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UDL’s High Impact Teaching Blueprint with Erin Leif and Lizzie Knight

Welcome to Episode 90 of the Think UDL podcast: UDL’s High Impact Teaching Blueprint with Erin Leif and Lizzie Knight. Erin Leif is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Educational Psychology and Counseling at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and Lizzie Knight is a Research Fellow at the Mitchell Institute: Centre for International Research on Education Systems also in Melbourne. Erin and Lizzie have told me that they are both dialing in for our interview from the Traditional Lands of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. This conversation focuses on disability, diversity, inclusion, belonging, and how UDL can be used a blueprint to engage High Impact Teaching Strategies to include a wide variety of students. You’ll also hear of quite a few resources that are listed on our website for this episode, so feel free to follow up on this conversation for some great information and a free eLearning course.



ADCET– Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training

UDL in Tertiary Education course

NDCO National Disability Coordination Officer Program

Universal Design for Learning in Tertiary Education: A Scoping Review and Recommendations for Implementation in Australia

Hattie, J. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on learning. Routledge.Calculating the costs of supporting people with disabilities funding report


Lillian Nave  00:00

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 90 of the think UDL podcast. UDL is high impact teaching blueprint with Erin Leif and Lizzie Knight. Erin Leif is a Senior Lecturer in the School of educational psychology and counseling at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. And Lizzy Knight is a research fellow at the Mitchell Institute Centre for International Research on Education Systems also in Melbourne, Erin and Lizzie have told me that they are both dialing in for our interview from the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri  people of the Kulin nation. This conversation focuses on disability, diversity, inclusion, belonging and how UDL can be used as a blueprint to engage high impact teaching strategies and we’ll talk about that to include a wide variety of students. You’ll also hear of quite a few resources that are listed on our website for this episode. So feel free to follow up on this conversation from for some great information and a free eLearning course on our website. Thank you for listening and a special thank you to the folks at the UDL he network that stands for Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education for their financial support of the think UDL podcast. I’d like to welcome Erin and Lizzie to the think UDL podcast. Thank you for joining me on this early morning in Australia.

Erin Leif  02:15

Thanks for having us.

Lillian Nave  02:17

Very glad to have you both. I’m gonna start with you Erin. And ask the question I asked all my guess and that is what makes you a different kind of learner. And then don’t forget Lyza your next?

Erin Leif  02:31

Yeah, I love this question. And I feel like this question is meant for me. Because I’ve always been a different kind of learner, I had a really hard time growing up at school. And I was a chronic school refuser from when I was in second grade, and I ended up dropping out of public school at age 14. Wow. And I just didn’t fit in. And I the way that everybody learned the same thing. And the same way at the same pace. It just didn’t work for me. And I really rebelled against the system. But fortunately, because I owe a lot of credit to my parents, they were very brave. And they explored alternative education options for me. And I found is a different type of school. That was very alternative. But that suited me perfectly. And it gave me a lot of independence, to explore topics at my own pace and on my own time. And I’ve always been a really self motivated and independent learner who likes to do things my own way. And so sometimes I’ve had a hard time following instructions or doing things when I don’t feel like I don’t have when I’m not given a choice or a voice in how everything is going to work. And so what I’ve learned is that I thrive when I’m given space and creative control to develop things in my own way. Which leads into kind of why I love UDL, offering that flexibility. So we’ll get more into that in a little bit.

Lillian Nave  04:05

Yeah, for sure. I really appreciated you talking about your parents in your community too. It’s you in relationship to what those options were and you had options. That’s fantastic. And not everybody has had that and what I love about UDL, all of the options that we have. So Lizzie same question to you what makes you a different kind of learner? Yeah,

Lizzie Knight  04:29

and I feel like Erin and I are meant meant for each other because I am the opposite. I love I love structures. I also have a very interesting learning biography in that I wanted to go to school, desperate to go to school desperate to be told what to do and to be like a like a good little bee. But I have a connective tissue disorder which sort of is arthritis. So I was out of school from like from basically grade four to grade 10 I didn’t do a full year of school. And so I was diagnosed with dyspraxia during that period. But I was just sick, I was in pain a lot, and I couldn’t sit, sit up and all these kinds of things. So I think it’s, it’s really interesting and at one point, and I think it’s also a lot of misunderstandings in ages me, but in the 80s and the 90s, about they I was sent once because I thought maybe it was psychosomatic, not kind of joints. But it’s, and they sent me to an alternative school in Melbourne that I won’t name but everyone would know. And I like it blew my mind, like not being able to go to any class. I was like, Where is the timetable?


Where are the bills that

Lillian Nave  05:44

tell me where to be?

Lizzie Knight  05:46

So I think it just shows us the breadth of different kind of learning biographies.

