UDL Part 3

1, 2, 3, emphasis on 3

This post is the third post of my three-part UDL series. Post one, focused on Defining UD, DI, and UDL. Post two, Pedagogical Approaches for Implementing UDL provided principles, supporting research, and pedagogical approaches to support this framework. This final post, shares a lesson plan template along with a wealth of actionable strategies to use when teaching. 

Intentional Lesson Planning & Strategy Integration

Lesson Template Image (attached jpg)The application of UDL principles has been tied to increased student engagement, persistence, and retention. A UDL teacher intentionally plans for expected variability across learners by creating a flexible curriculum that amplifies natural abilities and reduces unnecessary barriers.

This UDL Lesson Plan Template  is intended to support you in preparing for class sessions. It provides prompts to promote the integration of explicit instructional strategies as multiple methods to engage, teach, and assess learners. For some of the prompts, there are links taking you directly to a strategy card found in the new deck of CTL Instructional Strategies: Multiple Methods to Engage, Teach, and Assess.Strategy Card Cover Image (attached jpg) Each card provides details about and supporting research for the corresponding strategy.

Strategies are often considered scaffolds. Like scaffolds in construction, they serve as support, lifting workers to achieve something that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. Scaffolding means helping learners to do what they cannot do alone at first. Faculty who use scaffolds slowly remove them with intent to build independent learners. However, research shows that when strategies begin to disappear that learners’ academic achievement, confidence, and excitement for school also diminish. Therefore, it is important to overtly teach the What? (or high-end overview that defines the strategy); the Why? (describes the rationale for doing the strategy); and the How? (lists the steps or process of the strategy). This transparency supports learners to independently choose when, why, and how to use these strategies when in need and are also included as part of the Strategy Cards.

Although a lesson template and strategy routines are shared, it is important to stress that teaching is not a recipe. Inclusivity is a mindset. Universal Design for Learning is a mindset. These resources are intended to be modifiable guides, or scaffolds, to help meet your needs.

So new it hasn’t yet made it to the printer!

For a deeper dive, check out the entire deck of CTL Instructional Strategies: Multiple Methods to Engage, Teach, and Assess! Feel free to download this pdf or enter our drawing to win a free deck! Leave a relevant comment, connection, or question below to be entered! Three random winners will be selected! Good luck!


  • CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved 5/25/2020 from http://udlguidelines.cast.org
  • College STAR. Introduction to Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved 1/27/2020 from https://www.collegestar.org/universal-design-for-learning
  • Field, S., Sarver, M. D., & Shaw, S. F. (2003). Self-Determination: A Key to Success in Postsecondary Education for Students with Learning Disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 24(6), 339–349.
  • Fuchs D, Mock D, Morgan P, Young C. Responsiveness-to-intervention: Definitions, evidence, and implications for the learning disabilities construct. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice. 2003;18:157–171.
  • Getzel, E. (2008). Addressing the persistence and retention of students with disabilities in higher education: Incorporating key strategies and supports on campus. Exceptionality, v16(4), 207-219.
  • Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, (2014). Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice. CAST Professional Publishing.
  • Moore, J. C. & Fetzner, M. J. (2009). The road to retention: A closer look at institutions that achieve high course completion rates. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, v13(3). 3-22.
  • Novak, K. (2016). UDL in the Cloud!. CAST Professional Publishing.
  • Pearson, P. D. (1982). A context for instructional research and reading comprehension. (Technical Report No. 230). Urbana: University of Illinois Center for the Study of Reading.
  • UDL on Campus. Retrieved 5/1/2020 from http://udloncampus.cast.org/home

Brooke HowlandBrooke Howland is the associate director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Oregon State University. She received her B.A. and M.A. in Elementary Education with an ESL endorsement from the University of Northern Colorado and earned her Ed.D. in Teacher Education in Multicultural Societies from the University of Southern California. Her scholarly expertise is in teacher development and curriculum design. Prior to working at OSU, Dr. Howland taught in the School of Education for University of Southern California; University of California, Irvine; and currently teaches at University of California, Los Angeles.

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UDL Part 2

1, 2, 3, emphasis on 2

This post is the second post of my three-part UDL series. Post one, focused on Defining UD, DI, and UDL. This post further unpacks UDL. It also provides some recommendations for pedagogical approaches along with their research-based rationales. The final post of this series will share a lesson plan template and a wealth of actionable strategies to use for UDL implementation. 

