More on Universal Design for Learning. And An Example

In my last post, I shared a short podcast introducing the concept of Universal Design for Learning and how it can shape our pedagogy, both on the ground and in the online learning environment.


Curious to learn more, I dug around a bit and found this wonderful tutorial from the IRIS Center of Peabody College at Vanderbilt University.



The IRIS Center develops materials for university and college faculty, professional developers, and practicing educators at all levels.

This unit, “Universal Design for Learning:  Creating a Learning Environment that Challenges and Engages All Students,” is itself an interesting example of online universal design.

I encourage you to check it out, both to explore the context about universal design, and to see what it is like as a learning experiencing such a pedagogical method.

IRIS also provides this explanation of the adult learning theory which they have used in the design of their modules.

Have fun!

Making A Google Slides Presentation Work More Like a Website

As a follow-up to my last post about creating interactive images using Google Drawings, I thought I’d share this video about doing something similar with Google Slides.

Again, my source is Richard Byrne and his wonderful blog Free Technology for Teachers.

When creating such interactivity with Google Slides, you can design a first slide that has interactive links to the other slides in the presentation!  (I did NOT know this!)  This allows a slide presentation to function more like a website, keeping students interacting in more ways than just clicking to the next slide.

This is an easy example of how we can design digital  learning modules that engage students by allowing them some choice in how they approach the subject matter.  Students can easily repeat slides.  They can choose the order in which they access material.

Creating Interactive Images Using Google Drawing

Imagine having a static image–a map, a chart, a graph, an infographic, a poem, almost anything–which you then overlay with clickable points which students can choose in order to access more information about a particular aspect of the image.

Or imagine asking students to create such images for each other as teaching aids, assessments of knowledge, or paper-alternative research projects!

The possibilities for how you might incorporate such ideas are endless.  The project could be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.

And the only thing you really need to know is how to add hyperlinks to images using Google Drawing.

This video by Richard Byrne, curator of Free Tech for Teachers (one of my favorite sources for interesting ideas about using technology in the classroom), shows you in under four minutes how you can do this.

It’s remarkably easy.

Plus, it features the world’s largest buffalo!  Who can resist that?

Once you see how it works, the possibilities for how you or your students might use it are really endless.

Have fun!

Know The Redundancy Principle to Improve Online Teaching and Learning

The Redundancy Principle.

What is it and how can it help you become a better instructor in online and blended learning environments?

The redundancy principle basically says this:

Redundant material interferes with rather than facilitates learning.  Redundancy occurs when the same information is presented concurrently in multiple forms.

Check out this source, “The Redundancy Principle in Multimedia Learning” for more.

This means, for instance, that if you put written text on a screen during a presentation and then read that text as part of the talk or narration, redundancy occurs and it actually hurts learning!

Does that surprise you?  It did me, the first time I encountered it.  I believed–as do many other teachers–that putting text on a screen and reading it provides multiple inputs and is better for reaching more students in more ways.

But research shows that is not true!  In fact, this practice results in information overload that inhibits learning.

The best practice:  combine audio narration with visual images!  Use bits of text as visual elements in a slide.

You can learn more about the redundancy principle in this short videos:


Ways to Make Your Presentations RESONATE

Interested in learning more about how you can craft presentations–both online and in the classroom–which move your students to action?

How can we create presentations which help students act to engage more deeply with their learning and the material in our courses?

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Check out the wonderful book Resonate:  Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences, by Nancy Duarte.  She has also authored two other best-selling books, slide: ology  The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations, and  Illuminate:  Ignite Change Through Speeches, Stories, Ceremonies, and Symbols.

This book ignites information by linking it with story and visuals.  Duarte shows us how to combine these three things (information, story, and visuals) to inspire our audience to action.

Resonate is available to Hope College authorized users as an electronic resource through Van Wylen library.

Have Out-of-Class Groups Report Their Work to You via Video

I have my students work in groups fairly frequently.

Some of the most critical skills in my courses involve seeking and giving feedback on works in progress, and functioning in collaborative community.  Sometimes students work in pairs, sometimes in groups as big as five.  They might trade short portions of work for quick review, or spend hours discussing longer works.

In hybrid and online classes, I want this work to continue, so I need ways to assess it that don’t rely on my circling among working groups in a classroom.  After all, my online students are working in places and times of their own choosing, often long after I (a professor of middle age and a fairly boring life), have gone to bed!

How can I know that the groups met?  How can I find out what they did, what difficulties they encountered with the course concepts, what questions they need answered so that we can go forward?

My initial thoughts involved having students fill out a group report sheet, something that would ask the questions I had about their work and required the signatures of all present at the meeting.

That was okay, but they hated filling out the sheets and frankly, I didn’t much enjoy reading them.  They felt lifeless and led me to think the group work was failing.

But when I talked to them about their group work, they were excited and articulate.

Hmmm.  Maybe the group work isn’t the problem.  Maybe the reporting is the problem.

When I design pedagogical experiences, I consider students my “audience.”  So I asked myself, as I always do with anything I create to be read or experience by others, what does my audience value and how can I use that to achieve my purpose?

