People spend more time in virtual worlds than ever before. And educators are leveraging these popular forms of recorded and interactive escapism to increase student engagement. Recently academic departments have begun to experiment with the use of virtual reality (VR) headsets, which have become much easier to use and far less expensive. Headsets can make people feel like they have traveled to a new place, so they are an intriguing new tool for learning. They can create an experience that differs significantly from using a computer to work or play in an online environment.

When using a computer to visit an online world, your sense of immersion is affected by many factors, including the quality of video and audio, the number of distractions from real life, and your virtual representation on the screen. It is like a tug-of-war. Your avatar may be traveling in a helicopter through a fantasy landscape, but your brain also knows that you are sitting in front of your desk. You can see and feel the cat in your lap for example, but it is not in the helicopter with your avatar, so you are managing two worlds at once. In a continuum of this sense of immersion, at what point is there presence, where you lose connection with your environment and truly feel that you are somewhere else? 

Using a VR headset instead of a computer may move you along this pathway, because you don’t see your desktop or clearly hear the sounds of your household. The sense of being connected with the everyday world changes. “I usually say the way to tell if it is working is if you take off the goggles and are surprised by which direction you are now facing,” says Warren Blyth, Multimedia Developer at Course Development and Training Department (CDT) at Oregon State University’s Ecampus. And whether you are a student who may find themselves in a class with VR components, or an instructor curious about adding this kind of experience to your teaching, VR, like most new adventures, will be shaped by your readiness for it.

You could think of the act of putting on a headset as departing on a voyage, because for many it feels like traveling somewhere and being present in another place. When you take off the headset at the end of the trip you may have moved physically, mentally and/or emotionally. Or not. Just like a trip to Paris, everyone’s experience will be different. To help you get ready, this article is a checklist about the very beginning of your journey, before you put on the goggles. It is about the pre-departure phase in which, as for any other trip, you might prepare by researching, planning, packing your bag, and saying goodbye to the cat.

Researching

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Image by Okan Caliskan from Pixabay

Technology lift may be a part of your pre-departure phase. This is a term floating around the CDT Department, thanks to the adventurous lexicon of Assistant Director of Course Development & Training Laurie Kirkner, who says that “technology lift takes place over a longer period of time than cognitive load, which is specific to working memory. It includes activities like reading manuals, investigating safety protocols and coping with expectations. And it will vary with the difficulty of the task and your skill level, just like cognitive load.”

Technology lift in anticipation of a VR journey may be analogous to researching luggage before taking a trip to a foreign city. You may ask: how much weight can I lift and for how long? Many of us have witnessed the oversupplied backpacker on a trip overseas. She struggles with a heavy load while shouldering her way through the crowds. One wonders if more thoughtful preparation could have saved her from being on the brink of pitching over during her first day in Paris. And although she probably had a great time anyway, planning ahead may have been worthwhile.

Platform Safety

Before entering a new VR space you can find out what controls exist for dealing with inappropriate or annoying behavior. For example, some platforms allow you to mute the audio of other avatars or create a personal space bubble. If you plan to meet others or visit a popular platform it can be helpful to do a test run by yourself beforehand, taking the time to get used to the location without any social awkwardness concerns. Owners, builders and organizers of platforms may have additional controls like banishing certain users –  instantly and/or permanently. In addition there may be codes of conduct governing acceptable behavior. It is great to learn something about the culture before arriving.

Pre-departure planning can increase positive experiences and keep you safe. For example, people have experienced sexual harassment, lack of respect for personal boundaries, and socially undesirable behaviors in real life (IRL) as well as in VR. “Social VR creates a life-like, immersive and public experience. Given this immersive nature and the overwhelmingly unequal gender dynamic with more men than women in this space, respondents talked about these spaces as seeming similar to public settings where they have been harassed.” (Outlaw & Duckles, 2017) You can take off the headset for a quick exit and also research other strategies to keep your trip free of pests.

Privacy

Because there is so much more data to potentially capture via these headsets, privacy is an increasingly important issue. “I think we’re all sitting on this time bomb with regard to “inside out” tracking,” says Blyth. “At the moment the companies using it are carefully assuring us that the 3D models they’re building at 30+ frames per second, of the insides of our house (including other people in our houses) are just for local tracking and not being sent back to any server for processing/monetizing. But even those assurances (from Facebook specifically, regarding the Quest and Rift S) have carried an ‘at the moment’ tag.” (Lang, 2019) So before you turn your headset on, it is a good idea to really consider the privacy policy on the manufacturer’s website.

Navigation Controls

If you took a trip to Paris, how would you get from the Charles de Gaulle airport to your hotel? After getting through customs you may feel jet lagged and confused, which is not a good time to learn new things. So your cognitive load would be less heavy if, for example, you already knew how to buy a ticket and get on the right train. In VR, navigation systems vary widely, so you may want to learn something about them before departure. A good example is learning how to move, fly, or teleport. And especially if you plan to meet others, it is helpful to know how to open the menu system and search for locations/meetings. 

Planning

A young man standing in a room wearing a virtual reality headset.
Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels

When you go places, you occupy new spaces. Once you put on a VR headset, you will set up a play area that can be stationary or quite a bit bigger. For the Oculus Quest 2, a popular newer headset, at least 6.5 feet by 6.5 feet is recommended for natural body movement. Once you get out the measuring tape, your house may suddenly feel claustrophobic as you figure out the distance between the couch and the cat box. So consider how much movement you would like to have on your trip and whether it is worth moving the furniture. 

Packing your bag

A man wearing a virtual reality headset and using hand controllers.
Photo by Ivan Samkov from Pexels

For a voyage to Paris, you might think about which beret (and matching scarf) to bring along for a feeling of style and comfort. For your VR trip, the headset will eliminate any possibility of style, but you can still plan for comfort. In the last couple of years, headsets have become much less onerous; for example, they are now untethered from computers, and lighter. But there are still personal adjustments that can make you feel more at ease. And in regards to style, you could always try a beret over the headset.  

