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McDaniel hosts 200 educators at Universal Design for Learning Conference

B.J. Gallagher (left) and Joy Zabala (right)
October 29, 2013

More than 200 educators, administrators and support staff from three states, seven Maryland counties, and just as many institutions of higher education flocked to campus on Oct. 25 for the second annual Universal Design for Learning Conference.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is “a brain-based way of employing teaching strategies,” explained B.J. Gallagher, lecturer and area coordinator for technology in the Curriculum and Instruction program.

“We all learn differently,” she said. For example, some people are auditory learners, which means they process information better when they hear it, as opposed to kinesthetic learners who like hands-on activities.  UDL involves integrating supports for different learning styles when teaching everyone, not just those with special needs, said Gallagher.

McDaniel hosts 200 educators at Universal Design for Learning Conference
More than 200 people attended the second annual Universal Design for Learning conference, where they learned strategies for supporting different learning styles.

Keynote speaker Joy Zabala, a pioneer in assistive technology and accessible instructional materials, spoke on “Getting to Know the UDL Lesson Planning Cycle.” She shared strategies for setting up a classroom and planning lessons while keeping UDL in mind. Afternoon breakout sessions gave attendees further opportunity to explore ways to use UDL in their own classrooms.

“We want folks to take away something new that they can directly implement in their classrooms tomorrow,” said Gallagher.

Kimberly Harfield and Stacey Kaufman, elementary education students in the BEST program, and undergraduate Anne Marie McShea were already familiar with UDL from their coursework at McDaniel. They agreed that it was powerful to see the collaboration between teachers, administrators, school psychologists and even physical therapists, all of which are working to implement UDL in schools.

McDaniel hosts 200 educators at Universal Design for Learning Conference
Undergraduate Anne Marie McShea and BEST program students Kimberly Harfield and Stacey Kaufman (left to right) learned about UDL in their McDaniel coursework.

This networking element of the conference was useful to Eileen Browning, an 8th grade English and Language Arts teacher at Shiloh Middle School in Hampstead, Md. She said it was valuable to learn how teachers in places like Howard County or Pennsylvania were using UDL, information that she can bring back to her own school.

“If you plan for the needs of the few, you’ll end up meeting the needs of everyone in between,” said Browning. “Everyone should be affected in a positive way.”

Next year’s UDL conference on Oct. 24 will focus on implementing Universal Design for Learning with the Common Core. Registration will open in late August or early September.