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Whatever it Takes – Supporting Personalized Learning Remotely


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student studying from home

Beatriz Arnillas

By L. Beatriz Arnillas, itslearning

Expert Learners

More than ten years ago, the Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation (BCSC) in Columbus, Indiana made a commitment to implement Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to remove learning barriers, so all students could learn in the ways they learn best.

“Diversity and learner variability are the norm, not the exception,” says Brenny Kummer, Bartholomew’s Coordinator of Instructional Technology. BCSC educators aim to nurture intrinsic motivation and learner autonomy. UDL provides an excellent framework to gradually move students away from external incentives towards student ownership and self-efficacy. As a result, BCSC has created an environment where all students become expert learners.

One LMS Login, Infinite Connections

Four years into their digital implementation, BCSC was using five different learning management systems (LMS) and were still unable to achieve the expected UDL delivery across the board. Five years ago, they decided to be more strategic about the design of their digital learning ecosystem. For Bartholomew, this meant distributing the same kind of devices at each school level and a centralized platform where all users could have access to all learning resources. They evaluated and identified itslearning as the LMS that best fit their educational strategy.

One of the critical ingredients for this decision was the itslearning SmartLibrary (or LOR), which provides the ability to search for learning objects in various formats through learning standards and keywords. Brenny explains, “Instead of going to Google or Teachers Pay Teachers, we just go to the itslearning LOR for publisher content, teacher-created materials, and Open Education Resources (OER).” Thanks to the seamless connection with their G-Suite, BCSC users benefit from the ability to link existing resources from their drive and use Read&Write for accessibility without ever leaving the LMS environment.

What Does UDL Across the District Mean?

Educators know that UDL’s framework is based on three fundamental principles: multiple means of expression, representation, and engagement. But what does this mean in practice? Teachers at Bartholomew use technology when it is beneficial for the students, and both teachers and students have choices. If we are to develop autonomous learners, teachers must also have the flexibility to choose how to use the curriculum and reach their goals.

Nick Williams, Director of Technology in Bartholomew is a former Science teacher. He explains his approach, “I started by re-thinking assignments. I gave students a study guide based on the unit and let them choose to make a video, create doodle diagrams of a chapter, or write an essay.” All these student products can be managed and stored in the LMS portfolio tool, library, or accessed from G Suite and Microsoft O365.

In itslearning, teachers and students can find or create learning objects in variable formats. They can also design lessons with loops and branching to deliver flexible paths. Brenny describes how the LMS supports flexibility and student autonomy:

In itslearning every lesson, activity resource, or test question can be aligned to specific learning standards or student outcomes. Teachers can create a pre-assessment at the start of a learning pathway with branching options, based on what the students already know.”

Brenny Kummer, BCSC

Branching and flexible options are great, and the BCSC environment offers much more. Peer reviews, portable projects, self-assessment, constant communication and feedback, secure sharing, and simple, repeatable workflows save users time. The Bartholomew students and teachers can focus on learning and growth instead of worrying about what technology to use and how to use it.

UDL: Motivated, Purposeful, Resourceful Strategic and Goal-Directed

UDL Guidelines

Graphic by Kendra Grant. Adapted from udlguidelins.cast.org

Like we said in the beginning, the UDL model proposes more than accessibility. The goal is to make sure that every student leaves school ready for careers, college, and infinite life opportunities. A significant aspect of the model is to retain young people’s natural love of learning. The goal of a UDL environment is to nurture intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy.

Impressive Results

Bartholomew, (population 47,000), is a manufacturing hub in southern Indiana. Their 11,500 students come from diverse backgrounds and many different countries. The students in Bartholomew speak more than 60 languages, and English is a second language for 11% of them. 45% percent receive free lunches and 13% identify as students with special needs.

  • 100% of the students in BCSC complete Senior Portfolios. Based on UDL principles, Bartholomew does not measure learning and growth only through scores. Each student builds an ePortfolio to compile proof of their education and leaves school ready for a career or college. Senior Portfolios are based on a project and includes a paper, a presentation, and a portfolio explaining their research, actions, learning, and outcomes.
  • 90% of BCSC students graduate and 88.7% are college/career ready.
  • 87% of the students that go to college complete their degree.

Participation in Advanced Placement (AP) courses is an important indicator of student engagement and college readiness. The chart below illustrates Bartholomew’s ability to prepare students for college and close the performance gaps.

Chart showing Advanced Placement percentages

Since implementing itslearning, BCSC has been able to increase the participation of students in AP courses from 63% to 70% – well above the State of Indiana and global percentages.

Whatever It Takes

Before the arrival of coronavirus, 98% of students and staff used itslearning regularly. Parents understood the UDL model and were already familiar with the technology. They knew how to log in through the parent portal to see the lesson of the day, and view their children’s engagement level and outcomes. They receive announcements and even personal chat messages from teachers or their students, and they can respond immediately using cellphones.

Nick adds, “If you give parents a little information, they definitely want more. Sometimes parents log in with their students to see the complete course, or as our customer support team says, they practice ‘shoulder surfing’ to support their children as they do their work.”

The pandemic has created a stressful environment for people everywhere, and Bartholomew is no exception. However, when our video crew visited the Bartholomew community shortly after the school closing, they found students, teachers, staff, and parents engaged and intentionally celebrating their ability to stay connected, learn and play. Don’t take our word for it. Watch Bartholomew’s 3-minute video “Whatever It Takes”:

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