Introduction to Intersectionality

In 1989, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a lawyer and scholar of Critical Race Theory (CRT), coined the term intersectionality to describe the multiple and layered oppressions experienced by African American women. Over time, this term has been used to describe many aspects of social identity, particularly focusing on race, gender, and class oppression. Intersectionality allows us to consider the impact of multiple oppressions on individuals and groups. For example, asking what it means to be poor in the United States is different from asking what it means to be a poor, Black, woman in the United States, which is different from asking what it means to be a poor, Black, disabled woman in the Southern United States. 

Intersectionality matters because, if we don’t recognize and support our most marginalized citizens, they will continue to fall through the cracks. In colleges and universities, this means that our most marginalized students may need additional support to perform to their full potential. Addressing one source of oppression may not provide enough support to students who are working to overcome multiple sources of oppression.

Disability in Higher Ed

Disability is an obstacle for many college students. Consider these statistics:

  • 19% of undergraduate students report having a disability. 
  • 28% of American Indian/Alaska Native students reported a disability.
  • 21% of White students reported having a disability (rounded to nearest percent). 
  • 17% of the students with disabilities are Black. (National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], 2019).

When considering disability–or any other identity–we need to consider how other characteristics might compound the marginalization of students with disabilities. Let’s consider how race intersects with disability.

While the percentage of Black people with disabilities in higher education is lower than the percentage of White people with disabilities in higher education, in the general population, the reverse is true. According to Courtney-Long, E.A., Romano, S.D., Carroll, D.D. et al. (2017), 1 in 4 Black people have a disability, while 1 in 5 White people have a disability. This means that more white people with disabilities are accessing and progressing through higher education

It is also important to recognize that the actual percentages of students with disabilities is higher as many students choose not to disclose their disabilities to their institutions. According to one study, “9% of students who identified as disabled did not disclose this information to their college or university” (Taylor & Shallish, 2019, p. 10).

There are clearly opportunity and equity issues that disproportionately impact students of color with disabilities in higher education. 

Yet, when we work to create learning environments that are inclusive of students with disabilities, we often neglect to address intersecting sources of oppression. For example, accessibility requirements do not consider how disability intersects with other oppressions, such as class or race. 

Universal Design for Learning

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach that is commonly cited as a way to meet the needs of all learners. UDL includes a framework with three general principles (multiple means of engagement, multiple means of representation, and multiple means of action and expression) each of which includes multiple guidelines and checkpoints for actual practice (, n.d.). The goal of UDL is to increase access and usability for the greatest number of people possible. A UDL approach is structured and practical and, despite the critiques included here, is lauded for its utility by course designers and teachers alike. 

UDL, however, does not meet the needs of all learners, particularly our most marginalized learners. Let me repeat: UDL does not meet the needs of our most marginalized learners, as much as we would like to believe it does. Let me highlight a few of the reasons for this.

  1. As Dolmage (2017) explains in the book Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education, UDL’s emphasis on universality is problematic because universality is connected to normativity. (p. 134). Dolmage (2017) states that UDL has gained recognition by appealing to the majority, but in doing so “the needs of the majority once again trump the needs of those who have been traditionally excluded—people with disabilities” (p. 135). UDL is viewed as a framework for addressing the needs of disabled students, but its actual emphasis is on meeting the needs of the majority.
  2. With its emphasis on “multiple means” UDL aims to include multiple learner identities and preferences; however, it “overlooks the importance of feedback from its own users” (Dolmage, 2017, p. 126). In this way, UDL ignores the individual circumstances of actual students
  3. By focusing on the “means,” over the students themselves, UDL is not an intersectional approach to design and teaching. Defining what a Universal Design looks like without considering the particularized realities of actual students results in the continued marginalization and erasure of students who are not in the majority. 

UDL has popularized educational practices that serve many students, but in doing so, it has effectively erased the needs of some of the most marginalized students–those with disabilities. Those students with disabilities who are also part of other oppressed groups are increasingly at a disadvantage.

There’s no doubt that UDL is an incredibly useful tool and makes our course designs better, but we must not fail to recognize that UDL is not a panacea. UDL should be one of many tools we use to meet the needs of students, but let’s not forget that we need a truly intersectional approach to design and teaching. Without this, we, unwittingly or not, are contributing to the marginalization and erasure of our most disadvantaged students.


About Universal Design for Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved on June 8, 2020 from

Courtney-Long, E.A., Romano, S.D., Carroll, D.D. et al. (2017). Socioeconomic Factors at the Intersection of Race and Ethnicity Influencing Health Risks for People with Disabilities. J. Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, 4, 213–222. 

Dolmage, J. (2017). Universal Design. In Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education (pp. 115-152). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Retrieved June 8, 2020, from

Taylor, A. & Shallish, L. (2019). The logic of bio-meritocracy in the promotion of higher education equity, Disability & Society, DOI: 10.1080/09687599.2019.1613962

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. (2019). Digest of Education Statistics, 2017 (2018-070), Chapter 3. Retrieved June 10, 2020 from 

Audio in Online Learning banner.

Audio is a term we all understand on some level. Commonly we think of audio as the transmission, reception, or reproduction of sound. Audible sound is what we hear. So, when we consider audio as an element of course design we are thinking about how sound can be used to communicate or support learning in an online course environment. Integrating audio in course delivery can be quite powerful if done well.

Perhaps the most common method of using sound in an asynchronous online course is via narrated lecture. The narrated lecture is typically a voice over a slide presentation or screencast. It can be an essential tool of instruction if designed effectively.

