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Making Your Classroom Smart: Universal Design for Learning and Technology



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Making Your Classroom Smart: Universal Design for
Learning and Technology
Carrie Anna Courtad [0000-1111-2222-3333]
1 Illinois State University, Normal, IL 61761
Abstract. UDL consists of three principles, representation, action and expres-
sion, and engagement and have been shaped from its original inception as more
research has been added to the literature. The following is a brief synopsis of
the history of Universal Design for Learning (UDL), a discussion of the benefits
for students with disabilities when applying the UDL framework to the class-
room, and technology to aid in implementing UDL for specific learning tasks.
UDL is a research-based frame work for creating curricula and allows multiple
abilities to “enter” into the learning and acts as the catalyst for including all stu-
dents therefore designing smart classrooms.
Keywords: Universal Design, Technology, Learners with Disabilities.
1 Introduction
Designing curriculum in a smart way can be achieved by using Univer-
sal Design for Learning. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) has its
roots in architecture and has been advocated for many years by Meyer,
Rose, and Gordon[
]. Universal design is the concept that when you
create something, as in designing a building by architects, you create
for the widest possible audience to use it, in a universal way. Newer
buildings provide excellent examples of Universal Design. Swimming
pools can be designed with a zero-entry, sometimes referred as zero-
depth or beach entry, as an accessible way for multiple people to enter a
pool [2]. These pools are designed with a very gradual slope as the en-
trance into the pool, eliminating the need for steps to enter the pool.
People enter the pool by walking into water, rolling a wheelchair, a
walker, a stroller, or any other possible mobility enhancement to enter
into the pool. Zero entry pools are designed with the broadest possible
audience in mind. Because they are designed for the largest audience
possible before being built, they tend to be more atheistically pleasing,
without clunky chair lifts added on as an afterthought to accommodate
only one type of audience.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) uses the concept illustrated
above and applies it to learning. When a teacher uses the UDL frame-
work when creating a lesson plan, the teacher is providing a proverbial
entrance into learning by providing access to the curriculum. UDL con-
ceptual framework is flexible enough in delivery and outcomes thus
removing barriers for all students when learning [1]. When the concept
of UDL began, the framework was centered around the individual or
curriculum. Indeed, in the initial phase of research, UDL was focused
on instructional planning based on brain research, creating curricular
content accessible to all students [3]. However, Meyer, Rose, and Gor-
don discuss the evolution of the concept of UDL over the past decade,
“The UDL framework is translational — a means for translating re-
search and innovation into practice—providing guiding princi-
ples...UDL can help us reshape teaching and learning by guiding design
of an entirely new system with flexibility at its core [1 (p. 50)].” The
focus of the past decade is on the UD of the learning environment, with
expectations for variability and diversity, not only for the learner, but
for the teacher, community, environment, and curriculum [1]. UDL is
conceptual framework that when implemented well along with technol-
ogy makes your classroom smart.
2 Three Tenants of UDL
UDL was originally presented in the 1990s by Meyer and Rose. UDL is
now well developed conceptually and includes a Center for Applied
Special Technology, presently referred to as CAST. has
gone through a recent renovation and has updated several of their key
philosophies. has a plethora of materials available online.
CAST continues to situate UDL in three guidelines representing three
tenets of learning, based on brain research, and is still considered a core
part of the UD The guidelines are multiple means of representation,
multiple means of expression and action, and multiple means of en-
gagement [4]. CAST’s current guidelines now include goals for expert
learners that are the potential outcomes for students engaging in learn-
ing lessons using UDL framework. Each of the guidelines have been
developed and based upon brain research and consist of three tenants.
