One of the most powerful things we should be able to do with technology in classrooms today is make learning more accessible for all. As I work on my mini-keynote for the Iowa 1:1 Conference on Making Learning Accessible for All, I am still amazed that we aren’t doing more. Then again, it is not about doing more, it is about doing things differently.
The technology that we have in our classrooms should make it so we can re-envision what classrooms and learning looks like in this digital age. For many years we were bound by textbooks and the lack of information in our classrooms. Today students come into our classroom knowing they can ask Siri or Alexa questions to answer the lower level of factual information, think the bottom of Bloom’s, and yet many classrooms operate that way. Teachers no longer need to be the holders of information, the tiny computers in our pockets can give us any information we want. The task nowadays is centered on what we can do with that information. We can also design different ways for learners to show their learning and to apply what they have learned, now we are in the upper layers of Bloom’s. (The Guidelines for Universal Design of Learning are a great way to look at how we can design for all)
We shouldn’t have to rely on a single resource anymore, one that is not designed for all of our students, only a small percent of the kids in our classrooms. We can use a wide variety of resources that can help all students, even those with reading issues, dyslexia, vision issues, hearing issues, or any other cognitive/learning challenge that would have caused issues in the past. This is a big reason why I am a huge fan of Open Educational Resources (search Twitter for #OER or #GoOpen if you want to learn a lot from those who are already doing this). In my own classrooms, I tried to pull in as many resources as I could because I knew that not all learners would benefit from one resource.
Any new building built nowadays, like say a new school, is built with accessibility in mind. It is not an afterthought but it is a main component of the designing process. It would be great if this was true of our lesson plans as well. How often are we thinking of ways to make the learning as accessible for all students? This may not always be an easy task, but it is one that should be important enough that we try.
This does not mean we have to start from scratch, but we can use powerful tools that are readily available to make the lessons we have already designed, more accessible. Speech to text tools can help students who have trouble typing due to a physical or cognitive issue. Text to speech tools can help those students who struggle to read, have dyslexia, have vision issues, or are english language learners. If you are uploading videos to YouTube for a flipped classroom, you can easily edit the automatically generated closed captioning track in order to help your students with hearing issues. There are so many ways we can use tools to make learning more accessible, you can find a lot of ideas on my ever growing Google Doc –https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nmof7Fiq8hm6WhhskhkDJVll3Q9WNlRME7QS2K4VQV4/edit?usp=sharing
I would love to see #MakeLearningAccessibleForAll start trending as we can now do more than ever before to make learning more accessible for ALL of our students. It won’t always be easy, but I believe our students’ educations are too important to not try to do this. All students deserve to be able to learn as best as they can, no matter what challenges lie before them.