CAST’s professional development offerings aim to translate “research to practice,” specifically by applying the UDL (Universal Design for Learning) framework to curriculum development. UDL is a framework that uses neuroscience principles to explain learner variability and to illuminate a variety of ways to teach to various types of learners (by determining what motivates each type of learner, understanding their emotions, etc.). CAST promotes UDL strategies that help teachers develop curriculum and instructional practices that inherently differentiate and scaffold for different types of learners. Teachers learn how to create instructional goals, materials, and assessments that work for all students in their classroom.
offers online and in-person workshops and courses. This review, however,
focuses on CAST’s online offerings.
With online course bundles, participants receive access to ‘UDL Studio’ (literacy curriculum tool), UDL Book Builder (authoring tool that users can use to create digital books), UDL Editions (reading support tool), UDL Curriculum Self-Check (a curriculum self-assessment program), and UDL Connect (a social community platform). People who sign up for in-person sessions also receive access to all of these programs, as well as UDL Exchange (an online collaboration and lesson creation platform) and Science Writer (a student web-based tool for creating science and lab reports).
UDL Exchange is a free website community that enables educators to create, mix, and share UDL-based lesson plans and other teaching resources, aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Educators can browse, rate, and tag existing resources or build:
- UDL Lessons (instructional plans that address the variability and diversity of all learners);
- UDL Resources (multimedia supports for UDL implementation, including videos and websites);
- UDL Collections (themed collections such as curriculum units, to support UDL practice).
While teachers may elect to take individual courses, schools/districts often work with CAST representatives to create customized collections of courses that best support larger groups of teachers.
Primary Users: Teachers, administrators, and/or districts
Cost: About $1000 - $1200 per person for 14-week online courses. A 10% discount is offered to teams of three or more
people from the same institution who register together. CAST also develops
customized workshops for larger groups (such as districts) and prices those
Skills This Product Targets: Pedagogy skills and practice
On-Brand Use: Teachers learn how to incorporate theories of UDL (Universal
Design for Learning) into their curriculum design and teaching practice, hence
improving their ability to differentiate learning. They also can receive access
to CAST’s web-based learning tools (such as ‘UDL Studio,’ a web-based literacy
Off-Brand Use: Some CAST courses go beyond UDL. For example, one course
relates to preparing and integrating video for practice; teachers learn how to
use UDL theories to do this, but they also learn to incorporate Common Core
standards into their curriculum development
Platforms: Browser-based platforms
Deal breakers: There is a great deal of neuroscience behind these professional development
sessions. If a teacher is disinterested in learning about neuroscience
principles he or she may find these sessions difficult or overly theoretical.
Also, certain online courses are only available during certain semesters (Fall,
Spring, and Summer).
- Types of Schools Using It: Mostly public and charter K-12 schools
There are several attributes to CAST’s offerings that make it a valuable resource for teachers and students alike. First, it helps teachers develop a basic introduction to universal design for learning. This is especially relevant for inclusion classrooms (SPED and non-SPED students in the same room). Second, CAST has a suite of custom-made technology tools that are tightly aligned to its PD offerings.
because the program showcases overarching theories as opposed to specific
content-aligned UDL implementation, more experienced teachers with a firm grasp
of their material will likely benefit most from CAST’s curriculum.
How does it work?
Courses for K-12 teachers on how to improve their practice using UDL principles. Additionally, online courses help teachers and administrators develop professional networks with peers around the globe.
Participants can chose among a list of three to six courses that are updated on a tri-semester schedule on topics such as “An Introduction to Universal Design for Learning” to “Deeper Engagement of All Learners.”
Courses last approximately 14 weeks, and include once-a-week online sessions; 11 of these can be taken whenever learners choose and 3 sessions are scheduled web conference sessions. Course materials include required readings, video media, activities, and access to learning tools developed at CAST and made available via the CAST platform.
are offered according to a tri-semester schedule. Not every class is offered
every semester so participants must consult the online schedule to know when
courses of interest take place.
In 2012, about 2,000 people participated in CAST’s professional learning, including both online and in-person sessions. People connect either through face-to-face meetings through live sessions, or through UDL Connect, CAST’s online social network. (UDL Connect is a community where participants connect with others interested in UDL by joining specific interest groups, customizing their user profiles, inviting friends to join the community, creating a blog, and/or sharing resources, event listings, and media with one another.)