Action and Expression is considered the “how” of learning and is part
of the Strategic Network; Engagement is the “why” of learning and is
considered to be part of the Affective Network; and lastly, Representa-
tion is considered the “what” of learning and is located in the Recogni-
tion Network. has an interactive graphic organizer with
thorough suggestions on how to meet learners’ needs in each of the
tenets. Below will cover each of the tenets briefly as developed by
CAST and then follow with how technology can meet each of the three
areas. Lastly will discuss the benefits of including UDL as part of smart
2.1 Representation
Representation is sometimes referred to as Multiple Means of Repre-
sentation. This tenet relies on teachers’ ability to represent or convey
concepts in multiple ways, supporting a student perception, decoding
language and symbols, and comprehension, and has the ultimate goal of
shaping the learner to become knowledgeable and resourceful [1]. In-
stead of traditionally relying on students to read a chapter out of a text-
book and then answer questions at the end of the chapter, teachers who
are implementing UDL are using a variety of technology in order to
represent the required knowledge needed by the learner. Multimedia
and technology are ubiquitous in today’s classroom and a variety of
methods exist for teachers to convey the intent of the concept they are
teaching. CAST guidelines suggest providing auditory, visual and any
other display customization when presenting (or representing) infor-
mation to students. Also, providing technological scaffolds to help stu-
dents attempt to decode symbols and language is a key guideline along
with ultimately comprehending what is presented. Recommended un-
der this tenant is to have students connect old learning with new learn-
ing, therefore thoroughly engaging with and mastering new infor-
2.2 Action & Expression
The next tenet is multiple means of action and expression with the out-
come that the learner be strategic and goal directed (CAST). Action and
expression is less about the teacher’s activity and more about student’s
participation. Allowing students to choose how they demonstrate their
knowledge is a hallmark indicator of action and expression. The guide-
lines suggest including physical action and considering assistive tech-
nology (AT) when students are responding to or accessing curriculum.
This tenant suggests providing multiple ways for a student to demon-
strate the knowledge after they have learned about a concept. Also sug-
gested is to provide scaffolds to build fluency and independent learning
within the student. Lastly, this tenant also includes developing stu-
dents’ abilities to self-monitor, developing goals, and supporting and
developing instructional strategies.
2.3 Multiple Means of Engagement
Multiple means of Engagement is the last of the three tenets with the
outcome to have purposeful and motivated learners. The idea is to cre-
ate multiple ways to motivate learners to engage in learning. Some stu-
dents thrive on competition within themselves or others, yet others pre-
fer group situations; some students prefer to be heavily guided to their
outcome and others prefer to learn at their own pace. Providing oppor-
tunities for motivation encourages engagement. Teachers or instructors
can motivate students by allowing choices either for content or how
they or how they learn about a topic whenever it is feasible. Consider
using authentic, age-appropriate, learning activities that have a larger
value than teacher evaluations, as well as assignments that require ac-
tive participation with a clear audience in mind, as these promote en-
gagement. Other suggestions are to vary the acceptable performance
and provide scaffolding to students as they complete the acceptable
Providing multiple means of engagement can seem daunting to a
teacher, however, it can be achieved. A well-planned UDL lesson can
allow for many forms of engagement in a variety of ways. When con-
sidering how to design lessons for multiple means of engagement,
CAST reminds teachers that there are many variables for students ac-
cording to their background, culture, and desire, and all of these can
influence and shape the affective network of the brain and heighten
engagement in learning. No one form of engagement with learning will
work for all students or even types of tasks; the importance is to use a
wide variety so that everyone has a chance to engage with the curricu-
lum that motivates them.
3 Benefits of UDL
Commonly, when including students with disabilities in the classroom,
the focus of the instructor tends to be on the differentiation of goals,
instruction, or assessment to meet the needs of the specific learners,
thus the focus tends to be on the students with disabilities [5]. With the
concept of differentiation, a tendency is to implement inflexible lesson
plans and then have a specialist come in to the back end of the process
to change the levels of acceptable performance for the students with
disabilities. UDL is a smarter approach because it is inclusive of all
learners, environments and instructors in addition to occurring at the
beginning of the lesson development as opposed to the end. As in
architectural design, when you design for the largest possible audience
you have a seamless approach. If a teacher uses only differentiation
when designing lessons as opposed to UDL, they have the potential to
miss an opportunity for every student to participate fully in any given
learning activity. Overall when teachers are using UDL as they design
lessons there is evidence of benefits for students with disabilities [6]. It
provides students a way to enter the curriculum, it includes all students
in the classroom, provides a wide array of flexibility for all learners, but
also can be used to pinpoint specific challenges a student with a
disability might face and provide scaffold support for the student with a
disability for better performance [6].
