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Designers of the future

Image credit: Philippe Boukobza, Creativity and Divergent Thinking on Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

We are all designers. From a space scientist to a person working in the field; from an architect working on a new bridge to a teacher preparing to take a class, we all make plans, consider various possibilities and constraints, take into consideration the availability of resources and think in terms of stepwise processes to achieve optimal efficiency in reaching the target. Afterall, that is what ‘to design’ means. It is, broadly speaking, to make a detailed blueprint for implementing a goal-oriented task.

We design everything around us – our relationships with people, material objects and other fellow beings. Whether professionally qualified designers or not, each one of us designs various aspects of our interaction with the living and the nonliving world. Designing a space rocket is different from cooking idli in the kitchen; only in terms of the complexity of the process. A teacher makes her lesson plan meticulously; spelling out the pedagogical steps and resources to be used or assessments to be conducted. Our ancestors made caves habitable, we are finding spaces on the moon. All these are design pursuits. Each of these designs are unique and yet a universality underpins them all. Designs are the very essence of an organism’s life/lifetime.

Design is a collective pursuit. We design our interactions with people based on our experiences with them; norms in societies are designed on collective experiences and feedback; a nation’s economic, political and security systems come into place by the very act of designing. Language, cultural traditions, festivals, computational systems, theories and laws about the natural world, notions of money, war, peace, justice, marriage, freedom, etc., are all designed in response to certain conditional state (s) and leading into another. They are always in a dynamic, dialectical equation.

As teachers/ educators , we are no different. We are designers of increasingly conducive learning environments for our learners. If we put learners at the centre of these spaces, and with each of our learners being unique, these designs turn out to be very complex. Also given that every learner is a unique designer herself; it implies that every learner is an active, conscious being with agency who makes constant negotiations about the what, how and the when of her learning.

When there is so much in the hands of the learners, will a standardised learning ecosystem make sense to her development? Will she respond to a learning that fails to factor in her preferences, background, experiences and notions about the world? Not likely. Right?As good teachers/ educators, you believe in making learning accessible to all learners and maximizing opportunities for their overall development. If so, what do you need to achieve this? How can you make this happen in a classroom? Whether labeled or not, every classroom is diverse. Diversity means the approach to make learning meaningful to all. It has to allow, accommodate and propagate individual variability and scaffold learning opportunities by creating conditions that catalyse construction of knowledge.

One such approach that takes into account these aspects and weaves it into a design framework where a teacher/ educator designs, tests and redesigns enabling learning environments, is called the Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Simply put, ‘Universal design for learning (UDL) is a teaching approach that works to accommodate the needs and abilities of all learners and eliminates unnecessary hurdles in the learning process. This means developing a flexible learning environment in which information is presented in multiple ways, students engage in learning in a variety of ways, and students are provided options when demonstrating their learning.’

So, what does UDL look like? Well, it is a teacher like John Keating, played by the exceptional Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society, standing on a desk in his class and urging his students to seize the day! To look things differently; to work in their own unique ways and express their creativity or someone like E. R. Braithwaite, a teacher in a tough school in post war England who works hard to break barriers; taking his 36 children to museums, operas and allows them to take charge of their own learning. So if you haven’t yet, do read this eye-opening, autobiographical account of Braithwaite, the teacher who comes to believe in his students; watch the amazing movie, Dead Poets Society, where Keating is yet another teacher to learn from. Yes, UDL is something like this.Look at these interesting videos that will put the UDL approach in perspective. One of them is from the renowned educationist Sir Ken Robinson talking about the role of teachers in scaffolding the natural curiosity and creativity in learners, click here to watch.
In another video, watch Spencer John illustrate beautifully how teachers do not need a manual to teach.

In the subsequent section, we will walk you through the implications of UDL for learning, key takeaways for teachers, a practice-based approach to UDL and some exemplified classroom UDL backed lessons to put things in perspective and practice.

Welcome aboard UDL! To understand more about what UDL looks like in classrooms and look at some exciting classroom instances of UDL in action, Click here.

Read this useful resource on interesting ways to reach all learners, that puts UDL in a usable perspective for a teacher.

Some more useful resources on strengthening the understanding of UDL are shared here. Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST resource), the organisation that proposed UDL as a Learning Design approach, shares this video on UDL.
Teachers will also find these Podcasts and this video on teacher’s experiences on classroom implications of using UDL very useful and interesting.