Exploring Universal Design for Learning with Dr. Eric Moore
Dr. Eric Moore is an internationally recognized Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Accessibility consultant, instructional designer, and educator. He specializes in the theory and practice of UDL, especially in the context of higher education. In addition to working in UDL and Instructional Design at the University of Tennessee, Eric heads up a consultancy, Innospire Education, and was featured in a recent article in Inside Higher Ed.
Eric joins Mike Palmer and guest host Dr. Dawn DiPeri to talk about his work evangelizing UDL and helping higher ed institutions build with more inclusive design practices from inception. We also explore the deep connections between UDL and the awakenings around access, the Digital Divide, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) as well as the importance of belonging. It’s a fascinating dive into an emerging movement in learning design that you won’t want to miss.
If you’re interested in accessibility certifications, Eric recommends you check out the IAAP Certification along with options on the Learning Designed platform (a joint effort between CAST and the UDL-IRN).
Thanks as always for listening! If you enjoy what you’re hearing, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and check us out at TrendinginEducation.com.
Mike Palmer: Welcome to Trending in Education, the UDL and Accessibility Special! We’ve been hitting this topic from a few different directions. Universal Design for Learning is an interesting space for us to get into. Dr. Dawn DiPeri has been helping us on this journey.
Welcome back to the show, Dawn.
Dawn DiPeri: Thank you for having me.
Mike Palmer: Yeah. And then we’re delighted to also be joined by Dr. Eric Moore, who is a UDL and Accessibility Specialist who’s doing interesting work in the space of online learning, and we’re going to take a journey into what Universal Design for Learning is.
We’re going to get into some interesting topics and exchanges of ideas but to begin with Eric, welcome to Trending in Education!
Eric Moore: Thank you. I’m very glad to be here.
Mike Palmer: We’re happy to have you as a Rite of Initiation for new guests.,we always like to get their origin story. Where you are in your professional life and how you got there.
Eric Moore: Sure. I’d be happy to share. So I’m a lifelong educator career, long educator at least. I graduated with an undergraduate degree in secondary English education, and I put that to use first in Kokomo, Indiana.
And I was bored to death they’re out of state because it was a blue ribbon school. This was back in the day of No Child Left Behind and that just meant that they really focused on standardized tests and they really prized their standardized test scores. That was their culture. And that was not my culture.
That was not a culture I believed in or supported. And I just was feeling pretty disillusioned with education and was trying to find what I was going to do next. When I heard some opportunities to teach in International Baccalaureate schools, elsewhere in the world. So one thing led to another, I ended up in Indonesia with my wife the next year teaching at an International school south of Jakarta and just loved it. It was radically different experience, much more student-centric, holistic learner profile development sort of thing alongside teaching philosophy, literature, drama. It was the kind of place where if you want to do something, you have a good idea, the administration got behind you and you got things done. So we started a theater program. We developed the library. It was really a wonderful place to start my teaching career, at least starting my second year. I continued that off into Korea. And then once you’re in the international teaching scene and you get that, the international baccalaureate training can really go wherever.
So yeah. We ended up going to South Korea for awhile for four years there, and really enjoyed our time there as well. And during that time, I got my Master’s Degree in Inclusive Education and I was really very much into post-secondary programs for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, which have been popping up all over the country in the last decade or so and just wanting to teach. I ended up at the University of Tennessee, and I got to fulfil my passion for teaching in the Future Program here, which is one of those such programs, one that is very near and dear to my heart to this day.
And I earned my PhD in inclusive education. And along the way, I really got into Universal Design for Learning as well. And then we began implementing that both in the Future Program, then later in teacher education courses that I was teaching and got you to get involved in and start in conferences, leading conferences or writing papers rubbing shoulders with giants in the field when I was a nobody. So it was a really great experience.
And since then I was retained at the University of Tennessee, where, as you said, I’m a Universal Design for Learning and Accessibility Specialist, as well as an Instructional Designer. And I feel really privileged to be able to claim that at all, they made this job for me when I’ve been doing my best to try to really get UDL going here.
And we’ve seen a bear fruit in the last few years though. As many of listeners will know, the research-based institutions tend to be slow on their feet. But we do see change in it. It is exciting to see that happened.