Headset

“Did you know? The world’s first VR headset was created in 1968, and weighed so much it had to be mounted from a ceiling. Due to its appearance, it was nicknamed “The Sword of Damocles.””  (Best Reviews, 2020)

Interpupillary Distance

When shopping for the right backpack for your trip to the City of Light, the size and shape of your body comes into consideration. For VR, it turns out that the distance between your eyes is important. This is because you want the lens spacing in the headset and your interpupillary distance (IPD) to line up in order to decrease the possibility of motion sickness. This may be especially important for people with smaller bodies, such as women. According to the 2012 Anthropometric Survey of U.S. Army Personnel, the mean interpupillary distance is 61.7mm for women and 64.0mm for men. The Oculus Quest 2, for example, has three IPD settings: 61mm or smaller, 61 to 66mm, and 66 mm or larger. You can check with your optometrist to find your own IPD and then make sure that your headset is on the right setting.

Straps and Comfort

Even though headsets have become much more comfortable, it is always a good idea to make sure that things fit properly. A trial run with the headset powered off but resting on your face can give you some time to dial in the best strap tension and see how it feels on your head. “I often tell people before a demo that they want it just snug enough that it isn’t falling off their face – but not so tight that it’s cutting off circulation,” says Blyth. Some people report discomfort with the way their headset feels on their face, which can be distracting. Because you may need to spend less time using it than anticipated if it bothers you, taking the time to adjust your headset properly will help you feel more immersed on your trip.

Controllers

Before you put your headset on and can’t see anything, you may want to try out your hand controllers, which can include features such as buttons, thumb-sticks and triggers. You could view support materials from the manufacturer or other users to investigate all of the functions in order to create a tactile memory of the controllers.

Saying goodbye to the cat

Expectations

As you get to the final stages of pre-departure, you may want to check in with your expectations. “Virtual reality – even the name is hype,” says Nick Harper, CDT Multimedia Developer. “VR only addresses the senses of sight and sound, and even those may not work well for some users. Touch, smell and taste are underdeveloped at this point. So trying to immerse yourself in VR through a headset can feel like a struggle because your body wants to keep you safe and your brain is getting so many mixed signals.” One thing we know for sure is that your virtual trip will not be like anyone else’s experience. It may disappoint, or possibly blow your mind. And your memories will be affected by any problems you run into along the way. For example, if you walked right into a sewer during your first trip to Paris, it might be hard for you to believe other people had an amazing time in the Louvre or atop the Eiffel Tower.

Au revoir

Right before you leave, there is a point where you say some goodbyes. After all, you are leaving to meet new people and experience groovy new things in virtual reality. And the cat can’t come along. So saying goodbye may mean removing pets and humans from your play area, shutting the door, and putting the phone on mute. With the headset on, immersed in video and audio, it won’t be fun to step on your pet or hear snarky comments from your roommate (even if you are wearing a beret). Finding a way not to have an audience on the ground can help you relax and feel immersed.

It may be said that reading about VR is like dancing about architecture. So if you do get the chance, try it for yourself, (and also maybe think about that trip to Paris). No matter how many descriptions you read, the final destination will surprise (and hopefully delight) you in ways you may never have imagined. Especially if you have researched, planned, packed your bag and said goodbye to the cat, you will be ready for a great trip. Bon voyage!

VR Readiness Checklist

  • Read and consider the privacy policy of the headset manufacturer.
  • Take some time to plan/create your play area.
  • Research the platform codes of conduct.
  • Find out what controls exist to minimize unwanted interactions.
  • Learn how to navigate, access the menu system and search for locations/meetings.
  • Check with your optometrist to find your IPD and then make sure your headset is on the right setting.
  • Experiment with controller functions and create a tactile memory.
  • Adjust the straps so that they are snug but not cutting off circulation.
  • Explore your expectations.
  • Create a distraction free space.
  • Take a test run before meeting others.

References

Best Reviews. (2020, December). Best VR Headsets. https://bestreviews.com/best-vr-headsets

Kei Studios. (2017, November 23). A Complete Virtual Reality Glossary.  

      https://kei-studios.com/complete-virtual-reality-glossary/.

Ffiske, T., & Mandahus, L. (2020, January 21). Analysis: How the Design of VR Headsets    

     Causes Motion Sickness. Virtual Perceptions. 

     https://www.virtualperceptions.com/vr-headset-motion-sickness-design/.

Fulvio, J. M. (2020, January 1). Variations in visual sensitivity predict motion sickness in virtual  

     reality. BioRxiv. 

     https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/488817v5

Gordon, C. C., Blackwell, C. L., Bradtmiller, B., Parham, J. L., Barrientos, P., Paquette, S. P., 

     Corner, B. D., Carosn, J. M., Venezia, J. C., Rockwell, B. M., Murcher, M., & Kristensen, S.    

     (2014, December). 2012 Anthropometric Survey of U.S. Army Personnel: Methods and  

     Summary Statistics. Defense Technical Information Center.  

     https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a611869.pdf

Lang, B. (2019, August 6). Here’s What Facebook Says About Camera Privacy on Quest & Rift  

  1. S. Road to VR. https://www.roadtovr.com/oculus-quest-camera-privacy-rift-s-facebook/

Mason, W. (2020, August 19). Oculus “Always On” Services and Privacy Policy May Be a  

     Cause for Concern (Updated). UploadVR. https://uploadvr.com/facebook-oculus-privacy/

Outlaw, J., Duckles, B. (2017, October). Why Women Don’t Like Social Virtual Reality: A Study of Safety, Usability, and Self-Expression in Social VR. The Extended Mind.  https://static1.squarespace.com/static/56e315ede321404618e90757/t/5afca0716d2a73e7b3c77f28/1526505624385/The+Extended+Mind_Why+Women+Don%27t+Like+Social+VR_Oct+16+2017.pdf

The Economist. (2019, November 21). Virtual reality continues to make people sick.            https://www.economist.com/science-and-technology/2019/11/23/virtual-reality-continues-to-make-people-sick

 

Introduction

The LMS Canvas by Instructure comes with a decent set of styled elements to start with, but diving into the HTML editor is where you can really modify content, giving it a specific look and feel. Recently I have found that I am going to these customized elements more often to help achieve learning outcomes and provide a different look and feel for accessible course pages.

