Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework that helps teachers create flexible learning environments that can accommodate students’ unique learning needs. Research shows that when teachers incorporate UDL, they are better able to meet the comprehensive needs of their students, including students with learning disabilities. The goal of UDL is to implement a variety of methods to engage students, represent information, and encourage students to actively participate and express themselves. Essentially, the application of UDL eliminates barriers to learning.
This past year has reinforced the nation’s belief that, even with limited resources, teachers are incredibly resilient and able to meet a broad array of challenges such as school closures, distance teaching, and more.
It is nothing new that teachers juggle multiple resources, tools, and programs with the aim of providing their students with high-quality instruction that is engaging and improves their learning progress. With the move to remote and hybrid learning for many schools, teachers also had to juggle multiple platforms, software, and applications to facilitate synchronous learning sessions that would help students overcome education-related challenges. But does it have to be this way?
Districts and schools across the country are making decisions about how to best utilize federal funding. Regardless of the programs, software, and technology professional development and training plays a critical part in acclimating educators and students to what’s “new” for best integration for teaching and learning.
Teachers have had to navigate extraordinary challenges this past year, forcing schools to reevaluate and reprioritize training programs to include a larger focus on education technology to deliver lessons remotely. As classrooms shift to a hybrid learning environment this focus remains a priority and the need to improve skills and techniques for facilitating lessons in all learning environments is critical. Teachers have certainly amped up their strategies for boosting student engagement and enhancing interactive learning even without the benefit of being in the same classroom at the same time. They have responded, as have educational leaders, together working to provide meaningful, relevant, and job-embedded Professional Development programming for teachers.
We’re approaching the one-year mark of distance teaching and learning for most of our country’s schools. Last spring when schools closed, teachers had to quickly navigate new and unfamiliar technology so that they could maintain some degree of educational normalcy for their students. Many education-focused companies and organizations developed and facilitated a variety of teacher training courses that centered on software and platforms that districts invested in to deliver lessons to the millions of students now having to school remotely. Courses included learning the basic tools of GSuite for Education or Microsoft Office 365, creating and delivering lessons using specific software and applications (think Zoom), and maneuvering the complexity of all these apps, platforms, and software to deliver lessons that would engage students so that they would show up to live lessons when scheduled. Our nation’s teachers handled what they could (with blood, sweat, and tears) and came out of this unprecedented situation with more education technology knowledge than they had before this.
At this point of the year, not only are we appreciating the beauty of leaves changing color, the aroma of a pumpkin spice latte, and cozy sweaters and blankets, we are in a teaching “groove.” Many teachers are getting the hang of facilitating live teaching sessions, engaging their students, and planning blocks of time for small group and one-to-one conversations. But there is quite a learning curve for those not altogether comfortable with ed tech and the virtual classroom — both teacher and student. With this in mind, Boxlight-EOS has designed the Platform Essentials (PE) Course for teachers and students to get acquainted with all that Chromebooks and G Suite, or Windows 10 and Microsoft 365 have to offer. Each course includes seven ready-to-use materials and resources that engage the learner, help them apply necessary skills for distance teaching and learning success, and build the confidence needed to use these tech platforms.
Many of you have tiptoed into the new school year, testing the waters of teaching knowing that things may change as quickly as last spring. You’re building up your confidence with teaching using different tech applications and tools, either because you are facilitating learning using a blended model or are fully engaged in remote learning. You are doing this while getting to know your students, planning and presenting curriculum, and making sure your materials are organized. In the back of your mind, you may be wondering (as most teachers do) — Am I doing all that I can for my students? Are the tools that I have available being used to the extent that they should?
Not to state the obvious, but education is in a time of dynamic change. This change will affect not just this school year, but long into the future of what education may be for our children and grandchildren. It is important, then, to rethink how administrators, teachers, and parents/guardians prepare for each school year so that students can still meet, or exceed, learning goals and objectives. Beyond what can be seen on paper, education also supports a child’s need to experience, explore, and apply learning to real-life now and in the future. To do this successfully, teachers who are now dealing with a virtual classroom environment must adjust their teaching practices. Why? Because remote learning requires specific skills such as conducting classes using video conferencing, sharing content in different ways, and providing feedback on student assignments and projects.