UDL and SMART Boards

The focus of this session was on how using an interactive whiteboard (in this case a SMART board) can support the principles of Universal Design for Learning.  Although this was supposed to be my one hands-on session at the NJAET 2010 conference, technical difficulties, change of location and IT department roadblocks resulted in a “semi-hands on”session.  The original plan, according to the Carolyn Bennet, our presenter, was to have session members test out the SMART Notebook software and experience how using an interactive whiteboard (IWB) can suport the creation of learning experiences that  follow Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles.   Instead, we viewed lessons that the Ms. Bennet had created with the software and were able to try out some of the interactive features in the lesson on the SMART board.  Having limited experience with IWB, I was happy to have the chance to try it out.

We began with an overview of the UDL principles as created by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST).  Here is a brief (approximately 5 min.) video about Universal Design for Learning:

This session demonstrated examples of how a lesson can be enhanced using the Notebook software and the IWB technology to provide students with multiple means of representation, expression and engagement.   View the  handout, Creating Classrooms for Everyone (interactivewhiteboardsanduniversaldesignforlearningjan20),created by SMART, that outlines these concepts. The SMART Notebook software allows you to create and save interactive lessons to be used with the SMART board.

The lesson examples provided, illustrated some of the opportunities a SMART board can offer to support the three principles of UDL.  The first lesson highlighted that “multiple means of representation” is possible through embedding multimedia into a lesson and providing interactive, tactile experiences. A lesson on the Little Red Hen may include a recording of the story being read, interactive activities for the students to drag and drop words in a grammar/ comprehension activity, and view a video on how flour is made from grain.

“Multiple Means of Expression” was highlighted in the ability of IWB to support students with disabilities.  Changing text and graphic size, brightness and contrast can support visually challenged students.  The touch screen and the mobility of items within a lesson, improve access for student with physical disabilities that may have difficulty writing, typing or reaching higher on the board.  The ability to include visual reinforcement and other sensory support  can help  maintain the attention of students that have processing and attention difficulties.  During the presentation, session participants were invited to suggest (and demonstrate) how to modify a given lesson to support students in one or more of these categories.

The final principle of UDL, “Multiple Means of Engagement” was illustrated by using the IWB  technology as a way to draw students’ attention.  The presenter illustrated a lesson that incorporated students’ work to highlight a writing technique, making the experience both rewarding to the students and related to their real life.  She also provided an example of a “teachable moment” that occurred during a lesson where the students were able to answer a question that was posed by completing an internet search as a class using the whiteboard.

It is clear that the SMART board is capable of supporting Universal Design for Learning principles.  But during this presentation I was reminded of a study that I read, called “Teaching and learning with an interactive whiteboard: a teacher’s journey”, about a teacher’s self-study on the implications of adopting an IWB on her teaching practice.   In the initial phase of her adoption, she reported that although the students were fully engaged with the use of the IWB,  it actually caused her to move away from her usual active learning pedagogy.  She found that her students were spending more time in a whole-group, teacher-led lesson than actively exploring a topic (Hodge & Anderson, 2007).  Most of this session involved the presenter demonstrating her lesson design and the session members sitting and watching (she repeatedly apologized that she was forgetting to invite us to the board to try for ourselves).  I could see how easily this tool could encourage teacher-centered learning, even if the lessons were multi-media based.   The supplementary lesson that I learned in this session is to consider how the use of  a technology tool affects your pedagogy and how you can make it work to support student-centered practice. While we often hear how technology can be a catalyst to change a teachers practice, we need to be sure that it is for the better.


Hodge, S. and Anderson, B. (2007), Teaching and learning with an interactive whiteboard: a teacher’s journey. Learning,Media and Technology,23(3), pp.271-282.

CAST’s website on Universal Design for Learning, http://www.cast.org/research/udl/index.html

SMART Webinar on Universal Design for Learning http://www.smarttech.com/us/Resources/Webinars

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