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Got UDL Credentials? with Steve Nordmark

Welcome to Episode 20 of the ThinkUDL podcast: Got UDL Credentials? with Steve Nordmark. In this episode I talk to Steve Nordmark, Director of Business Development at CAST. Steve forges partnerships with global educators and entities in the field such as our very own CollegeSTAR network in order to further the knowledge of and implementation of Universal Design for Learning. He talks to us about a fantastic resource called and we get the chance to talk about all of the great UDL resources anyone can access there as well as the newly created credentials program for associates-Level 1, and Core-Level 2 on the platform. We recorded this conversation at CAST’s annual symposium on the campus of Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. You might hear some background noise around us in the midst of the symposium as we sat down for a conversation about these great resources, so tune in to hear what UDL resources are available to you and how you too can get your UDL credentials!


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[Lillian]  Welcome to Think UDL, the Universal Design for Learning podcast. Where we hear from the people who are designing and implementing strategies with learner variability in mind.


I’m your host, Lillian Nave, and I’m interested in not just what you’re teaching, learning, guiding, and facilitating; but, how you design and implement it, and why it even matters.


Welcome to Episode 20 of the ThinkUDL podcast: Got UDL Credentials? with Steve Nordmark. In this episode I talk to Steve Nordmark, Director of Business Development at CAST. Steve forges partnerships with global educators and entities in the field such as our very own CollegeSTAR network in order to further the knowledge of, and implementation of Universal Design for Learning. He talks to us about a fantastic resource called and we get the chance to talk about all of the great UDL resources anyone can access there as well as the newly created credentials program for associates-Level 1, and Core-Level 2 on the platform. We recorded this conversation at CAST’s annual symposium on the campus of Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. You might hear some background noise around us in the midst of the symposium as we sat down for a conversation about these great resources. So tune in to hear what UDL resources are available to you and how you too can get your UDL credentials!


Thank you Steve Nordmark for joining us on the ThinkUDL podcast at the CAST annual UDL symposium, becoming expert learners. And, my first question for you is, what makes you a different kind of learner?


[Steve] Yeah, so, I actually got my master’s in education, as part of that process, I was considering teaching in the classroom. And I always had a bend toward education technology, worked as a consultant, knew that was where I was going to end up, but, I thought, you know, I’d really like to have the experience at teaching in a classroom so I taught in high school, and what I found in that experience, was that, that kind of engineering background, I like to control things. Right? So, that doesn’t serve you too well as a teacher. And that was a realization that was hard to come across, but it was a phenomenal opportunity for me, so I recognized that, in my learning, I like to have a command of things. So, the context of what we’re talking about here at this event and that expert learner, it’s not that you have a command, it’s that you, you know, really want to be in that direction, you want to move in the direction of having command, as opposed to saying “I got it.” So, to me, that’s what maybe makes me a special kind of learner, Is that I have to constantly struggle between trying to control things, and trying to let go.


[Lillian] Ah ha, nice. And you have to strike that balance. Wow.


[Steve] Absolutely.


[Lillian] You know, in one of the things I was learning about for intercultural learning, like when I take students overseas, is that, there is something called a comfort zone, if you imagine a target, and the comfort zone is the center of the target, and then there is a concentric circle around that, and that’s the learning zone, and then outside of that is another concentric circle, and that is a panic zone.


[Steve] Oh, interesting.


[Lillian] So, yeah and if you’re too comfortable, right, if you’re in your comfort zone, then it’s not challenging, it’s not interesting, you’re not learning. But, if you can get outside of that, just a little bit, but not so far, where it’s out of control panic, right? You can’t learn anything if you’re in that situation, that is the learning zone, you’ve got to push just a little but outside right? So you feel a little bit not in control, but, you’re able to kind of open yourself up into new things, and it totally made sense for like taking students to a different country…


[Steve]  I love that visual. Yeah it’s a perfect visual and it made me think of Daniel Pink too, and his context of, of, you know, autonomy, mastery and purpose and what is drive.


[Lillian] Oh I read that book too, it was such a good one.


[Steve] Yeah.


[Lillian]  We did a lot of our professors, at our university read that together and, and that was so helpful in, kind of managing where students needed to go, and direct the path, and, really really helpful but, that idea of pushing them out just a little bit, but not too far, has changed a lot of how I do, like, travel or– and giving students time to reflect. So..


[Steve] Yeah, I’m glad you shared that visual with me, because I’m going to carry that forward, it’s helpful!