4 Implementing UDL with Technology
When teachers or instructors begin to consider how to implement UDL
in their own classroom it is important to remember it cannot happen
overnight. Teachers can make mistakes by trying to incorporate UDL
using every single guideline with every lesson. It would be impossible
and overwhelming to do any of it well by trying to implement all at
once. Teachers may already be implementing pieces of UDL without
fully understanding the complete framework. Many instructional and
assistive technologies support UDL principles. Below are standalone
technologies that aid in implementing UDL to make a classroom a
“smart” class for all learners.
For the purposes of creating a smart classroom there is an as-
sumption that the curricular goals and objects have been designed in a
UDL manner, before and not after instruction. Below we have named
technology that will provide support to implementing UDL frameworks
within the classroom. The technology suggested can meet the guide-
lines within the tenets but by no means is an exhaustive list, nor is it to
be considered as an endorsement. Indeed, many of the tools can cross
through more than one tenet to meeting UDL in more than one area,
another reminder that tools are simply a suggestion.
4.1 Technology for Engagement
Increasing motivation and self-monitoring is a prevalent view through
this tenet. One way to increase motivation is by scaffolding the curricu-
lum so students can engage at their level of needed support (see Table
1). Table 2 provides information about tools to help with self-
Table 1. Tools for scaffolding or entering into curriculum
Text Compactor
Browser based website
Compatible with various browsers. Use
this tool to cut and paste challenging text
into a text box. Text Compactor then
provides summarization of the text,
along with a choice of the percentage of
original text you would like to remain in
the summary
Summarize this by Iris Reading Com-
patible with various browsers
Compatible with various browsers. Use
this tool to cut and paste challenging text
into a text box and it will summarize an
entire article.
ReWordify Browser based,
website -
Use this tool to cut and paste challenging
text into a text box.“Rewordify” then
simplifies any difficult words or phrases
to make text easier to understand
Table 2. Tools for focus, self-monitoring and cognitive training.
Based on the Pomodoro Technique [7] this
is a simple timer that cycles with 25-
minute work sessions and breaks, allows
for students to monitor their own focus.
This tool was mostly used by teachers to
monitor classroom behaviors. As the tool
has evolved from a positive behavior
monitoring system, it now includes vari-
ous to tools to build positive school and
classroom communities by sharing infor-
mation with parents and providing voice
to students.
Using this tool allows students to compete
with themselves to attempt building upon
areas with needed support.
Free with sub-
4.2 Technology to Support Action and Expression
To aid in achieving this tenet recommendations ideally an instructor or
teacher would provide access to a variety of tools, including assistive
technology to accomplish support for action and expression (see Table
3). Offering a variety of ways that a student can express their
knowledge also provides ways to promote Action and Expression.
Table 3. Tools promoting Action and Expression
any device
This is a video sharing platform.
Students can respond to a teacher
prompt or other classmate prompts
through an easy to navigate video
from 15 seconds to 5 minutes. It
allows for students to provide oral
responses instead of always relying
on the written
Speech to Text-generic tools,
Google “speak text” Dragon
Voice, etc.
There are a wide variety of tools out
that allow students to speak their
responses as opposed to writing
responses. It does take training and
time, however the universal tool has
much improved over the years.
Many are free
Toontastic 3D-iOS,
This is an app by Google that allows
students to digitally create and tell
stories through cartoons. It provides
story plots if needed, but also can be
used for reports. Students create and
animate through their phone, ipad, or
Seesaw-any device-
This is a space for students to create
their personal digital portfolios; it
provides a wide range of tools and
teacher support allowing teachers to
build in reflection, audience and
voice in student learning.
Free with
upgrade op-
4.3 Technology to Support Representation
Below are ideas of technology items that can be used when incorporat-
ing multiple means of representation. When the teacher is designing
lessons with this tenet in mind they should think about technology that
allows multiple examples of the same concept, makes print accessible,
provides accessible web surfing ability to see examples vs. non-
examples, highlights critical features, and provides support in the form
of graphics or pictures when illustrating concepts (see Table 4).