It is not limitless, however, or even as open as regular web development would be. Canvas has an HTML Editor Allowlist for elements, styles and classes (though some absent from this list will work if you give it a go!). Many of these are activated by using in-line class or style, but other attributes are also available.

Without further ado, here are three of the more popular elements I have been drawn to when creating courses over the past few terms.

Accessible Rich Internet Applications (ARIA)

Defined as

a set of attributes that define ways to make web content and web applications more accessible to people with disabilities
Source

These attributes are some of the most popular because they help with accessibility (particularly, screen readers) on the course site. Where native HTML5 elements are not available, these ARIA attributes help to explain what a particular piece of content does and how a learner should interact with it. By using these, we help to make courses open to a wider set of learners.

See the Canvas HTML Editor Allowlist for a full list of supported ARIA attributes.

Example 1: Element Togglers

You want to include an element on your course site that expands to reveal more content. You will need to make a screen reader aware that the content is there, and what it does. Using the following should get you off to a good start:

<span class="element_toggler" role="button" aria-controls="something" 
aria-label="longer description of the element" aria-expanded="false">
Click here to see the explanation</span>

<div id="something" style="display: none;">
The explanation.
</div>
aria-controls="something"
combines with id="something" later on in the code. The value must match the id value for it to work correctly. This is used to interact with the element.
aria-label="longer description of the element"
used to describe the functionality of the element if it is not explained prior to the interaction.
aria-expanded="false
used to tell the screen reader the button is initially closed.

Example 2: Descriptions

You have a particularly visual element on the page, and you want to write a larger piece of text for a screen reader to explain this. You can use aria-describedby and then link it to the id of an element (in the <span> below):

<p><img src="close_up.jpg" aria-describedby="close_up">
<br>
<span id="close_up">A close-up view of the rock target named "Máaz" from the SuperCam 
instrument on NASA's Perseverance Mars rover.</span> 
Analysis of SuperCam data shows that Máaz has a basaltic composition. 
It is either an igneous rock or consists of fine grains of igneous material 
that were cemented together in a watery environment.<br>
Full image and caption from 
<a href="https://www.jpl.nasa.gov/images/supercam-close-up-of-maaz">
NASA Jet Propulsion Labratory.</a> NASA/JPL-Caltech/LANL/CNES/CNRS
</p>

Device specific content

Next up, is hidden content. So you added the element_toggler above, but your learners with the Canvas Mobile App let you know they cannot click it!

Some of the projects I work on with these elements require an entirely different way of accessing the content on a mobile device.

A potential fix

Create different versions of the content by hiding each one depending on the device.

To do this, you will need to divide the content using two containers. Using the same element_toggler code from above, we can easily add a separate, but hidden part underneath for Canvas app users.

<span class="element_toggler" role="button" aria-controls="something" 
aria-label="longer description of the element" aria-expanded="false">
View the explanation</span>

<div id="something" style="display: none;">
The explanation.
</div>

<div class="hidden-desktop hidden-tablet hidden-phone">
The explanation.
</div>

The addition of the class="hidden-desktop hidden-tablet hidden-phone" attributes will hide this container for most users. As it is sitting outside of the element toggler, however, mobile app users do not need to click the element toggler to see the explanation! This provides a more accessible option for users of those devices.

Note: if you have access to the stylesheet for your institution, it would be more beneficial to add these changes there than on a per-page basis.

Anchoring to part of a page

If you have ever seen text content that says something similar to this…

As we discussed before…

As I mentioned previously…

Back in Module 3, we talked about…

…then you need to use this simple feature of the anchor element!

I use this a lot on course content that requires students to refer to previous material. Everyone will have heard of a hyperlink using the <a> tag, but you can also use this anchor to link to a certain part of the page. I regularly use it to send learners to particular headings or content that they would find relevant for assignments. If you set up your course from the start with this in mind, it can be a fast way to group revision material from certain parts of a page, or create more accessible navigation menus.

Give an element an id, like this:

<h3 id="section_2">Section 2</h3>

Then, when you want to send a learner back to that part of the page, just reference it by adding the id to the end of the page link with a `#`. For example:

<a href="https://yoursite/page#section_2">Section 2</a>

This will take the learner directly to the heading with the id of ‘section_2’, which you set up before.

You can even do this within the same page to jump to that part of the page. Just link it like this without the rest of the URL.

<a href="#section_2”>Section 2</a>

Conclusion

These are a sample of the elements, classes, and styles I have used to enhance content over the last few terms. With each, accessibility has been a must, which requires a bit of reflection on how learners would interact with the content. There are a lot more available, and you have a list in the Canvas HTML Editor Allowlist to start experimenting. By thinking of accessibility from the early stages of course design, more users can appreciate these page elements and content.

References

1. The Canvas Style Allowlist: [http://bit.ly/cnvs-allowlist]
2. “ARIA” from MDN Web Docs/Mozilla [https://developer.mozilla.org/en-US/docs/Web/Accessibility/ARIA]

chart of five phases of engagement: connect, communicate, collaborate, co-facilitate, and continue

 Why Group Work Is Important 

Love it or hate it, group work is an important part of education. Learning to work cooperatively with diverse people is a core 21st century skill, one which employers increasingly value and expect new workers to have mastered. Experience gathered from group work in educational settings directly transfers to and prepares students for successful collaboration in work teams. By collaborating in teams, students learn a wide range of discrete as well as soft skills that make group work worth the effort, including those below.