[Lillian] Yeah. It’s good, thank you. So, but you are at the forefront of this, really cool thing that CAST is doing, and as the director of business development, you are, in this large credentialing certification process, and can you tell us more about what you’re doing there?


[Steve] Yeah, and it, what we’re looking at is, it’s not so much just CAST, I mean CAST and formerly the UDL IRN, which are now merged together, came and said, you know “We have this tremendous opportunity, right, we want to increase, adoption, awareness, and implementation of UDL.”  We want to do it, not just for ourselves obviously, but, because we recognize the benefits in creating learning environments, that are more adaptive, that are flexible, so, but there’s, there wasn’t enough awareness out there. There wasn’t enough understanding of what UDL really means. So, we brought together, what we call the UDL counsel, a group of folks from across non-profits, higher ed, K-12, education technology companies, you name it, we brought together a large group, and they served as a large advisory on this credentialing certification effort. Helping us to, to see, how will this play in the market?  How do we need to think about this?  And, what we recognized was there was this significant opportunity to develop standardized competency based credentials, in UDL, starting from the very beginning of, why is UDL so important?  So we have an associate credential, which is what we call level one. And that is, why is UDL so important?  That important mindset.  And then, we are just today, formally announcing the second level credential, which is the core foundation credential in UDL.  And that gets into an opportunity for people to demonstrate, not practice–not classroom or instructional practice– but really a design sensibility.  So, what we’re going to do in that credential, is present people scenarios, allow them to choose from their scenarios, and those scenarios are not, exemplary UDL models, because we want them to be able to demonstrate their ability to understand the framework, and how you’re understanding, you know, looking for learning barriers and promoting for variability, but looking at that from a framework standpoint and also, leveraging the guidelines, so looking at a scenario and demonstrating that you have that appreciation. So from a design sensibility, that’s what its giving an opportunity to demonstrate, and these are competency based credentials, so you don’t have to go through any particular course material.  You don’t have to follow any particular resource.  You can go straight to that credential, if you have that competence today, and demonstrate it, and then you earn those badges and those levels, and after that we’ll move to the next level, which will be the practitioner level credential, level 3. And then we’ll move to a coaching level, in level 4.


[Lillian] Oh wow. And what’s your vision, like how are you hoping these will line up in a year, or two, or?


[Steve] Yeah our goal is to, hopefully within a year we’ll have the next two levels out and available, and it’s just so exciting to even have that second level out here, and we’ll be talking about it in a session later this afternoon!


[Lillian] Oh great! Wow.  And, how do you envision, who are the people who are going to be getting these digital badges and participating in this?


[Steve] That’s the great part, in particular, about these first two levels, is, there’s no boundaries. Everyone who cares anything about creating learning experiences for all learners, whether you’re a classroom educator, whether you’re a curriculum designer, or you’re EdTech developer, administrator, it does not matter, because that design sensibility, that mindset, and then that design sensibility and that level 2, really everyone can have. When you get to those practitioner levels, we’ll dig into that, we’re just starting now. Then you might see a little more focus, on particular types of practitioners, and obviously in the coaching level it may be specialized to who they’re focused on coaching. There’s obviously going to be some universal principles within those, that would apply to any of those different roles that I mentioned earlier. But, for the most part these first two levels are truly the foundation upon which you can then move towards those, what is your type of practice, are you practicing curriculum development, are you practicing, you know, creating classroom experiences, creating educational software, whatever that case may be.


[Lillian] So, if somebody listening to this podcast right now wants to find out more, and they maybe want to get a credential or two, where’s–where are they going to go?


[Steve]  Yeah, so as part of our effort, we created an online platform which is called learning designed, so learning “designed” with “ed” dot org (, and


[Lillian]  We’ll have a link to that in our resources for this podcast so people can find it.

[Steve]  Thank you, wonderful.  So, anybody can go there and you can create a free account.  Even without an account, you can start researching resources that provide tremendous support for you today.  With that account, you can start networking with others.  You can, as an organization, have even private community areas that you can discuss problems of practice within your community, within your district, higher ed institution, whatever the case may be, or, in the case of   Michigan, as one example, Sue Hardin is actually working with a group of Michigan educators to create a network within the state.  So, great opportunities to network, great opportunities to get access to those resources, and then the credentials are on learning designed.  So, you can registers for those credentials, submit your evidence for those credentials.  In the first credential, the associate credential, because its strictly a knowledge-based credential, you have the opportunity–in good UDL fashion–to either submit a form of evidence, or you can take an online test because its all knowledge-based.  So, the same rubric criteria for that basis.  In the second level credential, the core foundation, its all rubric-based because its really demonstrating that you can analyze that scenario and critically evaluate it, and then doing that through written, recorded response.  Really, again, in UDL fashion, you can send in a word document, powerpoint template, you can send in a video, whatever you feel best demonstrates your alignment to that rubric.