As educators aware of the diverse student population at OSU and as champions of inclusive education who anticipate and mitigate curriculum barriers our goal is to proactively and deliberately plan courses that value the incredible strengths, diversity, and needs of our learners before they even enroll in our courses, and before receiving a formal accommodation letter. Designing for learner variability means creating a course where content is accessible to the greatest number of diverse learners. Further, the implementation of UDL requires embedded scaffolds to support challenges.

UDL is grounded in advances in cognitive neuroscience research and offers a framework that integrates what we know about how the brain learns. UDL embraces course design principles that consider learner variability based on abilities, preferences, and prior education. UDL guides conscious decision making aligned with three broad learning networks of the brain:

Descriptions of each UDL Network

In sum, UDL aligns this neurological pathway to three principles: 1) engaging learners in different ways; 2) presenting information using multiple methods; and 3) providing learners multiple options and opportunities to express their knowledge.

So new it hasn’t yet made it to the printer!

For a deeper dive into better understanding UDL and recommended pedagogies check out this newly created Pedagogical Approaches for Implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL)! Feel free to download this pdf or enter into our drawing to win a free pamphlet. Leave a relevant comment, connection, or question below to be entered! Three random winners will be selected! Good luck!


Brooke HowlandBrooke Howland is the associate director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Oregon State University. She received her B.A. and M.A. in Elementary Education with an ESL endorsement from the University of Northern Colorado and earned her Ed.D. in Teacher Education in Multicultural Societies from the University of Southern California. Her scholarly expertise is in teacher development and curriculum design. Prior to working at OSU, Dr. Howland taught in the School of Education for University of Southern California; University of California, Irvine; and currently teaches at University of California, Los Angeles.

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Supporting Learner Variability: UDL Part 1

1-2-3 with 1 emphasized

This post is the first post of a three-part UDL series. This post focuses on defining UD, DI, and UDL. Future posts will further unpack UDL, provide recommendations for pedagogical approaches, share a lesson plan template and provide a wealth of actionable strategies to use for UDL implementation. 


Supporting Learner Variability

As equity-minded educators, it is important we distinguish between three commonly and often interchangeably used terms: Universal Design (UD), Differentiated Instruction (DI) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

Concentric circles, from the outside in, showing Universal Design for Learning, Differentiated Instruction, Universal Design, and Accessibility.

To best understand these models, it makes sense to first understand accessibility. Ensuring content and experiences are physically and cognitively available to as many learners as possible is core – not just for legal compliance but as an end goal. Done proactively and deliberately, accessibility provides opportunities for all learners to access, engage with, and demonstrate their knowledge and skills without unnecessary challenges. Accessibility is the common core within all three models.

Universal Design (UD) promotes infrastructures designed to provide physical accessibility for everyone. For example, a curb cut is not only intended for wheelchair access to the sidewalk but are also helpful for strollers, bikes, suitcases, rollerblades, and dollies. This type of thinking influenced UDL to design courses that maximize their accessibility to a diverse body of people. Doing so also supports compliance with ADA and Rehabilitation Acts that require “equal access” to course content for learners with disabilities. Seven principles serve as the foundation for UD: 1) equitable use; 2) flexibility in use; 3) simple and intuitive use; 4) perceptible information; 5) tolerance for error; 6) low physical effort; and 7) size and space for approach and use.

Differentiated Instruction (DI) reflects brain-based variability in that we all learn differently, and we individually exhibit differences in our strengths and challenges. By getting to know our learners, educators provide accessibility by aligning teaching approaches and materials to create unique learning pathways. These pathways are tailored to individuals, or groups of individuals with similar strengths and/or needs. DI uses a reactive and teacher directed approach to accommodate learners’ needs.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that borrows and expands on each of the previously mentioned models. UDL encourages educators to attend to the full range of learners’ strengths and challenges to eliminate barriers to learning. Typically, instructors tend to teach to the “middle” learner – sometimes adding additional resources to extend learning or “fixing” learners performing below this benchmark. Whereas UDL promotes “teaching to the margins” by anticipating the range of variability. This approach eliminates the need for DI accommodation.