Eventually, I landed on the notion that students love selfies and video and to watch their peers’ productions of the same.

So I revised my group report assignment, which took very little effort.

Now, instead of writing group reports, my students film their reports on a phone or laptop webcam, at the end of their group meeting.

They have a specific list of questions from me which each person must answer in the course of the video.  They simply set the camera running, and pass the camera around as they answer them.  A group of four might create a video of six minutes or so (I have a maximum limit of 8).  They simply upload the video to one of their Google Drives and share it with me for viewing.

What a hit!  Students tell me they enjoy making the quick video reports, but as important, I love them–for several reasons.

First, students do a more complete job of articulating answers to my questions than they ever did using written forms–even though the questions are the same!

Second, I get to enjoy their personalities, which really come out when they create a video.

Third, because they are talking into a camera and I can observe non-verbal behaviors, I have found that I get a better sense of what they really do and don’t understand as they articulate their answers to my questions.

Fourth, I learn their names much faster if I do these early in the term.

Finally, reviewing the videos is actually fun for me.  The students are more relaxed and often very funny as they talk to me from a coffee shop or a dorm basement.  It takes me less than a half an hour to review an entire class’s worth of reports and it is a delight.

Next time you need groups of students to turn a report about their activities, consider having them create an informal video report, guided by a set of questions you devise.  See what you think of the results.

A Few More Tips for an Effective Online Presentation

Creating an effective presentation which students will encounter online is quite different from creating an effective presentation which students will encounter in your presence.

textbook and phone

Whether you are creating an online presentation based in video, slides, a website, an interactive infographic, or text, asking yourself these few questions can help you create something with which students will engage.

  • Why should your students bother to spend time on this (hot tip:  “because I told them to” is not a good answer)?  Have you articulated this for them?
  • Is the presentation seven minutes or less?
  • Have you organized the information in a clear way?
  • Does the presentation model the information given in some way?
  • Have you balanced the visual with the verbal?
  • Have you thought about visual patterning (colors, headlines, templates, etc) to provide unity?
  • If you have audio, is it loud and clear?
  • Will it work if your students watch it on a phone?
  • Can you name one thing about your presentation that will make your students smile?   Have you balanced purpose with personality?  Does it carry the same vibe as your in-person classes?

Keeping these tips in mind as you create your online presentations will challenge your pedagogical creativity with more positive results for students!

And remember:  if you ask students to create digital presentations, share these tips with them too!

Podcast: Five Ways to Flip Your Classroom

 This terrific episode  of the CoolCat Teacher podcast features educator, professor, YouTuber Keith Hughes with tips on flipping your classroom and keeping students engaged and motivated.

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“As the producer of HipHughes History, he was recognized in 2012 by YouTube and Khan Academy with a YouTube Edu Guru Award. Keith has also appeared on the History Channel’s United Stuff of America and AHC’s America’s Most Badass.”

Cool, huh?  Hughes has spent his career and succeeded at engaging learners of all kinds.

Why would we not want to spend a few minutes to find out what he recommends as we think about flipping our classrooms?  I think what he emphasizes may surprise you (it did me!)

The webpage also has a transcript if you prefer to read the interview rather than listen to it.

Check out other wonderful resources on The CoolCat Teacher Blog by Vicki Davis. 

Building Quizzes and Study Guides into Diagrams

Want to build quizzes or study guides around diagrams, maps, or other visuals?  Check out the new feature of Quizlet (which has long has a strong flashcard offering) called Diagrams.

Here is a quick introduction.

Even if you don’t want to use this to create practices or assessments, why not encourage your students to do so?

Images can be uploaded to customize the experience.

A longer step-by-step video looking at this new feature.

Lots to take inspiration from as we consider the creation of our course’s learning experiences.





Simple Video Responses to Content

When I talk to folks about using video for projects in classes, often people say they’d like to do it, but it just seems like so much work!  Cameras and microphones and editing software and uploading and on and on…

antique movie camera

True.  Sort of.  It depends.

Video projects can be advanced and require all that work.  But using video in a class doesn’t have to require a big production!

Or they can be more simple, a whole lot easier to manage, and still bring a liveliness to the classroom as students explore the difference between how words and images work together and how written words work on a page.

Here’s an example most of us with students of high school age and older can try:  ask students to film a one-take response, under sixty seconds, to something they have learned recently in class.  No polishing or editing.  Just respond to the question or prompt and post the video to share with the teacher or with the entire class.

Most students can do this quickly and easily on their smart phones.  These can be uploaded to Dropbox or YouTube or a variety of other places.  Trust me, they know how to do this.

I prefer having students upload them to their “.edu” Google Drives and then sharing the link with just me or the class, either via email or on our LMS.  This allows for easier privacy and keeps my LMS from becoming bloated with video files.

If you use response papers in your course, why not switch a few of them out with these simple videos?  And then, add a cognitive twist by having students talk about their experiences filming versus writing.  Which do they like better and why?  Talk to them about their performance in each area–which assignment produces stronger content?  Higher student satisfaction?  And why?

Together you can learn a lot that will help you think about teaching in your future and will help them think about effective communication in their futures.