The Language of UDL & Design Thinking

UDL doesn’t include spikes to students…

Having a common language for a school faculty is the basis for collaboration. With this work below, we can all now begin to express our design work with one another.

Translating design language for education is perhaps my greatest unique contributions to UDL and Design Thinkers everywhere.

UDL Design Term Basics

  • Curb Cuts – Used in UX designer’s term for making something more accessible for a specific situation, but improves the experience for everyone. Educators make the school building, master schedule, course design and lessons more accessible to all students by reviewing and revising how things are done.
  • Designing on the margins – Relates to curb cuts and is a frame of mind when making a new design to focus on those who have accessibility needs in order to make the design best for all users. Educators do this by designing the experience for everyone through the lens of those who need access.
  • Default design – Making the tools of accessibility the first or only way all users experience a design, then used individually by choice. Educators do this by making what had been called accommodations their standard design, with students rejecting the tool when not wanted. EquatIO or Grammarly are two popular tools we can provide all students where they can use it by choice.
  • Access vs Barriers – Opposing terms that help designers make what is invisible to them become visible. With this lens, educators evaluate student approaches designed assessments, lessons & activities.
  • Universal Design – Is a singular design that all can access successfully, take the curb cut as a single design for all to use when crossing a street. This might mean writing the best school day schedule for all middle schoolers, in consideration of those struggle to wake up early, those who need a break in the afternoon or those who need enough time to play at lunch.

Going Further with UDL

  • Hostile Design – Like the anti-homeless spikes in the picture above, hostile design moves a problem away from sight but does not solve the problem itself.
  • Spike Students – A term I coined to describe when and where hostile design exists in schools, like a consequence for forgetting a pencil or losing their lunch card. We all forget and a consequence as a spike doesn’t solve the problem, just pushes it away. #spikestudents
  • Expected Privacy – A UX term describing what and where users privacy needs to be addressed as part of their experience. Grade results or medical information are expected privacy schools do, but so can be different parts of the learning experience during the day.
  • Front End vs Back End Design – Designing for the user interface is the front end and the back end is to design for the designers. In education, assessments are designed for student to take successfully and for teachers to digest the data quickly and effectively.
  • Signifiers – Words, icons or numbers that explain to a user how to use something. Directions on a test, arrows in a corridor, signage all over campus are all signifiers that help users, but require action on their part.
  • Affordances – the design itself is easy to understand, like a handle on a door that you pull open. Schools with colour coded corridors or classrooms with setups that single how to use the space well.
  • Norman Doors – A door that is confusing to use correctly. A Norman Door moment in education happens anytime we see significant confusion from our users, our students, as the struggle to understand feedback, their class schedule and so on.
  • Choice Architecture – From the book “Nudge”, presenting choices to decision makers for positive outcomes.

The Design Method of Design Thinking

  • Validation vs. Verification – To validate is to know a designer is asking the right questions while verification is to know the questions are being answered correctly. Education is best when validating that the right questions are being asked to solve a problem before verifying that the questions are being answered correctly.
  • Systems Mapping – Links and Nodes that visually model the design problem you are trying to solve and is its own method.
  • Brainstorming & Ideation – Capture Everything, gathering all relevant ideas.
  • Sensors – Tools used to detect or collect information related to a single type of information to determine a desired outcome. This may come in the form of community satisfaction surveys or isolating a piece of information in an assessment.
  • Prototyping – A set or series of different designs that are functional in critical ways. Making multiple different assessment designs that will get a trial run and then be compared prior to changing all assessments in that course or program – selecting for the best aspects in a final design.
  • Feedback Loop – The process of collecting data and analysing that data during prototyping and implementation. This is a natural part of assessment for educators when teachers purposely evaluate the test data but the feedback loop can be successfully applied to any initiative in the classroom or school wide.
  • Iteration – new design version in a series of developments. This is a natural part of working in a school as improvements are always afoot, however, intentional and targeted iteration as part of a process develops further and make a greater difference.
  • New Urbanism – The belief in design that creates or promotes environmentally friendly & human friendly habits. The actual quality and beauty of architecture is then the cherry on top of a well designed city – meaning all positive change starts with urban design. For schools, the building, master schedule and other school-wide systems are the urban design and a teacher’s work is the architecture of a single building.

UDL Examples – My Experiences

  • Curb Cuts – When I moved from A4 paper to A3 in order to help a student have enough space to write, I found that everyone took advantage of the extra space, so everyone benefitted from the curb cut.
  • Designing on the margins – When writing new math lessons, I had a student case with a photosensitivity solved with a blue background on my Smart Board lessons. It was for one student, but the soft blue screen was pleasing for many!
  • Default design – When starting a new activity with robotics in algebra, I default the digital tools for accessibility in the software. All can take advantage of the extra tools, but not all need to. The stigma of the accommodation is gone, as is the accommodation because is is now the design for all!
  • Access vs Barriers – For the longest time, I couldn’t understand why my EAL students weren’t grasping the expository writing we were doing until I tried to view it from their perspective and realised they had a barrier with vocabulary. I could provide it in a word bank and the access was provided successfully.
  • Universal Design – I try to think about my entire classroom and the course I prepare for students as one design. I’ve spent years making changes as iterate to make the experience more useful and enjoyable for all that come though my door. UDL is my everything.
  • Hostile Design – A new colleague joined one year as asked that we give punishments for tardies, missing materials and incomplete homework in the form of slips of papers that would add up to consequences. Trying the program out with them was an experience in spiking students over and over and students despised the slips, never addressing the cause of the problem.

Design Thinking Examples – My Experiences

  • Validation vs. Verification – For years, a school I worked for tried to address student study habits and we made many attempts at solving the problem. Never did we ask the right questions to validate a cause – and the problem was never solved. Yet, we made many hones attempts as we verified that we were addressing the problem.
  • Sensors – I had a goal to teach a chemistry lesson in such a way that students would predict the existence of a triple bond without being taught it, helping determine if they understood the lesson. So I slid a simple triple bond into an activity to observe how often students would correctly predict and I refined my lessons until eventually most students could make that prediction.
  • Prototyping – My team and I were struggling to reach a group of 8th graders when I taught in Madrid, Spain. We all had our own ideas, so we prototyped each idea for two days and compared when done. A clear winner helped us manage successfully!
  • Expected Privacy – I am dyslexic and have some terrible spelling. When I take notes for meetings, I do not want them projected for folks to see in real time. I’ll happily record, but appreciate when it can be done away from peering eyes.
  • Front End vs Back End Design – I use this when designing every test and rubric that I use. I ask myself, “how will students understand this or use this?” Meanwhile, I am considering how I can use the test design to inform my instruction.
  • Signifiers – I work to limit / reduce the size of signifier text and symbols that I use because this takes active thinking on a student’s part. Yet, signifiers can be helpful on assessments, on the whiteboard or on objects we need to use well and respectfully. Intentional use of signifiers is key.
  • Affordances – I work to setup my classroom with furniture and as many materials in such a way that students know how to use my room without explanation.
  • Norman Doors – There are so many times that I’ve used the wrong signifiers or affordances, making students do something incorrectly. This has often happened in distance learning, where what I set up for students made no sense to them, the user of my design.
  • Choice Architecture – I often allow for choice in my classroom, but my best use might be differentiated individual work and done so that the choices all come from the same work but allow students to chose different parts or aspects of that work that fits them well.