  • Technology skills
  • Social skills
  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy
  • Coping with stress
  • Creating work plans and schedules
  • Forecasting needs and hurdles
  • Time management & meeting deadlines
  • Working with difficult personalities
  • Managing & navigating unmet expectations
  • Following up & messaging
  • Accountability
  • Leadership
  • Development of academic/professional voice 

Pedagogically, group work supports a constructivist approach to learning, in which students contribute to the learning environment, build knowledge both individually and collectively, and co-create the classroom environment. Constructivist theory posits that learning is a social process and values student interaction with and contributions to collective knowledge. Group work and student collaboration are foundational methods in constructivist classrooms that help students develop the knowledge and skills that allow them to meet learning objectives. Additionally, group work is seen as a key element of student-student interaction. 

Considerations for Successful Groups

The first thing instructors should consider when planning to incorporate group work is to reflect on WHY they are assigning it- as an objective of learning or as a means of learning. Group work for the purpose of learning collectively, producing collaboratively, or for gaining experience working cooperatively are all valid reasons to include group work. 

Additionally, instructors must consider the limits of the asynchronous modality when creating group assignments. We all know how difficult it can be if the group you end up working in is not harmonious; For students in asynchronous online courses, group work can be even more difficult, with challenges like different time zones, different daily schedules, and lack of face to face collaboration opportunities. Even the most thoughtfully designed group activities can run into problems. What happens when one student fails to contribute? Do the other group members take up the slack and cover for their absent partner? How should a group handle an overbearing group member who takes on more than their fair share of the project? Anticipating the potential hurdles that may arise when planning the group project and incorporating support and resources for struggling groups can alleviate these barriers to a large degree. 

An important consideration when creating group assignments is Conrad & Donaldson’s Phases of Engagement model, which advises instructors to structure group work so that students can build up group cohesion through low-stakes activities like icebreakers, introductions, and discussion forum posting towards the beginning of the term before ramping up to more complicated collaborative projects. This scaffolding of tasks helps groups bond and build community among members, facilitating better working relationships and the trust necessary to work through the intricacies of a complex group project. The theory can be helpful when approaching a series of courses within a specific degree program as well, moving from simple group projects in lower division courses to co-facilitating and transformative ongoing engagement at the upper levels. 

chart of five phases of engagement: connect, communicate, collaborate, co-facilitate, and continue

Another model that can help instructors understand how to structure group work is Peter Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team, which describes a pyramid of features that are required for groups to function effectively. Lencioni claims that trust is the foundation of any functioning group, followed in ascending order by managing conflict through healthy discourse, ensuring commitment and buy-in, providing a method of accountability for team members, and a focus on collective results over personal prestige. Avoiding dysfunction by clearly structuring group work to anticipate and provide tools for dealing with these problems can ensure teams get off on the right footing and can work together smoothly.

pyramid of five behaviors of a cohesive team: trust, conflict, committment

 

Additionally, instructors should consider the type of collaboration that is common within their own discipline, whether it be performing distinct roles within a team or more general projects requiring cooperation. Designers often work together creatively to develop and improve products; medical teams must work collectively but in distinct roles to serve patients; computer software developers must be able to distribute work and manage tight deadlines; public-facing personnel must be able to amicably respond to a range of customer behaviors. Connecting group work explicitly to real-world work scenarios helps students see the value and relevance of their learning, which helps increase engagement and dedication. Structuring group projects to mimic the type of work tasks they can anticipate also provides the added value of preparing students for scenarios they will actually be faced with on the job.

Finally, since asynchronous group work relies heavily on technology, ensure that the technology to be used by the group is familiar or can be mastered quickly. Provide detailed instructions or tutorials for how to use the technology, plan for how to handle issues students might face with technology, and share resources they can tap should they run into problems. University instructional technology support can be linked to, and websites and apps often offer training videos. 

Types of group work

  • Pair/partner work
  • Informal cooperative active learning
  • Group essays or projects
  • Group presentations

Setting groups up for success

  • Set up groups of the right size, preferably with an odd number of participants
  • Make groups heterogenous to encourage peer-to-peer learning
  • Provide opportunities for students to activate their unique background knowledge and perspectives
  • Provide detailed instructions for group interaction expectations
  • Provide guidance on strategies for dividing the workload, such as setting up roles (ie: organizer, recorder, liaison, etc.)
  • Provide detailed instructions and rubrics for expected process and product
  • Split the grade for group work between collective and individual grades
  • Build in check-ins with instructor early on and midway
  • Plan for interventions if groups are not functioning well
  • Allow team members to evaluate each other’s and their own performance for contribution, cooperation, & timeliness

Sources

What are the benefits of group work? – Eberly Center

21st Century Skills Map

Group work as an incentive for learning – students’ experiences of group work

Group work – Teaching practice – Learning and teaching guidance – Elevate – Staff

Transforming The Online Learner

Increasing Student-to-Student Engagement: Applying Conrad and Donaldson’s “Phases of Engagement” in the Online Classroom

Teamwork 5 Dysfunctions

 

By Susan Fein, Instructional Designer, susan.fein@oregonstate.edu

In my role as an instructional designer, the faculty I work with are often looking for ways to increase student engagement and add a “wow” factor to their online course. One way to do that is to add or increase active learning practices.

Active learning requires students to do something and think about what they are doing, rather than simply listening, as with a passive-learning lecture (Bonwell & Eison, 1991). Active learning brings positive and lasting outcomes to students, including better retention and grasp of concepts, and is particularly evident when students work together to develop solutions (Chickering & Gamson, 1987).

Tackling Discussions

In 2019, I worked with an instructor developing a biochemistry/biophysics course for Ecampus. The instructor loved the peer-to-peer interaction intended for discussions, but was discouraged by the often lackluster exchange commonly demonstrated in the posts. She wanted to liven up these conversations, not only to increase the strength of the community but also to have an impact on the value of the learning that took place.