Another way the voice of an instructor can be incorporated into a course is via audio feedback on student assignments. These are short audio recordings that have been found to help build a sense of instructor presence in an online course.

Highly focused use of audio is also utilized in subjects where audio is, in essence, the topic at hand. Here we are considering language, music, and media arts courses as examples.

Other valued voices are often brought into the online learning experience via guest interviews in either audio or video format. Not to be left out, the voices of students are increasingly present in online course via tools such as VoiceThread and university provided video portals such as Kaltura Media Space. And with tools such as Zoom recording audio interviews and voice overs is easier than ever. With the availability of media platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, Amazon Prime, Audible, and Apple Music and Podcasts the ability to bring external audio resources into the online experience seems almost limitless.

Audio is also used as a supporting resource for text-based content in online courses. In this case screen readers may typically provide the audio support. When using audio as a primary learning resource it is necessary to provide text-based transcripts as accessibility options. A fuller description of making audio accessible can be found at the W3C website.

The examples listed above are common ways we integrate audio elements into online learning. Are there other perhaps different ways we might consider? In the next few paragraphs we will explore a few ideas of how we might use audio in specialized ways in course design.

Specialized Audio Use

Orientation & Review Audio

Audio is a great tool to use when smaller segments of media should be used to orient students to a part of an online course. Think about short, more ephemeral, voice messages that can be easily produced and updated from term to term as the course changes. These audio segments need not be highly produced but should be of good quality. This type of audio segment reconnects students with the instructor via voice.

Listen to the orientation audio sample below that was used in an online course: RE 270 – Outdoor Recreation Resources, Behavior and Values | Module III Orientation by Dr. Craig Rademacher; Northern Michigan University c. 2012. (00:02:56).  [download orientation audio transcript  from]

Similar short segments of audio may be used to review sections of content. The review audio may be produced by instructors or students. These audio reviews may be used in preparation for an exam, major project, or collaborations within the course. The goal of such reviews may vary but certainly one goal would be to re-focus the listener to the task at hand while providing timely tips or learning objectives.

One of the things you may have noticed about the audio clip above is the integration of music to the orientation message. Purposeful music selections can support the emotional feel of a course or module being introduced. Music can also serve as an audio cue, or audio branding, for a course. So, selecting audio stingers, or music introductions, can highlight that a particular message or topic is coming or reinforce an emotional tone if carefully planned.

The primary benefit of using audio for orientation and review is that audio is less production intensive making it a quick way to provide feedback. Audio is also fairly easy to edit with a free cross-platform audio tool such as Audacity.


The oral traditions of learning go back centuries. Prior to print, learning was interwoven in spoken traditions, legends, and cultural stories. Today story remains a potent vehicle for learning. As you might imagine audio is a great vehicle for story.

An example of this is an Oregon State University political science course titled Governing after the Zombie Apocalypse which was designed and taught by Dr. Rorie Solberg. The story that underpins this course is that a natural disaster has caused the breakdown of the U.S. government. In response citizens must create a new government including a bill of rights and constitution. Students become the citizens creating that new government taking into account marginal populations such as the surviving zombies which are called “blues”due to their virus-caused color.

Audio is used creatively in the course by periodically inserting radio broadcasts about odd happenings around the country. Although not the heart of the effort of the course, these audio presentations, really imagined radio newscasts, provide situational tenor and decision points as students go about creating a new government. Listen to a segment of a mock radio broadcast below.

Mock radio broadcast excerpt: Story by Dr. Rorie Solberg. Produced by Oregon State University Ecampus. Voice acting credit: Warren Blyth (00:02:04)

This segment highlights how audio can be used to shape and carry a narrative through an online course. You might imagine how different narrative audio presentations may support history, literature, or science courses.

Soundscapes & Nature Sounds

Experiencing authentic places or environments is believed to be a valuable form of learning. This idea is a driving force behind field-based learning and experiential learning. Audio soundscapes provide access to authentic acoustic environments that can support online learning about the context of an environment. The environment may be urban, rural, or perhaps in a wilderness-like setting. Soundscapes may also be used to create sense of cognitive and emotional world building that can be used in instruction. Soundscapes typically feature a molar perspective of the acoustic environment.

Listen to an example of such a soundscape titled Elk Rut and Rain Shower — Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado by Gayi immersions (00:28:03) at SoundCloud. (link will open in a new tab)

Other, more specific sounds of nature are potentially positive resources for online instruction. Below is a sound sample of the call of a common raven. Listen to the raven’s call.

Audio recorded in the Beaver Basin Wilderness at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan in 2010 | Craig Rademacher. (00:00:26)

Now imagine how this simple recording may be utilized in a course. It might be used to help identify ravens from crows in an ornithology course. Perhaps this audio clip could be used to help communicate a sense of isolation for listeners studying wilderness values. Or, perhaps it could be used to introduce the poem by Edgar Allen Poe titled The Raven. In each case the audio would be used intentionally to deepen the context or experience of the learner.

Fidelity Matters

Sound quality is an important factor when selecting and using audio in an online course. Audio files need to be of sufficient quality to clearly indicate what you are expecting students to hear. Poor audio, or a confusing sound recording, is experienced as distracting and student will likely tune out. Recording and editing audio does require some knowledge and practice. And there are many places where you can learn to produce audio. LinkedIn Learning offers courses in audio production, podcasting, and even how to select a microphone. So, if you are interested give it a try.

