Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Quantitative Review: “Effects of Training in Universal Design for Learning on Lesson Plan Development”

By Fred Spooner, Joshua N. Baker, Amber A. Harris Lynn Ahlgrim-Delzell Diane M. Browder

Universal Designs for Learning (UDL) is becoming a term used when thinking about learning in both special education and general education classrooms. In this article, the authors attempt to use evidence-based practices to address the problem that there “is a lack of scientific investigation on the feasibility, application, or use of UDL” (p. 109). Their purpose was “to determine the effects of teacher training about UDL on the lesson plan designs of special education and general education teachers in a college setting” (p. 109). The authors predict that “before UDL can have a profound impact on teaching and learning, there must be evidence that teachers can learn to use it in planning instruction for students with disabilities” (p. 109).

Now, I was a little disappointed after reading this because the quantitative research was conducted with pre-service teachers learning UDL in an educational setting rather than current teachers who are dealing daily with the ongoing demands of a classroom or special education teacher, learning UDL in a professional development program. This training occurred in an artificial environment where often the real context of time constraints, classroom management, and specific achievement levels of students on a daily basis do not exist. Therefore, it is unclear how applicable this is to the real world. For example, current teachers may plan with a real context in mind, where pre-service teachers are planning with a hypothetical context. The students were asked to work with case studies to plan their UDL lessons with, but planning for a hypothetical situation where it does not need to actually work or not is very different from planning for a real need. Therefore due to external threats to validity, it is very difficult to generalize from this study that a teacher trained in UDL in the educational system will be more likely to use UDL principles in planning to have a “profound impact on teaching and learning” (p. 109), as Spooner et al advocate.

Now, I was pleasantly surprised that the article included both special education teachers and classroom teachers, as in BC, it is usually these teachers who work together in an educational setting to plan Individual Education Plans to support students with special needs. The researchers ensured that a matching number of participants were included in both the control and the experimental groups. This is critical to guarantee that the sample was representative in both groups as general education teachers may have different experiences around their understanding and application of UDL principles, when compared to a special education teacher.
The dependent variable was clearly defined. The dependent measure of success consisted of the total score of inclusion of the three essential UDL principles found in the lesson plan. An individual score of each principle of representation, engagement, and expression was also assigned. This rubric was very interesting, and is an item that I am currently considering as a measure in my own study. Since this study’s purpose was to be a purposeful attempt to use evidenced based research, the methods section was clearly defined and could be easily replicated in future studies.

The study used pre- and post tests to measure the degree of change after the intervention. There were no threats to validity through the process of testing because participants were provided different case studies for the pre and posttest, so the circumstances from which to develop the UDL lesson plan were completely new. Due to the fact that this UDL lesson was a requirement of the course that the students were taken, all students were required to complete the lesson. So, the control group was identified, but did receive the lesson after the post-test was completed. There was a threat to internal validity due to the fact that the control group and the experimental group were easily identified. The control group arrived one hour later than the experimental group, and participated in the second part of class. This could cause diffusion of treatment as the control and experimental group could communicate. Additionally, it was the researchers who taught the lesson to the experimental group. Consequently, threats to the ecological validity of the research through the novelty and disruption effect, experimenter effect, the interaction of history and treatment effect, and pretest sensitization. Additionally, how the need of this intervention was introduced in the course prior to the intervention could have also affected the ecological validity because the experiment is dependent on how the course content was established prior to the treatment.

The researchers provide a reasonable explanation of the results. plan. However, the implication that “universally designed concepts might save teachers an extensive amount of time by creating modified lesson plans rather than changing them after the fact” (p. 114) appears to be a statement very difficult to generalize from. Spooner et al. identified that teachers were only given a twenty minute time period to complete one lesson plan. But, how realistic is this in a general education setting, where the classroom teacher is responsible for planning many lessons throughout the day?

Thus, the article “Effects of Training in Universal Design for Learning on Lesson Plan Development” is a quantitative study that confirmed teachers can learn to use the three principles of UDL in planning instruction (Spooner et al., 2007). However, it is unclear due the problems with validity and reliability if these results would continue over time, and if the lesson plans would work in a real-world context. The authors address the study’s limitations in a labeled section within the paper and from these limitations provide suggestions for future research. Future directions include researching “general education teachers who hold valid teaching licenses and look at the effects of UDL training on their previous ways to write a lesson plan” (Spooner et al., 2007, p. 115).


  1. Hello Scrapehappy,
    I'm equally intrigued by your blog name and the article! Universal Design is an emerging construct in education, and as your review points out, may need some fine tuning to meet the demands of reliable and valid implimentation in classroom settings.

  2. Very interesting study. It's very interesting to see Universal Design view is applied into classroom settings. Although I am still learning about North American education system, I am now wondering if this is applicable even in my own country - Indonesia....