Hurricane Sandy, Not Serendipitous

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Hurricane Sandy is on the way to New Jersey, so I am occupied with preparations rather than blogging. And there is a good chance that power failures will knock me offline, and perhaps also kick Tim in our South Jersey serverland offline. We hope all of you are safe and unaffected.

Universal Design for Learning

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I read that in Maryland they have decided to incorporate Universal Design for Learning into the state educational systems.  Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum development that seeks to give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. It also supports test design and instructional material selection for all learners.

UDL is based on the learning styles research that shows that people learn best in different ways such as via visual representations or text or through engaging activities etc.

The UDL approach requires curricular flexibility so that teachers don't have to design multiple lesson plans to accommodate individual students.

The main tenets of UDL all are concerned with providing options (via http://www.cast.org)
Multiple means of representation - give diverse learners options for acquiring information and knowledge
Multiple means of action and expression -provide learners options for demonstrating what they know
Multiple means of engagement - to tap into learners' interests, offer appropriate challenges, and increase motivation

Many students can benefit from UDL. I think a lot of people associate this design with students who have disabilities, but that is not really the reason for its acceptance. Although any student can benefit from having options, it may particularly help students who speak English as a second language, international students, and older adult students.

Many of the techniques are simple: putting course content online so that students can review material missed in class. Making peer mentoring, group discussions, and cooperative learning situations rather than just lecture part of the course. Teachers can use "guided notes" so that students listen for essential concepts without just being handed notes or simply copying notes from a board or projected slide.

One way to evaluate your own course and methodologies is to monitor what options you do offer and how willing you are to change your instruction.

How often do you change course materials based on current events and student demands?
Do you vary your instructional methods?
Do you provide illustrations, handouts, auditory and visual aids?
How do you get student feedback, provide instructions, ask questions, and connect new topics to prior learning or real-life situations?

The full report and recommendations of the Maryland Statewide Task Force to Explore the Incorporation of Universal Design for Learning UDL Principles is available as a pdf at http://www.marylandpublicschools.org




Minnesota and Coursera: Round 2

There were plenty of posts earlier this month (including on this blog) about Coursera, the edtech startup that provides free online courses including MOOCs, was being banned in Minnesota. Perhaps because of all the online outcry and attention, the state has agreed not to enforce the disputed law in the case of the free, online educational forum.

The law that Minnesota has in place (as do other states) requires colleges and universities to register with the state before offering courses to residents. The schools that put courses into Coursera have not registered in the state and that was the basis for the ban.

Part of the story originally focused on the idea that with these courses being available for free online, it would be difficult (impossible?) for the state or even Coursera to stop Minnesota residents from taking them.

Some of the new round of postings feel that Minnesota’s promise not to enforce the law is purely symbolic. Certainly, the attention on Minnesota was not positive. Slate’s Will Oremus gave Minnesota a prize for “most creative use of government to stifle innovation.”

Educause and Gates Foundation Announce Grants for Breakthrough Models

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Educause announced last week grants for colleges and schools positioned to create or expand "breakthrough" models of college readiness and completion. These are the latest round of Next Generation Learning Grants, valued at $5.4 million.

Breakthrough models incorporate technology to accelerate and enhance new, personalized, competency-based, blended programs, supported by business models that can sustain expansion.

“NGLC’s thirty Wave III grantees are the new-model builders. They are designing schools and college-level learning pathways that encourage access, persistence, and completion in learning environments that marry technology and close attention to students’ individual needs,” said Andrew Calkins, Deputy Director of NGLC. “They are striving to accelerate and deepen learning for today’s students, who have high expectations for engagement and personalization.”

The higher education projects will go to:


  • Kentucky Community and Technical College System gets $1 million for a competency-based associate degree program. see article on Inside Higher Ed

  • Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia - $1 million for a partnership with Columbus State University to develop an online bachelor's degree with a strong service-learning component.

  • Altius Education - $300,000, to create “America’s Transfer College,” building on its Ivy Bridge College.

  • Ameritas College Educational Services - $250,000, to support the development by Brandman University and University Ventures Fund of bachelor's programs aimed at Hispanic adults.

  • University of Washington - $884,000, for an online undergraduate degree-completion program using MOOCs, using Coursera classes.

  • Rio Salado College, $970,000, for “All Roads Lead to Student Success,” to help students in early college programs, educational service partnerships, and those seeking to obtain credit for prior learning.