If you are not inclined to produce your own audio content there are resources available where you can find high quality audio for use in courses. Some of these resources are royalty free. Others may require licensing of audio for use.

Final Thoughts

We have reviewed how audio is commonly used in online courses and how we might think about new ways of integrating audio. As you explore the links to resources below start to think about your next course design. How can you augment the text and video you normally use with audio? How might you leverage voice, narrative, or soundscapes to connect online students to the context, authenticity, and humanity of learning? You might want to experiment with audio at first. Start small. If it works, then you will have truly found a sound idea for online course design.

Select Audio Resources

Royalty free online resources:

Podcast Resources
There are several ways to find audio podcasts to review for inclusion in a course. Apple Podcasts is a dominant resource in this area. Apple streams over 750,000 podcast shows with over 20 million episodes. Google Play Music is another good resource. Podcast feeds can also be found simply by browsing for podcasts online.

Audiobooks are found in many online book seller sites such as Amazon ( Additionally some more specific sites such as also provide resources.

Soundscapes and Nature Sound Resources


**Special thank to Matt Djubasak and Chris Lindberg for their contributions to this post.

Man Reading Touchscreen
Man Reading Touchscreen” | Image by Karolina Grabowska from Pixabay


Five years ago, I wrote a small entry in the ORTESOL Newsletter about the then state of “adaptive software capable of teaching, testing, giving feedback, and most importantly, adjusting to student needs” (Chambers, 2015: 13). I mentioned a set of technologies colloquially referred to as the “Digital Aristotle”, or ‘Project Halo’ (Friedland et al., 2004), and the update to this six years later (Gunning et al., 2010). The Digital Aristotle was described as ‘an application that will encompass much of the world’s scientific knowledge and be capable of applying sophisticated problem-solving to answer novel questions’ (Friedland et al., 2004).

At the time, I was writing about a more grandiose piece of software that might one day replace the repetitive tasks of an ESOL classroom. The idea, or perhaps the concern about this technology for existing teachers was where they would fit in once a set of algorithms could replicate much of the day to day learning of a language course.

Five years on, I turn to how learning designers might be able to incorporate AI into course design.


First, a question: is there currently a program capable of teaching a course and adapting to student needs like an instructor? The answer is still no. Certain technology has, however, progressed to the point that portions of an online course can be enhanced by AI.

Adaptive Learning

Quite possibly the most exciting development in artificial intelligence for learning is that of adaptive learning. This concept has been in the works for a while with certain platforms utilizing algorithms to produce content that adapt to specific learner needs.

Instructure’s Canvas for instance, allows Instructional Designers to set up ‘Differentiated Assignments’ (Canvas Doc Team, How do I view differentiated assignments with different due dates in a course?, 2017) and ‘MasteryPaths’ (Canvas Doc Team, How do I use MasteryPaths in course modules?, 2020) which ‘allows targeted learning activities to be assigned to different users and sections’ (‘MasteryPaths’). Currently this is a manual process with course designers creating every assessment beforehand. The best students might not see the additional activities. It is not ‘intelligent’ in the way that course content is adapted specifically for a learner’s needs and on the fly. To do this requires large amounts of data and most importantly, AI training to see patterns, strengths, and weaknesses for a particular learner.

This is why Duolingo records progress at every step and offers learners a review of concepts the learner struggles with in previous activities. Platforms that provide an automated review often use large question banks and flag questions that learners initially, or continuously incorrectly answer. An intelligent AI could create novel questions based on learner goals, data from prior students, and information about the subject matter. An example of this is Google or Amazon’s ability to predict and offer products or suggestions based on the vast amount of information provided to them every single day. Certain training providers are currently working with application developers to produce tools capable of this on-the-fly feedback and adaptation.


At the OLC Innovate 2020 conference, Kasey Gandham from Ed Tech company Paperback and Kim A. Scalzo, Executive Director of Open SUN, demonstrated how Paperback’s AI is being used with online discussions to help students write higher quality posts. As students write their discussion posts, the AI program checks for “close-ended questions, plagiarism, insufficient length, content about class logistics, profanity and abuse’ (Gandham & Scalzo, 2020). After this, if required, the post is moderated and the learner receives email feedback saying why and how to revise their post. The AI is also capable of suggesting posts to feature as the best of the week by analyzing, among other things, sentence depth and ‘curiosity score’.

More than a Quiz

The role and importance of ‘big data’ in online learning cannot be understated. Technology already exists that records the time learners interact with learning materials. It knows where they are clicking/tapping on the screen and how long activities hold learner attention. Using this data, AI could suggest, or even craft assessments that are adapted specifically to a single learner’s usage habits. Traditional quizzes which assess information retention could become only part of the larger formative assessment of the entire course, at every point in the course, without the learner even realizing any of this is happening.


AI-enhanced design has the ability to transform Instructional Designers like never before. It could help us to modify our own design practices based on how learners are responding to course content. Through learner feedback, it could demonstrate which activities are most appealing and conducive to personalized learning goals. Big data’s role in recording learner interactions with content can provide insights into preferred learning styles and methods of instruction. Instructional Designers will have to continue adapting with the technology just as we have done in our everyday lives.


Canvas Doc Team. (2017, April 19). How do I view differentiated assignments with different due dates in a course? Retrieved July 02, 2020, from

Canvas Doc Team. (2020, April 6). How do I use MasteryPaths in course modules? Retrieved July 02, 2020, from 

Chambers, P. (2015, Spring). “Digital Aristotle” and ESL: What does it mean for us?. ORTESOL Quarterly Newsletter, 38(1), P.12-13.