Lillian Nave  05:52

Yes, it does. And that’s what I love asking all of my guests that question, because I get a different answer every time and reinforces the need for this podcast, which is about how we all learn differently. So thank you both. You’ve really set the stage for why UDL is important already with both of your backgrounds. So I wanted to start off with Erin, and you’re going to start this question. But there’s a myth that we talked about, that is still perpetuated called learning styles. It’s big. I hear people still use it a lot. And it’s even confused with UDL. Sometimes, especially people are like, wait, wait, what this sounds like, learning styles again, what am I supposed to be doing this? And we often debunk myths on this podcast. But I think you’ve got some really good ideas definitions as to what the difference is why we should be thinking about these two things in very different terms. So can you explain the confusion? And why UDL is very different learning styles? Yeah,

Erin Leif  07:04

no, I love this. So I want to start by saying that I’m a skeptic, first of all, so I always am open to the possibility for me being a skeptic means always be open to the possibility that new information will come to light that will change my mind. And I kind of hold my beliefs lightly. And so although we currently have evidence to suggest that learning styles as a framework is not effective, I’m open to the fact that new information will come to light in the future that will show in certain situations. But this idea of learning styles could be effective in some situations for some learners. But I’m also a pragmatist. And so I’m really interested in things that are that we can judge in terms of their usefulness, how useful are things like learning styles and UDL for leading to effective action in the classroom that actually benefits students today, here and now. So learning styles is a theory that holds that we should match instruction to our students preferred mode of learning. It’s the idea that our students brains are wired differently. And students have different channels that they can tap into that help them learn more optimally. And some people might learn better by seeing some people might learn better by listening. Or some people might learn better by physically engaging in content align activities. And the idea is that people have preferences. And if you tailor instruction to each person’s preference, they will learn better. Now, on the surface, that sounds amazing, but there’s some problems. First of all, there are more than 71 Different identified learning styles. So some of the more common learning styles are things like visual auditory, or kinesthetic, you might hear I’m a visual learner. I’m a I’m a tactile learner. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard that before. But, but Okay, so we have these 71 Different identified learning styles. That seems really hard for teachers to be able to adapt instruction potentially to suit 71 different learning preferences in the classroom. But more than that, we actually have research that shows that learning style based interventions don’t really impact how well learners engaged with the material, understand it or apply it. And interestingly, some research shows that when you give students an opportunity to pick pick a specific learning style or engage with material in a specific way, although it’s preferred, it might not actually be the most effective way of learning for that student. They might actually be slower to learn new skills. Now again, I’m a skeptic. So I’m open to new research coming to light in the future that tells us something different but what I say is that adapting Teaching to suit each student’s unique learning profile is likely going to be a lot of work for teachers. Yeah. And there are also no clear guidelines about how to do it. It’s sort of like, here’s 71 things, throw them at the wall. Let’s see what sticks. And to me, I know that teachers are already feeling overwhelmed, and they’re already feeling overworked. And they don’t have enough time to plan lessons. So if we’re going to add this into the mix without a strong research base, and without a strong framework of how to do it, we’re setting teachers up for more overwhelm and to be potentially frustrated and not have enough time. So, to me, these are some problems that learning styles hasn’t truly addressed. And I’m afraid that if we endorse this model, we might in fact, be veering teachers away from using robust and effective high impact teaching practices in the classroom that we know can promote meaningful engagement and academic success for all students. So how is UDL different is the next point. So UDL does share some underpinning assumptions with learning styles, which is why maybe people conflate the two. So UDL is based on the assumption that there’s no regular or average student. It recognizes that students are different and unique, and they may have different learning histories and strengths and interests and needs. However, UDL is not a teaching strategy. It’s not one way of teaching. It’s a proactive way to design accessible and inclusive learning experiences for all students. So rather than teachers focusing on teaching the same thing in 71 different ways, UDL guides us to think about the potential barriers that our students might encounter when participating in learning activities, and to proactively take steps to reduce these barriers during the design phase, not reactively. Not in the moment while we’re teaching. And so when I talk about UDL, I talk about it as a blueprint. It’s a map for delivering a whole range of different teaching strategies. So the question isn’t, should I do UDL? Or should I do direct instruction? Should I do UDL? Or should I do collaborative learning? That’s the wrong question. It’s how do I integrate these high impact practices into the UDL framework? And the blueprint can help guide this process. And so the way I use the blueprint, and I have adapted this, and I use it in my own teaching, and in higher education is first, I determine what it what is it though, that I want my students to learn? What do I want my students to know and do at the end of this lesson, or the semester that they couldn’t do before? Then I’m going to decide how I’ll assess student learning. Right? So I’m going to use the principles of backwards design. What am I going to what what will I assess? And how will I assess their learning using both formative or sort of in the moment, feedback and also summative or end of semester graded activities? And do some of my students need an accommodation to be able to participate in assessment? And what might that accommodation look like? Then I’m gonna think about any barriers that my students might experience as part of their learning. And this is important for me teaching primarily in an online context. I need to be aware if students are going to have difficulty accessing the online learning space or engaging with material online. So I provide students with an opportunity to tell me if they anticipate that they’ll be experiencing any barriers. Once I have this information, I can create my lesson plan with my students strengths and potential barriers in mind, and actually take steps to reduce barriers during the design phase. So that could involve presenting certain types of content in different formats, ensuring the content that I’m putting online is accessible, so people with disability can access it in a way that’s meaningful to them. And that might be for all students or just for some that I’m going to teach my lesson or teach whatever it is that I’m teaching using a range of teaching strategies. And these ultimately should provide all students with opportunities to actively engage with the content and not be passive learners. And then finally, at the end reflect what worked for me and what could I do differently next time that reflective practice is built in. So in summary, I view UDL as a proactive rather than reactive approach to addressing diverse student needs, and we know from research on UDL, that it can reduce teacher preparation time, it can reduce the reactive staff with having to make adjustments on the fly or meet students needs after the fact when students are already facing difficulty and highly anxious. And it provides more individual learning opportunities for all students. So ultimately, it can reduce workload and improve the student experience. So we do you have research now that is showing that these benefits exist.