Mike Palmer: Yeah. Dawn, I know for you, you’re a real advocate for Universal Design for Learning. And that’s why we’ve had guests on and we’re planning to get a few other folks on to talk about Universal Design for Learning. Can you talk about why it resonates with you and maybe refresh folks on your origin story .
Dawn DiPeri: Yeah, I’m just really quickly. I am a trained graphic designer initially and started doing web design and graphic design and also an online professor. And then I got interested in instructional design and my current role is at the corner of instructional design in DEI. So became very passionate about just inclusive learning experiences.
I think it’s really important. The more people that know about UDL and accessibility, the better. So I’m really trying to help spread the word.
Mike Palmer: Yeah. Awesome. And then Eric as the expert on the call that in terms of universal design for learning, can you describe it quickly, just at a high level, what it is, the history of it?
We’re probably going to call it UDL a lot. So folks who may not know UDL it’s Universal Design for Learning. Can you just do the background there? And then I think that’d be a good jumping off point for the conversation.
Eric Moore: Absolutely. It is helpful to start by talking about Universal Design from which Universal Design for Learning gets its name. Universal design is a architectural set of principles that was developed by Ron Mace from North Carolina, University of North Carolina, which basically the principles of that are, we want to create physical environments as spaces that are usable by the widest range of people possible without undue barriers.
So having things ready for people with different needs et cetera. If you think about things like curb cuts, sliding doors, elevators. These are all fruits of universal design. And there were two really big things that we learned once we really got going with universal design.
One of them was that what’s necessary for some is almost always good for everybody. And most of us have used elevators. Curb cuts. If you riding a bike, pushing a stroller or whatever, sliding doors, all this sort of things that are absolutely necessary. if you’re a wheelchair user, are beneficial for everybody else.
And number two is almost always cheaper, more efficient and more aesthetic to do this upfront and to try to retrofit something, to make it usable. So if you’ve seen old buildings that have metal ramps outside, that’s ugly. Whereas new buildings all have ramps, but you wouldn’t even think twice about it unless you were looking for it, but they’re just built in.
Mike Palmer: Yeah.
Eric Moore: When we look at education through time as we began to include people with disabilities and of course, to have always been included inclusion has been a gradual process. And for a long time, the inclusion was superficial. You were educated, but you weren’t educated with the rest of us, or or you have special treatment or special circumstances in which your education took place.
And what we were wondering is will those principles play out in the classroom as well? In other words, can we do things to support more people joining the inclusive classrooms and will that benefit everybody? Number one. And can we do that in a way that is effective and efficient and costs? Not cost prohibitive essentially.
And so that’s what’s the underlying question that UDL was trying to answer. And that’s why it took us name like that. It also is rooted in neuroscience, cognitive scientists and education science research. It Is trying to say, this is what we know about what people learn, and how can we convey that and frame it in a way that’s usable and understandable and easily digestible. So that’s been a lot of the work of the field of UDL is developing those principles such that people can pick them up and put them into practice through a relatively simple, straightforward sort of design framework.
Yeah. That’s great stuff. And and that is the type of stuff that you’ve been doing Dawn as well.
So when you’re designing a DEI course, for example which I know you have some recent experience diversity equity inclusion. I have to, in case people don’t understand the acronyms. I always like to say the letters say what they mean. So for DEI course when you’re designing that since we do want to give people a window into what instructional design is as a practice how do those two ideas intersect? You got to ramp up and deliver the diversity and inclusion training on the one hand, but then you want to adopt UDL practices on the other hand. Can you talk us through that?
Dawn DiPeri: Sure. So at my role at Harvard I helped the faculty and the doctoral students who were in this research practicum course take a face to face curriculum that they’ve been doing that equips educators, high school educators to deliver a curriculum called The Identity Project, which was a way for them to have conversations around race and ethnicity with their high school students.
So to take that and to put that online, doesn’t translate exactly the same. We want to be really careful of not causing harm and creating a safe space to share and to have that dialogue into it.
Mike Palmer: Yeah. And accessibility and universal design for learning is very consistent with the broader movements towards inclusion and broader representation and the importance of access.
We’ve all had many more conversations around the digital divide in light of COVID yeah. And and even the black lives matter movement has raised a lot of awareness.