Friedland, N.S. et al. (2004). ‘Project Halo: Towards a Digital Aristotle’, American Association for Artificial Intelligence, 25(4), pp. 29-47. DOI: http://

Gandham, K. and Scalzo, K., A. (2020, June). USING AI IN DISCUSSION TO SCALE ACCESS TO QUALITY ONLINE EDUCATION. OLC Innovate 2020, Online Presentation. 

Gunning, D. et al. (2010). ‘Project Halo Update – Progress Toward Digital Aristotle’, Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, 31(3), pp. 33-58. DOI: http://

Canvas Survey with Mud Card Questions

New online instructors often express concern about the loss of immediate student feedback they get by teaching in person. These educators count on in-class interaction to help shape their lesson plans in real-time. Student questions, lack of interaction, or even blank looks, help them understand what concepts are difficult for their learners. Others just feel more comfortable with the two-way nature of in-classroom communication.

But teaching in an online environment doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive from gauging student interest and comprehension.

Mud Cards

child in mud puddle in rain boots

I was first introduced to the concept of “Mud Cards” or “Muddiest Points” through an open course MIT offered in Active Learning in College-Level Science and Engineering Courses. The instructor described handing out index cards to each student at the end of class asking students to write down an answer to one or more of a few prompts (MIT OpenCourseWare, 2015).

In an online course, this could easily take the form of a weekly survey that looked something like this:

  • What concept from this week did you find confusing?
  • Is there anything you found particularly compelling?
  • What would you like to know more about?

Potential Benefits

The answers received have multiple potential benefits. First of all, instructors will get to look for trends in a particular class.

  • Are learners missing something central to a course learning outcome?
  • Is there a concept they need additional resources to master prior to an upcoming exam?
  • What excites them the most?

Getting this information weekly can provide information that is normally gathered during in-class interactions. It may even be more informative, as participation is likely to be higher (or can be incentivized through participation points). This feedback can be used to add content, perhaps through an announcement at the beginning of the next unit, addressing any common problems students reported. It can also help improve the content or activities for the next iteration of the online course.

The second benefit of an activity like this one is that it is an easy way to introduce active learning to your online course. Active learning, with origins in Constructivism, includes the idea that students build knowledge through “doing things and thinking about what they are doing.”

Rather than passively watching narrated slide-based lectures or videos, or completing assigned readings, they are asked to think about what is being taught to them. Each student, by reflecting on questions like the examples above, takes some responsibility for their own mastery of the content.

3-2-1 (a similar tool)

I recently attended the keynote at the Oregon state Ecampus Virtual Faculty Forum by Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2020). At the beginning of her presentation, she told all of us we were going to be asked to email her our “3-2-1.” A 3-2-1, she defined as:

  • Three things that are new to me
  • Two things so interesting I will continue to research or share with someone else
  • One thing I will change about my practices based on the information shared today

Even though I was very familiar with the underlying pedagogical practice she was leveraging, I paid significantly more attention than I would have otherwise to an online presentation. I wanted to come up with something helpful to say. To be honest, suffering from COVID related ZOOM fatigue, it also made sense to ensure the hour of my time resulted in something actionable.

A Word of Caution

The use of a tool like the Mud Cards or 3-2-1 will be successful only if used consistently and students see the results of their efforts. If not introduced early and repeated regularly, students won’t develop the habit of consuming content through the lens of reflecting on their own learning. Similarly, students who never see a response to their input, through a summary or additional explanations, will get the message that their feedback is not important and lose the incentive to continue to provide it.


Introducing a reflection activity like those suggested is a simple, quick way to incorporate active learning into a course while simultaneously filling a void instructors sometimes miss through being able to ask questions of their students in a classroom.

Canvas allows for building anonymous graded or ungraded surveys in which a weekly activity like this would be easy to link to in a list of tasks for a unit of study. It is a low development effort on the part of the instructor, and participation from students shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes.

I will link below to some of the resources mentioned that discuss the use and benefits of Mud Cards and active learning in instruction. If you try it out in an online course, I would love to hear how it works for you.


Rainboots photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash

Lately I’ve heard from a number of faculty whose students have expressed stress or overwhelm at the workload in a course. Further, students as well as faculty have had to adjust to a new routine or pace in their lives in recent months. All of this change gives us a chance to examine the workload and pace of a course so that it is manageable for both students and instructors. To that end, I offer three simple things that faculty can do to make their workload more manageable:

  • Manage expectations
  • Post time estimates for each activity
  • Consider your own availability

Manage expectations

One of the most effective ways to help students understand how much they should plan to do each week in the course is to be explicit and specific about the workload, early in the course. Refer to the credit hour policy to help students understand expectations. At OSU, it is expected that students engage with course materials and activities for 3 hours per week for every credit hour. So for a 3-credit course, students should expect to work about 9 hours each week on reading, studying, assignments, discussion boards, and other activities. This information is generally listed in the syllabus, but it’s nice to highlight this in an announcement early in the course, or perhaps even in an intro video or weekly overview video. Being explicit early in the course sets expectations for everyone, builds trust, and cuts down on negative emotions from students who feel there is too much (or not enough) in a course.