Shows regions of the brain activated by each element of UDL.UDL considers three broad learning networks of the brain (affective, recognition, and strategic) to provide multiple pathways for learners. Pathways are created by providing multiple methods for learners to engage with the course, its content, and ways to express their learning. Using UDL approaches ensures that all learners will be able to demonstrate their learning without unnecessary challenges unrelated to the academic content.

Table comparing UD, DI, & UDL

UD, DI, UDL Education Scale (Adapted from UDL Now! [2016])

Understanding the similarities and differences of UD, DI, and UDL will help you label the work you’ve already done and determine how to move forward. Incorporating tenets of UDL may seem like a high bar after quickly converting our courses and just barely completing our first term of remote teaching. But that is what makes UDL especially important during this time. It is an equalizer that can help support the varying situations and needs of our learners during an incredibly challenging and complicated time.

For UDL support, sign up for a 1:1 consultation with CTL, check in with DAS, or visit with the Faculty Media Center!

Stay tuned for part two of this series to learn pedagogical approaches for implementing UDL!


  • “Universal Design for Learning Guidelines.” Version 2.2. http://udlguidelines.cast.org
  • OSU, Institutional Diversity. Guidance for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Learning, https://diversity.oregonstate.edu/guidance-diversity-equity-and-inclusion-learning
  • Meyer, A., Rose, D. H., & Gordon, D. (2014) Universal design for learning theory and practice. Wakefield, MA: CAST Publishing.
  • Novak, K. (2016) UDL NOW!. Wakefield, MA: CAST Publishing.
  • Seok, S., DaCosta, B. and Hodges, R. (2018) A Systematic Review of Empirically Based Universal Design for Learning: Implementation and Effectiveness of Universal Design in Education for Students with and without Disabilities at the Postsecondary Level. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 6, 171-189. https://doi.org/10.4236/jss.2018.65014
  • Tomlinson, C. A. (2017) How to differentiate instruction in academically diverse classrooms (3rd). Alexandria, VA: ASCD

Brooke HowlandBrooke Howland is the associate director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Oregon State University. She received her B.A. and M.A. in Elementary Education with an ESL endorsement from the University of Northern Colorado and earned her Ed.D. in Teacher Education in Multicultural Societies from the University of Southern California. Her scholarly expertise is in teacher development and curriculum design. Prior to working at OSU, Dr. Howland taught in the School of Education for University of Southern California; University of California, Irvine; and currently teaches at University of California, Los Angeles.

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Are you IN(clusive)? Read, Reflect, & Reform

Spring term is done, and our past and  future students have to face their emotions in response to the national and international riots, and what this all says about race relationships.  It is difficult not to be emotionally taxed in the face of recent events highlighting prejudice. One may not have experienced prejudice or been subjected to a growing barrage of the reminders of inequity, but such cases have reached epic proportions. How does higher education react?

At the Center for Teaching and Learning we want to catalyze reflections on race and how we teach about it across disciplinary boundaries.  In college our goal is to provide students with an education. We aim to give students content knowledge and skills to live productive, better lives. These lofty goals provide all of us in college with ample opportunity to avoid facing the realities of the world we live in. Yes, we faculty try to make our classes applied, using many examples of how course material applies to life, but how often do we directly address the turbulence in the world?

Many students may not hear George Floyd’s death discussed in a class. There are many reasons. Maybe the course has nothing to do with prejudice and injustice. Maybe you do not want to risk being seen as political or too liberal, or are too pained or uncomfortable to bring it up. Too often we faculty treat course content as autonomous and let it shield out the world. If we focus only on the syllabus and the texts, we can avoid any uncomfortable discussions. If so, we have lost a valuable opportunity to truly advance education.

College should be a space that is inclusive to all, where every student, regardless of ethnicity, age, gender or ability, works together to build the basis for lifelong learning. Ideally, we faculty collaborate with students to help them not just gain new knowledge but also to evaluate, analyze, synthesize, and apply that knowledge. But knowledge is not fixed. It is dynamic, varies with interpretation, changes, and must be questioned. We faculty can help. We can make sure we create safe spaces for students to comfortably interrogate existing beliefs, some of which may no longer hold, or may be inaccurate. We can make sure we include texts and readings from diverse perspectives that help this process. What can you do?

