Inclusive technologies for secondary students: Universal Design for Learning

Watch this first:  The case against assistive technologies

I attended a very inspiring workshop with Greg O’Connor from Spectronics, “Using assistive technologies to differentiate literacy instruction for students with learning disabilities and difficulties”, from Spectronics last week. Thank you Greg for a very entertaining and informative session. As a teacher and a learner, I know that it is important to revisit what was covered on the day, so I’m documenting the highlights for me, so that I can use them back in school after the holidays.

There have been major changes with technology over the years. We only need to consider the introducting of such inventions as the Printing Press, which revolutionised the way that people were able to record information as well as have it available for reading. Then there was the TV and of course computers.  A certain amount of negativity always accompanies new inventions as we grapple to come to terms with changes that have on our life.  Today we live in a world where we have ready access to information at any day of the week and at any time. The internet has revolutionised the way that people read information, connect and exchange information.  Did you know that 250 million people visit Youtube every month – and it didn’t even exist 6 years ago!   Here are some more  Did you Knows?

An extract (below)  from the Speak Up 2010 (released April 2011) report identified how today’s students are leveraging energing technologies for learning and highlighted the new 3 E’s of Education.  Although an American report, it is still very relevant to Australian student needs.

Enabled, Engaged and Empowered

Julie Evans, Project Tomorrow CEO, discussed selected student and parent national findings from the Speak Up 2010 report and moderated a panel discussion with students and parents who shared their insights and experiences.

Key findings:

  • 67 percent of parents said they would purchase a mobile device for their child to use for schoolwork if the school allowed it, and 61 percent said they liked the idea of students using mobile devices to access online textbooks.
  • 53 percent of middle and high school students reported that the inability to use cell phones, smart phones or MP3 players was the largest obstacle when using technology in school. Additionally, 71 percent of high school students and 62 percent of middle school students said that the number one way schools could make it easier to use technology would be to allow greater access to the digital content and resources that Internet firewalls and school filters blocked.
  • Parents are increasingly supportive of online textbooks. Two-thirds of parents view online textbooks as a good investment to enhance student achievement compared to 21 percent in 2008. However, E-textbooks are still a relatively novel concept in the classroom. Slightly over one-third of high school students report they are currently using an online textbook or other online curriculum as part of their regular schoolwork.
  • Nearly 30 percent of high school students have experienced some type of online learning.

The fact is that students today have the tools to have access to untethered learning experiences and this needs to be embraced.  Technology is continually becoming more sophisticated.

Take a look at  “A Day Made of Glass” – Corning’s vision for the future.  Breathtaking!


What is exciting in this technological world is that individuals who are disadvantaged have greater opportunity for access to knowledge and information.  We have wonderful learning tools available such as ipads and inclusive technologies.


Student, environment, the task, what tools are needed. It is extremely important to use appropriate tools: the right tools for individual needs.


This needs to be identified first.  Introducing technology requires commitment and seeing diversity as an opportunity not an obstacle. Time needs to be provided for training, collaboration and networking int he school environment. Teacher support is extremely important. Without it, it won’t happen.  Success will come with perseverance.

Those with literacy issues not only experience difficulties with access to learning but also social connectiveness and employment. In this information age there is more than ever to read – and most of what is read these days is digital.  There are tools that facilitate access for those experiencing challenges with literacy. Universal Design for Learning means we should be developing curriculum resources so that we have multiple ways for students to access the information – not just from books.  UDL promotes universally designed learning environments: presenting information and content in differing ways; differentiating how students express what they know, and stimulating motivation and interest for learning.

Every new literacy changes the way we think about the world. The alphabet did this to oral cultures. Cheap books did it after Gutenberg [printing press]. Mobile, interactive multimedia technologies are doing it in our time. As educators are we up to the challenge?” Pat Clifford, Galileo Educational Network.


How learners can be assisted in the classroom:


A great general tip is to digitise resources to make them accessible to all learners.  Using tools such as TextGold provides text-to-speech. A discreet tool bar sits at the top of the window and can be accessed by students.  When using: set it to read  sentence by sentence (rather than whole paragraph) so that students are able to assimilate the information before next sentence.

