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Why Every University Should Be on Board with Universal Design for Learning


Universal Design for Learning, or UDL for short, is a strategic approach to instruction that prioritizes diversity and accessibility. At the heart of UDL is a belief that a classroom designed for students at the margins is better for all. Rather than instructors devising a curriculum and then retrofitting it to students with different needs, UDL preaches an inclusive, holistic approach from the get-go. Like a curb cut on the sidewalk that helps wheelchair users and anyone with reduced mobility, UDL ends up benefiting all students, not just those with disabilities.


From UD to UDL

Universal Design for Learning evolved from its predecessor, Universal Design (UD). Inspired by the disability rights movement of the 1970s and ’80s, and emboldened by the passage of the ADA in the ’90s, UD is a philosophy and set of principles pertaining to accessible product architecture and design.

When UD is applied to the specific context of education, the result is UDL. Both share the common goal of universal access, but while UD seeks to eliminate barriers from the built environment, UDL strives to do the same in the learning environment. Above all, UDL is an equitable model of teaching and learning that guides the creation of accessible course materials to support diverse strengths, weaknesses and learning needs.  


Universal Design for Learning Explained

UDL is built on three core principles: representation, action and expression, and engagement. Everyone learns differently due to strengths and weaknesses in the various brain networks that are involved in learning. Therefore, each of the three principles corresponds to a distinct area of the brain. 


1. Representation

Representation is all about showing and communicating information in different ways. It can be thought of as the “what” of learning and maps onto the recognition networks in the brain; the sensory areas that perceive information.  

Presenting academic content in different ways helps students absorb information and make sense of what they observe. This principle is especially critical for individuals with sensory difficulties or disabilities, who may be unable to take in information that is presented via a single modality. For example, audio and video content present a challenge for those who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing. Providing audio transcription and automatic subtitling for videos is critical for these learners and helps others who may prefer to learn by reading or those who may not be native speakers of the language of instruction.


2. Action and expression

This principle emphasizes giving multiple ways for students to interact with the material and express their knowledge. This connects to the “how” of learning, or the strategic plans people make to tackle mastering the subject at hand. Correspondingly, these skills map onto areas of the brain that engage in complex reasoning and executive functioning.

This involves giving learners multiple ways to engage with the course material and providing varied opportunities for them to express their knowledge. For example, if the final project in a course is a classroom presentation, a UDL approach would mean offering alternatives such as students filming themselves and showing the video in class, or producing written responses.


3. Student Engagement

Engaging students means looking for different ways to motivate and inspire learners to interact with the material. This principle is all about finding the optimal way for students to connect with what is being taught in order to foster an intrinsic desire to learn and an engaged disposition. This can be conceptualized as the “why” of learning and links to affective networks in the brain that are involved in emotional responses. Offering a variety of reward choices or different levels of challenge illustrates this principle in action.  


Positive Effects on Student Academic Performance

Beyond the theoretical, UDL has been shown to have a measurable impact on student academic performance. In fact, research shows that this approach helps increase GPA and information retention for all students. A study conducted by the University of Northern Illinois found that exposure to closed-captions increased students’ recall and understanding of video-based information, as those students scored significantly higher on the subsequent assessment when compared with their peers.

Although all students are positively impacted by Universal Design for Learning, the benefits may be experienced most effectively by students with disabilities. While studies show that UDL boosts grades for students with disabilities and without, the results tend to be more dramatic for the former. Regardless of the circumstances, the data paints a clear picture: UDL enriches learning for everyone. 


One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Suppose you decide to throw a dinner party for a large group of friends, many of whom have unique dietary restrictions and preferences. In this scenario, cooking the same dish for everyone wouldn’t work, nor would preparing a custom-made meal for each guest. The ideal solution is a buffet, where you can provide many options, and each guest can fill their plate with what suits them. This is UDL in a nutshell. Providing options and choices gives learners the opportunity to take ownership and personalize their pathways to achieve academic success.

All universities want to see their students flourish academically. Taking a UDL approach is a highly effective way for schools to give students the tools they need to achieve that goal.