Lillian Nave  15:41

Yeah, the there’s some more time upfront in that design part. But everybody I have spoken with, has told me how much easier they’re teaching life safe design better,

Erin Leif  15:54

and I’m in that category 100%, I will I will die on that hill.

Lillian Nave  16:00

Me too. It’s made it so much better. I’ve gotten feedback over and over again, of how the class didn’t have the barriers that, honestly my class used to have. And I would get that feedback. And it’s just changed for the better. So when people are worried about it, that’s one of the things we can really show research to say it’s, it’s, it’s well worth the time in the beginning, because you get your time back in, you know, over and over. Yeah, absolutely. So one of the things that goes along with that is, well, the confusion between UDL and differentiated teaching, and Lizzie, I thought you might be able to explain a little bit about that. And thanks again, Erin. That was like our best cut comparison of UDL and learning styles. So now I’ve got something was like read the transcript on this one if you have any questions. Alright, so Lizzy, can you describe the difference between UDL and differentiated teaching? Yeah.

Lizzie Knight  16:59

Thanks, Dan. I really enjoyed Erin talking about learning style. And I’m not going to go into as much detail but I thought, I think what I’m one of the things I said in the introduction is I like rules. But that doesn’t mean I like tight structures for the sake of it. And I think that, you know, in the kind of, I mean, I think quite anxiety inducing frameworks where we’re working in a teaching and learning settings, I think people, teachers and tutors are trying to do their best, and sort of grab onto things and sort of be like, This is what I’ve been told. And I think that I think that the agency of the teacher and the agency of the student, I think, is really critical in that. And I think in a way, UDL with its macro kind of structures, and ability to kind of look above the Think beyond the kind of temporal period, these are the things I have to do. And think kind of, I think it’s just a really nice outlook. It’s like, you know, sort of more holistic at what can we do? What, how could this be learned? And I think it is good teaching practice, it goes back to that learning outcome, actually, what is the instead of I mean, no, I know, we’ve all probably, like in our head somewhere, I’m still sitting in a classroom in 2000, being taught how to teach, you know, and that’s my reptilian kind of brain kind of goes back to there. It’s like, how do I do this? But actually, it sort of frees me UDL and think, think differently. And I think that that’s what I would say the biggest difference isn’t the agency, the agentic, self, UDL sort of enables was differentiated teaching. I’m not criticizing it for itself at all. But I think it has some underlying assumptions, that the teacher knows what’s right, the teacher knows what fits. And I think, I mean, perhaps there is a kind of perfect world in which teachers have a limited time to know exactly each of the 71 learning styles on each given day. But I think what I’m comfortable with living with the idea is we don’t live in a perfect world. There’s a huge amount of misrecognition and misunderstanding about our projection upon learners what we think they want. And actually, you know, if we think we’ll actually produce this, you know, lesson this topic, what I need people to come away with understanding, but I can offer different ways of doing this. And it actually doesn’t, like you say, take too much. It’s not like I have to teach a lesson seven times, which is I think, what people hear UDL plus one and I have no plus one is a really great slogan, but I was I cannot take one more thing. That’s, that’s actually we need to say UDL is sort of I love that term that Erin used the blueprint, it’s like, you know, we don’t live in 2d structures, like an architectural blueprint. We understand they get made a hole of real and all kinds of things. So I think that that’s a really useful so so as a student agency, and teacher agency, really leads to authentic learning

Lillian Nave  20:01

Wow. Yeah, it’s it’s such a collaboration and differentiation, I think is still the teacher in charge of everything. Okay, well, I’ll determine what the what the other way of doing it is, or I’ll, I’ll be in charge of all the structure without the feedback from the students. So thank you very much. Okay, so you guys have introduced me to a few things and in our conversations via email before, and you’ve introduced me to this hits, HGTs, high impact teaching strategies. And at first I was like, Oh, I know what this is. But I had confused it. So I need to talk to my audience in case they did the same thing, which is, it’s not what the ACU puts out, which is hips, HIV, which is high impact practices. Those are the things that detail practices that a university can undertake that increased learning success and retention through throughout that whole like four year university experience things like First Year Seminar, that’s the kind of thing I do having a capstone course a writing intensive course global learning, a common reading, those sorts of things are in the high impact practices. However, there is one overlap between high impact teaching strategies that you introduce me to, and high impact practices. And that’s collaborative learning. And this is also something that’s essential to the engagement aspect of UDL as well. So Erin, I’ll start with you. How have you used Udo as a blueprint for delivering these high impact teaching strategies, the hits just hints and creating a range of learning opportunities, rather than viewing UDL as a strategy in and of itself?