Enter knowledge boards! With a simple but creative retooling of the predictable initial-post-and-two-replies format, the instructor found a way to reimagine the often mundane discussion board and transform it into a lively and highly engaging conversation and exchange of knowledge.

How did she do this? Rather than compel all students to respond to a narrow or artificially-constructed prompt, the instructor instead posted several relevant topics or short questions extracted from the concepts presented during that week’s lectures and readings. Topics might be a single word or a short phrase, and the questions were tightly focused and direct.

Choice and Agency

From this list of 5 to 10 conversation starters that give breadth to the topics, the students can choose which they want to respond to, often selecting what’s of greatest interest to them. These posts could be anything related to the topic or question, so students are free to approach from any perspective or direction.

The instructor found that the students more freely contributed ideas, insights, understandings, questions, confusion, and commentary. They were encouraged to ask questions of each other to delve into significant points. Students could engage in as many conversations as desired, at their discretion. As a result, they tended to be more actively involved, not only with the content and concepts from that week’s materials, but also with each other, producing a strong community of inquiry.

This simple change transformed the tired and (dare I say it?) potentially boring weekly discussion into a meaningful opportunity for a lively and valuable knowledge exchange. The instructor explained that students also report that this knowledge board becomes a study guide, summarizing multiple approaches and insightful content they use for studying, so many revisit the posts even after that week is over as a way to review.

But Wait…There’s More!

The instructor didn’t stop at discussions in her pursuit of increased engagement and active learning. Her next “trick” was to evaluate how the assessments, especially homework problems, were presented.

A typical format in many Ecampus courses is to have students complete homework assignments individually, and these are generally graded on the correctness of the answers. But once again, this instructor redesigned a conventional activity by applying principles of active learning and collaborative pedagogy to improve learning outcomes.

In the new version, students first answer and submit solutions to the homework individually, and this initial phase is graded on proper application of concepts, rather than on the correctness of the answer. Next, students work together in small groups of 3 or 4 to discuss the same set of problems and, as a group, arrive at consensus of the correct answers.

The active learning “magic” occurs during this critical second phase. If one student is confident about an answer, they present evidence from the lectures and readings to persuade their peers. And when a student is not certain that they correctly grasped the concepts, they discuss the problem and relevant principles, learning from each other through this review, hearing different perspectives and interpretations of the materials. It is through these vital peer-to-peer interactions that the active learning takes place.

As the last phase of the activity, the group submits their answers, which are graded for correctness.

This reshaping of a classic homework activity results in deeper levels of understanding and stronger knowledge retention (Weimer, 2012). And there’s an added benefit for the instructor, too. Since there are fewer papers to grade, formatting homework as a group submission means extra time to offer more and better feedback than would be feasible when grading each student individually. A win-win bonus!

Benefits of Active Learning

These are just two simple but ingenious ways to reformat classic forms of interaction and assessment.

Do you have an idea of how you can alter an activity in your course to make it more interesting and engaging? If you sense that your online course could use a boost, consider incorporating more active learning principles to add the extra oomph that could transform your teaching content from mundane to magical!

So let’s close this post in true active learning style and take a moment to reflect. What kinds of active learning practices have you tried in your course? How did those go? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences, so please share in comments.

References

Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active Learning; Creating Excitement in the Classroom (Vol. Education Report No. 1). Washington, D.C.: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.

Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987, March). Seven Principles for Good Practice. AAHE Bulletin 39, 3-7.

Weimer, M. (2012, March 27). Five Key Principles of Active Learning. Retrieved from Faculty Focus: https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-and-learning/five-key-principles-of-active-learning/

Evaluating Textbooks

When selecting a textbook, there are a number of factors to evaluate. In addition to assessing the textbook for appropriate content, one category that I recommend looking at is how inclusive the textbook is. Here are a few guiding questions to ask when evaluating textbooks for inclusion:

student studying on a laptop
Photo by Surface on Unsplash

  • What is the cost of this textbook? Have you looked for open (free) textbooks, perhaps from the Open Textbook Library or considered writing or adapting your own? Affordability is inclusive.
  • Do the textbook images of people represent diverse cultural heritage and lived experiences?
  • Are the contributions to the field that are highlighted in the textbook from a diverse range of scholars in the field? If not, is there discussion about why certain voices were historically excluded from the field?
  • Is the textbook accessible? If there is an e-book, do the images have alt text, for example? Can students with disabilities access all materials in the book?
  • If the textbook is an e-book, are the concepts presented in multiple ways, such as text, infographic, slide decks, or multimedia elements? Giving students choices in how they explore the course concepts empowers them to use their existing preferences, and helps them develop new strengths and avenues for learning.

What to Do When the Textbook Is Not Ideal

It’s tough to find a textbook that is inclusive and has all of the concepts you are hoping to teach. What can you do when you find a textbook that has the concepts you need but is lacking in inclusive excellence? Here are some simple ideas for addressing this:

  • Consider giving publisher feedback. Write a brief email to the publisher about your concerns around a lack of representation in the book or whatever it is that you see as missing. 
  • For any text you choose, consider inviting students to write to the publisher if they see areas for improvement, whether that is with cost, bias, or other issues. You could include the contact information for the publisher in your course materials page, inviting students to write in feedback directly to the publisher. 
  • Acknowledge to your students that the textbook isn’t as inclusive as you would like it to be. Share the ways that you are advocating for better quality. You could also invite students to have a bias hunt discussion about the textbook or course materials. Then you could collect that feedback and send it to the publisher.
  • If the textbook lacks contributions from a diverse range of scholars, consider adding scholarly articles, images, or interviews from diverse professionals in your field to your course learning materials pages, in your LMS course site.
  • Consider highlighting professional organizations in your field that promote and mentor the professional development of scholars from specific historically underrepresented communities.

Have you had success in this area of evaluating textbooks? Have you found a publisher or textbook that has made gains in this area? If so, please share your resources in the comments.