Dawn DiPeri: Equity issues post pandemic.
Mike Palmer: Exactly, but frequently that does not extend all the way into thinking about diversity in all dimensions, including neuro-diversity which you were touching on earlier Eric as well.
Like how do you design things for people who may have different challenges in terms of accessing digital programs and then how do you design for that in a way that is inclusive at inception, so that there’s not as much of a stigma or an extra hurdle to clear for a group who may not typically feel included to begin with?
Can you expand on that a little bit?
Eric Moore: Yeah, absolutely. In the context of education, including higher education, there’s oftentimes systems in place where, if you have support needs, then you can go through disability services and register, and get additional supports and so forth.
What a lot of folks don’t realize is how much extra work that is for the students to get to step one. If I’m going to need close captions and because of a hearing impairment and my faculty are just not providing that. Then I have to go to an audiologist, get this documented, bring that just to the disability service, go through that appointment, get the letter, bring it to the faculty that, often get pushback from the faculty.
And then I’m where all my colleagues were to begin with. And repeat this for different classes, for different, situations semester after semester, it really takes the tool. And I feel like just the fact we have these support systems there is good and as important, but we can do better by being much more proactive in designing these things up front.
And again, going back to what I was saying about universal design as a predecessor to UDL, we have absolutely found that what is necessary for some that’s good for everybody, closed captions are perfect example of.this.
Dawn DiPeri: Exactly.
Eric Moore: Morton Gernsbacher in 2017, wrote a meta analysis, basically reviewing several existing research studies, over a hundred empirical studies.
And she came out to demonstrate that there is a very clear conclusion, close caption benefit everybody in terms of their comprehension, their attention, their retention college students who watch caption videos perform better on exams and those who didn’t. So this is just something we need to start saying, this is just what we do.
We do it for everybody.
Mike Palmer: Yeah. Yeah. And even as a father of a two year old I have read that literacy milestones tend to be reached sooner if the captions are on while you’re watching television, then if they’re not.
Dawn DiPeri: And learning another language too.
Mike Palmer: Correct. Next thing related that I’d want to talk about is the concept of belonging, which is an extension of a lot of the thinking around diversity, equity and inclusion.
Is this notion of belonging feeling like this place is not for me. It’s of me and by me. And that’s a place where I think designing with this part of the audience in mind really is ultimately a way to make everyone feel as though they naturally have a seat at the table. And if you analogize to maybe where people are insensitive to someone who might be in a wheelchair or someone who may be visually impaired, I think that same thing does translate to having to do these special accommodations.
Any thoughts on the idea of building towards more of a sense of belonging for folks who may otherwise have challenges in terms of accessing the material?
Eric Moore: Yeah, I think you’re spot on with that. One of the UDL checkpoints that we talk about is minimizing threats and distraction. This falls under the principle of providing multiple means of engagement. And so you’re absolutely right. That sense of belonging is conveyed in the procedures and the systems that we have set up. So if you have to go get some additional outside support because we are not meeting your needs, and then you get, size and frustration from the faculty who have to do something else, that really is conveying the message that you don’t really belong here, and that’s not the message that we want to hear. Certainly by being more progressive about being more proactive, Ultimately really does reduce not just the pragmatic barriers, but the social inclusive belonging sort of barriers. And one of the things I would point out to that, Mike, is that having a diversity of people on campus, including people with disabilities, isn’t just good for those people as good for everybody else.
They’re part of the human tapestry, and we really have to move away from this averageinarian mindset where there’s the normals and the abnormals, and simply begin to recognize there’s a huge variety of people and we need to learn how to work with people who are different from ourselves.
And so if the more homogenous. Institutions are the lest opportunity people have to hear from other perspectives experience, different people learn how to negotiate spaces. All of those things are critical. And we can facilitate that with better inclusive practice.
Mike Palmer: Yeah. Makes a ton of sense. It does bring me to the next area I wanted us to dive into a bit is the future of work. And how will we begin to design for the new normal ? And then how do we think about roles like instructional designers or UDL and accessibility specialists? There are very interesting shifts happening around skills which ones are relevant, and which ones may be fading. As Wayne Gretzky likes to say, how do I skate to where the puck is going?
