UDL picking up steam across OSU campus, reaches students

Over the past year, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) has been picking up steam and a growing community across OSU campus. Most recently, it’s even reached our students and the considerations they must make in their future careers.

UDL in a nutshell

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that supports proactively designing learning experiences in order to achieve the highest level of functionality and positive user experience for the widest audience possible. In order for UDL to be effective, it requires purposeful consideration and strategy in all areas of course planning and design. The end result will be online learning that allows students to access, interact, and learn in a variety of ways, addressing the learning styles and learning needs of a wide variety of students.

UDL across OSU

In the past year, ODEE has been recognized by other institutions as a leader in UDL in Higher Education. I have myself presented at several conferences on the topic and worked one-on-one with institutions across the country.

Now as 2016 rolls forward, UDL is building steam across the OSU campus. At the January DELTA Kick-Start week, I presented on some strategies for implementing UDL in course design to approximately 15-20 faculty from across campus. This fall, I was invited to one of the regional OSU campuses to talk with their Agriculture faculty and staff about UDL. Additional training, workshops, and Think Tanks are in the works as a community for UDL grows.

Most exciting…UDL reaches students

Perhaps most exciting is that the concept of the UDL framework is now reaching students. In Autumn 2015 I presented a lecture on UDL to Dr. Kui Xie’s class of future instructional designers and educational technologists. In late January, UDL will be presented to future teachers in Dr. Joni Acuff’s Art Education course. The hope is that these students will move forward into their future careers with the UDL framework in mind, thereby creating stronger, more engaging, and more effective learning experiences for students of any age.

How you can get involved

If you’d like to join a community of UDL thinkers across campus please visit the u.osu.edu/universaldesign blog site and watch for UDL-focused ODEE events.

If you would like to request a consultation, workshop, or lecture presentation on how UDL can be implemented in your area or with your students, email Phillips.1507@osu.edu.

DELTA Kickstart Week: A Student’s Perspective

Instructional Designer assisting kickstart week participants in the Digital Union.

So, I did the math. I’ve been in school mode for the past 16 years. I certainly don’t recall using the Internet for school activities as a 2nd grader in 2002, but I know that gradually, technology did become a big aspect of my education. And now, as I prepare to graduate from OSU and embark on a fully online master’s degree program, there is absolutely no escaping eLearning. Educators across our campus are embracing the inevitability of eLearning as the norm.

Which brings us to Kickstart Week…

This is why the Distance Education Learning and Teaching Academy (DELTA) January 2016 Kickstart Week exists. As a student assistant with ODEE, I had the opportunity to help facilitate this past week of learning and collaboration with educators from a wide range of OSU departments. Kickstart Week, for me, was also an intensive training on all things Distance Education.

For the group of 10-20 educators that participated in the program, they got the chance to build a course in Carmen, play around with new software and applications, and ask questions. Most importantly, they heard so many of my fantastic coworkers speak on topics such as: accessibility, Quality Matters standards, building rubrics, academic integrity, design basics, video recording, copyright law, and mobile security.

Sitting on the sidelines all week, I saw these professors light up when talking about their areas of expertise. They found new and exciting ideas for representing course content in different ways.

We explored a wide array of free online content building websites, some of which are included in the padlet below.


A new perspective…

Having never been on the teaching side of a course, it was fascinating for me to see how much consideration these professors put into their work. I was also able to share from my experience as a student at OSU, offering them different examples of how my professors have handled the situation being discussed. Walking away from Kickstart Week, I know the participants now have the ability to develop beautiful and smart online courses.

Blog post written by Megan Fogel, ODEE Student Assistant, and submitted by Jessica Phillips.


Maximizing Learning and Creativity Cross-Institutionally via UDL

University of Illinois-Springfield invited me to visit their campus’ Teaching and Technology Day to present on UDL and to work with their faculty and staff on integrating some of the finer points of accessibility and good design. It was a fantastic experience as I got to present to some incredible faculty and staff both in person and virtually. Feel free to watch the presentation!

Maximizing Learning, Creativity, Innovation for All

It was a wonderful experience to keynote alongside some other talented professionals and visionaries, especially on such a beautiful campus. In having some great conversations with people like Ray Schroeder, we discovered that we are all striving to the same goal: creating experiences that keep students interested, engaged, and persistent. Great to talk through some of these topics with like-minded individuals!

keynote flyer for UIS technology day

Pillars, sidewalks, buildings on the UIS campus


I would love to make it back there soon and will certainly continue to collaborate with these great people!

UDL. It’s what’s for dinner.

The OSU Office of Distance Education and eLearning (ODEE) is getting some nationwide recognition for its Universal Design for Learning initiatives.

UDL poster

This year, ODEE staff served up an impactful UDL poster to raise awareness of the power of UDL for OSU’s Innovate Conference. Over the summer, Instructional Designers Jessica Phillips and John Muir were invited to deliver to packed houses the ODEE approach to UDL at both the Distance Learning Administrator’s Conference and at the UW-Madison Distance Teaching and Learning conference. Additionally, EDUCAUSE, one of the largest educational conferences in the world, has invited ODEE to share its work on UDL to an audience of important players in education across the country.