References: 

We believe textbooks should be diverse and inclusive. Here’s what we’re doing about it.

Peralta Online Equity Rubric

UDL Progression Rubric

Open Textbook Library

Image credit: Surface on Unsplash

When looking at the name Serverless, it may seem obvious what Serverless is; the lack of a server for an application. The name is actually quite deceiving, as Serverless applications still require servers to perform their duties. Serverless actually refers to a collection of managed cloud services that help to run our applications including storage, databases, functions, back and forth data transfer and more. With serverless, a cloud provider like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure handle all the configuration, provisioning and management of the server instead of the developer. In simple terms, this means organizations adopting a serverless architecture will be saving a lot of time and money by removing the need to worry about setting up and managing servers.

The Platform Development Team (part of the multimedia group at Oregon State University Ecampus) builds and maintains a number of platforms that leverage Serverless. Web Platforms are pieces of software that facilitate the creation and consumption of content or activities at scale. By using Serverless, our team has experienced a huge decrease in time needed to develop and deploy new platforms and applications. Without the need for our team to configure and manage servers we can handle the setup of our backend for new applications more quickly and efficiently. Any support needed for a dedicated server has also completely disappeared, that is now all handled by the cloud provider. Another huge money saver for our team has been the lack of need for a dedicated server (a server dedicated to you, not shared with anyone else). In the past when using a dedicated server, you would have to pay for both the server, in addition to any resources dedicated to that server, these costs continue to occur even when the server is not in use. With Serverless, you simply pay for what you use, this means when our applications are not receiving requests we are not being charged. When a serverless architecture is performing jobs, the costs accrued are very small, each job costing less than a fraction of a penny. The combination of both an increase in our speed to produce new applications and the lower price tag of using Serverless to handle tasks has allowed our team to undoubtedly save on development costs and provide software to users in a timelier manner.

Apart from its cost benefits, there are also many other positives to using a serverless architecture. These include security, scalability and accessibility. Because the server is no longer managed by the developer, many of the security aspects for applications that a developer would have had to manage in the past are handled by the cloud provider. There are still many security concerns a developer has to consider and handle outside of what the cloud provider handles, but Serverless helps reduce the list of concerns for the developer. Scalability is also a huge plus. As an application gets more popular or starts receiving more requests, Serverless allows scaling to handle those requests. With a dedicated server you would need to manually increase resources. Often when increasing the resources for a dedicated server there will likely be a good portion of those resources going to waste (wasted resources means wasted money), especially as the application receives different levels of traffic at different times. With Serverless, there is no need to worry about wasting resources because it only uses what is needed and scales to the amount of traffic an application is receiving. One of the main goals of our team is to make everything that we develop fully accessible. Serverless helps to us achieve this goal by being offering the ability to deliver content from different regions all over the world, rather than being dependent on a delivering all content from dedicated server located in Oregon. This allows students to more easily access our content and at higher speeds.

Ecampus’ Platform Development Team has seen so many benefits from using the serverless architecture over a dedicated server that it is now used in almost everything that we do. Every single one of our platforms including NES (our platform designed to handle long form content), SLIDE (our platform designed to add interactivity to slideshows), VDL (our platform designed to add interactivity to videos) and the upcoming interactive labs platform all have fully adopted a serverless architecture, which has helped us in producing interactive content for Ecampus’ courses in lightning fast speeds. We can also now utilize the time we have saved to improve our platforms and the overall interactive content that is used in Ecampus’ courses. In summary, Serverless has not only saved our team time and money but also has allowed us to offer better learning experiences to students taking Ecampus’ courses.

Author – David Jansen

Over the last several years, research on online education has been growing rapidly. There has been an increased demand for quality research online teaching and learning. This demand now seems more urgent as teaching modalities are changing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 2016, the Ecampus Research Unit has been funding OSU faculty-led research on online and hybrid education through the Ecampus Research Fellows Program. The goals of the program are the following:

  • To fund research that is actionable and that impacts students’ learning online;
  • To provide the resources and support to “seed” pilot research leading to external grant applications;
  • To promote effective assessment of online learning at the course and program-levels at OSU;
  • To encourage the development of a robust research pipeline on online teaching and learning at OSU.

Ecampus Research Fellows are funded for one year to engage in an independent research project on a topic related to online teaching and learning. Fellows may apply for up to $20,000 to support their research project. Up to 5 projects are funded each year. The program follows a cohort model in which fellows meet on a quarterly basis as a group to discuss their projects and receive support from the Research Unit. Each fellow completes an Institutional Review Board (IRB)-approved independent research project, and they are required to write a white paper based on their project results. The program’s white papers are published by the Ecampus Research Unit.

Actionable research impacting online education

In the past five years, the program has funded 24 projects with 34 faculty from across the university. The funded research has been conducted in anthropology, biology, chemistry, education, engineering, geography, mathematics, philosophy, physics, psychology public health, rangeland science, sociology, statistics and veterinary medicine. The faculty have benefitted from having dedicated time and resources to undertake these research projects. Their fellows’ projects are significant for their own research pipelines, and their findings are valuable Ecampus as we continue to innovate in our development of online courses. An example is geography instructor, Damien Hommel’s project, which led to a larger effort toward expanding experiential education for Ecampus courses beyond his discipline. Other fellows’ projects are providing valuable information about peer influence, inclusive teaching, hybrid laboratories, video segmentation, online research platforms, and more.

Becoming a research fellow

Are you an OSU faculty member interested in doing research on online education in your discipline? Previous experience with classroom-based or human subjects research is not a requirement. The Ecampus Research Unit is available to support you with your application and the research design process. We will be accepting our 6th cohort in 2021. The application is available now and is due on November 1st. Funded projects will be notified by December 1st.