You can ask yourself whether what you are reading represents a solitary view or one of different ethnicities and genders. You can pay attention to slights and generalizations that misrepresent people. You can show you are willing to take on difficult topics and engage in social discourse and invite it, no matter what the course content. We can create a climate where difference can be discussed.

With the flexibility of summer looming, one way to start to help with change is to make sure you know what the issues are.  We invite you to Read, Reflect, and Reform!  READ a free book (on us)! REFLECT on the book in fall asynchronous peer discussions. Help us REFORM inclusive teaching practices. Our goal is to catalyze reflection on teaching and learning towards building more inclusive classrooms, designing pedagogy for a diverse range of students, and creating environments of respect. The book is free to you. Your only commitment is to participate as time permits in our Fall asynchronous online reading group, and report on your examination of your inclusive teaching practices.


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Pandemic Teaching: Getting CCOMFE for the long ride ahead

A bike ride can be a very pleasurable experience if you are well prepared for the weather and terrain. I remember a time when I set out on a gloriously sunny day. All of a sudden, a squall blew in and rain pelted down. I could still get to my destination, but it was not the same. I was taken by surprise. I was not prepared. It was a very uncomfortable trip.  Remote teaching reminds me of that ride.

Although spring semesters have ended, terms still have a week or so to go, and the final verdict on how well higher education “kept teaching” is some time away. Public opinion, and early returns on both faculty and student surveys across universities nationwide paint a bleak picture. Students and faculty are tired and stressed, and many report varying levels of dissatisfaction with the remote teaching and learning experience. Many faculty had to change how they taught quickly, and with little to no compensation. Students who thrived in face to face settings and online classes (too often mistakenly conflated with remote learning) and some with no other experiences, floundered learning remotely.

My rain sodden bike ride taught me many things. I know I never wanted to be caught by surprise like that, but I also know that the weather, just like the future of higher education, is difficult to predict. Looking ahead, short term predictions are for rain. We can idealistically hope skies will clear, but given current information, to believe it would be unwise. It is prudent to pay attention to the science of the pandemic and face the reality: No one knows how life will be in the fall. Epidemiological data suggests we will not be back to normal.

As higher education looks to the summer and fall terms, universities have been proactive in reducing uncertainty by planning for multiple possible scenarios. Many, not wanting to play the odds are not opening at all. For example, the Cal State system made the call to have all fall classes be online. Many schools plan on opening for face to face classes with physical distancing restrictions, splitting attendance between physical classrooms and Zoom, and heightened testing and extra sanitary practices in place.  The fact remains that the spread of the virus, incidence, morbidity, and mortality rates are hard to predict, and the availability of a vaccine is uncertain.

In short, it will be some time until we are out of the proverbial woods. We need to be proactive and plan as best can be.  Higher education needs to capitalize on the lead time and provide strong guidance for course design and delivery. We need to face the admittedly unappealing prospect that class formats cannot be taken for granted. We cannot avoid the uncertainty. Once we accept that we are probably in for a long ride, we can prepare more effectively.

We all want to avoid another uncomfortable term. Thankfully, we have a wealth of information to capitalize on. At Oregon State University, like many other colleges nationwide, students and faculty provided feedback on their learning in surveys and focus groups. Individual colleges held seminars where faculty shared experiences, and what worked well for them.  Student and faculty voices help us triangulate on some key issues. In fact, the consistency and overlap in experiences are uncanny, heartwarming, and sometimes unsettling.

When the diverse voices are amalgamated, the feedback allows us to structure recommendations for future terms. The message seems to be clear. Faculty and students who had better experiences were in classes characterized by six factors: Compassion, Clarity, Organization, Multi-facetedness, Flexibility, and Engagement – they were CCOMFE (Live links here).

What made for CCOMFE classes? These six factors provide a prescription for teaching and learning during the pandemic, nicely echoing evidence-based practices for good face to face and online teaching in general (yes, the research and Ecampus units told us so; Richmond, Boysen, & Gurung, 2016; Riggs, 2019), but also reflecting the anomalous conditions. We can easily summarize the key prescriptions.

Get CCOMFE for the Fall.

Remote teaching calls for Compassion. Faculty sensitive to the pandemic and the stress that it is causing for all, modified courses to be careful of how much was being asked for students every week. They also communicated their care and concern for their students. They were kind, thoughtful, and even in the face of their own personal turbulences, cared for their students’ well-being.