Table 4. Tools supporting cognitive processes for multiple representation
Area of
for con-
tent by
Lucid Chart for Education by
A concept mapping tool
with many popular tem-
plates is available. Offers
real-time collaboration and
syncing with other charts.
Free for stu-
dents and edu-
cators but also a
$5.95 monthly
unlocks premi-
um content
and Font
Bee Line Reader by Nick
Lum-Works with PDF, Mozilla
Firefox, Google iOS, Android,
Kindle, Computer, and epub.
Changes color of text and
can change the font to aid
in tracking. Can cut and
paste text into Bee Line
reader’s clipboard to con-
vert the appearance of text.
Open dyslexic by OpenDyslex-
Converts all text on the
page to the dyslexicfont
works with multiple platforms
and browser extensions.
which many students feel
assists with tracking.
Text to
Read and Write - by Texthelp-
Wide variety of platforms,
Chrome Extension or software.
Makes documents in Google
Drive, Google slides, PDFs, and
the web accessible.
Hear words, passages, or
whole documents read
aloud with easy-to-follow
dual color highlighting. See
the meaning of words
explained with text and
picture dictionaries. Free
Free trial-
$149.00 annual
Kurzweil 3000 -offered by
Cambium Learning Group
Software for PC or Mac
It allows text to speech
with several features avail-
able including speed of
reading, voice, and annota-
tions within the document.
Price depends
on the number
of licenses
Snap and Read Universal by
Don Johnson- Works across
multiple platforms, Google
Chrome Extension, IPad app,
Multiple purpose tool
beyond reading. Reads
aloud accessible text, pro-
vides OCR to read inacces-
sible text, text leveling, can
translate into other lan-
guages, provides educator
with information on stu-
dent’s level and amount
Free trial, or
$4.99 monthly
subscription for
educators and
Natural Reader developed by
NaturalSoft Ltd. multiple sys-
tems, mobile devices, iPhone,
iPad, laptops, and Google
Chrome extension
Reads webpages, docu-
ments. Free. For a fee
(upgrade), it converts text
to audio files, syncs with
iOS and Android apps from
the website, uses OCR with
Kindle, Adobe, and
Free but premi-
um features
available only
through month
Microsoft Word Speak Creat-
ed by Microsoft. This is an add-
on that can be used in OneNote,
Outlook, Powerpoint, and Word.
The speak button can be
added to the ribbon. You
can select text and the
program will read the text
aloud. The speed it reads at
can be adjusted. This can
be used as students are
reading their own writing.
5 Discussion
Technology along with UDL principles has benefits for all learners but
particularly for students with disabilities. Using text to speech to elimi-
nate the barrier of printed text, aids in the comprehension of classroom
instructional material. Students with learning disabilities who use tech-
nology in the classroom to access curriculum in the UDL framework
have better improved results in both the day to day classroom based
level and post school outcomes. When student with learning disabilities
are exposed to technology on regular schedule they improve their aca-
demic skills even when the technology is removed [9]. Students with
high incidence disabilities also have higher graduation rates, enroll at a
higher level of postsecondary education and are more likely to have a
paying job verses those students with the same disabilities who did not
access to technology [10].
6 Conclusion
Creating a smart classroom means not only using technology to support
students’ learning but should also include a concrete framework to aid
in designing the purpose why to implement the technology. UDL is not
a panacea for instructional practices. There are still major gaps to con-
sider in the research base. Ok and colleagues [8] completed a systemat-
ic review of UDL principals applied to PreK-12 classrooms and found
considerable variability in the implementation of UDL along with the
positive effect sizes for only 13 studies. Overall the conclusion was that
there are benefits supporting UDL implementation in the classroom,
however academia needs to continue systematic research.
Knowing the three tenets of UDL along with where to access in-
formation on UDL and incorporating technology helps to evolve your
classroom into a UDL smart classroom. There are benefits for all stu-
dents when designing curriculum within the UDL framework. When
using UDL framework teachers create flexibility and access for many
students. When beginning this important journey, it is helpful for in-
structors to remember to be slow, deliberate, and purposeful when start-
ing the journey of a UDL classroom, and therefore, a smart classroom.