If you have questions about the program contact Mary Ellen Dello Stritto (maryellen.dellostritto@oregonstate.edu), the director of research for OSU Ecampus. Additionally, attend an information session on Tuesday, September 29, 2020 at 1p.m. or Friday, October 2, 2020 at 11a.m. To register for one of these information sessions email: maryellen.dellostritto@oregonstate.edu.

About the Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit

The Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit responds to and forecasts the needs and challenges of the online education field through conducting original research; fostering strategic collaborations; and creating evidence-based resources and tools that contribute to effective online teaching, learning and program administration. The OSU Ecampus Research Unit is part of Oregon State Ecampus, the university’s top-ranked online education provider. Learn more at ecampus.oregonstate.edu/research.

 

Assignments are an integral component of the educational experience to guide the teaching and learning processes. In fact, Dougherty (2012) contends that assignments are instructional events that aim to teach for learning, that is “recipes for instructional events— lessons in the best sense— and their main function is to create a context for teaching new content and skills and practicing learned ones.” (p. 23). Assignments as instructional plans provide students with the opportunities to apply concepts they studied in the class. Further, through assignments, students can demonstrate the skills developed in a unit of content in more concrete ways and aligned to the goals of the course.

In my consultations with instructors I often hear them raise concerns about course assignments. These concerns range from making assignments more practical and relevant, clarifying the purpose and instructions, integrating problem-solving and critical thinking, to including authentic and experiential tasks. In addition, I hear instructors mention that some assignments that students submit are incomplete, offer superficial and unsubstantiated arguments (i.e., written reports), focus on tangential ideas, have been googled, reflect bias, and are simple opinions using non-credible sources. These concerns are very valid and it is important to examine the assignments deeper. What I have noticed is that some assignment descriptions lack a purpose and clarity. In a word, assignments need to be transparent

Determining the structure of an assignment bears the questions of how can instructors make the assignments learning events that are clear and relevant enough for students? how can students not only demonstrate what they learn, but also use the assignments as catalysts for further intellectual and academic challenges? Let’s take a closer look at transparency.

Transparency

The first time I heard about transparency in assignment design was at the Wakonse Teaching and Learning conference a few years go. Several sessions and small group activities at the conference showed us that the assignments need to have a clear structure, detailed instructions, and a grading criteria. Obviously! I said to myself at the time. However, the reality is that assignments tend to be reduced to a list of instructions, tasks that students need to complete and submit for a grade. In some cases these instructions vaguely indicate the grading criteria in terms of the format and style (i.e., number of words, font size, spacing). 

The underlying framework for transparent assignments is a structure that clearly describes the purpose of the assignment, the instructions or tasks, and the grading criteria (Dougherty, 2012; Winkelmes, 2013; Winkelmes, Bernacki, Butler, Zochowski, Golanics, & Weavil, 2016). Winkelmess and colleagues (2016) draw from three theoretical bases to support the three-stage framework: metacognition, agency, and performance monitoring. Contrastively, Dougherty (2012) draws from instructional strategies informed by backward design and alignment to outcomes to set the assignment structure. In this framework, instructors deliberately design the assignment for high quality learning experience and relevance to students. In their research study, Winkelmess and colleagues (2016) found that students who received transparent assignments showed evidence of greater learning in three areas related to student success: academic confidence, sense of belonging, and mastery of skills. 

Designing transparent assignments involve creating a clear and coherent architecture. Through this structure students can think deeper about the concepts studied, focus their attention on particular topics, make connections to real-world contexts, and see the relevance for their future lives and goals (Dougherty, 2012). In doing so, instructors need to create a harmonious structure that clearly explains why students need to do an assignment, what is the assignment about, how to do the assignment, and how they will be graded on it.

When I presented this architecture to one instructor, he replied “you are asking me to tell students the answer! Why would I need to hand-hold students in this way when I want them to be problem-solvers and critical thinkers?” While this comment is valid, and also paralyzed me for a few seconds, I engaged the instructor in discussing what the assignments need to be clear. For instance, we talked about how students will know what to do, why students should care about completing the assignment (besides the grade), and how students will meet the expectations if they don’t know the purpose and the way to complete it. In addition, I said “you want students to be problem-solvers of the content and topics, not problem-solvers of the assignment design.”

A transparent assignment should have the following three basic components: purpose, task, and grading criteria.

Purpose

The starting point in an assignment is to be able to answer the question of why? Why will students learn from this assignment? Why will students need to complete this assignment? Why is this assignment important in students’ learning? Stating the purpose of the assignment serves a two-fold objective. First, it gives the instructor a frame of reference for creating an activity that is relevant and meaningful to students, and that connects to the learning outcomes. Second, the purpose of the assignment gives students a focus and a sense of direction. 

Winkelmes (2013) suggests establishing the purpose in terms of the skills students will practice and the knowledge they will gain. In addition, the purpose can also be determined by contextualizing the learning outcomes in practical ways within the activity.  

Task

You can call it tasks, details, instructions, steps, or other. In this structure, the instructor describes what students need to do, what resources they can use, and the expectations of the assignments. Having a clear set of instructions makes the assignment more rigorous and helps students produce more high-quality work.

Grading Criteria

Providing the criteria of how the assignment will be graded will also give students a sense of clarity and direction. Clear expectations through a rubric or grading guidelines helps students adhere to the outcomes of the assignment. Winkelmes (2013) suggests including several examples of real-world problems so students can see how the application of knowledge and skills will look like.

Remarks

A transparent assignment should have a well-structured framework or an architecture of steps. Transparency in assignments is a mindset, a way of thinking, the vision that students are given clear and relevant learning events that allow them to demonstrate their learning, and foster their engagement. Transparent assignments can be designed as stand-alone pieces or as a multi-stage assignment. Multi-stage assignments can build on cognitive complexity, include multiple skills, and extend learning to outside the class. In our next blog, I will look at how to design multi-stage assignments. 

Sources

Dougherty, E. (2012). Assignments matter: Making the connections that help students meet standards. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Winkelmes, M. 2013. “Transparency in Learning and Teaching: Faculty and Students Benefit Directly from a Shared Focus on Learning and Teaching Processes.” NEA Higher Education Advocate, 30(1), 6-9.