Faculty need to be Clear. We all get more stressed when we do not know what is expected of us and when. Courses with clear expectations and detailed, well-structured, learning management system (LMS) content were easier to learn in. Students knowing exactly what was needed whether for group discussions or class projects, reported better experiences.

 Organization is more important now that ever. A well-organized instructor and class has always facilitated better learning. Paying close attention to the alignment of student learning outcomes to class activities and assessments stands to increase student motivation as their efforts are better justified.

Multifaceted courses, which provided students with many ways to learn (e.g., synchronous and asynchronous; breakout rooms, discussion boards, Jamboard, google slides) and to interact with the content, the instructor, and other students, tend to be easier to keep attention.  Setting courses up to have different avenues for learning can be accomplished by leveraging the affordances of Zoom and LMS such as Canvas.

With the many extra challenges faced by students and faculty alike, remote teaching benefits from instructor flexibility.  Successful instructors found themselves being more flexible on due dates, attendance, and how learning was demonstrated. Given the uncertain nature of the pandemic, instructors need also be ready to modify their classes for easing up or tightening of restrictions. Some classes starting face to face in the fall may still go back to remote teaching if cases spike with re-openings.

Finally, instructors need to consider ways to build Engagement.  Faculty who paid close attention to increasing their presence (introductory and weekly videos, frequent communique), and getting students to be engaged (Zoom polls, post lecture activities, reading reflections) had students who were more engaged in the material.

Keep Teaching 2.0

The good news is faculty and student feedback and a large base of scholarship of teaching and learning provide pragmatic tips for each component of getting CCOMFE. At Oregon State University our Center for Teaching and Learning, Academic Technology, and Ecampus, have collaborated to create crisp, concise, practical ways to modify courses to get CCOMFE. Because the average instructor does not have time for literature reviews and even an abundance of tips, clear one-page guides to get one started are available for all.

Teaching, like a bike ride, can be immensely satisfying. While we cannot predict the weather far into the Fall, we can certainly take the steps to get CCOMFE in preparation.


Richmond, A., Boysen, G., & Gurung, R. A. R. (2016). An evidence-based guide to college and university teaching: Model teaching competencies. New York, NY: Routledge.

Riggs, S. (2019). Thrive online: A new approach to building confidence and expertise as an online educator. Sterling, VA: Sterling.

Author’s Note: A version of this blog post appeared in Inside Higher Education.

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Planning for Fall by Looking Back

Spring term is wrapping up and attention is shifting towards fall term. OSU has announced its Resumption Planning which is still in the early stages but strongly implies that Fall 2020 will have a mix of face-to-face, remote, and online elements. With this in mind, instructors are in the tough position of needing to keep their course plans flexible and adaptable. This uncertainty has me stressed, as I’m sure many of you are. I tend to channel this stress into being as prepared and informed as possible; so I really wanted to know what I can learn from the abrupt pivot to remote this term to help me prepare for the uncertainty of fall term. I know I want to end the term by reflecting on my own teaching, but I also want to know about my students’ experiences. For guidance on how best to informally gather that information I turned, yet again, to Magna’s 20 Minute Mentor videos for advice.

Dr. Brian Udermann outlines some big-picture, traditional ways of evaluating online courses in his video How Can Student and Faculty Feedback Improve Online Program Quality? Considering the unique circumstances of this term and the vast differences between emergency remote teaching and online teaching, some of the questions he mentions aren’t relevant or need to be interpreted with a big grain of salt. Despite this limitation, many of his questions can provide us with a great starting point for getting informal feedback from students. For example, asking students to compare this term to similar face-to-face classes on fronts like their workload or own learning. One question I would not have thought of was to ask the students: “Did your instructor(s) accomplish the learning outcomes established for your class(es)?” This seems like a valuable way to consider improving or tweaking the course for the future. The second half of Dr. Udermann’s talk focuses on program-level questions that can be asked of faculty to reflect on their online teaching; these questions could provide a great foundation for self-reflection. 

