something about measurement, you may do some cookery to engage the children – because food is what the child is interested in. Or if you are doing some literacy work and the child is interested in airplanes, you’d say he read books about airplanes. It’s a case of finding the thing that provides the hook to link them into the learning.

Multiple means of expression would be how you respond and how you create. A lot of the time in classrooms, we ask kids to write things – handwriting, typing, or other. But it could be that they are more able to talk about what they’ve seen, or make a video or an animation, or use expressive dance. So it’s about the children demonstrating what they know, what they’ve learned, through a medium that gives them the best chance of showing that.

And then, multiple means of engagement – let’s use the example of showing a video. There are people watching the video who might like subtitles with the video because when they are learning, they like to read things as well as to see them and to hear them; or it may be that they are hearing impaired. It could be that they want a transcript because after watching something, they want to reinforce it and go back over the words, and think more clearly about what was said by looking at it and examining it more closely. Or it could be that somebody is blind so they can’t see the script and they use the transcript with a screen reader to listen to what’s been said. Alternatively, it could be that you have a version of text at different levels so that people whose language levels are different, or whose literacy abilities are different, are able to understand what’s in the text without having the barrier of struggling with the language involved.

Q: How crucial is it for companies to think of the UDL concept before they apply for the Bett Awards?

John: Ever since they started, the Bett Awards have always had an element about inclusion. But it’s difficult, perhaps, to understand just what that means, as inclusion isn’t a single concept (there is the cliché that says ‘inclusion is a journey, not a destination’: we’re always working towards it).

The idea of talking about UDL now is to help people think about how much their resource is inclusive or can be made more inclusive. It can even help them think about those it does not include so that they recognise the limitations of the resource.
The Bett Awards have always been about some of the best technological resources for education and this is a way of trying to make it even better, and make it available to even more pupils and their teachers.

Q: Could you give us one example of a particularly inclusive resource you have come across over the years?

John: One resource that I think is very UDL compliant is Clicker 7, which is a word processor for primary schools. It can be used simply as a word processor by anybody in the classroom.

And it also has the facility for speech feedback: as you type, it will read back what you’ve typed so you know whether it makes sense or not. It also has predictive text so as you’re typing, it will suggest what you’re trying to spell – that will work for people who struggle with spelling but also people who maybe have a physical disability or a tremor or who find it difficult to use a keyboard, as it reduces the number of keystrokes.

It has a facility to provide on-screen grids of words, or segments of sentences, so that you can write by selecting words from the screen to go into your text. It can change the look and feel so if you’re visually impaired, you can have a high-contrast version. It will work with switches – large buttons, where you have a light scanning across the screen, you press a button and it chooses that word or that letter to get into your text. It will work with eye gaze, so if the user has only their eyes as a reliable means of connecting with the computer, they can look at the computer and drive the resource through their eyes.

There’s just about every way to engage with the resource so it is up to the user how it is they use it. And all users, whether they have a special needs or disability or not, can use it to demonstrate what it is that they know and understand.