We shared an advance copy of episode 059: Studying UDL and Science Discourse with representatives of CAST, along with an opportunity to provide a response. Dr. James Basham, Professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Kansas and Senior Director of Learning and Innovation & Founder of the UDL Implementation and Research Network, provided the following reply in his capacity as an individual researcher (and not speaking as a representative of CAST or the UDL community as a whole):
Like many things in education, there is an ongoing need to support continued research on the fundamental underpinnings of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework and its implementation. After reviewing both the podcast and Dr. Boysen’s forthcoming article, it is obvious further clarity is needed in defining UDL, understanding the nature of frameworks, and how UDL has been successfully applied across various learning environments. Indeed, these are topics that leading organizations in UDL should be focused on addressing. The framework of UDL was born through decades of research in fields associated with mind, brain, and education. As a framework rather than a single practice, UDL is not simply a checklist of things to do in the learning environment, but an understanding of the variables associated with designing successful learning experiences. The framework provides a means for educators to consider how to support accessibility, building understanding, and internalization of essential learner behaviors, all in service of providing more effective learning opportunities, ultimately for all students. To this end, UDL is implemented and operationalized based on the goals and learner variability at hand. Iteration to this design is inherent in the process and should be based on continued data-based decision-making. For instance in higher education, a professor might make modifications to how things are taught (e.g., lecture, case study, flipped learning experience) or what’s being taught based on data from a variety of sources (e.g., assignments, in-class feedback, weekly check-ins). The UDL Guidelines provide a tool for understanding what would otherwise be a laundry list of variables associated with supporting these decisions.
Thus, when implemented in a classroom UDL is not as straightforward as stand-and-deliver a traditional lecture (or do “x” practice) and magic will happen but empowers educators to consider the goals and the needs of the learners. The framework-based nature is what makes UDL a bit more difficult for some to understand because it neither encourages nor assumes that the traditional practices of education work for every student in every situation. This also makes research on the application of UDL more complicated than conducting research on a single research-based practice or evidence-based practice. But any research database (e.g., Google Scholar) can point to research on UDL. Additionally, tools and standards, such as the UDL Implementation and Research Network’s UDL Reporting Criteria (see Rao et al, 2020) have also been developed for researchers to use in this work.
As it relates to the article at hand, high-quality academic discourse should always be encouraged to advance issues, support greater understanding, and identify the need for further research. To that end, while the Boysen article critiques the lack of rigorous research in UDL, the article itself overlooks substantial research studies, including randomized control studies on UDL. Additionally, it neglects to highlight fundamental and applied research that undergirds the existence of the framework. Thus, rather than undertaking a comprehensive literature review approach, it simply highlights a conceptual review that supports its own thesis. While the publication will likely attract attention, as a scholarly article on UDL it is academically underdeveloped and represents a missed opportunity to provide clarity on the basics of the framework as well as its associated research.
Thank you for providing me with an advanced copy of the podcast and pointing me in the direction of the forthcoming publication. I am hopeful you find my thoughts helpful as you reflect on the article.
Rao, K., Ok, M. W., Smith, S. J., Evmenova, A. S., & Edyburn, D. (2020). Validation of the UDL reporting criteria with extant UDL research. Remedial and Special Education, 41(4), 219-230.