Post time estimates for each activity

One complaint that students occasionally have is that there is an uneven workload from week to week. One way to address this is to post estimated times for each activity for the week. This could appear in a task list on a weekly overview page, for example. This helps in several ways. First, it helps students who struggle to manage their time effectively. If they know that the assignment takes about 2 hours to complete, they can plan for that chunk of time in their week. Moreover, perhaps there are six readings posted in one week, but each reading is only about 5-10 minutes long. Posting this helps students understand that there are a number of short readings this week. That way students don’t assume each reading takes too long and decide to skip some of them. Moreover, being explicit about time estimates helps students know that you are sticking with the credit hour policy as well, which is another way to build trust.
If you find that the tasks you’ve outlined exceed the credit hour policy, let your learning objectives for the course guide your decisions for what to keep and what to cut.

Consider your own availability

Lastly, consider your own availability. Be explicit with students about when you are available so that you can be sure to carve out time to recharge your batteries. For example, if you like to have a bit of time to relax on the weekends, you might have your weekly assignments due on Monday of the following week for each module, rather than Sunday. That way, if students have questions about an assignment that they are wrapping up over the weekend, you still have Monday morning to get back to them instead of scrambling to answer multiple emails on Sunday evening.

In part one of Academic Success, we reviewed why it is important to help students develop time management skills and how to design courses that help students manage time. In this post, we will discuss the why, what and how about teaching students how to learn.

By this time, most public schools and higher education institutions are coming to a close for Spring 2020 teaching. Congratulations on overcoming so many challenges and finishing teaching during COVID-19! As we prepare for summer and/or fall teaching, I would like to invite instructors to consider teaching students how to learn in your next teaching adventure, in order to help students achieve academic success.

WhyWhy Teach Students How to Learn?

For teachers, teaching students how to learn enables them to facilitate dramatic improvements in student learning and success (McGuire & McGuire, 2015).

For students, metacognition helps them to become self-aware problem solvers and take control of their own learning, through taking stock of what they already know, what they need to work on, and how best to approach learning new material (The Learning Center at UNC Chapel Hill, n.d.).

Teaching students how to learn also aligns tightly with the neuroscience of how humans learn. Dr. Daniela Kaufer pointed out four key learning principles based on the neuroscience of how people learn: (1). Learning involves changing the brain; (2). Moderate stress is beneficial for learning, while mild and extreme stress are detrimental to learning; (3). Adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise encourage robust learning; and (4). Active learning takes advantage of processes that stimulate multiple connections in the brain and promote memory (Kaufer, 2011).

WhatWhat to Include in “Teach Students How to Learn”?

Now we have seen why it is important to teach students how to learn from the perspectives of teachers, students and neuroscience, it is time to look into the content of a “Teaching Students How to Learn” training module. Dr. Saundra McGuire suggests getting students’ buy-in as a first step, through early diagnostic assessment which can be used to find out what students already know and what they did not know.  Past examples of dramatic increase in assessment performance after receiving “Teaching Students How to Learn” training can also be an effective way to gain students’ buy-in. Secondly, Dr. McGuire suggests teaching students Bloom’s Taxonomy and study cycle to help students self-evaluate what they are learning and where to focus their learning at (the higher levels of learning, such as the applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating). The Study Cycle includes preview, attend, review, study and assess (Cook, Kennedy & McGuire, 2013). Thirdly, Dr. McGuire suggests sharing metacognitive learning strategies with students. The Learning Center at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill lists eleven specific strategies that students can use to enhance their learning: (1) use your syllabus as a roadmap; (2) summon your prior knowledge; (3)  think aloud; (4) ask yourself questions; (5) use writing; (6) organize your thoughts using concept maps or graphic organizers; (7) take notes from memory; (8) review your exams using test analyzer tool; (9) pause and ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing and how what you’re doing relates to the course as a whole and to the learning objectives that your professor has set; (10) test yourself; and (11) figure out how you learn and what learning strategies work best for you.

HowHow: Implementing “Teach Students How to Learn” in Online Course Design

There are many ways teachers and instructional designers can build activities and structures in course design to teach students how to learn. The following list is a starting point:

  • Provide specific, measurable, attainable, result-focused and time-focused objectives at both course level and module level, and ask students how these objectives connect to their own learning interests and objectives, for example, using an ungraded survey/poll/private check in at the start of the term.
  • Provide opportunities for students to reflect on prior knowledge they bring to the target topic/course
  • Provide a list of questions to guide students for targeted reading and better reading comprehension as an active reading strategy, when assigning required readings materials.
  • Provide questions in video lectures to help students check their understanding and keep students engaged;
  • Release answer sheet to homework assignments after submission expires and provide opportunity for students to compare what they did right or wrong and how to get it right if they did it wrong initially, to achieve mastery learning;
  • Provide opportunities for peer review and instructor feedback and make it possible for students to resubmit edited versions based on feedback received for mastery learning;
  • Allow multiple attempts for assignments and assessments for mastery learning;
  • Provide opportunities for students to reflect around midterm what learning strategies they use, whether they are effective or not, and how to adjust for better results in the reminding time of the course.
  • Provide opportunities for students to reflect near the end of the term on what they learned and how they have learned, and how they might use the learning in their lives. For example, using discussion forum, google form survey, quiz or assignment to collect students’ reflective feedback.

The list can go endless. The point is there are many opportunities for teachers and instructional designers to build elements in course design to teach students how to learn! Feel free to share your ideas or experience of teaching students how to learn with us.


Cook, E., Kennedy, E., and McGuire, S.Y. (2013). Effect of Teaching metacognitive learning strategies on performance in General Chemistry Courses. Journal of Chemical Education, 2013, 90, 961-967.