In contrast, in How Can I Get Useful Feedback to Improve My Online Teaching? Ann Taylor, M.A. focuses on the logistics of actually asking students for feedback. She discusses creative options like 1 minute papers where students write about what they got out of a unit or what they’re still confused about or online anonymous suggestion boxes for improving the course. She stresses Start/Stop/Continue as the most effective way to get useful feedback from students. Ask them to outline what you should start doing, stop doing, or continue doing for this course. Lastly, she advocates for ignoring outliers, having thick skin, and focusing on the trends of your feedback. We all know this term isn’t ideal for anyone, students included, and that will be reflected in the feedback, but education won’t be business as usual for quite some time so feedback will be essential for making the best of each term.

I want to wrap up this blog post by advocating for the Rapport Building Checklistvideo What Do Modern Learners Expect from Their Instructors? By Christy Price, EdD. This may seem like an abrupt change of topics, but I strongly believe that understanding students’ expectations is essential to interpreting their feedback. In this video she outlines how there are generational differences in instructor expectations. She discusses data on how student motivation is tied to specific instructors and how modern learners respond best when they feel cared about. This idea of feeling cared about seems extra important when considering education during a global pandemic. Flexible due dates or asynchronous content are not enough to communicate care. This video focuses on building educational rapport as a means of showing care and connecting with your students. She provides a handy Rapport Building Checklist (at the bottom) to help you reflect on areas of improvement. 

I know every one of you is extra busy this term and the idea of adding one more thing to your plate is daunting, but I urge you to take a few minutes to reflect on your own term and ask your students for some tips for improving, especially things they liked about another course that they think would work well in yours. Luckily, the eSETs for this term have been redesigned to ask questions similar to these. Taking a few minutes to do this now will provide you invaluable support when designing courses for the fall.

Author Bio: Kelby Hahn (She/Her) is an OSU graduate in the College of Education. She is on staff at the OSU Center for Teaching & Learning and in the OSU & LBCC Physics Departments.

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Should You Require Students To Turn On Their Zoom Cameras?

Getting students actively engaged in learning is the desired goal of instruction in all modalities. The pivot to remote teaching has rekindled productive inquiry about evidence-based strategies for fostering student-instructor, student-content, and student-student forms of interaction in the virtual classroom. This was the focusing theme of a recent High-Contact Strategies session of the College of Liberal Arts Symposium.  Inevitably, one of the faculty panelists asked, “How do you get students to turn on cameras?” The clear implication was that the prevalence of black boxes with names in them in synchronous class sessions negates the attainment of high-contact student engagement. This comment led to spirited discussion on both sides of the question.

Careful consideration of participants’ responses to the initial question coupled with information from pertinent literature on the topic suggested the bigger question:  Should you require students to turn on their Zoom Cameras?

To support faculty as they navigate the issues surrounding the norms for turning Zoom cameras on, the Center for Teaching and Learning has created a succinct infographic that encapsulates two key ideas:

  • Pros and cons of requiring students to turn on Zoom cameras.
  • Evidence-based recommendations for engaging students in learning without the mandatory use of Zoom cameras.

For live links, use the short url: https://beav.es/4Rk

Funmi Amobi is an Instructional Consultant and College Liaison in Oregon State University’s Center for Teaching and Learning. Funmi provides consultations to faculty in individual and small group settings to support teaching excellence and student success.

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Pedagogical Boosters

Pedagogical Boosters infographic

Last week, Cub Kahn posted a blog titled, Practical Solutions to Remote Learning Issues. In that issue, an infographic on remote learning issues, along with practical, evidence-based solutions were shared. This week, the Center for Teaching and Learning is sharing a second infographic, Pedagogical Boosters. But don’t worry, while we often may feel a pinch of pain when receiving shots, these boosters won’t hurt!

During this unique time, there is an abundance of literature, webinars, and resources on how to teach swarming our inboxes and internet. This infographic is intended to help you in making fewer decisions and should save you time in reading and doing research. For each of the following goals: 1) course design, 2) discuss content, 3) foster critical thinking, 4) build community engagement, and 5) assess learning, a specific, quick, (and did I mention painless) booster (or approach) is provided. Like last week’s solutions, these boosters can be applied to any teaching modality in the coming months.

For the latest strategies, tools and techniques, remember to visit Keep Teaching.

And for all your pedagogical needs, we are here for you (Mon. thru Fri. 9-5). Contact us!