Erin Leif  21:45

Yeah, I am. Draw on the high impact teaching strategies or hits which are maybe more of an Australian concept. I know, John Hattie, one of our lead educational researchers in Australia has really done quite a bit of work. And hits come from meta analyses, where his team at the University of Melbourne looked across all different types of teaching practices that teachers might use primarily in primary and secondary or elementary, middle and high school settings, to look at which practices seem to be associated with high effect sizes. In other words, they promote learning outcomes for students. And through that research, that’s where hits was born. And so hits are those specific teaching practices that have been demonstrated to produce large and sustained outcomes, meaningful learning and outcomes for students. And so there are a number of different hits. And they are the types of things that teachers might incorporate into the UDL blueprint. So these are the actual ways that we can deliver instruction and engage students in the learning process. And so again, I want to come back to this point that the question isn’t whether we should use UDL or we should use high impact teaching strategies or high impact practices. It’s how do we integrate these practices into the UDL framework, so we’re integrating them we’re viewing them as complementary, not substitutable. They’re both flexible, and other words, both UDL and high impact teaching strategies can be adapted to suit the needs of the context in which they’re being used. It’s not a one size fits all approach. They provide guidance, rather than rules about how to deliver more inclusive education. And so what I’m going to do now is talk a little bit about how you might integrate high impact teaching strategies into the three principles of UDL. So the first principle of UDL is that we can provide multiple means of representation. And this involves presenting content in different formats, such as text, pictures, audio, video modeling, etc. So I like to incorporate what we call multiple exposures, and worked examples, which are two high impact teaching strategies. So worked examples involves providing students with a demonstration, an illustration or a completed example of a task that they can learn from and sort of as part of scaffolding, follow the steps look at how we completed each step here, look at the final product. And multiple exposures involves not just presenting a learning opportunity one time but presenting lots of different learning opportunities that come out, whatever whatever it is that you’re teaching from different angles. And so these can be two ways to provide multiple representations of content. worked examples can be written they can be visual, they can be video, they can be demonstrations. and multiple exposures is essentially, first, we’re going to look at a video example, then we’ll look at a written example, then we’ll look at a visual example. And so it just gives you the opportunity to present content in multiple different ways. And when I use this in my own teaching, I use it as an opportunity to pitch the content at different levels of difficulty. So some might be presented in a more technical, more jargon way. Whereas other pieces of content that are on the same topic might be a more simple every day application, so that I’m reaching students that are kind of at different levels within their learning in terms of their background knowledge and their understanding of the material. And they can access the content in a way that is kind of where they’re at in terms of their prerequisite knowledge. Now, the second principle of of UDL is providing multiple means of engagement. So this involves providing students with different ways to actively engage with the content, there is no doubt active student engagement is critical to meaningful learning. We are past the days of sitting in a lecture hall where the lecture just talks at you for an hour, we’re really wanting our students to be engaged in the learning process. And so a couple of ways that you can do this is first break, like composite or larger skills down into small component parts, so that you give students opportunities to learn the building blocks, I think sometimes we expect our students to be able to learn a really complex skill simply by exposure to the end product. But in fact, our students benefit from learning the building blocks, and then scaffolding along the way to build that towards that larger end goal. So I’m a really big proponent of using direct and explicit instruction as part of this phase to provide students with lots of opportunities to respond and lots of opportunities to get feedback on they’re responding. Then you can use modeling demonstrations, how students model skills to each other, use inter teaching how students teach each other concepts, and then gradually build the complexity. And finally, using questioning, incorporating a lot of questions into your teaching to solicit active engagement from students in terms of giving you responses, you can use response cards, you can use closed ended open ended questions to facilitate a discussion. There’s so many ways we can use questioning to promote active student engagement in our classrooms. And the third principle is to provide multiple means of action and expression. So providing students with different ways to demonstrate their learning. And this is where I really love collaborative learning. Because you can bring groups of students together to get creative with what they want to do with the new material that they’ve learned, perhaps come up with an innovative way to teach their classmates something new. Or how do they engage in more of an inquiry based project where they need to apply their new learnings to solve a novel problem that they’ve never seen before. And it is important when we’re using group work to make sure the groups are structured, and we give them clear direction. But it can be a really good way to generate unique ways for students to demonstrate their new learning.

Lillian Nave  28:34

Fantastic. This is you’ve brought up a bunch of things in my head.

Erin Leif  28:40

And I just talked for like five minutes. So

Lillian Nave  28:45

no, it’s great when you were talking especially about engagement. And you know, the old ways of lecturing for an hour are gone, and we really need to engage it did it made me think of something, linking back to your earlier answer to about the preferences that we have. And I would have told you, I would have been like Lizzie and I just want to follow the rules and are listened to the lecture. And that’s my preferred way of learning. However, I did not learn and I know that students don’t learn. If you made me get up and do a problem set or made me do an experiment. I was actively involved, I would not like you. But I would actually learn the material much better. And so just like I would rather eat ice cream for every meal. That’s not good for me. I’m not going to get the nutrition I need. Just like the way I thought I wanted to learn was always in the lecture, that the engaging parts. The ways to engage students are the ways that they’re going to learn the best. The one who does the work is the one who learns.

Erin Leif  29:47

But here’s where we can use UDL, right, because you’ve identified a barrier, which is that some students might be really anxious to get up in front of the class and demonstrate their learning. So how can we take except to reduce student anxiety as a barrier as part of our planning, and that’s through making sure that they have the skills to be successful, and giving them some information about how to come up in front of your class and give a presentation, right? Like, don’t assume that your students have this knowledge, like actively teach all these other skills as part of the lesson. So students are successful when they have to actively participate.

