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Google Tools and UDL for Diverse Learners

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The Center for Applied Specialized Technology (CAST) defines Universal Design for learning (UDL) as “a framework to improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn” (CAST, 2018, para 1).  CAST developed UDL guidelines that call on educators to provide options in the form of multiple means of engagement with learning, multiple means of representation for information and multiple means of action and expression through which learners can demonstrate their understanding (CAST, 2018). This article aims to primarily provide educators and health practitioners, such as occupational therapists and speech-language pathologists, with resources for using the accessibility features of Google to provide a more inclusive learning experience for diverse learners.

Google Drive and Multiple Means of Engagement

Research shows that students benefit from multiple means of representation to encode and create meaning (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014). Through the use of Google Drive teachers can encourage students to collaborate on projects by using the comments feature as a way to provide feedback that encourages self-awareness and perseverance. Additionally, technology such as Google Drive provides students with the means to collaborate. Through the use of a Google Form students can ask people anywhere in the world about their opinions, preferences, or expertise. Collaboration can also be nourished within a classroom through the use of Google Docs and Google Slides. Google Docs and Google Slides allow for easy student collaboration as each student can be responsible for different parts of assignments simultaneously.

Google Drive and Multiple Means of Representation

Technology can help provide multiple means of representation and can play an important role in UDL. Using Google Drawing as a way of providing alternatives, especially illustrations, images or interactive graphics can make the information in the text easier to comprehend. Likewise, the use of Google Forms can provide to check for background knowledge as content can be developed to include Google files, video, audio, Google drawing and more.

Google Drive and Multiple Means of Action and Expression

Multiple means of action and expression refers to how a student demonstrates knowledge. Providing students with digital tools for interacting with the information may be helpful. Google offers various apps and extensions for addressing multiple means of action and expression. As an example, teachers can support students with writing-based difficulties by using dictation software such as Google’s Voice Typing. Google’s Voice Typing is free and works well on all Google Docs. Furthermore, through technology such as assistive technologies that can be used with Google Drive, include using mouth stylus on touch devices or option to use voice to text for typing. Now, while a paragraph or essay may demonstrate student understanding, it is certainly not the only way for a student to show what he or she has learned. Teachers may want to consider using Google Drawings for a student to create infographics. Through the use of Google Drawings, students can create infographics as persuasive texts to convince a city to provide more accessible sidewalks or to report data collected from a survey.

Google Classroom and Multiple Means of Engagement

No one means of engagement will be optimal for all students; providing multiple options for engagement is essential (Rose & Meyer, 2002; CAST, 2018). Teachers are encouraged to accept format choice (oral, written, visual) in assignments through the use of Google Hangout, Google Docs, and Google Slides. Include scaffolding to support novices by using Google Forms. The use of Google Forms can help to address goals and objectives, and encourage students to revisit information they may not clearly understand. Provide varied sources of information through the use of Google Classroom announcements and email through Google Mail as reminders. Finally, incorporate individual, partner, small group, and large group activities through the use of Google Docs and Google Teams.

Google Classroom and Multiple Means of Representation

Multiple means of representation refers to how students take in information. This can be done by providing resources in different formats, such as fact sheets by using Google Docs and Google Drawing, or Google Forms and Google Hangout for questions and discussion to highlight ideas.

Google Classroom and Multiple Means of Action and Expression

Learners differ in the ways that they can navigate a learning environment and express what they know (CAST, 2018, para 1). There is not one means of action and expression that will be optimal for all learners (CAST, 2018, para 1). For example, use Google Hangout to facilitate class communication and participation. Encourage students to demonstrate knowledge and skills in ways other than traditional tests and exams, for example, using Google Slides or Google Sites for portfolios.


Technology such as Google apps and extensions do not have to be defined in order to be effective in creating a UDL environment. UDL environments require multiple means of representation and expression to be available. Understanding UDL concepts and technologies can help teachers to create a classroom environment where students will be able to access the curriculum using their individual strengths which gives each student an opportunity for success.


Center for Applied Specialized Technology. (2018). About universal design for learning. Retrieved from  http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html#.WxA_y6kh3OQ

Center for Applied Specialized Technology. (2018). Principle: Provide multiple means of action & expression. Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org/action-expression

Keeler, A. (2013, April 21). Have students create infographics using Google Draw. Retrieved from https://alicekeeler.com/2013/04/21/have-students-create-infographics-using-google-draw/

Meyer, A., Rose, D. H., & Gordon, D. T. (2014). Universal design for learning: Theory and practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing.  

Rose, D. H., & Meyer, A. (2002). Teaching every student in the digital age: Universal design for learning. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.


(@jvanderm): Dr. Julia VanderMolen is an Assistant Professor for the Public Health program at Grand Valley State University. She received her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership with an emphasis in Career and Technical Education from Western Michigan University. The contribution of her research is to examine the benefits of assistive technology, UD and UDL. Additionally, Dr. VanderMolen’s recent work has included the benefits of 3D printing for the visually impaired and the concept of universal design and learning.


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