[Lillian]  And, who are the folks who are then reading this or looking through this?  Is that the cohort of UDL IRN, now CAST part?


[Steve]  So, there are folks–yes–and, so there are professionals from UDL IRL and CAST that will do evaluations on the back end because they have demonstrated competence to do those evaluations, and then CAST has a unique group called the national faculty, and its not a requirement for the national faculty, but a great opportunity for them to demonstrate their competence and help guide the industry for people who are interested in building their best practice.


[Lillian]  Oh, great.  And, is there a cost for these credentials?  Can you tell us about that?


[Steve]  Yeah, so what we’re trying to do when we figure out the cost of learning designed and these credentials as a component of learning designed is what can we, as a non-profit, do to make them as affordable as possible while still allowing us to increase access? 


[Lillian]  There you are, looking at barriers again.

[Steve]  Exactly.  We’re covering our costs, so the first credential is $30 and the second credential is $60.  When we move to the practitioner level, it’ll probably be a little more intense, we’ll probably have a step up, but, I don’t know, maybe if you have me on this next year at this event, I can tell you more discretely what we came up with.


[Lillian]  Yeah.  Well, I know when the first credential was rolled out, I think UDL, our podcast partnered with you and we had quite a few vouchers that folks took us up on to really spread this, because I believe in it too, I think its really important, and I love what you’re doing with the whole cohort that you’ve established here to make this accessible for so many, and the digital badges is something that’s really–I see [as] very important in higher ed, especially–I know it goes well beyond higher ed, but that’s something that’s been really big in the circles that I see lately, so you’ve hit the nail on the head with what matters to administration, what matters to instructional designers, in helping with faculty even in tenure and promotion, having something like that on their resume can be very helpful for research or for scholarship of teaching and learning, and things like that, so I know every little bit helps, especially for faculty members.


[Steve]  Yeah, and I appreciate that you brought up the partnership that you had on the associate credential in particular.  That’s one thing that we’re proud of as well is organizations, whether it’s a higher ed institution, its another non-profit, because we’ve had non-profits partner with us in that respect, too, they can purchase access to those credentials for their stakeholders, and then what they can do is make it available for them for free.  So, they’re helping to scaffold the opportunity for their employees, their staff members, you know, maybe it might be in the case of one non-profit we worked with, they had a group of teaching fellows who are very interested in this.  So they used it for their teaching fellow program. 


[Lillian]  Yeah, and CollegeSTAR, another non-profit, the one that funds our podcast and is a big proponent of UDL in higher ed, they’re the ones that kind of made it possible for our podcast, to make it available to folks who wanted to get their associate level


[Steve]  Yeah, and I love what CollegeSTAR has done, and Sarah and I in our past conversations really–she said something that really made me feel good.  She said “I would love if learning designed could be one of the legacies for the College STAR materials,” so that she sees the opportunity in learning designed as a learning platform, a collaboration networking platform that can live on and regardless of whether the grant initiative ends, she has a place where those can continue to live on.


[Lillian]  Right, yeah, we’re very happy about that collaboration, and speaking of learning designed, the platform, I know ThinkUDL is there, linked, so if anybody wants to find ThinkUDL  outside of podcasts or our website, that you’ve got a link there on learning designed, and I was super excited to see it.  So, thank you for linking us and having us there.


[Steve]  Oh you’re welcome, its important for us to be able to do things like that, to connect to folks like yourself who are trying to promote better understanding, awareness, and implementation.


[Lillian]  Yeah, and could you tell us–tell our listeners kind of what other resources and other things that are on that learning designed platform besides the ThinkUDL podcast?


[Steve]  Yeah, well, you mentioned CollegeSTAR, they have some resources there.  We have partnerships with other organizations who are promoting their resources.  We have, in addition, actually gone out and found some of the best of the best resources.  In our conversation earlier, you mentioned Brett Christie and the work that he’s done in the California state system before, and there’s a lot of those resources, which are freely available, and we’re linking to those.  We had, at the UDL IRN summit a couple years ago, a woman who is working in New Zealand at Core Education, and the wealth of resources that they have that support Universal Design for Learning– in video and otherwise formats– are phenomenal, so we link to resources across the globe.


