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Teacher Needs

Online courses and resources that help teachers differentiate their instruction, according to Universal Design principles


CAST’sprofessional development offerings aim to translate “research to practice,”specifically by applying the UDL (Universal Design for Learning) framework to curriculumdevelopment. UDL is a framework that uses neuroscience  principles to explain learner variability and toilluminate a variety of ways to teach to various types of learners (bydetermining what motivates each type of learner, understanding their emotions,etc.). CAST promotes UDL strategies that help teachers develop curriculum and instructionalpractices that inherently differentiate and scaffold for different types oflearners. Teachers learn how to create instructional goals, materials, andassessments that work for all students in their classroom.

CASToffers online and in-person workshops and courses. This review, however,focuses on CAST’s online offerings.

Withonline course bundles, participants receive access to ‘UDL Studio’ (literacycurriculum tool), UDL Book Builder (authoring tool that users can use to createdigital books), UDL Editions (reading support tool), UDL Curriculum Self-Check(a curriculum self-assessment program), and UDL Connect (a social communityplatform). People who sign up for in-person sessions also receive access to allof these programs, as well as UDL Exchange (an online collaboration and lessoncreation platform) and Science Writer (a student web-based tool for creatingscience and lab reports).

UDLExchange is a free website community that enables educators tocreate, mix, and share UDL-based lesson plans and other teaching resources,aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Educators can browse, rate, and tagexisting 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).

Whileteachers may elect to take individual courses, schools/districts often workwith CAST representatives to create customized collections of courses that bestsupport larger groups of teachers.

  • Purpose: Learn
  • 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 morepeople from the same institution who register together. CAST also developscustomized workshops for larger groups (such as districts) and prices thoseaccordingly.
  • Skills This Product Targets: Pedagogy skills and practice
  • On-Brand Use: Teachers learn how to incorporate theories of UDL (UniversalDesign for Learning) into their curriculum design and teaching practice, henceimproving their ability to differentiate learning. They also can receive accessto CAST’s web-based learning tools (such as ‘UDL Studio,’ a web-based literacytool).
  • Off-Brand Use: Some CAST courses go beyond UDL. For example, one courserelates to preparing and integrating video for practice; teachers learn how touse UDL theories to do this, but they also learn to incorporate Common Corestandards into their curriculum development  
  • Platforms: Browser-based platforms
  • Deal breakers: There is a great deal of neuroscience  behind these professional developmentsessions. If a teacher is disinterested in learning about neuroscienceprinciples 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 UsingIt: Mostly public andcharter K-12 schools 

Product Brief

Value Added

Thereare several attributes to CAST’s offerings that make it a valuable resource forteachers and students alike. First, it helps teachers develop a basicintroduction to universal design for learning. This is especially relevant forinclusion 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 itsPD offerings.

Additionally,because the program showcases overarching theories as opposed to specificcontent-aligned UDL implementation, more experienced teachers with a firm graspof their material will likely benefit most from CAST’s curriculum.

How does it work?

Online PD:

Courses for K-12 teachers on how to improve their practice usingUDL principles. Additionally, online courses help teachers and administratorsdevelop professional networks with peers around the globe.

Participants can chose among a list of three to six coursesthat are updated on a tri-semester schedule on topics such as  “An Introduction to Universal Design forLearning” to “Deeper Engagement of All Learners.”

Courses last approximately 14 weeks, and include once-a-week onlinesessions; 11 of these can be taken whenever learners choose and 3 sessions arescheduled web conference sessions. Course materials include required readings,video media, activities, and access to learning tools developed at CAST andmade available via the CAST platform. 

Coursesare offered according to a tri-semester schedule. Not every class is offeredevery semester so participants must consult the online schedule to know whencourses of interest take place.

In 2012, about 2,000 people participated in CAST’sprofessional learning, including both online and in-person sessions. Peopleconnect either through face-to-face meetings through live sessions, or through UDL Connect, CAST’s online social network. (UDLConnect is a community where participants connect with others interested in UDLby joining specific interest groups, customizing their user profiles, invitingfriends to join the community, creating a blog, and/or sharing resources, eventlistings, and media with one another.)


Within the courses themselves, participants gain access toCAST’s rich collection of UDL tech tools. UDL Exchange is afree website community that enables educators to create, mix, and shareUDL-based lesson plans and other teaching resources, aligned to the Common CoreState Standards. Educators can browse, rate, and tag existing resources orbuild:

  • 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
UDL Collections (themed collections such as curriculum units, to support UDL practice).

