As a teacher, I have experienced the frustration of sitting through yet another 'training' session on the latest educational philosophy. I know how it feels to focus so much energy on what else I could be doing that I really do not get anything out of the meeting. The courses in Walden's M.S.Ed. program have been exactly the opposite. By the end of each course, I have gained more than I expected. EDU6714 was no exception. At first glance, it may seem that learning to use educational technology to incorporate both Universal Design for Learning and Differentiated Instruction into our instructional methods may be a bit overwhelming. After all, how will I find the time to apply the three principles of UDL, meet the goals of DI, and incorporate technology into my lessons? It didn't take long, however, to realize that UDL and DI are designed to reach the same goals and complement each other nicely. In addition, new technology makes it easier to implement both UDL and DI.
Sharing ideas, suggestions, and feedback within our social networking group (http://waldensng4.ning.com/) provided access to many new resources which I may not have found otherwise. As a group, we worked together to locate information, share our experiences with interactive tools, and collaborate on the Differentiation Station assignment. We created presentation materials to share with other teachers at our schools. The Ning site allowed us to gather feedback and suggestions from our group members on these presentations, as well as lesson plans and classroom activities. Although I was already familiar with social networking sites, this was my first experience using one to collaborate with other educational professionals. Throughout this program, I have found that the weekly discussions provide a wealth of knowledge and ideas. Now, I know that I can continue that same type of collaboration through a social networking site, such as Ning.
As a direct result of this course, I have added quite a few tools to my collection of educational resources. I administered my first true online test yesterday. My seventh grade students came to class expecting the typical weekly test. Instead, I had created their test using an online survey tool and reserved the laptop cart for this purpose. They were quite surprised when I explained it to them. One of the first things I noticed was that the students seemed much more focused as they took the test. They did not complain about the requirement to use complete sentences, since they could type their answers instead of writing them on paper. Once they finished their test and submitted it online, they completed a short feedback survey on the test. I was interested to know their opinions and they provided more feedback than I expected. I've tried adding the same type of feedback questions to a paper test without much response. Perhaps the anonymity encouraged them to be more expressive. They did not have to include their name and there was no handwriting that might be recognized by the teacher. I also believe, however, that they are just more comfortable - more at home - on a computer. All but one student expressed their desire to take more tests in this manner. It was an encouraging moment and, as one student put it, it seemed like we were "finally moving into the future." With the knowledge I've gained through this and other Walden courses, I believe that I can now make the changes necessary to use technology to differentiate and enhance presentation, expression, and engagement to meet the diverse needs of my students.