Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Universal Design in Science Learning

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Universal Design in Science Learning

Article excerpt

Byline: Cynthia Curry, Libby Cohen, and Nancy Lightbody

Creating inquiry- and standards-based science curricula that meet wide-ranging learner needs and preferences requires strategic planning and organization. The common practice of retrofitting or modifying existing instructional and curriculum materials to accommodate individual learner needs too often overshadows the concept of designing universal learning experiences, which aim to minimize the need for accommodations and modifications.

Universal design is a framework for integrating flexible, usable, and accessible teaching and learning technologies with inquiry- and standards-based science curricula. This article presents an overview of how universal design and technology can advance science for all and provides scenarios of universal design in practice.

Inquiry with universal design

In the universal design framework, physical, social, and learning environments are created so that learner diversity-including cultural, socioeconomic, ethnic background, gender, and ability level-promotes powerful possibilities for teaching and learning. The implementation of universal design goes beyond programming of accommodations and modifications for individual learners. Because the aim of universal design is to make educational environments seamlessly and inherently functional for the widest number of learners, the need for individualization is minimized. The universal design framework guides the selection of flexible, usable, and accessible tools and surroundings, the construction of collaborative and interactive learning opportunities, and the development of learner-centered and constructivist curriculum (Figure 1).

Figure 1. The physical, social, and learning environments of universal design. (Developed by Cynthia Curry; Permission to reprint provided by ALLtech (c) 2006.)

The National Science Education Standards call for teaching science as inquiry (NRC 1996), and research indicates that engaging in scientific inquiry increases student achievement in later courses and projects (Linn and Hsi 2000). The nature and implementation of inquiry-based curricula, however, often overlook the needs and preferences of diverse and varied learners.

Universal design guides the integration of inquiry with teaching methods and learning technologies that support the learning needs and preferences of the widest number of students (Curry 2003). Flexible, usable, and accessible content media, instructional technologies, and laboratory and field equipment include customizable and adaptive features, enabling almost all learners to participate in the same rigorous, progressive, and thoughtful curriculum.

Accessible content media

Content media are the means by which information is represented and communicated to learners via curriculum resources, including text, video, CD-ROM, and the internet. When identifying and selecting content media, learner accessibility and usability are paramount. To make content media accessible and usable by the widest possible number of learners, teachers should consider the following tools.

Digital text Text is the most common medium for conveying curriculum content. In its traditional format, however, text is static on a printed page, which can hinder learners with print disabilities and English language learners.

The foundation of content media in accessible and usable format is electronically available, or digital, text. Digital text is malleable, meaning that it can be presented in multiple styles, and transformable, meaning that it can be converted and presented as computer-synthesized speech or even Braille (Rose and Meyer 2002). Furthermore, digital text is transferable-it can be moved from one application to another. Because digital text is inherently malleable, transformable, and transferable, learners have multiple options for customizing the appearance and format of digital content to meet their individual needs and preferences. …

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