Even individual universities (University of Tennessee-Knoxville and University of Illinois-Springfield) are interested in what ODEE is doing and have requested customized guidance to help their institutions adopt UDL principles and practices. ODEE will visit both universities this fall to work with faculty and staff on integration of UDL and accessibility.

Mini-workshops ODEE will provide these universities include:

  • Easy Integration (integrating UDL/accessibility into workflows)
  • The Art of Building Buy-In (engaging in conversations that change mindsets about accessibility and UDL)
  • Creating Exemplars (giving assignments a UDL makeover and showcasing success)
  • Accessibility Top 5 (key considerations to avoid the top five accessibility pitfalls in online courses)

While ODEE is excited about this nationwide interest, it’s also looking for opportunities to share these practices and principles closer to home with faculty and staff across OSU. If interested in a custom workshop for your department, please email ODEEaccessibility@osu.edu or contact Jessica Phillips (.1507) directly.

In the meantime, check out the ODEE Community for Universal Design and Accessibility or attend our next UDL/Accessibility Think Tank!

Experience the ODEE/OCIO accessibility roadshow!

Brown suitcase

Accessibility is an important part of all of our jobs. We need our applications, processes and communications to be accessible, whether they are intended for internal or external audiences. If we work together, we can create an equivalent experience at Ohio State for all students, faculty and staff.

To show us how we can commit to accessible practices, Accessibility Analyst Pete Bossley and Instructional Designer Jessica Phillips are hitting the road to share why accessibility is important at Ohio State and to teach us how to add accessibility practices into our work routines. They will be coming to a location near you during the month of September to present important information on accessibility as it relates to our work in the OCIO and in ODEE, including:

  • legal implications and definitions
  • suggestions for integrating principles of accessibility into current procedures
  • demonstrations of accessible versus inaccessible content and systems
  • critical questions for considering the user (student, staff, faculty) experience

These sessions will be tailored to more effectively meet the needs of individual groups with a variety of roles within our organizations. Each session will also feature a video featuring ODEE/OCIO CIO Mike Hofherr and others from the Ohio State community speaking to the importance of accessibility.

Attendees will leave these sessions with an increased awareness of accessibility, their role in supporting accessibility and pathways for additional help and information.

Register and join us!

Faculty and staff are encouraged to join the event nearest them. Seating is limited and in high demand so be sure to register for one of the following as soon as possible:

Enarson: September 17 from 10-11 AM

ADC: September 22 from 10-11 AM

Thompson Library: September 24th from 10-11 AM

TNC: October 8 from 10-11 AM

Please contact Pete Bossley(.5) or Jessica Phillips(.1) with any questions about these sessions.

Accessibility Hot Topic: Screen Readers

Kindle being held in hand. On screen are jumbles of letters on square blocks.What is a screen reader?

With all the talk about accessibility and the importance of accessible design, one is certain to have heard mention of screen readers. Screen readers are essentially audio interfaces that take visual content on a screen and convert it to speech so that a user can listen to content. These are used all the time by people with low vision or those who are blind (another way technology is opening doors). Without them these individuals would have to rely on others to read content aloud. Screen readers are used almost equally between desktop computers, laptops, and mobile devices, though the operating system used is Windows roughly 83% on desktops and laptops. For mobile devices, the distribution of use seems to lean more on the Apple product side of the house (WebAIM, 2014).

What does a screen reader sound like?

Screen readers can be used to navigate through a page, skim (just as sighted people do visually), identify important information, disregard unimportant information, and jump from paragraph to paragraph to info he or she needs most. WebAim’s How Screen Readers Read Content provide some more details on what this sounds like. You might also explore WebAim’s Screen Reader Simulation.

What do I have to do to make this work?

Screen readers have to rely on whoever built the content to know HOW it’s supposed to be read aloud. If not built with accessibility in mind, the experience will fall flat and will likely create frustration, confusion, and disengagement for someone with a vision disability. This may even lead to users feeling that they are being discriminated against (which is a civil rights violation, per the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act).

Therein lies the challenge because people who are sighted and have no problem navigating and ingesting content visually will have a VERY hard time understanding the experience of a non-sighted person. Even those with the best of intentions may feel lost when it comes to understanding that experience and needs for building content.

WebAim.org provides some insight into this experience that may help. Check out the information on Designing for Screen Reader Compatibility: Skimming Through Content.

What must we do when designing online courses?