Kaufer, D. (2011). Neuroscience and how students learn. University of California Berkeley Graduate Student Instructor Teaching & Resource Center. Retrieved from

McGuire, S. Y., and McGuire, S. (2015). Teach Students How to Learn : Strategies You Can Incorporate into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation. First ed. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus, LLC.

The Learning Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (n.d.). Metacognitive Study Strategies. Retrieved from

Resources on Neuroeducation

  • Adolphs, R. (2009). The social brain: neural basis of social knowledge. Annual Review Psychology. 2009; 60: 693-716.
  • Bransford, John., and National Research Council . Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning. How People Learn : Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Expanded ed. Washington, D.C.: National Academy, 2000. Print.
  • CAST (2018). UDL and the learning brain. Wakefield, MA: Author. Retrieved from
  • Doyle, Terry, and Zakrajsek, Todd. The New Science of Learning How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain. Second ed. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus, LLC, 2019. Web.
  • Eyler, J. (2018). How humans learn : The science and stories behind effective college teaching(First ed.), Teaching and learning in higher education (West Virginia University Press)). Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.
  • Kaufer, D. (2011). Neuroscience and How Students Learn. Berkeley Graduate Student Instructor Center’s How Students Learn Series talk in Spring 2011. Retrieved from
  • McLagan, Pat. “Unleashing the Unstoppable Learner.” Talent Development7 (2017): 44-49. Web.
  • Perkins, D. N.,  Goodrich, H. , Tishman, S. & Owen, J. M.(1994). Thinking Connections : Learning to Think and Thinking to Learn. Menlo Park, Calif.: Addison Wesley, 1994. Print.
  • Schwartz, Daniel L., Tsang, Jessica M., and Blair, Kristen P. The ABCs of How We Learn : 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them. First ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton &, 2016. Print. Norton Books in Education.
  • Südhof, T.C. (2013). Neurotransmitter release: the last millisecond in the life of a synaptic vesicle. Neuron. 2013 Oct 30;80(3):675-90. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.10.022.
  • Tokuhama-Espinosa, Tracey (2011). Mind, Brain, and Education Science: A Comprehensive Guide to the New Brain-Based Teaching.New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Ware, D. (2013). Neurons that fire together wire together. Retrieved from
A student persona is a summary of a specific type of student. This persona represents archetypes NOT stereotypes of a broader student segment or group. A student persona summarizes who the student users are and why they are using the learning system, as well as what behaviors, assumptions, and expectations determine their view of the learning system.

Why Create Student Personas?

There are many reasons why instructors and instructional designers and developers create and use student personas, such as:

  • To represent the major needs of the key student user groups.
  • To provide a reliable and accurate representation of your targeted student audience.
  • To enable you to focus on a manageable and memorable group of students.
  • To help you create different designs for different kinds of students and to tailor the design to meet the needs of the most important student user groups.
  • To inform on the functionality of the learning system, uncover gaps in instructional design and development, or highlight new ways to deliver learning.

What Makes Up a Student Persona?

Like all personas, student personas generally include several key pieces of information, which are outlined on

Here is an example of a student persona that I created for an online Intro to Permaculture MOOC that includes the essential elements of a persona.

Student Persona ExampleDescription of the user research conducted to create the student persona:

Student user research was conducted through an online Welcome survey that was embedded in the online course. As in all persona creations, user research should be conducted and the collected data should be used in order to ensure accurate representations of your users. Student user research can be conducted online or face-to-face through student surveys, interviews, or observations.

Student Persona Example (Enlarged View)

How Are Student Personas Used?

More than one student persona (3-5 student personas) should be used for an instructional development project from the analysis phase to the design, development, implementation and evaluation. As such, these student personas can be used in numerous ways.

Smashing Magazine, A Closer Look at Personas – What They Are and How They Work, discusses some of the general uses of personas:

  • Build empathy
  • Develop focus
  • Communicate and form consensus
  • Make and defend decisions
  • Measure effectiveness


While there is no one way to create and use a persona, there are plenty of examples, free templates, and instructional videos and readings available to help you get started to create personas of the students that you serve and to use them in your instructional developments. These resources are available through the following links.


Tobi Day


Fake Crow Free Persona Template
Persona Core Poster Template | PDF


How to Create UX Personas (3:01)
(Note: This video talks about service design for customers, but for student personas, you will want to keep in mind that the students and learners are the customers)


Personas by
A Closer Look at Personas – What They Are and How They Work by Smashing Magazine


This is a re-publish of a prior blog post that is quite popular and we wanted to bring it to the top of the blog again. Thank you to our original author: Rebecca Pietrowski


Connecting with our students is essential, but how do we do it? Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by connected. Zoom works to see one another on a screen, you can attend activities on campus and possibly see some of your students, or we can take a deeper look into what connected means. When I think of education, connecting could be students to each other, students to the material, the material to real life, you to the student, etc. I’ll focus on the last one here: You to the student.

Think back to a time when you were in school and you had a “favorite” teacher or professor. What was it about them that made them your favorite? Did they open up their classroom at lunch to play cards with students? Did they give you a “good luck” note for a sporting event? Maybe they came to your choir concert, attended a theater production you were in, or maybe they made themselves available in a time of need. Whatever it is, that’s what connects you. What made them your favorite is because of the connection that you formed.