Lillian Nave  30:29

Yeah, there were so many things that I didn’t realize I was asking them to do, that I wasn’t grading them on. But that were barriers, right, like just the things you’ve you’ve mentioned, like, I wanted them to explain their ideas, but they didn’t know how to do a bibliography and the way I knew, but I didn’t explain that. I just assumed that they did. So it’s those things where I have to go back to think about what is a novice learner in this field, and we’re so used to in higher ed being the experts in a field. And there’s a whole lot of levels, a whole lot of connections, all those those pathways in the brain that we’ve had years and years to make that our students are just learning how to do. And so we have to be so explicit, as you mentioned, yeah, to do that.

Erin Leif  31:14

And I think this brings for me, there’s a lot of, at least in Australia, there’s a lot of debate around should we be using direct and explicit instruction? Or should we be using problem based learning and inquiry based learning? And again, I think that’s the wrong argument. It’s the wrong question. It’s how do we do both really, really well? Right? So how do we use direct and explicit instruction to give students the building blocks to be able to be successful and form new knowledge? And then once we give them the foundational skills, how can we have them apply their new learning to solve novel problems in new ways? So again, I think it’s both it’s not to pit them against each other and try to figure out which one is better.

Lillian Nave  31:55

Right, right. And you’ve written an article you that you sent me the article that we will linked to our resources, that’s about the UDL and the high impact teaching strategies, all just the hits. Yeah. And so we’ll have that for anyone who’s listening to this can find a really well spelled out how you have linked these two, that it’s not a competition, but rather they work together beautifully. And they do great. Yeah, so Okay, so in addition, I want to talk ask Lizzy a question about UDL, and how that supports that you’ve seen it supports different learners, for equity and inclusion. And have you seen UDL support equity and inclusion initiatives in your areas?

Lizzie Knight  32:46

Thanks. And I’ll talk, I mean, almost exclusively in terms of higher education and what we do? Yes. Okay. I mean, I think that what brought Erin and I together is a project we may be going to talk about a little bit later. But I think the main finding, and the main cause that we were brought together is that I’m really interested in like the idea of UDL as a global reform movement. Right. I think that that’s, I think that’s fantastic. And I think the term global education reform movement, often is linked to quite negative forces within education. But I think we need to also understand that there are a global kind of policy, borrowing policy and practice policy borrowing all across the world, which can be really useful. And and I think in Australia, we’ve seen how UDL has been taken up in the US and in Ireland, and in the UK, to an extent. And I think that we were aware that due to the kind of what I would say, kind of policy structures in Australia, and legislative structures, there has been, I mean, this is kind of completely my personal view, is I think Australia was really early with the dispute Discrimination Act back in 1995. And I think it kind of sort of fossilized the forms a little bit. We later had something called to explain, and I’m doing inverted commas, because I don’t think this is going to be video, explain the DVA and how it works in education called the disability standards of education. And I mean, I think that, firstly, I think that’s a flag that there’s an issue with the core legislation, if you need another piece of legislation that explains it, that maybe they should have read a bit about universal design. But yeah, it would have been held that time. But But yeah, and I think that because of that it was sort of all tangled up in legislation. And we haven’t been able to think kind of really about the good and thinking about what we want out of learning. And I think therefore, and I’ve been doing some systematic thinking and writing about, you know, what kind of support issues in the Australian context and which is where we were Uh, and I think that there’s a core issue that sort of barrier for UDL, the Australian funding system and the Australian kind of practice based system is higher education is kind of gated, like there’s a gate on it, which is a medical declaration which kind of is like the the deserving declared students and you know, other students who haven’t kind of produced to like volumous evidence to get through, actually, we all have learning needs in the classroom. And so I think that I’m really keen, particularly as a like a disability rights activists. It’s really strange, because I’ve always liked this is not just for disabled people. This is for everyone. And I think yeah, and I think that in Australia UDL is seen as also, um, you know, this is also controversial, is I think the UDL is equally not a solution for individual pedagogical accommodations, you know, it doesn’t mean that like, oh, well, it’s fun UDL and we’ll never have to support one of those isqi disabled students again, like that is not a good narrative either. But it doesn’t mean UDL is extremely expensive and productive and responsive. But I think what we found in a scoping review that we were involved in, is that really, there is very little policy integration of UDL, in higher education. There is quite a lot of quite interested voices. And I think the what we wanted to make it resonate within the Australian system. And I think you have to break that down and do things bit by bit, because it can be like, Oh, my God, I don’t have three weeks to understand this big thing that’s coming from abroad. Tell me how it works here. And I think also, I mean, colonial kind of, you know, it was settler kind of states, I think, do also have an interesting relation between international kind of context. And I think that they were, you know, challenges for us in that way. But yeah, so I think that in terms of, I think, UDL, we know, it can be very productive. We haven’t really had an embedded in our context yet. Except this, this recent project has been doing.