Additionally, participants also gain access to four CASTtools bundled with online courses. First, UDLBook Builder (free) offers educators the ability to createand edit their own digital books. Books can contain written text, images, andscripts for prompts, hints, and models that will accompany readers as they readthrough the book. Users can also look at and comment on others’ books. Second, UDLCurriculum Self-Check (free) helps educators assemble parts of acurriculum other than the main lesson instruction--i.e. goals, methods,materials, and assessments, and under the guidance of UDL principles. Third, UDLEditions (free) is collection of texts that have supports forlearners of different levels. Teachers can elect to give their students“Maximum”, “Moderate”, or “Minimal” supports. Finally, UDLLesson Builder (different from the UDL Exchange “Lessons”platform in that it lacks a social network) is a site where teachers can browsestandards-based lessons utilizing UDL principles and then craft their ownaccordingly. UDL Lesson Builder is an older but somewhat similar platform tothe UDL Exchange “Lessons” platform.

How is it used?


Theduration of sessions varies. Online courses last a semester or   about2-3 months. In-person sessions last one or two days. Participants are givenlogin information when they register, which remains valid for the length of thecourse. Sessions meet one day a week for 14 weeks.

Withthe multitude of tools, communities, and courses CAST offers, participants canchoose how much time they will spend and how in depth they will go. Here’s atypical CAST online experience  

Theparticipant will register for a couple of different online courses, such as this one. They will engagewith the asynchronous course activities, assessments, and videos when theychoose during the 14 weeks, and attend the scheduled synchronous courses withthe other 20 or so participants. They will also get to use the following tools intandem with the courses to create curriculum, make books or just share ideas: UDLBook Builder, UDL Curriculum Self-Check, UDL Editions, and UDL Connect. Forexample, UDL Connect provides participants with a way to both discuss withother course takers and get ideas for lesson plans that they may choose tosubmit for review in their courses.

Who’s Using It?

Manytraditional public school teachers and schools use CAST’s professionaldevelopment offerings, as their schools have traditionally had high numbers ofSPED populations and resulting IEPs. Many of these public schools are in urbanenvironments. Independent and charter schools have had little to no usage ofCAST

Districtsusing CAST include San Diego Unified School District, New York City PublicSchools, and Baltimore City Public Schools. Baltimore uses CAST to comply withstate and federal laws. In 2012, the state of Maryland instituted the UDLInitiative, and by fall of 2014, school administrators will have to submitreports on what UDL implementation they have in place. As a result, CAST usagenumbers are skyrocketing in Maryland.

Content, Content, Content….

Teachersand administrators who complete the in-person or online courses should have anenhanced understanding of the connections between learning and neuroscience.They will know the three central UDL principles (multiple means ofrepresentation, multiple means of action/expression, and multiple means ofengagement) and the curriculum framework that incorporates these principles.Teachers will see numerous examples of practice that show alignment of UDL tocurriculum, and engage with the technologies that support UDL anddifferentiation.

Theonline courses address how to differentiate materials, particularly withspecial education students and English language learners. Administrators canalso learn UDL practices to support their teachers’ development.

Coursesare taught by UDL experts. Some  are CAST staff, others are UDL practitionersin the field who have worked with CAST and been identified as knowledgeable andarticulate about the subject.


TheCAST program does not specifically address content-aligned UDL implementation.A more experienced teacher who has a firm grasp of their material will likelybenefit most from CAST’s offerings.

Theother major landmine relates to time. Online courses are only offered during certainsemesters. As a result, online access to course materials is not available atthe drop of a hat.



CAST’sonline offerings are browser-based. Computers or tablets should have basicFlash installed for video media.


CASTcharges $1000 - $1200 per person for its 14-week online courses, includingaccess to the collection of UDL tech tools. A10% discount is offered to teams of three or more people from the same institutionwho register together. CAST also works with schools, districts and states todevelop customized workshops and develop costs based on what is required; thoseprices are set by CAST.


Participants in online courses and workshops can receive a certificateor a letter indicating number of seat hours, which participants can use forin-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 localuniversities).


The larger market for UDL and SPED-specific professionaldevelopment is relatively unpopulated with other competitors. A similaroffering is Project CHILD,which exclusively offers in-person, differentiation professional development.  CAST is unique in   offerings both in-person and online PD, aswell as its extensive collection of UDL tools.  


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