[Lillian]   Yeah, you know, I learn so much in such a different way when I’m talking with educators like in Canada.  They have a whole different take and really, I think, lots for us to learn in America about inclusion and diversity, and in applying UDL just in like a different way than we do, and then Australia, and even last year at this conference I met Elvis Agah from Ghana and talked with him, so–and what they’re doing in UDL for Africa.  So, we have so much to learn, but  all of those resources are just, you know, so diffuse, and way out there, and learning designed, that platform is the only place that I’ve seen such that wide variety available for folks.  I may not know of others, but I really appreciate that learning designed has gone out and done that.


[Steve]  Yeah, thank you, I appreciate that as well, and that’s our goal is to try and make it as easy as possible to link to those high quality resources, so, we do have a vetting process on the back end before something would be published in the public resource section of learning designed, but that’s because we want to increase the quality of the experience of everybody going there and making sure that when they go there, what they find is something that they do find useful, of high quality, can enrich their professional learning and/or be put to use in the classroom or, you know, coursework construction the next day if possible.


[Lillian]  So, let’s say we’ve got some UDL rock star out there right now listening to our podcast, and they have resources that they’d like to contribute, what should they do?


[Steve]  Yeah, so, if they know me, they can reach out directly to me, because I’m still leading that initiative


[Lillian]  And we can put your credentials–your contact info on the resources for this podcast episode.


[Steve]  And, there is a link to info at where they could send their request in or put their overture out to the team at learning designed to say that they’re interested in supporting it because, to your point, that is one thing that’s really important to us, is to bring the entire field because this–as I started earlier, is not just a CAST initiative, this is something that we want the entire field to be promoting, and in that, the partnerships are absolutely critical.


[Lillian]  Yeah.

[Steve]  So, one example is we’ve had a great partnership with the folks at “Understood.”  Understood has a phenomenal set of resources for parents, and now they’re expanding and actually meeting the constituents at, you know, educators and workforce and so forth.  As part of that, collaborating with them to create resources that will allow us to promote the expertise that we have as well as tap into the expertise that they have in really understanding how to get a message across and present it in a way that’s easily consumable.


[Lillian]  That’s great, wow.  So, where do you hope learning designed is in five years, let’s say?


[Steve]   Yeah, well, we have been very fortunate.  We are relying on philanthropic investment today to build learning designed.  In five years, learning designed will be self-sustaining so that the overall community finds it so valuable that they will be a part of helping to sustain it through subscriptions, through access to credentials, access to certifications and so forth.


[Lillian]  Yeah, so it’ll be a real kind of entity and force that’s helping not just educators, but, well everybody.  I can just see it in so many  different areas of life.


[Steve]  Absolutely.  And to that end, you know, we even started collaborations with the UD side of the world, the Universal Design side of the world in collaborating with architecture firms and space designers, so I see tremendous opportunities to not think just about the curriculum side, but think more broadly into–and my background’s in educational technology, so I’ll always keep that lens, and think about what should ed tech folks be doing, what should curriculum developers be doing, and then correspondingly, in our collaboration recently with these folks thinking very intelligently about space design, they’re not thinking about it just from a UD perspective, which traditionally was their bent, they’re thinking about it truly from the UDL perspective where– a holistic view, how are we designing the experience, not just the environment.


[Lillian]  Yeah, you know, just today, I was listening in on Goodwin College and their presentation of UDL and spoke explicitly about space and they have three re-designed classrooms and it makes all–so much–I won’t say all the difference because the curriculum and the teaching makes so much difference, but instead of moving tables and chairs around, they got the–they got furniture, you know, and designed space that made learning so much more accessible for everybody.  And so there’s not a front to the class, there’s not a back to the class, right, that there’s a different types of seating, there’s different areas, and that the students said it felt more like a coffee shop than a classroom, right, and they’re already pulling down barriers, all those things we construct in ourselves that stop our learning when we have either fear or anxiety, or those things that keep you away from learning or education or from having a relationship with that instructor.  That space was such an important component.  So, when we’re thinking about the UDL part, that UD, I don’t think we talk about it enough. 