Brooke Howland is the associate director of the Center for Teaching and Learning at Oregon State University. She received her B.A. and M.A. in Elementary Education with an ESL endorsement froBrooke Howlandm the University of Northern Colorado and earned her Ed.D. in Teacher Education in Multicultural Societies from the University of Southern California. Her scholarly expertise is in teacher development and curriculum design. Prior to working at OSU, Dr. Howland taught in the School of Education for University of Southern California; University of California, Irvine; and currently teaches at University of California, Los Angeles. 
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Long-Term Instructors Share Most Valuable Skills for Online Teaching

by Mary Ellen Dello Stritto, Ph.D., Director, OSU Ecampus Research Unit

Weatherford Hall - OSUThe teaching and learning field is busy tackling the unprecedented challenges of emergency remote teaching, and planning for many possibilities of hybrid, blended, remote and online teaching and learning in the upcoming summer and fall terms. Many are looking to their colleagues who have been teaching online for guidance, support and advice.

At OSU we are fortunate to have a large population of faculty who have taught online for 10 years or more. There are few universities that have such a substantial population of faculty who are long-term online instructors, and surprisingly little research exists on their experiences. We designed an interview-based research study to explore the experiences of this population of long-term instructors to learn about their origins of online teaching, professional development, teaching and course development practices, and attitudes and beliefs about online learning. In the 2018-2019 academic year, we conducted interviews with 33 of these faculty who have taught online at OSU for 10 years or more. Each instructor completed three one-hour virtual interviews. This group of instructors had an average of 14 years of experience teaching online at OSU.

In this post, we will discuss the results from one of the interview questions in this study. Instructors were asked: What skills do you think are most valuable for online instructors to have? A qualitative analysis of this question revealed some useful and timely information for instructors who may be teaching or planning to teach online. Their insights are also relevant to faculty who are planning for blended modalities (see Kahn, 2020 part 1 and part 2).

The top three valuable skills discussed by these long-term instructors were: communication, organization and time management (see table below).

Top three valuable skills for online instructors

Code Number of instances Instructors*
Communication 43 28 (85%)
Organization 21 15 (45%)
Time management 18 15 (45%)

*Instructors = count (%) of instructors with the code (at least once)


Long-term instructors overwhelmingly discussed valuable skills related to communication.  These communication skills were further organized into three categories: effective written communication, responsiveness, and tone or voice.

Written communication was the most common communication skill discussed by the instructors. These instructors emphasized how important effective written communication was for online teaching. They described this set of skills as being clear, coherent, detailed, careful and thoughtful in written communication with students. Written communication is especially important when there is little in-person interaction. One instructor stated:

typingWell, I think one skill is to be able to write succinctly and coherently. You’re giving a lot of instructions. They’re in writing, and if people are in different places and different times and whatever, really need to have those written so that they’re understandable.

The second most frequently mentioned communication skill was responsiveness. Instructors emphasized the importance of being highly responsive to students, responding in a timely manner, and having frequent communication with students.

Finally, the instructors emphasized the importance of how they communicated. Several of the instructors mentioned that the tone or the voice of their communication with students was important. Some emphasized the importance of personal and conversational communication.

You have to strike a tone right where you are sort of an expert and you’re providing an extra layer of content through your lectures, but they’re also there has to be some sort of a little bit less of a formality. So, it’s almost conversational is what I figured out works best….. and not sounding so much as an academic writer, but someone that’s in conversation with them about these things.


After communication, organizational skills were the second most frequently discussed by the long-term instructors. Most of these responses emphasized the importance of organization within the structure of online courses. Other instructors discussed the importance of organization, as well as the strategies or techniques used to maintain organization, in their daily work as online instructors.

Of the instructors who discussed organization as a skill, most were focused on the importance of course organization: organizing material in the online course so it was self-explanatory, clear and understandable. Many of the instructors talked about the importance of organization as a skill when designing online courses as well as teaching them. One instructor stated the following:

Week 1 moduleSo, I’d say you have to be really organized. You have to think about your material in terms of nuggets, or modules, or packages of material. I think that’s just a general kind of skill, you need to be very organized, which I think is easier for some than others. So that’s a skill.

A smaller group of instructors talked about organizational skills from the perspective of their own work process (instructor organization). One instructor discussed using organizational strategies such as to-do lists and reminders set to certain weeks of the course. Another instructor emphasized the importance of personal organization:

It’s both about keeping yourself organized in such a way that assignments are released on time that you’re doing your grading or feedback giving on time that even if you set things up to happen automatically by a Canvas or whatever delivery system you’re using that you’re still on top of it.