Lillian Nave  37:11

Yeah. Oh, wonderful. You know, I did have a chance to go to Australia about now’s 10 years ago. And I was quite amazed and pleasantly surprised about what what I thought they were doing so much better than we were doing on our side of the ocean, I guess. But really recognizing, especially diversity, and especially the indigenous groups in, in the, in the country, in the university, and in, in recognizing that history. And I remember sitting in the table with all women happen to be in the table, though, when, and there were, there was a group of local students, and they were introducing us to a creation narrative in their own language. And it was something that the women who were, I’d say 40s 50s and 60s, were some of them were just weeping because they had known the history in that area, that often these people weren’t allowed to speak their language weren’t allowed to continue their customs. And so it’s an eye to that, that I was, I was I was awakened to, and I see that we’re borrowing some things from, you know, Australia, Australia, what they’re doing. It’s a different situation than in America clearly. But that I think we can learn a lot from each other. And that I’ve seen UDL especially be part of making a more even playing field for all people, cultural backgrounds, English language learners, disability, it, it is not a cure all. I’m not saying that. It is also not something that takes away the need for accommodations. We’re not saying that. But it is something that so breaks down those barriers that had been artificially created for learners for so long. And so I appreciate your big system. Thinking on that one.

Erin Leif  39:21

Yeah. And it’s really relevant in Australia, because we have so many students in higher education from overseas, where English is the second or third or fourth language. So using UDL is so can be so beneficial to our, you know, non native English speaking learners. And yes, you know, also for our students from regional and remote parts of the country where they might be participating first in their family to participate in higher tertiary or higher education, or attending school online. You know, like, there’s new barriers that we have to think about And this allows us to do that. And I think that Australia has a real opportunity to emerge as a leader because of the unique, I guess, our unique population and our geographic challenge. Yeah. So it’ll be really interesting to see how this work progresses moving forward.

Lillian Nave  40:19

Yeah, very excited about it. And very excited to hear what you guys are doing. That brings me to my next question. And Lizzy, I’ll start with you to answer this first and then go to Erin. But what is your group doing to advance UDL in Australia?

Lizzie Knight  40:36

Yeah, thanks. And I mean, I’ll do a little bit of like, the brass tacks and then being able to talk more about the kind of the legacy and really the impactful kinds of stuff. But I think just as I said, you know, the Australia has this legislation and dva. And then it has this explanatory legislation, the disability standards, which are super important for us, but almost nobody is kind of, like, totally across like I work with them all the time. I’m like, oh, where’s that fit? And it’s, you know, I think that they get reviewed every five years to see about appropriately. One of the things in a recent 2020 review, is that there was a recognition that while kind of needs at a very basic kind of almost old school level might have been met, there was still a structural inequality. For people with disabilities in higher education. I think we know that there are, and that may be declarations, or it may actually be enrollment, it’s unclear, and we won’t know. But for whatever reason, there is a structural issue. And so we are very fortunate to have a federally funded organization called the Australian Disability clearing house on education and training, which is fantastic, because one of the funny things about Australia’s even though we are quite small, we do want education systems by state and territory by jurisdiction. But University is one of the only systems that runs across the Commonwealth, the whole area, but you know, it’s quite hard. It’s sort of like fitting together. So we’ve got this useful national body. And then we’ve got linked to that in a kind of quite complicated dogs. We’ve got also an Australian National Disability coordination officers, and they’re really embedded in currently in their local contexts they often in and they work across all post compulsory that and higher education, so vocational and higher ed, and they’re embedded within institutions, often public, but some private, across the country, and they have kind of regions. And I mean, one NDCs region is bigger than like France. You know? It’s big. Yeah. But, but yeah, so and so they work together, and so adset coordinated with some sort of funding help, and expert advisory group, with members of those two groups, but also, you know, ringing like me and Erin, you know, who were brought in person to be expert, advisory academics, teaching and learning specialist people on the ground learning designers who are critical to your voice in this space, I think, just be service managers, accessibility consultants, and, you know, other kinds of people who are, I think, you know, interested in equality, you know, regulations, people within an institution for some of those barriers are like that, and experts in funding, and they made sure that several members of the overarching group had personal experience of first person experience disability, that was a key criteria, which I think was having that voiced voice. And, you know, and I think that that’s, they’re really adopting a very interesting I think, this is another of my hobbyhorse, which I’ll give up in a minute of people, not just familial, but individual experience disability raising up people, including people with very varied experiences. So I think that was great. And so then we have working groups to look at different areas of UDL. And it was really a co design process is like, didn’t start from this is what we need. It was what do we need, let’s then build what we need. And we iterated back and forth. And so that was a really interesting process that we’ve hopefully written up that might be useful that we’re trying to share. And then we Erin has led and supported her a bit about the reflections and what we can work further on there. And we have published a scoping review, which underpinned all our work, and also a reflective brief about how we did the work. So one of the things I think that it’s fair to say is what we tried to do with as well as the work we try to be a bit meta to try and share our practices to show like what else we did and that it can be sort of replicable if it’s useful. In other other The area’s and we really kind of very open about sharing our material and stuff like that.

Lillian Nave  45:04

Great, I would love to we’ll talk afterwards. And I’ll get those on our resources, the things that you have published and so that they could be replicated in other places. And boy, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we can learn a lot from each other. So I really appreciate that.