[Steve]  Yeah, no that’s an excellent point, and Danielle, the provost from Goodwin, I was so fortunate to talk with her right after.  I had a business development meeting with a furniture organization who helped fund those classrooms that she implemented, and she’s a force, she’s doing some just absolutely wonderful things at Goodwin College, so I was excited to be able to make that connection.  And then I think, correspondingly, she was at an event shortly after that and got to collaborate with Jamie Basham who couldn’t be here because he unfortunately had a  knee accident, but he was doing a talk–did a keynote at that space design event.


[Lillian]  Oh, great and yeah I spoke with him about higher ed different classroom furniture, and the other thing that I learned at that event–and that was the UDL IRN down in Orlando–was thinking about even how we design like office space for professors.  And oftentimes students are–first of all, students do not want to go find their professor in some dusty old library, and that’s the way it used to be.  And they’re thinking of really creative places and spaces that, at least in the higher ed world that I live in, combined this space where students are either having tutoring services or they have a very like coffee shop open feel, and then the professors offices are surrounding and embedded in that area.  So, its not this other place where maybe you have to have a PhD to enter into this building, right, its for students.


[Steve]  Yeah, you’ve got to cross through to see the oracle.


[Lillian]  Right! Its making it super accessible, its making it so that those barriers are being torn down, and even with the– like a professor’s room or office would have space for, let’s say, research, right, quiet research, and then a space that is inviting for students for consultations, and then like a big collaboration space in addition to that, for students and other faculty to all be working together, and those things won’t happen if we don’t have the space for it to happen.  So, the fact that you’re bringing together all of these areas that make the learning part happen in such a dynamic, different way than it has traditionally been done, is so exciting.


[Steve]  Yeah, thank you, and its interesting to me to hear you talk about because even in my own past experience and thinking about my two sons who are in college now, their ability to engage with their professors in a way that its not a barrier to them, they don’t–you know, they see it as, like you said, a coffee shop experience, they’re walking up to someone who they know has that level of experience but its not like crossing into this quiet, you know, like, intimidating space.


[Lillian]  Yeah, very intimidating, you know, this anxiety-producing, like, you’re going into the library and they’re telling you to shush, but that you have–you’re empowering, you know, you’re empowering students to feel like they have a place in that institution of higher ed that is welcoming, and even recently, I read an article about–and my background is art history–but, how the art on the walls even influences how students interact there. 


[Steve]  Yeah, as you mention that, it reminded me of Allison Posey’s talk, I think it was at the IRN a couple years ago, and she mentioned how, even a poster on the wall had a significant impact on the performance of some learners because of what that poster either subliminally or directly suggested to that particular learner in her cultural context.


[Lillian]  Yeah.  So it was–I read recently it was at Yale actually, in Yale Medical School and about the medical students, so clearly these are students who’ve done well enough, right, to get into Yale Medical School.  But even the fact that like all of the founders or the leaders of Yale Medical School, they’re all like on one wall, and it was a super intimidating, similar look, you know, of everybody, and they decided, well, we’re going to diffuse those throughout the campus and add different, you know, perspectives, different ways of thinking, different art that makes it more diverse, like the student population coming in.  And I–you would think I would have thought of that, but I never even thought of that.  So it feels–to me, it feels like learning designed is doing that, is bringing in all of those perspectives, is bringing in all those resources, is making everybody feel welcome whether k-12, higher ed, workforce readiness, all that sort of stuff that you’re bringing.


[Steve]  Certainly the goal, absolutely, Lillian, I mean, we want to have that type of place where people feel comfortable and encouraged and want to continue to come back because they find the benefit to themselves and to their fellow educators, that they can find what they want there, but they can find the conversations that they want there, is really important.


[Lillian]  Yeah.  So its

[Steve]  Correct.


[Lillian]  And I hope that now people are going to know all about it when they hear this podcast.


[Steve]  Yeah, thank you, I appreciate it.


[Lillian]  Thanks so much, Steve,  I appreciate it.

[Steve]  You bet.



[Lillian]  You can follow the Think UDL podcast on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to find out when new episodes will be released, and also see transcripts and additional materials at the website.  The Think UDL podcast is made possible by College STAR, the STAR stands for supporting transition, access and retention in post-secondary settings, and the website provides free resources and instructional aids based on UDL principles.  If you’d like to know more, go to the website.  Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University, where, if you call it Appalachian, I’ll throw an apple at you!  The music on the podcast was performed by the Odyssey Quartet, comprised of Rex Shepherd, David Pate, Bill Folwell, and Jose Cochez.  Our sound engineer is Tanner Jones, and I am your host, Lillian Nave, thank you for joining us on the Think UDL podcast.


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