TextGold has a scan feature: any document can be scanned and saved as a Word or PDF.  Great for preparing teaching resources and facilitating access. Speechmaker will convert text to an audio file – can be saved as a wav or mp3 file, thereby providing differentiation for auditory learners and those with literacy challenges.

Word Prediction

TextGold’s word prediction tool:  as the student types, the software monitors the input letter-by-letter, and produces a list of words beginning with the letter sequence recorded. Each time a leter is added, the list is updated. When the target word appears in the list, it can be chosen and inserted into the ongoing text with a single keystroke. Word prediction will remember what the user has created previously.  It is also possible to set up  individual vocabulary lists for each student (great for vocabulary input for specific topics/subjects).  A great feature is that it will identify words incorrectly spelt eg, ‘foto’ and predict the correct spelling ‘photograph’.

A more sophisticated word prediction tool is Co-writer 6.


Windows 7 (and most operating systems) has a speech recognition feature which can be utilised.  Very ‘computerised’ voice though.  Dragon Naturally has become very sophisticated and the latest edition doesn’t need voice training.  However, it needs to be borne in mind that a reasonble level of cognitive ability is required for speech-to-text use.  Think of students who struggle with literacy – they are certain to have difficulty with thinking and composing suitable for speech-to-text.  This may not be a great tool for them to use and may lead to frustration.  There are also free tools available.

Spelling and grammar: stand along programs such as Ginger fix up spelling and grammar. This is a web-based program so payment is via subscription rather than a payment for the product.  It collects data about user issues and builds a bank for future use.

A lot of software these days is available for 30 day trial, so it is a great opportunity to trial with students before buying.

Ipad/iphone apps: has wonderful educational/literacy apps available. Many of them free or only cost a few dollars.  With Ipad2 it is possible to project onto a screen (plug in speakers will be needed – x-mini speakers needed for sound in a classroom).  Also needed will be  a VGA adaptor to project to screen.

We use technology in so many areas of our lives  today.  Ignoring the benefits that technology can have  in education is denying our students the tools they need for the 21st century.  I have written about this before in Digital Natives Have Their Say.

Making learning fun

Creative teachers can use tools to engage, create fun and connectiveness for their students.    Students interact with technology outside of school because it engages them, allows them to connect  and is enjoyable.  There are so many ways that technology can be used to inspire and make lessons emjoyable. For example, there are lots of inspirational and amusing youtube videos that can be used to brighten up lessons.  Playing games using interactive whiteboards, or where technology is not available, creating games using curriculum content.   I really like to use a short game as a starter (revision of previous lesson) to get the class settled.  This can be as simple as a Word Find (from key vocabulary words).  Games can also be used as content to engage and cement learning of topics: quizzes can be created where teams compete against each other (either interactive whiteboard use or question cards if technology not available).  Reviewing a topic presents another opportunity for games such asBingo: write 30 keywords on the board related to the subject. Students fold up a piece of paper to get 6 (or 12) squares.  Get them to write down 6 (or 12) of the keywords on the board, one in each square, not in any order. Call out key words at random. First student to get a line across or line down is the winner.   Games, group and partner activities are a great way for students to learn subject matter as well as cement their learning – and develop appropriate social skills.

Here’s proof that behaviour changes when given opportunities to have fun: Piano Stairs.

For further reading: related posts: Music in the classroom, Games in the classroom

I’ve mentioned Rob Plevin before, a truly inspiring educator, who has a whole wealth of ideas on creating motivating content. A free download of his lesson activities starter pack is available for educators.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

2 thoughts on “Inclusive technologies for secondary students: Universal Design for Learning

  1. Thank you so much for your wonderful collation of the Spectronics workshop Marie. And for your lovely comments. It is great to hear that all the work to put together the workshops was appreciated!

    You write a great Blog! It would be great if you wished to contribute a guest blog post on the Spectronics Blog. Could I use this article to add to our Blog at


    Barbara Landsberg
    Sales and Marketing Director

  2. Thank you so much for your wonderful collation of the Spectronics workshop Marie. And for your lovely comments. It is great to hear that all the work to put together the workshops was appreciated!

    You write a great Blog! It would be great if you wished to contribute a guest blog post on the Spectronics Blog. Could I use this article to add to our Blog at


    Barbara Landsberg

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *