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Re-designing and Aligning an Intro to Special Education Class to the UDL Framework through Technology Integration: Minimizing Threats and Distractions

Author: Samantha Goldman; info@ciddl.org

In college courses, professors typically review the syllabus, expectations, and major assignments on the first day. In my course, one of the first major assignments is one that focuses on learning about the various disability categories covered under IDEA. This assignment is a group project that involves creating a professional learning plan, conducting a presentation, and designing a handout for their peers. Picking a partner or small group for a major assignment on one of the first days of class when students may not know others can be stressful, intimidating, and anxiety-producing.

Minimizing Threats and Distractions

Minimizing threats and distractions falls within the UDL guidelines for engagement. Afterall, how can teacher educators expect their pre-service teachers to engage in lessons if they do not feel safe within the classroom? This checkpoint focuses on meeting the basic needs of learners. This includes the physical environment and the climate and culture of the classroom. A safe classroom is one where students feel comfortable sharing their thoughts and ideas, one where there is a certain level of predictability, and one where students’ basic needs are met. 

Thinking back to group presentations, as is the case with my disability category assignment, there are several barriers immediately present around which we can design. First, given that this is one of the first days of class, students often do not know each other. Providing students with opportunities to learn about each other through low-stakes games is one way to create a safe classroom climate. Another way is to have students make name tents. Be sure they write their names in big font. You can also have them share information about themselves, such as pronouns, their year (freshman, sophomore, etc.), and what they hope to teach.

Using Your LMS to Help with Grouping

Learning Management Systems (LMS) such as Canvas allow instructors to easily create quizzes. With a little creativity, the quiz can be altered to be a “grouping” survey. The first question I asked was “do you want to work alone, in a group, or no preference”. Simple enough question but it allows me to honor their preferences. The next question is the key to minimizing threats. They were asked if they knew who they wanted to be grouped with or if they needed help finding a partner. I found that most of my students did not know others in the class and were happy to have support in finding partners. 

How’d I determine who to group with whom? The last question on the quiz asked them to rank the disabilities they were most interested in researching. So, in addition to using the question “who do you want to work with”, I matched students by their disability project preference. It seems like a simple way to use technology to embrace the framework. However, it took off so much stress from my pre-service teachers.

Tell Us Your Experience

How do you minimize threats and distractions in your pre-service preparation programs? Join the conversation in our community!