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... Apart from that, another most predominant purpose of undergraduate students in UniMAP using a digital device for non-academic purposes is web surfing. According to Courtad (2019), accessible web surfing ability in the classroom can change the levels of acceptable performance for students with learning disabilities, increasing the comprehension level of students to classroom instructional materials. However, when students misuse the accessible Internet services provided by their educational institutions for entertainment purposes such as viewing online news and online sports sites during classroom activities, they may not be able to listen to the lectures effectively and miss important parts due to a lack of concentration on the sessions (Sener, 2020). ...
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Flexible teaching of mathematics word problems is essential to improve learning. Flexible teaching is vital in terms of providing meaningful learning, creating inclusive learning spaces and making content accessible. As such, teachers need to strive to provide flexible teaching of mathematics word problems in order to optimise and maximise learning. In line with this notion, therefore, the qualitative case study reported in this article aimed to explore the implementation of one aspect of universal design for learning (UDL), namely multiple means of representation (MMR), to guide flexible teaching of mathematics word problems. Data were collected using focus group discussions, reflection and observation sessions in which five high school mathematics teachers and a Head of Department were involved. The teachers participated in a mini-workshop on the application of the UDL principles which was organised to introduce and induct them to the approach. The study showed that MMR can be used to help guide flexible teaching of mathematics word problems by providing varied options for comprehension: options for language, mathematical expressions and symbols, as well as options for perception. The findings of the study recommend the need for teachers to adapt their teaching by considering the application of the MMR principle to guide and promote flexible teaching of mathematics word problems.
... Literature tell us about researches on the smart learning classroom including the impact of the teachers position on students performance [9], practice of in-classroom manual feedback of the students [10], smart techniques and frameworks for the students with disabilities [11]. These techniques are growing now a days to completely understand the behaviour of the students while attending the lectures and take corrective measures as per their requirements. ...
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Some researchers have characterized Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a promising framework to provide diverse students with access to the general education curriculum, but to what extent and how have UDL-based interventions fulfilled that promise? The purpose of this review was to analyze studies that investigated impacts of UDL-based instruction on academic and social outcomes for pre-K to grade 12 students. For the 13 studies that qualified for our review, we analyzed how researchers applied UDL principles as well as outcomes and efficacy of UDL-based interventions. Results of this analysis suggest that overall, UDL-based instruction has the potential to increase engagement and access to general education curriculum for students with disabilities, and improve students? academic and social outcomes. However, we found mixed results; the efficacy of UDL-based interventions varied considerably within and across many studies, with effect sizes ranging from small to large. In addition, we found that although authors noted that their interventions were UDL-based, there was considerable variance in how authors reported connections between specific UDL guidelines and components of their interventions.
The print version is available through Amazon, etc. but a richer multimedia version (and one that is more accessible) is available freely at:
The concept of learning styles has tremendous logical and intuitive appeal, and educators' desire to focus on learning styles is understandable. Recently, a growing emphasis on differentiated instruction may have further increased teachers' tendency to look at learning styles as an instructionally relevant variable when individualizing instruction in increasingly heterogeneous classrooms. We discuss the overlapping concepts of individualized instruction and differentiated instruction, briefly review the evidence base for learning styles, and argue that instruction should indeed be individualized and differentiated. We conclude that there is insufficient evidence, however, to support learning styles as an instructionally useful concept when planning and delivering appropriately individualized and differentiated instruction.
Swimming pool accessibility project final report (#PB97-124317) Executive Summary
  • E J Hamilton
  • K Mispagel
  • R Bloomer
Hamilton, E.J., Mispagel, K., & Bloomer, R., (1996). Swimming pool accessibility project final report (#PB97-124317) Executive Summary. NATIONAL CENTER ON ACCESSIBILITY U.S. Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board. Retrieved from
The Pomodoro Technique (The Pomodoro). Creative Commons
  • F Cirillo
Leading the Way to Excellence in AT Services: A Guide for School Administrators
  • G Bowser
  • P R Reed
Bowser, G. & Reed, P.R. (2018). Leading the Way to Excellence in AT Services: A Guide for School Administrators. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing.