APR Update — Universal Design for Learning: Applications for Teaching About Parent Guidance and Education

by Deborah Gentry, Ed.D., CFLE, NCFR Academic Program Liaison
CFLE Network

While some readers may know this about me, others may not. Besides my role as CFLE APR Liaison for NCFR, I am also a director of faculty professional development on my campus. It is in that role that I have come across three books about Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and had opportunities to work with family science faculty and faculty from other disciplines to apply UDL principles to their course design and teaching approaches. The books and other resources are referenced at the close of this column.

With this column, my first aim is to explain the basics of UDL (e.g., roots, definition, and key principles). Second, I will provide some possible applications of UDL principles, keeping in mind the context of parenting education, which is the primary focus of this issue of Network.

According to the UniversalDesign.com website, "universal design" was a term and concept coined by Robert L. Mace, founder and former program director of The Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University in the late 1990s, and was then adopted by architects, product designers, engineers and environmental designers.

Universal Design involves designing products and spaces so that they can be used by the widest range of people possible. Universal Design evolved from Accessible Design, a design process that addresses the needs of people with disabilities. Universal Design goes further by recognizing that there is a wide spectrum of human abilities. Everyone, even the most able-bodied person, passes through childhood, periods of temporary illness, injury and old age. By designing for this human diversity, we can create things that will be easier for all people to use…Universal Design takes into account the full range of human diversity, including physical, perceptual and cognitive abilities, as well as different body sizes and shapes. By designing for this diversity, we can create things that are more functional and more user-friendly for everyone. For instance, curb cuts at sidewalks were initially designed for people who use wheelchairs, but they are now also used by pedestrians with strollers or rolling luggage. Curb cuts have added functionality to sidewalks that we can all benefit from (January, 2016).

During the decade prior, Anne Meyer and David Rose were involved in the founding and subsequent work of the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). "Sensing the promise of technology, we sought to find, adapt, and even invent technologies that would help students with disabilities overcome the barriers they faced in their environments, especially in schools" (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014). Then, at nearly the same time as Mace coined and promoted the term "universal design," Meyer and Rose shifted their approach to address the disabilities of schools rather than students. On this shift, they say:

…we shifted our approach to address the disabilities of schools rather than students. We
later coined a name for this new approach: universal design for learning (UDL).UDL
drew upon neuroscience and education research, and leveraged the flexibility of digital
technology to design learning environments that from the outset offered options for
diverse learner needs. This approach caught on as others also recognized the need to make education more responsive to learner differences, and wanted to ensure that the benefits of education were more equitably and effectively distributed…The education community began to recognize that many students—not just students with disabilities—faced barriers and impediments that interfered with their ability to make optimal progress and to develop as educated and productive citizens" (2014).

As a result of advances in social and hard sciences, especially neuroscience, and technology, theory and practice related to UDL has evolved. Applications have expanded from K-12 to higher education. Learner differences and preferences are increasingly being characterized as dynamic and normal variability that exists across the entire population of learners. And, instructional designers and teachers are being educated on ways to address this continuum of variability. Abiding by the following three principles and accompanying nine guidelines is said to be the key to success (National Center on Universal Design for Learning, January, 2016).

Principle 1: Provide multiple means of representation (promotes resourceful, knowledgeable learners)
Guideline 1: Provide options for perception
Guideline 2: Provide options for language, mathematical expression, and symbols
Guideline 3: Provide options for comprehension

Principle 2: Provide multiple means of action and expression (promotes strategic, goal-directed learners)
Guideline 1: Provide options for physical action
Guideline 2: Provide options for expression and communication
Guideline 3: Provide options for executive functions

Principle 3: Provide multiple means of engagement (promotes purposeful, motivated learners)
Guideline 1: Provide options for recruiting interest
Guideline 2: Provide options for sustaining effort and persistence
Guideline 3: Provide options for self-regulation

For readers who teach courses pertaining to parenting education and guidance, the remainder of this column will, hopefully, give you some ideas about ways you can adopt one or more of these UDL principles and guidelines. The context of a given course may not lend itself to immediate and complete adoption of all the principles and guidelines. It is my recommendation that new UDL adopters undertake implementations in well-planned and incremental steps.

CFLE Content Area 7 – Parenting Education and Guidance serves as a context for further explanation and illustration. As a quick reminder, the publication Academic Program Review Application Directions and Guidelines states the following with regard to this content area:

Content: An understanding of how parents teach, guide and influence children and adolescents as well as the changing nature, dynamics and needs of the parent child relationship across the lifespan (e.g., Research and theories related to: Parenting Rights and Responsibilities; Parenting Practices/Processes; Parent/Child Relationships; Variation in Parenting Solutions; Changing Parenting Roles across the Lifespan).