Effective connection is:

  • Being available
  • Caring (and showing it)
  • Treating the student with respect
  • Being a trustworthy confidant
  • Showing belief in students
  • Acting warm and welcoming
  • Showing compassion
  • Being on the student’s side
  • Exuding love for teaching
  • Showing true interest in students
  • Being a great listener
  • Accepting every student

For me, there were lots of teachers I liked and many I’d say were “favorites” but looking back, one made that huge impression and connection. How? By giving me a cut up straw on a string. Yes, you read that correctly, a cut up straw on a string. That teacher listened to what I was saying when she asked a question about how a track meet went. If it was not so good of a meet, I’d reply “I sucked from a big straw.” When it came time for an important meet that year, I got a good luck card with a straw I couldn’t suck from. That was over 20 years ago and I still have that cut up straw. Now that’s a connection!

Connection Do’s and Don’ts. 


  • Be available
  • Care (for real!)
  • Treat students with respect
  • Be a trustworthy confidant
  • Show belief in students
  • Be warm and welcoming
  • Show compassion
  • Be on the student’s side
  • Exude love for teaching
  • Show true interest in students
  • Be a great listener
  • Demonstrate acceptance


  • Try too hard to be liked
  • Gossip about students
  • Fail to set boundaries
  • Fail to set high expectations
  • Be unable to say no
  • Be sarcastic
  • Pamper students
  • Fail to follow through
  • Pretend to care



Run through the lists and think of a way you can make the do’s happen and ways you can keep the don’ts from happening. Was there a specific example from your examples that really stood out? Use that to help guide you in the other examples. Perhaps you remember a time where you failed to set high expectations, what happened? Reflect on why you thought you had (or know you didn’t) and what you’d like to do differently next time.

Want to know more? Read “You’ve Gotta Connect: Building Relationships That Lead to Engaged Students, Productive Classrooms, and Higher Achievement” by James Alan Sturtevant, 2014

I am writing this blog post on Monday morning, June 1st, 2020. Throughout this past weekend across the country, protests erupted following the death of George Floyd who died while pinned down by a Minneapolis police officer. Social media platforms and news outlets are flooded with tweets, videos, blog posts, hashtags, and images describing the chaos, anger, and destruction. (All of this has happened while the country is still reacting to and absorbing the economic, emotional, and physical health impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak).

What I most want this morning is the ability to turn to someone I trust with the education, perspective, and insight to help me think about the incredibly complex issues that erupted over the weekend:

  • While I’m troubled by the looting, vandalism, and destruction of property I have been watching on the news, I am more troubled by the fact that minorities fear their lives when interacting with law enforcement. Where can I read different perspectives on this issue?
  • What lessons can I teach my children about this moment and how to combat systemic racism?
  • What authors might I read to understand the experience of being black in America right now? How about the history in our country that led to this moment?
  • What needs to be done to make this a turning point for our country?

Fostering Information Literacy through Content Curation

The ability to research complex problems from multiple perspectives should be a fundamental goal of education. By guiding students through this process, we can help them become well-informed citizens, better parents, and more empathetic human beings. Developing these skills, however, depends on having access to the most relevant and informative resources.

College instructors, as experts in their fields, are in a unique position to provide learners with vetted collections of content. They can not only point students to resources they might not have discovered on their own, but can also provide context, share their point of view, and point out relationships between found materials. All of this will help make the content more meaningful for learners.

For the past several years, educators have started to recognize the value that they can provide to their students by sharing collections of reliably sourced content around a learning topic.

The keynote speaker at the Oregon State Ecampus Virtual Faculty Forum this year, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, spoke about the use of mini-libraries (which she calls “Bundles”) in her courses. Tracey is a neuroscientist and professor with Harvard University Extension School. The Bundles she uses are curated lists of hyperlinked articles, videos, podcasts for each topic that help ensure students are allowed entry points to the same subject from their individual starting point. Tracey uses analytics to see how much time students are spending on the bundles which informs the course and bundle design for future iterations. She also uses them to differentiate homework for cross-listed courses with both graduate and undergraduate students (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2020).

Online students, like most of us, are continuously dealing with information overload. My Google search for “systematic racism” returned 16,800,000 results in 0.34 seconds.  How am I supposed to process close to 17 million results, particularly without prior knowledge of thought leaders and reliable sources in this field? 

Students face these same research challenges. The time it takes to go through millions of returned search results looking for something useful and relevant. Time that could be better spent on an in-depth review and analysis of instructor vetted materials. 

By providing a narrowed list of references instructors are also helping contribute to students’ information literacy. It is possible to model, through the selection and provided context, what makes a particular source credible. Is it the author? The fact that it comes from a peer-reviewed publication? The way an author sites their sources or the citations this particular content has received? Use this opportunity to support student’s development of their own “crap detector.” (Rheingold, 2009)

What is the Process?

There is more to curation than sharing lists of articles and videos. As the curator, an instructor is adding value through the organization and maintenance of the collection along with the context provided to the collected materials. Here’s a suggested process for instructors gathering curated collections of content for learners:

  1. Identify Themes – Find a topic for which you wish to create a collection of materials. Name this collection and add it to your course in a way that is easy to modify.
  2. Select Sources – Consider where you are going to search for content. You may already have several saved resources around the topics you teach. Can you supplement with scholarly journals you read regularly or blogs you follow? Who are the thought leaders in your field? Who do they follow?
  3. Establish Filtering Criteria – What types of materials won’t you include? What is the learning objective that aligns with this particular collection and how should that inform what material you include?
  4. Organize the Content You Have Selected – Should material be accessed in a particular order? Is there guidance you can provide based on the starting point of your learners? Are there natural sub-topics or patterns?
  5. Provide Context – Why did you select a particular piece? Does it contradict the information in other sources? What key questions should learners be able to answer after consuming the content? How does this piece fit into this collection’s larger theme? Are there emerging patterns? How does it fit in a historical context?
  6. Build a Linked List to the Selected Materials and Provide Attribution – Curation, while benefiting from the organization, context, and insight of the curator is only achieved through the sharing of work from others whose efforts should be recognized.
  7. Create Learning Activities Around the Collected Content – Given the learning outcomes associated with this particular topic or theme, what do you want students to do with the information they acquire going through the content? Are they going to discuss it with their peers? Use it as a basis for a position paper or as research for a project? Maybe you want them to create their own curated collections based on this example, or contribute to yours.
  8. Regularly Update Your List – Review your collections for broken links, outdated content, and supplement with new content. Look for other ways to refine your collection around current news events or new research.

