Five Course Design Tricks to Maximize Learning, Creativity, Engagement (EDUCAUSE 2015)

On October 19th I was invited to present at a widely renowned national conference called EDUCAUSE. EDUCAUSE brings together higher education professionals, leaders, IT providers, administrators, faculty, and some of the most brilliant minds in the field.

My topic? Five Online Course Design Tricks to Maximize Learning, Creativity, Engagement.

Universal Design for Learning is a framework for designing learning experiences that meet the diverse needs of a wide variety of learners, including those with disabilities. Happily, when you design with those diverse needs in mind the experience of every student will be improved. The result will be increased learning, creativity, and engagement.

For an 8 AM session I had a large and engaged audience who were eager to share their ideas, impressions, and takeaways. At the end of the session, participants were invited to tweet at least one thing they would do now based on the presentation. Check out the hashtag #myUDL to see their responses. Below are some highlights:

Now I will:

  • @maggiericci says, “Check out the personas on”
  • @dancinjul says, “Create accessible templates”.
  • @maggiericci says, “Start the UDL conversation really early and make it positive, not apologetic.”
  • @CharleyButcher says, “Give students different ways to demonstrate their mastery of outcomes.”

Have UDL ideas of your own? Feel free to use #myUDL and share!

Want to join the conversation virtually or in person at the next UDL/Accessibility Think Tank at Ohio State? Register here.

Are we unintentionally inhibiting creativity?

Two dancers moving fluidly to music.In many professions the ability to think “outside of the box” and be innovative is desirable, if not crucial for success. Yet, we may be unintentionally inhibiting creativity in the way we design learning activities. In his book, “Effective Innovation”, John Adair lists several actions that creative and innovative individuals should do. Several among the list include:

  • Recognize assumptions and challenge them
  • Suspend judgment
  • Get comfortable living with doubt and uncertainty
  • Consider “invisible frameworks that surround problems/situations
  • Develop ideas drawn together from multiple sources


In addition, obstacles to creativity can include such things as over-application of logic and conforming to rules/regulations.

Now knowing this, how might we be inhibiting creativity in our classrooms? Let’s look at an example of a possible assignment.

Based on what you have learned about the topic of cognitive bias this week, find an image that represents an example of cognitive bias in society. In a one to two page paper describe how the image is representative of cognitive bias.

This activity is engaging and will likely be fun for students as they find evidence of cognitive bias in the world around them. So how is this activity inhibiting creativity?

The answer is one word—“image”. By framing the activity to require an image we are unintentionally limiting students’ creativity. Immediately students with visual impairment are excluded from the activity and students who may prefer to think outside of the box will find themselves limited. Let’s think outside of the box for a moment and consider if there might be a way to allow for creativity while still meeting the desired objectives for the assignment.

What else might students find as representation of cognitive bias in society? Sound bites? Podcast? Newspaper article? Blog? Facebook feed? There could be dozens of possibilities so let’s allow students the chance to think outside of the box and find a representation of cognitive bias that is most meaningful to them. How can we do that? Simple. Change the word “image” to “artifact”. One small change makes the possibilities limitless and accessible for all students.


“When all think alike, then no one is thinking.” – Walter Lippman, writer and political commentator


Goyette, B. (2007). Greg Sample and Jennita Russo of Deyo Dances performing in the modern ballet Brasileiro [Photograph]. Retrieved November 7, 2014 from Wikimedia Commons.