Within the courses themselves, participants gain access to CAST’s rich collection of UDL tech tools. UDL Exchange is a free website community that enables educators to create, mix, and share UDL-based lesson plans and other teaching resources, aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Educators can browse, rate, and tag existing resources or build:
- UDL Lessons (instructional plans that address the variability and diversity of all learners);
- UDL Resources (multimedia supports for UDL implementation, including videos and websites); and
Additionally, participants also gain access to four CAST tools bundled with online courses. First, UDL Book Builder (free) offers educators the ability to create and edit their own digital books. Books can contain written text, images, and scripts for prompts, hints, and models that will accompany readers as they read through the book. Users can also look at and comment on others’ books. Second, UDL Curriculum Self-Check (free) helps educators assemble parts of a curriculum other than the main lesson instruction--i.e. goals, methods, materials, and assessments, and under the guidance of UDL principles. Third, UDL Editions (free) is collection of texts that have supports for learners of different levels. Teachers can elect to give their students “Maximum”, “Moderate”, or “Minimal” supports. Finally, UDL Lesson Builder (different from the UDL Exchange “Lessons” platform in that it lacks a social network) is a site where teachers can browse standards-based lessons utilizing UDL principles and then craft their own accordingly. UDL Lesson Builder is an older but somewhat similar platform to the UDL Exchange “Lessons” platform.
How is it used?
duration of sessions varies. Online courses last a semester or about
2-3 months. In-person sessions last one or two days. Participants are given
login information when they register, which remains valid for the length of the
course. Sessions meet one day a week for 14 weeks.
With the multitude of tools, communities, and courses CAST offers, participants can choose how much time they will spend and how in depth they will go. Here’s a typical CAST online experience
The participant will register for a couple of different online courses, such as this one. They will engage with the asynchronous course activities, assessments, and videos when they choose during the 14 weeks, and attend the scheduled synchronous courses with the other 20 or so participants. They will also get to use the following tools in tandem with the courses to create curriculum, make books or just share ideas: UDL Book Builder, UDL Curriculum Self-Check, UDL Editions, and UDL Connect. For example, UDL Connect provides participants with a way to both discuss with other course takers and get ideas for lesson plans that they may choose to submit for review in their courses.
Who’s Using It?
Many traditional public school teachers and schools use CAST’s professional development offerings, as their schools have traditionally had high numbers of SPED populations and resulting IEPs. Many of these public schools are in urban environments. Independent and charter schools have had little to no usage of CAST
Districts using CAST include San Diego Unified School District, New York City Public Schools, and Baltimore City Public Schools. Baltimore uses CAST to comply with state and federal laws. In 2012, the state of Maryland instituted the UDL Initiative, and by fall of 2014, school administrators will have to submit reports on what UDL implementation they have in place. As a result, CAST usage numbers are skyrocketing in Maryland.
Content, Content, Content….
Teachers and administrators who complete the in-person or online courses should have an enhanced understanding of the connections between learning and neuroscience. They will know the three central UDL principles (multiple means of representation, multiple means of action/expression, and multiple means of engagement) and the curriculum framework that incorporates these principles. Teachers will see numerous examples of practice that show alignment of UDL to curriculum, and engage with the technologies that support UDL and differentiation.
The online courses address how to differentiate materials, particularly with special education students and English language learners. Administrators can also learn UDL practices to support their teachers’ development.
Courses are taught by UDL experts. Some are CAST staff, others are UDL practitioners in the field who have worked with CAST and been identified as knowledgeable and articulate about the subject.
The CAST program does not specifically address content-aligned UDL implementation. A more experienced teacher who has a firm grasp of their material will likely benefit most from CAST’s offerings.
The other major landmine relates to time. Online courses are only offered during certain semesters. As a result, online access to course materials is not available at the drop of a hat.
CAST’s online offerings are browser-based. Computers or tablets should have basic Flash installed for video media.
charges $1000 - $1200 per person for its 14-week online courses, including
access to the collection of UDL tech tools. A
10% discount is offered to teams of three or more people from the same institution
who register together. CAST also works with schools, districts and states to
develop customized workshops and develop costs based on what is required; those
prices are set by CAST.
Participants in online courses and workshops can receive a certificate or a letter indicating number of seat hours, which participants can use for in-service credit. Because of the length and intensity of online courses, teachers can also receive graduate credit at their own expense in some states (though it depends on CAST’s relationship with the state and local universities).
The larger market for UDL and SPED-specific professional development is relatively unpopulated with other competitors. A similar offering is Project CHILD, which exclusively offers in-person, differentiation professional development. CAST is unique in offerings both in-person and online PD, as well as its extensive collection of UDL tools.
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