Through effective content curation and inclusion of topic-based “mini-libraries” within their courses, instructors can become a guide for their learners. Instructors will expose students to new ideas and help them quickly access information that has already been reviewed for credibility. By doing so, instructors have the opportunity to model – in an academic setting – what we so desperately need in our personal lives as well: how to grapple with difficult issues from multiple perspectives while sharpening our information literacy skills.

For further reading, you may wish to review the curated Anti-Racist Reading List from Ibram X. Kendi published by the Chicago Public Library (Kendi, 2019)

Postscript: After writing the first draft of this blog post, I found a credible source on Twitter addressing the question, How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change (Obama, 2020).


Kendi, I. X. (2019, February 12). Anti-Racist Reading List from Ibram X. Kendi—Chicago Public Library. BiblioCommons.

Obama, B. (2020, June 1). How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change. Medium.

Rheingold, H. (2009, June 30). Crap Detection 101. City Brights: Howard Rheingold.

Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2020, May 5). Faculty Forum 2020—Keynote—Never a Better Time to Be an Educator! Ecampus Faculty Forum Special Virtual Event, Oregon State University Ecampus.

Special thanks to OSU Ecampus Assistant Director of Instructional Design Laurie Kirkner for her insightful peer review comments and wording suggestions on this blog post.


example of the Hubs toolThe Ecampus multimedia team researches emerging tools, and works with our sibling team of Instructional Designers to help support instructors. So lets take a moment to peek at tools we all might be using in the coming years for communicating with teammates from a distance.

Multimedia developers primarily use a paid tier of Slack (for instant messaging), Outlook (for email), and Zoom (for meetings with live video or audio). While we play around with many other emerging tools, I believe we’re using the same basic trio as most everyone else. Just wanted to be clear that I don’t have a revolutionary new secret tool in my back pocket which you must start using today. We’re all in the same basic boat at the moment.

CDT shares files through a variety of different online services. Documents are usually shared through Box, with Google Drive as a backup. Videos usually end up on Kaltura through OSU’s MediaSpace, but works in progress start out on to leverage some handy features for time stamped feedback. We manage our team’s projects through Asana, and store final deliverable files with a wrap-up note in a private internal database tool (that our team created and maintains). So those are handful of tools that might be mentioned when working with us. You may have already been sent a Box folder to upload files into, or a link to comment on a video.

As we all settled into home office work back in March, there was an interest in new tools for social interaction. I was particularly interested in applications that were connecting Virtual Reality users with phone and desktop users. Mozilla, the creators of the Firefox browser, are quietly building up Hubs, which strikes me as the most promising tool in this space. It’s free, easy to learn, and offers a ton of excellent functionality. Stop by the experimental space I set up for my team. It features a 3D model imported from our sketchfab account, and a video from our YouTube account.

One of the developers of Hubs recently laid out the secret plan for this tool: to build up a persistent global 3D network to rival the world wide web. Exciting stuff for all you fans of the scifi metaverse, and the freedom of early web pages.

There are other interesting tools bubbling around at the moment in the VR space. Facebook is letting anyone sign up for the beta of a shared social universe for Oculus VR users called “horizon.” Microsoft acquired AltspaceVR, which mixes VR users with desktop users and has already hosted multiple conferences during the quarantine. If you’ve invested in a VR headset, it might be worth checking out the bustling communities in VR chat or Rec Room. The makers of Second Life tried out 2 approaches to VR (Sansar and High Fidelity), but recently changed course. My team is currently trying to schedule a time to try out Sketchbox in different VR headsets. I stumbled across “Somnium Space” while writing this blog post. It’s kind of crazy how many things are being developed, but… aren’t quite ready for mass consumption just yet.

There is a cognitive load problem with all the new tools bubbling up in these cauldrons around the world and begging for attention. While Mozilla Hubs is my favorite, it does take a few minutes to go through it’s tutorial and learn what all you can do. These days that’s a lot to ask of people who just seek the simplicity of walking into a room to meaningfully interact with other humans in a natural way. More and more I’m nervous about suggesting new tools to colleagues, because I know they’re already dealing with a lot. And I see a lot of folks casually making a notable pile of work for others without seeming to notice the strain. As a designer, I enjoy walking through a new tool, and once I determine it’ll be useful for others it is hard to appreciate how exhausting it might also be for them. I think the key mistake is to require others learn a tool before they can get back to whatever task they set out to do in the first place. Hopefully we can find ways to design simpler tools, and to help people enjoy learning useful new third party tools. Wait until you’re ready to jump into the ones I’m mentioning here, and take it easy on your coworkers.

Suggestions? Want to meet up and talk about this further, perhaps inside one of the tools mentioned above? Please just leave a comment, or send us an email – we’d love to hang out with you and explore what the world is cooking up!