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Project CISL: Flexible, Accessible and Adaptive Digital Learning

Explore and create

Explore and create : Creation lab

Tuesday, December 1, 1:00–1:50 pm PST (Pacific Standard Time)

Dr. Bob Dolan  
Dr. Robert Dolan  
Kim Ducharme  
Dr. Boris Goldowsky  

Digital content is growing in education. See a demonstration of tools for creating and viewing digital content so that it’s accessible, engaging, adaptive and supportive for all students, especially those with disabilities. Participants will get to try out these new tools during the session and help shape their further development!

Audience: Coaches, Teachers, Professional developers
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices required
Attendee device specification: Smartphone: Android, iOS
Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS
Topic: Innovative learning environments
Grade level: 6-12
Subject area: Language arts, Special education
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Use technology to create, adapt and personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences and needs.
For Students:
Empowered Learner
  • Students articulate and set personal learning goals, develop strategies leveraging technology to achieve them and reflect on the learning process itself to improve learning outcomes.
Additional detail: Session recorded for video-on-demand

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

Have you ever encountered an “online learning resource” that was actually just a document designed for print and delivered online? While the increasing presence of technology in classrooms has the power to make classroom materials much more flexible, customizable, and supported, too often this promise is not being achieved.

The Center on Inclusive Software for Learning, or CISL, is a 5-year effort to create a suite of free, innovative tools that harness the power of technology to support the diverse needs of today’s learners in the online environment. Along with our student and teacher co-designers, we are creating technology based on the principles of Universal Design for Learning to provide equitable and improved learning opportunities for all.

Our student-facing learning environment, Clusive, encourages students to explore varying settings, supports, and scaffolds to understand how they learn best. Students can adjust how text is presented (adjusting font, size, colors, and spacing), learn new vocabulary through glossary definitions and read-aloud functionality, and adjust the complexity of text in an adaptive way. Our tools store these preferences for users across pieces of content and adapt them to support ongoing learning.

We are also focusing on helping educators create accessible content by developing authoring systems that prompt them to address the needs of all learners.

In this hands-on session, participants will be introduced to beta releases of our tools, accessing open-source resources that can be incorporated into instructional practice. Participants will hear a brief overview of the project, try out the tools, and have the opportunity to discuss and provide feedback and suggestions for the next phase of development. Participants will leave this session with a deeper understanding of the importance of ensuring the accessibility of digital learning materials and new knowledge of how to find, use, and create digital materials that meet diverse needs.


1) Brief introduction of presenters and CISL project. 5 minutes
2) In the group chat, describe one challenge you’ve seen students face when they access digital content. 5 minutes
3) Introduction/demonstration of Clusive. 10 minutes
4)Hands-on exploration of Clusive, either trying a scavenger hunt or self-guided. 10 minutes
5) Discussion of scenarios--consider a few example students with a variety of reading challenges. How might a tool like Clusive be used to help that student? What would and wouldn’t work for them? 15 minutes
6) Demonstration of content finding and authoring tools. 10 minutes
7) Final comments and impressions. 5 minutes

Supporting research

Evidence for our overall approach comes from multiple sources including the research on online learning for students with disabilities (Schiller et al., 2018), the principles of online accessibility (Hashley & Stahl, 2014), Universal Design for Learning (Rao et al., 2014; Meyer et al., 2014), and educational technology integration in K-12 classrooms (Delgado et al., 2015).

On our project website we have begun documenting research literature and practical examples supporting each feature in our software tools; these research summaries can be found at To take one example: having keywords bolded or highlighted increases knowledge retention for students with dyslexia (Chen et al., 2015). This type of research informs tool features, as do our student co-designers.

Chen, C.J., Keong, M.W.Y., Teh, C.S., & Chuah, K.M. (2015). Learners with dyslexia: Exploring their experiences with different online reading affordances. Themes in Science and Technology Education, 8(1).

Delgado, A. J., Wardlow, L., McKnight, K., & O'Malley, K. (2015). Educational technology: A review of the integration, resources, and effectiveness of technology in K-12 classrooms. Journal of Information Technology Education, 14, 397-416.

Hashey, A. I., & Stahl, S. (2014). Making online learning accessible for students with disabilities. Teaching Exceptional Children, 46(5), 70-78.

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

Rao, K., Ok, M.W., & Bryant, B.R. (2014). A Review of Research on Universal Design Educational Models. Remedial and Special Education, 35 (3), 153-166.

Schiller, E., Blackorby, J., Bakia, M., Friedman K., & Gardner, S. (2018). Emerging digital technologies in STEM learning: A research agenda for improving success of students with learning disabilities or with autism spectrum disorder. Arlington, VA: SRI International.

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Dr. Bob Dolan, Diverse Learners Consulting
Dr. Robert Dolan, CAST

As Founder/Principal of Diverse Learners Consulting, and Senior Innovation Scientist at CAST, Bob brings 30+ years of experience in neuroscience, learning science, instructional design, assessment, and software architecture and engineering. His research and innovation efforts focus on the design and implementation of technology-based solutions, tools, and processes in education, emphasizing advanced data analytics to enable adaptive and accessible solutions for neurodiverse users, including those with disabilities. Bob has served as principal investigator on research projects funded by the NIH, NSF, and the Dept. of Ed. Bob received a PhD from MIT in Brain and Cognitive Sciences in 1992.

Kim Ducharme, CAST

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