Erin Leif  45:21

So picking up on on what Lizzie was mentioning, we worked collaboratively to ultimately co design an elearning course, or an elearning program, so a free online program, all about the principles and practices of UDL for tertiary educators, learning designers, disability, advocates, and consultants, anyone who’s interested in learning more about how to apply UDL in the tertiary education space. And we made this freely available. So anyone can participate, we obviously use to the principles of UDL in the design of the elearning program, we provide resources and other tangible downloadable materials to help course participants translate what they’re learning into their practice in their own institutions. And so we rolled out that course in late December, or maybe it was early December of 2021. So it’s been now launched for a little over six months, and we’ve had over 600 enrollments from across Australia, and even internationally. So it’s really exciting to see the interest in our elearning program. But we can consider what we’ve designed as a bottom up approach. In other words, we’re trying to get good information into the hands of individual educators, and learning designers. So they can start to incorporate these principles into their own unit design and delivery on a case by case and individual basis. Now, that can help impact change at kind of the individual and local level. But what we might actually need is also a top down approach, which is driven by policy change, if we’re really going to embed UDL into the tertiary education space in Australia. And so one of the things that we’re currently talking about as a group as well, how do we do that? How do we inform and advocate for policy and policy change and university wide change that’s going to really bring UDL to the fore. And I think the university sector is kind of ready for it. Because with COVID, we saw such a rapid switch to online learning. And it really exposed a lot of cracks in the system, and exposed a lot of the challenges that students were facing even before COVID. And so I think there’s a recognition that we need to be doing more ultimately, to support our students and to bring new students, students from diverse backgrounds into the tertiary education setting students who have never been able to participate in tertiary education before, that’s going to require a new way of thinking. And so what we’re hoping to do is see if we can establish some new committees within our own institutions, and work collaboratively within our own institutions to try to advocate for that top down level change, where integration of UDL is going to be more systemic. And it’s going to be more public throughout the university. And there’s going to be an investment in upskilling, educators, learning designers, disability consultants across the university. So some of our other further work in this area now that we’ve designed the elearning program, Jen cousins, who you spoke with before, is establishing a community of practice so that educators who are completing the program can join a community of practice to talk about what’s working, what are they translating into their practice? And what’s challenging, and where do they feel they need more support. And from this community of practice, we’re hoping to sort of curate some worked examples of UDL, and how people are using it to provide more resources to others. We also want to be able to identify potential barriers to implementation, so that maybe we can design new resources to directly address these barriers. We also are planning on conducting focus groups and doing some more research around this knowledge translation piece because this is really where the magic happens, right? Like, we can provide great training and great support, but we need to know how this is being translated into practice in the real world to continue to add advocate for the right level of support and, you know, resources that educators are going to need. And we also want to contribute to international research, right? Like we want people to know about what we’re doing. So as Lindsay mentioned, we have a paper under review right now, where we actually describe the process that we went through, to come together and CO design the elearning program, using something called Knowledge to Action cycles. And so hopefully, fingers crossed that will be published, and we can share it with you in the future. Yes, please. Yeah. But ultimately, it’s just about raising the profile of UDL in Australia and sharing stories about how it’s parked, and what the impact has been. And we’re really excited about doing more research in that space in the future, and continuing to do that work with our partners from the Australian Disability clearinghouse for education and training with the National Disability coordination Officer Program, and with our other colleagues, many of whom do have lived experience of disability.

Lillian Nave  51:02

Great, you know, one of the things that I hear a lot in the space as a UDL advocate is where’s the research, and it is coming out in droves. Now, I mean, it’s relatively new. It’s not like this is, you know, ancient Greek art, you know, archaeology where it’s been going on for 100 years, hundreds of years, I should say. But it’s it’s relatively new. But and it takes a while. I mean, it takes a while to get that research done and out. And we are seeing a huge increase in that. And so I hope, you know, one of the things I hope to do is bring that research out to others. So I’m hoping that will just pack full this resources of this episode podcast episode. Yeah. With as much as we can, we’ll add to it fantastic. Yeah, I really appreciate that, that sharing stories is so important. That’s another one of the reasons I do this is to share these stories, to talk to people around the world who are making a big difference. And but we don’t know about it, we need to know about those stories, because it’s going to impact everyone else positively.

Erin Leif  52:17

I should also just say, we want to include the student voice as well. We wanted to know what the impact of UDL is for the students who are the ultimate beneficiaries of what we’re doing. So hopefully, we’ll also be doing some research with student groups and maybe involving some students and CO design of future resources.

Lillian Nave  52:30

Oh, great. Thank you. Yeah, that’s super important. And I’ve seen research too, that includes that student voice. And that’s really what we’re what we’re out what we’re up for. So okay, my last question. We’ll start, start with you, and then go to Lizzie. But what advice do you have for others who wish to incorporate UDL in their teaching,

