ETAD Studio Reflection - Universal Design For Learning, Modalities and Multi-Access Learning

ETAD Studio Reflection – Universal Design For Learning, Modalities and Multi-Access Learning

I had a great opportunity to get introduced to yet another variable of Universal Design For Learning (UDL) at the ETAD Studio conference hosted in2015ETADConference Muenster, Saskatchewan. The yearly ETAD Studio event represents a three-day conference where educators, instructional design, innovation, and technology specialists meet to share current experiences and practices. One of the 2015 ETAD event speakers was Professor Valerie Irvine from the University of Victoria. Valerie specializes in the area of Educational Technologies that can be used to enhance and or assist instructors and learners to break down the traditional barriers of course and educational delivery.

Valerie presented on the topic of Multi-Accessing Learning. One of the key concepts discussed was should the instructor’s or institutions preferences for program delivery override a learners modality preferences or accessibility capabilities? Do modality biases exist or are they created by an instructor or program’s lack of flexibility to provide a variety of mediums to deliver instruction? Do these modality biases also influence or determine the variety of mediums participants can access to express their understanding of a given concept? In a day and time when technology is used to break down barriers and personalized learning environments for students there are still numerous traditional institutional and program barriers preventing “Open Access’ to educational

St. Peter's was a great location for the ETAD Studio Event.

St. Peter’s was a great location for the ETAD Studio Event.

opportunities. Valerie elaborated on how the physical infrastructure of educational institutions is being designed to accommodate physical disabilities but what about distance, cognitive or psychological disadvantages? A number of possible postgraduate or doctoral students who would like to continue their education is limited or restricted by the entrance requirements, program delivery costs, program delivery models, and schedules which conflict with their current careers and life experiences. Should the programming adapt to the learner or the learner to the program? Have these traditional educational barriers developed over time as a means to ensure each program has the best program participants or just as a means to restrict the number of participants in any given program?  Considering some of the latest statistics on the number of people with university degrees living in poverty; post-secondary institutions may need to reinvent the program entrance, accessibility and modality preferences based on the learner requirements instead of the other way around.  The workforce and employment opportunities are now based on a global economy which has resulted in a career becoming an obsolete term. Lifelong learning and continuous improvement is no longer an option. Students graduating today will have anywhere from 15 – 25 different employment opportunities throughout their lifetime working experience. Educational institutions need to provide flexible access for potential students who are continually looking to re-invent themselves in order to develop the necessary skills for a different job.

 Considering Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal, latest project, post secondary institutions need to redesign and think differently in regards to attracting potential students to potential programs. The project will pay 24 college-aged students $100,000 to not attend college for two years. Instead, the students will spend their time developing business ideas in areas such as biotechnology, education and energy.

Of the 400 entrepreneurial-minded applicants, the 24 winners, who are all 20-years-old or younger, will work — where else? — in Silicon Valley with a network of more than 100 mentors who will help develop their ideas. The fellowship program, which plucked students from institutions such as Harvard, Stanford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been quite controversial as Thiel openly admits he is hoping the winners will learn more in those two years working than they would have by being in school.


A white paper published by Complete College America in 2011 (Time Is The Enemy) reviews and highlights a number of key issues affecting the graduation rates in American colleges across the nation. A new trend developing was that 75% of students are juggling a number of different responsibilities and are not solely focusing on post-secondary programs. Only a quarter of students are full-time and attend residential colleges. Only a small percentage of part-time students graduate or complete the program requirements. The paper makes a number of possible recommendations to address the poor graduation rates.

  • Use block schedules, with fixed and predictable classroom meeting times, so that part-time student who is juggling jobs, families, and school can know with certainty when they can go to work each day.
  • Allow students to proceed toward degrees or certificates at a faster pace, with shorter academic terms, less time off between terms, and year-round scheduling.
  • Simplify the registration process by enrolling students once in a single, coherent program rather than making them sign up every term for individual, unconnected courses.
  • Reduce the number of time students must be in a class by using online technology and allowing students to move on once they’ve demonstrated competency.
  • From peer support and learning networks among students in the same program.
  • Embed remediation into the regular college curriculum so students don’t waste time before they start earning credits.
  • Provide better information on every program’s tuition, graduation rates, and job placement outcomes so that students can make more informed decisions at the front end.

Valerie highlighted a misconception that Blended Learning programs address Multi-Accessing Learning requirements. Far too many programs are simply designed as a combination of Face to Face and Online learning communities without addressing a number of space, time, cost, technology and accessibility challenges experienced by today’s Millennials. She also highlighted some current researchers (Professor Gregor Kennedy and Dr. Matt Bower) in the areas of Blended Learning that are taking a closer look at how asynchronous and synchronous learning can be designed to meet the unique learning requirements of each student at a given period in time. Valerie’s research questions who determines the Blended Learning experience? The institution, technology, enrollment restrictions or time and space? These accessibility barriers are not necessarily addressed in a Blended program delivery model for a variety of reasons. More and more research is being developed around Blended Learning and the possible impacts on today’s k-12 education systems.

Phil McRae discusses some of the myths, hype and harms that this methodology could have on educational practices. Valerie also referenced a Twitter posting from Superintendent Jordan Tinney, what are we trying to achieve Integration, Segregation, Exclusion or Inclusion. In the end, we all need to closely examine traditional systems that have developed over time but now may be acting as barriers to educational opportunities for learners.

Valerie referenced some k-12 educational examples of Multi-Access Learning environment developing in British Columbia. These new private educational institutions are challenging the traditional instructional approaches to education. Jeff Hopkins, the founder and principal educator at Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry (PSII). He was formerly the Superintendent of School District No. 64 (Gulf Islands) in southern British Columbia. As of April 1st, 2013, he began working full time on PSII. The school opened in September 2013 and provides a personalized learning program based on student Learning Plans instead of a traditional grade-based curriculum guide (competencies trump curriculum). These Learning Plans are mapped out to student interests and current learning outcomes that are still evaluated by provincial standardized achievement tools. The goal is to provide a true Multi-Access learning environment to meet the unique needs of the learners.

Another concept that Dr. Valerie Irvine introduced was one of Cyber – Proxy. How can technology act as a means for a student to break down traditional barriers and participate in educational opportunities that are otherwise not possible. As a part of the Multi-Accessing research, Valerie is exploring the impact of remote controlled robots that can be introduced into an environment as a means to assist a participant or as a means to act as a Cyber-Proxy. The concept of a Cyber-Proxy would allow someone who normally would not have access to the environment to attend an observe and possibly interact in ways not possible before this technology was introduced. Given that this technology is relatively new, it has significant potential as the technology improves. A number of products are being reviewed at the moment:


VGo Robot controlled from a computer interface over the Internet.

1. VGo Robotics

2. Revolve Robotics

3. Double Robotics



This type of technology could have significant implications in the area of assistive technology required to address the unique learning needs of students located in remote rural communities. It is very difficult to get professional assessments in rural communities. This type of technology may provide access into classrooms for speech and behavioral specialists that would not otherwise be possible. It is going to be interesting to see how the technology evolves over the next couple years.

For more information on Multi-Access Learning be sure to check out Valerie speaking events. Valerie will be speaking at the blendED 2015 event being hosted in Edmonton on October 25-27th. You can also check out her other presentation slides on Slideshare.

I look forward to attending next year’s ETAD Studio Event. Thanks again to all the ETAD staff for putting on the event and providing an excellent opportunity to share ideas and network.

ETAD Twitter Discussion Event.

ETAD Twitter Discussion Event.

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