Winkelmes, M. A., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J., & Weavil, K. H. (2016). A teaching intervention that increases underserved college students’ success. Peer Review, 18(1/2), 31-36.

Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash.

This is the paradox of failure in games. It can be stated like this:

  1. We generally avoid failure.
  2. We experience failure when playing games.
  3. We seek out games, although we will experience something that we normally avoid. (Juul, p. 2)

As a continuation from my last blog post considering grades and Self-Determination Theory, I wanted to take a brief side-quest into considering what it means to experience failure. Jesper Juul’s The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games will provide the main outline and material for this post, while I add what lessons we might learn about feedback and course design in online settings.

Dealing with Failure

Juul outlines how games communicate through feedback using the theory of Learned Helplessness. Specifically, he focuses on Weiner’s attribution theory, which has three dimensions:

  1. Internal vs. External Failure
    1. Internal: The failure is the fault of the player. “I don’t have the skills to defeat this enemy right now.”
    2. External: The failure is the fault of the game. “The camera moved in a way that I couldn’t see or control and resulted in a game over.”
  2. Stable vs. Unstable Failure
    1. Stable: The failure will be consistent. No recognition of experience gained or improvement. “No matter what I do, I can’t get past this challenge.”
    2. Unstable: The failure is temporary. There is a possibility for future success. “I can improve and try again.”
  3. Global vs. Specific Failure
    1. Global: There is a general inability preventing success. “I am not good at playing video games.”
    2. Specific: Poor performance does not reflect on our general abilities or intelligence. “I’m not good at flight simulators, but that doesn’t mean I’m bad at all video games.”

In general, a combination of Internal+Stable+Global failure feedback would contribute most strongly toward a player adopting a learned helplessness mindset. There is a potential parallel here with course design: when a student does not do well on an assessment, what kind of feedback are they receiving? In particular, are they receiving signals that there is no opportunity for improvement (stable failure) and that it shows a general inability at the given task (global failure)? Designing assessments so that setbacks are unstable (offer multiple attempts and a way for students to observe their own improvement over time) and communicating specific skills to improve (make sure feedback pinpoints how a student could improve) would help students bounce back from a “game over” scenario. But what about internal vs. external failure? For Juul, “this marks another return of the paradox of failure: it is only through feeling responsible for failure (which we dislike) that we can feel responsible for escaping failure (which we like)” (p. 54). This importance of internal failure aligns with what we know about metacognition (Berthoff, “Dialectical notebooks and the audit of meaning”) and the numerous benefits of reflection in learning.

Succeeding from Failure

Now that we have an idea on how we deal with failure, let’s consider how we can turn that failure into success! “Games then promise players the possibility of success through three different kinds of fairness or three different paths: skill, chance, and labor” (Juul, p. 74):

  1. Skill: Learning through failure, emphasis on improvement with each attempt. (This is also very motivating by being competence-supportive!)
  2. Chance: We try again to see if we get lucky.
  3. Labor: Incremental progress on small tasks accumulates more abilities and items that persist through time and multiple play sessions. Emphasis here is on incremental growth over time through repetition. (Animal Crossing is a great example.) (This path is also supported by Dweck’s growth mindset.)

Many games reward players for all three of these paths to success. In an online course, allowing flexibility in assignment strategies can help students explore different routes to success. For example, a final project could allow for numerous format types, like a paper, podcast, video tutorial, interactive poster, etc. that students choose strategically based on their own skills and interests. Recognizing improvement will help students with their skills and helping students establish a routine of smaller, simpler tasks that build over an entire course can help them succeed through labor. Chance is an interesting thing to think about in terms of courses, but I like to think of this as it relates to content. Maybe a student “gets lucky” by having a discussion topic align with their final project topic, for example. For the student in that example, that discussion would come easier to them by chance. Diversifying content and assignment types can help different individuals and groups of students feel like they have “lucky” moments in a course.

Reflecting on Failure

Finally, how do games give us the opportunity to reflect on our successes and failures during gameplay? Juul outlines three types of goals that “make failure personal in a different way and integrates a game into our life in its own way” (pp. 86–87):

  1. Completable Goal: Often the result of a linear path and has a definite end.
    1. These can be game- or player-created. (i.e., Game-Driven: Defeat the ghost haunting the castle. Player-Driven: I want to defeat the ghost without using magic.)
  2. Transient Goal: Specific, one-time game sessions with no defined end, but played in rounds. (e.g., winning or losing a single round of Mario Kart.)
  3. Improvement Goal: Completing a personal best score, where a new high score sets a new goal.

For Juul, each of these goal-types have different “existential implications: while working toward a completable goal, we are permanently inscribed with a deficiency, and reaching the goal removes that deficiency, perhaps also removing the desire to play again. On the other hand, we can never make up for failure against a transient goal (since a lost match will always be lost), whereas an improvement goal is a continued process of personal progress” (pp. 86–87). When thinking about your courses, what kinds of goals do you design for? Many courses have single-attempt assignments (transient goal), but what if those were designed to be improvement goals, where students worked toward improving on their previous work in a more iterative way that replaced old scores with new and improved scores (improvement goal)? Are there opportunities for students to create their own challenging completable goals?

I hope this post shines a light on some different ways of thinking about assessment design, feedback types, and making opportunities for students to “fail safely” based on how these designs are achieved in gaming. To sum everything up, “skill, labor, and chance make us feel deficient in different ways when we fail. Transient, improvement, and completable goals distribute our flaws, our failures, and successes in different ways across our lifetimes” (Juul, p. 90).

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 (CAST.org, 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.

References

About Universal Design for Learning. (n.d.). CAST.org. Retrieved on June 8, 2020 from http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html

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. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40615-016-0220-5 

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 www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvr33d50.7

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 https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=60