Time Management

The third most frequent valuable skills discussed by the long-term instructors were time management skills. Instructors discussed the importance of time management in online teaching as well as the importance of managing their time interacting with and responding to their online students. Time management, as these instructors described it was related to communication skills in that they discussed managing time spent responding to student emails and online discussion boards. Similar to the communication sub-theme of responsiveness, several of the instructors indicated the importance of responding to students in a timely manner, which some alluded to being more challenging in online teaching. For example, one instructor stated:

Being responsive in a timely manner. And I will admit that sometimes I still struggle with that, because the students aren’t in front of me, so there’s less accountability. And so being able to make sure that I am responding in a timely way is, has really become more of a priority for me. It might not have been as much before, but I think it really matters. And I didn’t put as much emphasis in carving out that time, to make sure that every day I’d have a little bit of time to just, to devote to any kind of communication means for the online students.

Several of the instructors discussed time management and timely responses in relationship to boundaries around their availability to online students. For example, the following are quotes from two instructors who commented about 24-hour cycles:

I just think time management is something that’s really, really important. You could easily get sucked into checking in on your course and doing stuff twenty-four hours a day. That’s just not healthy.

You know, just kind of, you’ve got to be ready to be accessible nearly 24/7. That’s a little – maybe not quite that much, but you know, I work a lot of nights because that’s when questions come up and when you have 50 students and there’s a weekly assignment – each one wants to post something, you know 2 or 3 posts – that’s a 150 posts to go through. That’s a lot.

A few instructors discussed strategies they use to manage their time interacting with and responding to online students while maintaining presence.

I think one of the skills is being present. Different people get there in different ways, maybe they organized themselves whilst they are in the class many times, and they structure their time so they are, but just being present. So, if it’s in the discussion board or creating a weekly, or biweekly announcement so it looks like you are there often. That’s a skill.

The long-term instructors’ responses to this question illustrated a strong consensus. Remarkably, when asked about valuable skills for online teaching, 28 out of the 33 instructors talked about the importance of communication skills, underscoring the importance of these skills in an online context. Further, organizational skills and time management skills were discussed by 45%, or nearly half of these instructors. While these instructors have highlighted how these skills are best leveraged in an online context, it is worth noting that all three of these skills areas are of significant importance in all modalities of teaching. Thus, instructors teaching online for the first time may find these insights useful as they adapt their pre-existing teaching skills. Whether you are an instructor who is teaching an online, blended, remote or a face-to-face course, effective communication, organization, and time management are valuable skills to perfect. As lifelong learners, we all have the opportunity to grow and improve these skills in various context.

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.

Photo: Typing by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

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Practical Solutions for Remote Learning Issues

OSU Memorial UnionTwo months into higher education’s sudden transition to remote teaching, the challenges of this modality are evident to students and faculty alike. Even as we encourage and support students to successful completion of Spring term, we look ahead to Summer Session and Fall term teaching contingencies.

To assist faculty as we move forward, the Center for Teaching and Learning has produced a new infographic on remote learning issues and pedagogical solutions to guide faculty moving forward in this unfamiliar and shifting educational environment. The focus is on three key issues that repeatedly raised by students:

  1. Zoom fatigue and internet stress
  2. Unclear instructions or expectations
  3. Too much for work students to do or unevenly distributed workload

Practical, evidence-based solutions are provided with links to useful resources. For instance:

  • To make expectations clear, provide a weekly overview of tasks as the first page in each Canvas module, and give an estimate of expected time required for each task.
  • Pivot away from Zoom fatigue by cultivating asynchronous interaction in Canvas with course content, peers and the instructor.
  • The problem of uneven workload can be ameliorated by staging assignments with sequential weekly steps and feedback via Canvas, rather than having students complete a term-long project in one or two giant steps.
  • A general Canvas Q&A discussion makes an ideal forum for student questions to clarify assignments and expectations. This saves instructors time answering the same question repeatedly via email.

Note that these solutions can be applied to any teaching modality in the coming months. For the latest strategies, tools and techniques, visit Keep Teaching.

We’re with OSU faculty every step of the way. Contact us!

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