If we’re trying to stay ahead of trends , when you think about it from a skills perspective what skills are emerging? And how do instructional design and UDL fit into the transformations we’re seeing around skills in the future?
Dawn DiPeri: I would say from a corporate perspective, in what I’ve seen, I have workforce development clients L and D and onboarding. When you think about when you’re trying to hire people, we have remote workers and we have to go through trainings. You have the sexual harassment trainings .
Recently as an online instructor had to go through one and how to be inclusive of different genders. And they educated you of the different genders that are out there
Mike Palmer: you got to learn how to not click on phishing links, that’s definitely, have to finish your recapture login.
Dawn DiPeri: Yes. That’s all something to keep in mind is from my perspective of just being inclusive and making sure everyone feels like they have a seat at the table and that they don’t feel like they’re not talking to me or I’m not included.
You want to feel like you’re part of that, tapestry, that we’re in a diverse workforce. You want to feel that you’re appreciated for no matter if , we don’t fit into some homogeneous idea of the organization and corporations have to embrace diversity and they have to practice it and not just put out a diversity statement.
Mike Palmer: Yeah. And then Eric, I know you think a lot about. It’s the role of the teacher, the role of the instructional designer, the role of the other experts who might be part of building great online experiences, we talked a little bit about why universal design for learning makes sense, but what kind of roles and how do people work together to begin to refactor their delivery to be more UDL compliant?
Eric Moore: Yeah. I’m going to start with this a little bit broadly. As we’re talking workforce preparation and so forth, I’ve been studying a lot from the National Academy that they’ve been doing research on Education for Life and Work in the 21st Century is one of the recent publications.
And what we’re learning more and more. I think what the consensus is that the skills that people need to be successful in the 21st century are not the skills that they needed to be successful in the 20th century. We need far less rote knowledge and memorization. In a world where the entire world of knowledge is in my pocket, everywhere I go, I need the ability to define, to synthesize, to creatively apply, to collaborate, to be flexible, like all these other things that are different in our changing world.
And we can’t expect people to go through a traditional education experience and then graduate and suddenly have those skills, it’s just completely ridiculous. So it’s really a question of how we’re designing, learning experiences to facilitate not just content mastery. But alongside that and even more than content, we need to develop critical skills for 21st century citizenship and workforce development. And to me that means instructional designers and faculty being willing to roll back what we’ve always done. So I’m a social learning theorist.
I think that teachers teach the way they’ve been taught, not the way they’ve been taught to teach.
Dawn DiPeri: Yeah. And they’re not always trained to teach, especially in higher ed. They’re just subject matter experts. They know their research, but then they really need support and understanding the pedagogy.
Mike Palmer: Yeah. Or they even hand off the teaching to graduate assistant, because , they’re so focused on the research, which has been getting published, which ultimately will get them tenure. That’s a interesting ot one we’re going to necessarily get into right now, but it does make me think about how the writing process for a researcher, maybe there’s some collaboration there, but to me, the level of collaboration that’s required to build effective learning ecosystems is even more integrated and you typically need cross-functional teams to get together to build the thing the right way. And that’s not always the way higher ed traditionally has been structured.
There is maybe a center for learning and teaching. There’s an iIT function, but it’s not like there’s program management, program development, research and development innovation that is budgeted into online delivery. And then you think about the stimulus package. I do think there is an opportunity to enter into a bit of a Golden Age of online learning, because I don’t think that genie goes back in the bottle, but we’re going to need to think differently about what does it actually take to do this well? And I tend to borrow from the product development design thinking Renaissance that’s happened in the last 20 years. Any perspective on that, maybe starting with you, Eric, just on the speed with which higher ed is innovating and embracing change versus the speed with which you’re seeing it outside and in ways in which we might be able to catch up speed up or align better.
Eric Moore: Sure. If you asked me that a year ago, my answer would be different than it is now. I think COVID has really forced our hands to speed up a lot. So in this past year, as a university insider, I’ve seen a tremendous amount of progress. We went from pure panic last March when suddenly classes were thrown online and then, everybody has learned how to swim or drown into coming into this fall with strong leadership, with strong focus, we’ve really begun to say, what can we do with this that we could not do when we were in brick and mortar settings? And so now that we’re able to go back, we’re also able to preserve and online presence as much more design focused.
