“To promote understanding of information, concepts, relationships, and ideas, it is critical to provide multiple ways for learners to approach them”. David Rose.
An unexpected learning experience
A couple of weeks ago, Scott Turner, a Wellington Endodentist described how he was going to clean around and possibly retrieve the broken drill piece lost deep in my root canal by my dentist.
At the end of the consultation, he asked if I had any questions.
“Actually I do”, I said. “Do you think I could take a photo? The way you have explained what is going to happen when you work on my tooth perfectly modelled something called Universal Design for Learning (UDL). You have just modelled the principle of offering multiple representations to support understanding. I’d like to write about it.
A regular part of any trip to the dentist, is the inevitable post procedure chat, the bit where they talk about what they did and what is going to happen next. As fear is my trusty companion in a dental surgery, my ability to listen is significantly inhibited. In fact all my energy and attention is generally consumed by trying to hold myself together until I am out the door.
The chat with Scott, looked like it was going to go the same way. He pulled up a photo of my tooth on his computer screen. I in turn moved into auto-pilot and began singing, “la, la, la” inside my head to block out the expected medicalese and to distract myself from the enlarged image of my filling-filled mouth.
To my surprise, Scott didn’t launch into the technicalities of the procedure. Instead he gave me a walk through of each tooth on the screen, its integrity and said things were in great shape. No-one has ever said anything positive about my teeth and hooked my attention. He also usefully connected his storytelling directly to the examination he had made of my mouth. He linked specifically to the way he had tapped here and prodded there and I could feel myself actually connecting to some kind of shared experience rather than disassociating myself.
The practical and effective use of digital tools
Scott then introduced some x-rays and opened them in a programme that looked like Microsoft Paint. Again rather than launching into details of the medical procedure, he orientated me to my own mouth. It was a bit like being introduced to a new landscape. As Scott introduced each feature, he highlighted it with different coloured lines and marks, as in the photo. He made no assumptions that I knew what anything was. He consistently linked his storytelling back to the photo and my shared experience of the examination. His use of the technology was absolutely fluid and functional. It was actually a joy to watch.
By the time Scott introduced the nitty gritty of the actual procedure, I felt almost confident. He described each stage of the intervention with words and by drawing and where applicable made analogies to ordinary things. At the end of section of the “chat” he would pause and check if I understood and for once I actually felt like I did.
So why the strong UDL connection?
The principle “Multiple means of representation”, one of the three principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is about the need to offer students a range of options and supports to increase their understanding.
In the text, UDL Theory and Practice, David Rose reflects:
"Learners' ability to perceive, interpret, and understand information is dependent upon the media and methods through which it is presented. For learning environments to support varied learners in all of these recognition processes, three broad kinds of options for representation are needed: options for perception; options for language, mathematical expressions, and symbols; and options for comprehension. A learning context with these options presents few barriers, regardless of the variations in biology and background of the students."
As the student, in this context, Scott offered me options in each of the three recognition processes. Interestingly, he probably does that for every client. He takes a universal approach, building into his way of working options to support understanding. He plans for the diverse needs of clients at the outset.
As an unknown client and one who brings a swag of negative expectations to the environment, the learning experience was quite honestly inspiring. I couldn’t help but make connections to teaching and learning and to the potential UDL has as framework for the inclusive flexible design of environments and the innovative use of technologies.
- UDL guidelines: National Center for Universal Design for Learning
- UDL Theory and Practice: Interactive e-book on UDL
- Maximising the use of digital tools in the UDL classroom: blog post by Chrissie