Erin Leif  52:52

so I teach primarily online. So I’m going to talk a little bit about my tips for incorporating UDL into the design of accessible online learning environments, right, also putting on my practice, pragmatic hat. So I’m going to talk about a few really practical things that I do that I would recommend. And the first thing I’m going to say is that when you’re teaching online, right, we’re generally using a learning management system. So something like Canvas or Moodle, or Blackboard, as kind of our main way of conveying information to students. And we can’t assume that students know how to navigate these platforms, it is so important, first and foremost, to make sure that your learning management system or your site is set up in a really intuitive, clear and easy to navigate way, it makes a huge difference. And so I recommend using really clear section headers so that students know exactly where to find the information that they need. And using the sort of clear and intuitive structure will I say reduce cognitive load for students? Yeah. In other words, it reduces the time that students spend searching for content and allows them to just get into their studies, which is where we want them to be expending their cognitive energy. Right, exactly learning not about navigating new technology. This can also reduce frustration and anxiety for students. And what I found is that it has the added benefit of reducing the number of emails that I get, yes, absolutely anxious and frustrated students, which for anyone who teaches online managing student emails can be overwhelming at times. Anything you can do to reduce that is really, really valuable. So these things can directly alleviate challenges or barriers simply associated with navigating the online learning environment, which is critical. Another thing that I do is create a video tour and put it on On my Moodle site as watch me first, like the very first thing that students do, and I actually give them a tour a video too, I share my screen, I talk them through where they can find all the information where all the assessment information is where to get help with things, where to find all the learning content for the weekly topics, and supplement the clear navigation with my little video tour. And that helps as well. Some practical strategies and tips for designing accessible online learning experiences. Really important not to upload scans of documents or PDFs always in Yes, right that the Word documents or the PDFs are in their searchable and accessible form. And now things like Google Docs, Word docs, PDFs have built in accessibility checkers. So it’s really easy to run a quick check of your documents and make sure they’re accessible and make any fixes. But please don’t upload scans. They’re the word no. I also recommend not using color as a sole means for conveying information to students. In other words, if a link is clickable, indicate that with underlining the text, don’t try to assume that students are going to know that color represents different things like emphasis or clickable links. Because for students that struggle with or have vision impairment or other things, color might not be the most salient feature for them. Yeah, just leave some whitespace in your content when designing online spaces like like make it appealing to the eye. Like if you just jam packet full of text, it’s going to be really overwhelming to look at and cognitively really difficult to sort of make your way through. So keep it clean, don’t clutter it up. And finally, look at ways to make sure your videos can include an option for captions or just automatically have captions turned on that something Monash my university is doing now across the board is making sure that captions are automatically switched on for all of our videos that we present online. And even better include a transcript with your videos. Not only does this help students who might have difficulty watching videos, but it provides students with another permanent product that they can take away from the class and refer back to really easily if they want more information.

Lillian Nave  57:26

And it’s searchable to

Erin Leif  57:28

me exactly. So those are just some of my tips for integrating UDL into online teaching.

Lillian Nave  57:36

Fantastic. I’m still in the online space, those are incredibly useful. When I asked my students in my online class, what do you want in a in a professor in an online class and their number one thing is communication. And number two, organization. Good. I was like, because, because they’re confused. And especially if you had five courses, and you’ve got five different, you know, Moodles or canvasses, whatever tend to navigate, they’re spending half of their week, really just trying to figure out where to find the stuff they have to do. So yeah, it’s really it’s more important than you think

Erin Leif  58:11

it takes a different skill. I mean, Online Teaching is a completely different skill set than face to face on campus teaching. So really, it’s important to recognize like these learning management systems are not just repositories for journal articles, they are actual classrooms, and it requires a different approach.

Lillian Nave  58:29

Yes, and just trying to replicate an in person class online is not going to happen. It’s not helpful. No, it’s, it’s, we need to be thinking of it as an entirely different thing, as you say. Okay, Lizzie, the same kind of question, what sort of advice do you have for others who want to incorporate UDL in your team in their teaching?

Lizzie Knight  58:52

Yeah, well, I was as I was sort of going to give one but I was very enjoyed and listening to Erin talk. And I think it’s so useful. And I just, I think it like telling my partner to go and get a towel from our linen cupboard, like, exactly where everything is in that linen cupboard. And I’m like, Why can’t you find that small towels are folded in that way? In a way, and I just think that that’s how some people because because you put everything there in your online space, like I know exactly where it is. So I just thought that really resonated with me. And so I think that when I’m redesigning my linen cupboard, and when everyone’s using UDL, I think you know really what my one piece of advice and clear thing is, is think about what actually is the purpose of, of the activity of the engagement and I think that sometimes you have learning engagements, but I think also it’s sometimes you have orientating, kind of like where are we engagements I thinking making that explicit and writing down, you know, like breaking down on what, what the outcome is do you want What’s the purpose? Is this necessary? Or do not need to upload every single PDF you have on your desktop? Think before you organize your linen cupboard is my answer.

Lillian Nave  1:00:11

Very good advice. Yes. You know, the more I talk with practitioners of Universal Design for Learning, the more that lends to me, is spotlighting all of those barriers. And to me, when we were talking today, I just thought about all of the assumptions that we make assumptions like that the student would know where to find it, that all of the students are able to read a skate Well, that isn’t accessible, right. And so much of my UDL lens is like X ray glasses that are pointing me towards the assumptions that we didn’t know we were making. And our job is to point them out and take take them or make it accessible, you know, shone a light on those assumptions and say, Is this even true? Yeah. And most of the time, they’re not. Right, right.

Erin Leif  1:01:02

Right. And that’s why again, it comes back to this being a blueprint, not a teaching strategy. It guides our behavior and our approach in ways that are going to address those barriers more effectively. And hopefully, again, that clarifies the difference between learning styles and UDL.

Lillian Nave  1:01:19

Yes, exactly. Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate the time you both have spent, first of all in the work that you’ve been doing, the research you’ve been doing that you’re bringing to us, but also for this hour, on an early Australian morning, late North Carolina evening for me to spend the time and talk to me and share your story. So thank you, Erin. Thank you, Lizzie for joining me on the think UDL podcast, thank you. 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 think 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 college website. Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University where if you call it Appalachian, I’ll throw in Appalachia. 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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