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7 AI trends that are redefining the legal industry

AI technology is defining the new normal in all facets of life. Finding examples of this phenomenon is certainly not a stretch. Digital assistants like Siri and Alexa are relied on by millions to perform simple tasks. Ride-sharing giant Uber leverages AI tech to predict fares, ETAs, and optimal pick-up locations. Facebook seems to know what you’re thinking even before you do and manages to serve up an ad that is perfectly suited to your interests.

While the legal sector is, traditionally, a conservative one, many organizations are recognizing the benefits of AI and adapting by incorporating the latest technologies into their day-to-day operations.

Here are the top 7 AI trends that wield tremendous power to revolutionize the legal industry

1. Document and Contract Review

Although many lawyers continue to cling to the belief that no one (or thing) is more adept at identifying relevance than a trained lawyer, many studies dispute that claim. The result of significant research and practice reveals that algorithms are, in fact, much more accurate in this regard than humans.

They’re also significantly faster. AI-assisted review programs possess the capability to examine large sets of files and, based on a particular set of criteria and parameters, identify and prioritize the most important ones for a case. All of this occurs in mere seconds, in comparison to the hours it would take even the most experienced of legal personnel to complete this same task.

2. eDiscovery

Through predictive coding capabilities, legal professionals can teach software to analyze human feedback, learn what information is relevant to a case, and then locate that kind of data. Machine learning processes reduce the time spent sifting through off-topic information. This means fewer hours are spent working to collect information, freeing up valuable time to focus on more strategic tasks.

3. Legal Transcription

The legal sector heavily relies on audio and video files, as all processes are typically recorded for use in cases. All of these files must be transcribed or captioned to maintain accurate records.

AI-driven legal transcription drastically speeds up this notoriously slow process, giving legal professionals faster access to precise information so that cases can be solved quicker while boosting transcription accuracy to meet the sky-high industry standards in law.  

4. Due Diligence and Research

Lawyers must conduct highly comprehensive investigations for meaningful results. As such, mistakes and inaccuracies can sometimes occur.

AI-enabled software is capable of performing more accurate due diligence review by searching, highlighting, and extracting relevant content for analysis, almost instantaneously. Machine learning technology can be pre-trained to recognize concepts and comb through hundreds of documents in mere seconds. The technology minimizes costs, reduces the risk of error and, most importantly, speeds up the process.

5. Legal Analytics

AI-enhanced programs can amalgamate tons of data to allow for meaningful predictions. The data can then be analyzed in order to make predictions about the outcomes of legal proceedings and more successfully than humans.

Leveraging analytics to accomplish legal objectives creates strategic advantages for law firms. Going forward, the lawyer who knows how to find the correct answers quickly and with certainty will win out over the lawyer who doesn’t.

6. Legal Chatbots

Chatbots are gaining steam in the legal profession as a new way to answer basic client questions and free up lawyers to deal with more complex matters. They represent yet another channel of communication for law firms to interact with both existing and potential clients.

Through intricate AI-based technology, bots are able to process text input and interact with users to answer questions from people wanting to learn more about a certain subject. Aside from assisting staff with optimizing their processes, bots also benefit legal customers by being available 24/7 to provide assistance on demand.

7. Cybersecurity

While AI is more often used for good, it also has the potential to be appropriated for more sinister purposes by amplifying hackers’ arsenals to create more sophisticated attacks and easily bypass basic protection methods. Legal organizations are beefing up their cybersecurity to respond to digital threats and secure their networks and confidential information.

AI tools unlock extensive possibilities, namely the ability to detect patterns and anomalies in real time. Leveraging machine learning algorithms to monitor and efficiently respond to potential network threats represents a major upgrade over more commonplace security solutions.   

AI technology is at its best when it is accomplishing narrowly-defined tasks and completing time-consuming, repetitive work. It offers the opportunity to revolutionize a number of legal processes while saving time and money.

But, while machines can process, store and recall information much faster than people, professionals still need to apply critical thinking to that information. Therefore, by leaving the mundane or tedious tasks to the machines, AI has immense potential to allow law professionals to take on a more strategic role.

With this massive technology movement steadily growing, experts are predicting even more innovations in the very near future. All of this boils down to one key conclusion: legal AI is here to stay.

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