Practice—A CFLE is prepared to:

a. Promote healthy parenting from systems and lifespan perspectives

b. Promote healthy parenting from a child's and parent's developmental perspective

c. Apply strategies based on the child€™s age/stage of development to promote effective developmental outcomes

d. Identify different parenting styles and their associated psychological, social, and behavioral outcomes

e. Analyze various parenting programs, models, and principles

f. Evaluate the effectiveness and appropriateness of various parenting strategies

g. Recognize various parenting roles (e.g., father/mother, grandparents and other caregivers) and their impact on and contribution to individuals and families

h. Recognize parenting issues within various family structures (e.g., single, blended, same-sex)

i. Recognize the impact of societal trends on parenting (e.g., technology, substance abuse, media)

j. Recognize the influence of cultural differences and diversity

k. Identify strategies to support children in various settings (e.g., schools, legal system, and health care)

l. Recognize the various pathways to parenting and their associated issues and challenges, (e.g., assisted reproduction, adoption, childbirth, blending)

The goal of these curriculum guidelines is to provide a foundation for faculty as they design or redesign a course to fulfill this content area. As has been mentioned in previous newsletter columns, course design processes involve formulating course objectives and student learning outcomes; identifying the nature and scope of crucial content; determining the best ways to deliver instruction and at what pace; selecting reading and other resource materials; developing meaningful learning activities for students; and devising various methods and tools for measuring students€™ mastery of relevant knowledge and skills (Fink, 2013).

Being sensitive to column space limitations, I am posing just three possible UDL applications, one for each principle. However, I am confident there are additional ones that can be generated. First, with regard to providing multiple means or mediums by which important content is shared, try identifying options beyond the traditional written textbook and promote students€™ use of them. Content dealing with parenting issues within various family structures (e.g., single, blended, same-sex) can also be presented by visual and auditory means. Instructors can identify good quality online video footage for students to view, listen to, and process. For example, on the topic of issues associated with single parenting, I found a recent TEDx Carver Military Academy talk by Stephanie Gonzalez, a teen in a single parent household. This and other similar talks could supplement the text. Students could be asked to compare the insights shared in the TEDx talk (along with some of the online comments other viewers have made) with corresponding content found in the textbook. Alternatively, the instructor could invite (possibly based on students€™ suggestion and referral) various parents representing different family structures to come to class to speak, as well as answer questions that have been thoughtfully developed in a combined effort on part of both the instructor and the students. Of course, so uncomfortable surprises are minimized, the nature of the questions should be shared with guests in advance. This will also ensure the guests give more insightful answers than might be the case if they were simply speaking "off the cuff."

Second, focusing on the UDL principle of providing multiple means of action and expression, an instructor could allow more options for students to give an account of what they have learned beyond the traditional written paper. For example, on the topic of the impact of societal trends on parenting (e.g., technology, substance abuse, media), students could create and share a narrative based on their learning about a trend (of their own choosing) in one of several modes: Traditional paper or a website, blog, brochure, or video of their own creation. No matter the mode for their narrative, students could still be required to choose their sources of information wisely and cite them properly. Both the instructor and fellow students could then provide reactions and feedback.

Third, should an instructor want to provide students with multiple means of engagement on the topic of strategies to support children in various settings (e.g., schools, legal system, health care), one or more detailed case studies could be used. Working in groups to process the case studies, which fosters a) collaboration and b) sense of community, may well help students to persist with their learning efforts longer. Students could be called upon to not only analyze the circumstances faced by the children and parent figures as described in the case, but also to recommend appropriate support networks that could be turned to for assistance and, then, give a rationale for their recommendation(s). To further students€™ understanding of the support networks that exist in their community, group members could each choose a different recommended support network to investigate and report on. This case study strategy follows the "recruiting interest" guideline of UDL Principle 3, as it optimizes both a) choice and autonomy and b) relevance, value, and authenticity. Hopefully, what then results is a greater sense of purposeful learning on part of the students.

In closing, I wonder what other UDL applications you readers have undertaken in the past or, as a result of reading this column and various UDL resources, hope to newly create for use this or next semester. I am curious to learn about your UDL adventures, whether they be in the context of parent education or other CFLE Content Areas. Forward your examples in an email to me when you have a chance to do so.


CAST. (January, 2016). About universal design for learning. See http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html#.Vq6KbPkrLIU

Colorado State University. (January, 2016). Universal design for learning. See http://accessproject.colostate.edu/udl/

Fink, D. L. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses. 2nd ed. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gonzalez, S. (March 6, 2015). The real effects of single-parent households. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpTefcuwbsk

Hall, T. E., Meyer, A., & Rose, D. H. (Eds.). (2012). Universal design for learning in the classroom: Practical applications. New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Meyer, A., Rose, D. H., & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal design for learning: Theory and practice. Wakefield, MA: Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), Inc.

National Center on Universal Design for Learning. (January, 2016). About UDL: Learn the basics. See http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl

National Center on Universal Design for Learning. (January, 2016). About UDL: Universal Design for Learning Guidelines. See http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines_theorypractice

Rose, D. H, & Meyer, A. (2002). Teaching every student in the Digital Age. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD).

UniversalDesign.com. (January, 2016). What is universal design? See http://www.universaldesign.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=327:what-is-universal-design&catid=2196:universal-design&Itemid=113

University of Vermont. (January, 2016). About Universal Design for Learning (UDL). See https://www.uvm.edu/~cdci/universaldesign/?Page=about-udl/index.php&SM=about-udl/submenu.html

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