In our work in designing online courses, here are some particularly useful things to consider and get you started:

  • Provide descriptive hyperlinks. Instead of “click here” or http://www.visitme.org include the actual title of the page or article you are linking to (hint: I did this throughout this article) so that if read outside of the context of the sentence it will make sense.
  • Use appropriate headings. Organize/chunk your content into headings. If using Word, using the Word headings feature to organize your page (much like an outline).
  • Set paragraphs apart. Put distinguishing info in the first sentence or two of a paragraph. This will allow someone with a screen reader to identify quickly if the info in the paragraph is what he or she needs. If not, it’s quickly on to the next!
  • Use an interactive table of contents. Including links to sections main content with headings at the beginning can help everyone (including those with a screen reader) navigate to the information they need more quickly. The WebAIM site does a great job of modeling this approach.
  • Provide alternate text for images. In order for the screen reader to know how to turn an image into speech, you have to provide “alternate text”. How to create appropriate alternate text requires some careful consideration of what exactly you want students to gain from the image, the complexity of the image, and how it supports the content. Check out WebAim’s page on alternative text for help.
  • Use page breaks. While it’s tempting to hit the “return” key to create space or to move to the next page, a screen reader will read each line without content as “blank” “blank” “blank” “blank” “blank” “blank” “blank”, adding minutia to what’s already a complex process of making visual content into speech. Instead of the “return” key, use paragraph settings or page breaks to create space.

Still have questions?

Visit the ODEE Resource Center for Accessibility and explore additional resources or use the request form (available in the Resource Center) to request accessibility help.

UDL/Accessibility Think Tank: Accessible Images in Carmen and Course Content

Male with face painted white frowning, same man next to him smiling.


On July 22 the UDL/Accessibility Think Tank met yet again to discuss accessible images in Carmen and course materials, like the one above (contributed by Aaron Carpenter). The conversation reaffirmed an important truth about accessibility: context is everything.

Checklists may not do the trick

Unfortunately, simple checklists for accessibility often don’t do the trick because one must look at a given situation (in this case an image) and decide what the ultimate goal of the image is in relationship to the student’s experience and interaction with the content. Far more helpful is to have a process of thinking through images in Carmen, whether complex or simple, and determining how to give an equivalent experience to all. In some cases, this might involve adding audio or providing an alternative form of the information altogether.

Beware of interpretation

Another interesting piece we discovered is the importance of keeping one’s own perspective and interpretation out of any alternative descriptions and text. This might be one of the more challenging pieces of the puzzle. It’s important to step away from interpretation and consider only the details of the image and not the impression or emotion it evokes for you. This may be a very different impression for someone else.


This session was a great success and full of vigorous dialogue both in person and virtually through CarmenConnect. The group as a whole shared many useful resources to help with accessible images, which I’ve shared below.

Look out for the next Think Tank and consider attending in person or virtually. See you soon!

Resources shared during Think Tank:

Diagram Center Poet: http://diagramcenter.org/development/poet.html

Accessible Classroom Technologies CarmenWiki: https://carmenwiki.osu.edu/display/10292/Home

HTML5 recommendations for alternate text: http://www.w3.org/WAI/alt/

Canvas Web Accessibility MOOC: https://www.canvas.net/browse/cccs/courses/web-accessibility-mooc-for-educators


Questions about accessibility? Email ODEEaccessibility@osu.edu.

DLA 2015: Maximizing Learning, Creativity, and Innovation for All


I attended the Distance Learning Administration Conference in Jekyll Island, GA and presented on strategies for maximizing learning, creativity, and innovation in online course design through principles of Universal Design for Learning. The presentation engaged the audience in considering a multitude of student perspectives and learning needs and delivered five concrete strategies with examples on how to implement UDL in course design. The reactions from attendees and the experience as a whole was very positive!


ODEE Community for Universal Design and Accessibility

UDL and Accessibility Perspectives


ASCUE 2015

From June 14th through June 18th I was fortunate enough to attend the ASCUE 2015 conference. This was an incredible experience to learn from industry experts, but also to grow my professional network. One of the reasons I was able to attend this opportunity was due to the Ohio State Staff Career Development Grant that helped with travel and conference expenses. I recommend the grant to anyone hoping to further their professional development opportunities.

One of the themes throughout the conference was freedom in education, not only in the way that instructors teach, but also in how students learn and are assessed. This freedom allows for flexibility to account for varying styles of teaching and learning. Courses can go beyond the standard textbook reading and multiple-choice exam.

Instead of summarizing topics throughout the conference, I thought it would be beneficial to summarize four tools that could be used for freedom in education.

  • Padlet
    • Padlet is a virtual bulletin board where text, pictures, and video can be posted. This tool could be used by the instructor to highlight current events or as a collaboration hub for students.
  • Bag The Web
    • Bag The Web operates similar to Pinterest. It can create pages containing links on a similar topic. An extension can be added to the Google Chrome browser that allows users to link directly to a Bag The Web page from wherever users are on the Internet. This tool could be used to highlight similar content from around the web for students.
  • Producteev
    • Producteev is a free project management tool that keeps track of project tasks and assignments. The tool could be used for large-scale projects or for the management of student projects throughout a semester.
  • Webaim
    • WebAIM is a site that offers training and tutorials to enhance web accessibility. Although this is not a technology tool, this is a great resource to enhance courses for all students, not just those who need accommodation.

These are just four tools, but I believe they can lead to exciting teaching and learning outcomes. It is important to keep in mind that teaching and learning can go beyond the standard. New techniques may make it possible to attain previously unattainable outcomes.