That’s much more critically evaluated. You know what’s better online? What should we teach online going forward? What’s better in person that we should bring back the classroom? And that’s a conversation that we’ve needed to have for awhile, but we’ve only been able to have, because you were forced to recently.
Mike Palmer: Yeah. And then Dawn, I know you’ve been trying to understand where things are in different spaces. So any perspective from you trends you’re seeing around where we are?
Dawn DiPeri: I’d like to give a K through 12 perspective as being a parent for a second, because you said something that made me think about something that’s happening with my daughter.
So she was fully virtual, but in a hy-flex settings. So for those listeners who don’t know what that is, that’s basically the teacher would perch a camera up high and it would be faced towards the desk. Yet the teacher was in a mask, but walking around the room and not always present in the screen.
And then the audio was also back towards the back of the room. So my daughter heard the sounds of kids goofing off in the backgrounds, not the teacher who is speaking in muffled voice. And she also became very concerned about accessibility. She’s only in middle school, but I guess having me as a mom, I rub off on her and we talk about how, when you go somewhere and you’re in a mask it’s really hard to read lips.
And what about people who are hard of hearing? So she got very passionate about this topic and she’s actually taking ASL classes right now. So it’s inspired her, but the main point I wanted to bring up is that we need to do hy-flex better for those who are maybe medically fragile or can’t come back to school in the fall.
If there is a hy-flex setting, we need to do it better. So we have to give the support to the K through 12 teachers and even higher ed so that it is accessible.
Mike Palmer: Yeah. Yeah. And I started thinking it’s more of a team sport to do this effectively and that the idea of a single Intrepid instructor stewarding her class alone in the wilderness. That’s almost not, that’s not really sufficient, particularly because one thing we found through this crazy year, it’s a lot easier to connect people, even if it’s just a quick touch base to feel like we’re all present and aware of each other and validating each other and finding shared meaning together.
And then that should not disinclude people. And I’d like to get maybe both your reactions on the whole concept of access and what we saw around the digital divide as something people have noticed in particularly in response to the pandemic when folks had just begin taking online learning, some people were not being included.
Perspective on that ways maybe that ties to UDL
Dawn DiPeri: I’ll talk about again, the K through 12 we didn’t have immediate access for all learners to have Chromebooks, but eventually they got that distribution out.
So that was disheartening because there’s students at home that didn’t have the tech. They were also students whose parents were working and they were left home alone. So we have equity issues there with online education. There were students who needed extra help and needed some tutoring, but their parents may not have afforded it.
So there’s these digital divide there’s students who didn’t have strong bandwidth or unable to submit things to the Google classroom due to that. I know my husband and I have worked from home. They’ve been live streaming there’s many times where if the internet goes down
so there’s all kinds of things happening from K through 12 higher ed and the corporate.
Mike Palmer: Yeah. I’m always amazed by that too. Even the commercials from some of the internet service providers are pretty hilarious where the level to which families are so dependent on shared bandwidth.
And when now five different people need access to high speed at the same time. It’s a very, it’s a very transformed world in a lot of interesting ways perspective from you on this Eric.
Eric Moore: Yeah. This is a little bit pre UDL in the sense that UDL, so on some fundamental accessibility and takes it a lot further, and this is extremely fundamental. So I take a very broad view of accessibility. Where I say accessibility is usability. Can the person intended to use something, use it for its intended purpose? If they can’t. Any of them can’t, then it’s not accessible. You can find any number of ways to frame that or say, why is that accessible?
But the bottom line is they can’t access the end experience. And so I think our conversations around accessibility to need to take that sort of broad lens and we need to be looking at are we excluding people from being part of the experiences that we’re creating? And I’m really trying to get people to think in terms of an equity model where we need to say, if everybody who should be able to use this can’t, then let’s let nobody use this until they can. Because that’s the only way that we’re going to have a fire lit under us enough to really get things moving as fast as we can,
Mike Palmer: Yeah. It makes a lot of sense. Maybe lightning round: any quick tips? People move very quickly to online with limited training. Last year was difficult on a number of fronts, but hopefully folks are getting a little more time, a little more practice, a little more comfort, building this stuff out, but what are their needs, tips, things to avoid or quick fixes?
Dawn DiPeri: I guess I would just say that if you’re looking at ed tech or just technology and looking to integrate it in your practice to analyze it, don’t just purchase it, make sure that it is inclusive for all. And it is accessible for all. Having that eye for investigating that. And If you don’t know, ask for help.
Eric Moore: The number one best source of information about accessibility is the end user. So we can build in some sort of feedback loops from the learners.
And I would love for these to be anonymous as much as possible so that the students who don’t want or corporate employees or whatever, who don’t want to out themselves, because there is still stigma, unfortunately, around disability and accessibility. Could you just ask what’s working, what’s not working?
What can I do that would support you? And I think that really conveys a sense of care. Like you do belong. You matter to me, I’m willing to do what I need to do to so that you can be part of this environment and then do it. And of course there’s lots of resources out there.
There,are accessibility guidelines and websites and tools that will check your material for you to various degrees of accuracy. By all means,use those things, but primarilly check with your end users. See how they’re doing and see what you can do to support them.
Mike Palmer: Yeah. It makes sense. Empathy with as broad and diverse a set of folks on the other end.
The other language that I like is learner centered. Trying to be more centered around the learner as the center of the universe, as opposed to the institution or even the teacher increasingly. There may not be as much of a top-down teacher pushing information out. It’s more like there are instructional designers and faculty in other roles that are facilitating a learning environment
that includes peer to peer. Which is interesting. Yeah. Thinking about the future. Don’t stop. Thinking about the, any thoughts on what’s emerging?
Eric Moore: Well, one thing that I want to draw attention to is a distinction between expert students and expert learning.
One of the goals,
Eric Moore: the
Eric Moore: really the explicit goal of universal design for learning is to develop expert learners. Which is to say people who are intrinsically motivated, purposeful, resourceful, and knowledgeable, strategic, and goal-directed. We want to develop learners who can learn well in my class and in other classes and throughout the lifespan, right?
And this is a very different way of thinking than what we have cultivated for generations in formal education, which is the expert student. The person who knows how to jump through the hoops, knows how to get on their teacher’s good side, knows exactly what they need to do to get an A, which is their primary motivation.
These types of qualities that you can by all means go through a university program and get your degree be an honors student and really have learned very little. Learning requires something much deeper than just going through the motions. But we reward the latter. So developing expert learners, I think really means starting from a design framework of working to include students in the engagement process, recruiting their interests, sustaining it and ultimately handing it over to them that they become self-sufficient. So getting there in UDL means that we need to get to a place where students can be co-creators with us in the classroom. Not simply passive receivers of instructional content, but actively involved in choice-making in the learning experience.
Eric Moore: It’s really facilitating a metacognitive process and coaching them through that. So David Rose and Ann Meyer and David Gordon in their 2014 book UDL Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice. They use this analogy that when you’re an expert learner learning is like grist for the mill.
You can learn anything you want because you’re ready for it. We really need to get to that place, both in K-12 and in higher education, if we want the kind of creative dynamic continual learners that everybody says, we want.
Mike Palmer: Yeah. That was fantastic stuff. Dawn, any last thoughts from you?
Dawn DiPeri: That was very inspiring discussion and I completely agree. We need to facilitate intrinsic learners that are excited about learning that have fun learning and that when they leave the K-12 higher ed framework and they funnel into the workforce, they take it upon themselves to do professional development, continue to upskill and to reskill and continue that learning process in a holistic way and in all facets of their life.
So that’s why it’s important.
Mike Palmer: Makes a lot of sense. I’m a sports fan. It reminds me of when you talk about someone having a good motor. If they have a motor, they’re always trying to push themselves. They have some fire in the belly and they’re never satisfied. You’re never done learning. You’re never done getting better.
Yeah. Hopefully we had an interesting conversation for those you’ve been listening. Let us know how we can get better. Let us know what you enjoyed. We always love to hear from our listeners.
Eric, thanks so much for joining us.
Eric Moore: Thanks so much for having me. It was an honor to talk with both of you.
Mike Palmer: And thanks again, Dawn for making the connections.
Dawn DiPeri: Thanks, Mike. I appreciate it.
Mike Palmer: All right. And for our listeners, we’ll be back again soon. Thanks. As always for listening. This is Trending in Education.