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.

UDL/Accessibility Think Tank: Building Expertise in UDL/Accessibility

Two frogs stretching their muscles.

On November 4 from 1-2 PM myself and Laura Fathauer, Grad Asst. and Coordinator of Transcribe OSU, will share a training plan, outline, and prototype for helping faculty and staff exercise and build UDL/accessibility muscles. We are hoping to get feedback and insight from roles across OSU in order to gather and eventually address the variety of needs. On Wednesday the 4th we will unveil plans for Phase 1 of the UDL/accessibility training program and gather feedback. We will also begin to talk about Phase 2, which involves different tracks for different roles. Your participation, whether virtual or in person, will be invaluable to the future of accessibility training in Distance Education and across OSU in general.

Join us in Stillman 115 or virtually via CarmenConnect and share your accessibility training needs, ideas, and feedback!

Please register in advance to reserve your place at the table!

Questions? Email

Alternate Text for Images in Two Minutes or Less

Images used in documents, interactive learning objects, websites, blogs, etc. all require alternate text to ensure that all students can gain meaning from the image or graphic. For students who are blind or have visual disabilities, this alternate text is crucial so that screen readers can identify and describe the image accurately. For others, the additional text may help to ensure that the meaning of the image and its relationship to the content is clear. Accessible content is a requirement of Quality Matters and aligns with WCAG 2.0 web accessibility standards.

Depending on the type of image and its relationship to the content, the nature of the alternate text may vary.

Imagine you have an image that needs alternate text. Let’s explore the process you will take (in two minutes or less) to make the image usable for all! Try using Text Alternatives for Images: A Decision Tree to help you analyze the alternative text needs for your image.


Consider the nature of the image.


Decorative image

The image is purely decorative in that it does not convey any information or is being used simply as a visually pleasing element or spacer.

Informative Image

The image conveys new information of varying levels of complexity including a link, short snippet, or an image conveying a significant amount of information. Images that repeat information should be treated the same as a decorative image.


Construct the correct alternate text.


Decorative Image

Create a null attribute indicating to a screen reader to ignore the image. To set the alternate text, go to the image properties and enter alt=”” in to the space for alternate text. If using coding, enter the null attribute into the coding <img src=”image.gif”alt=””>.

Image Conveying a Link

Include in the alternate text the label for the link (just as you would any hyperlink in your document) as: alt=”label for link”. This should be descriptive and not the URL itself.

Image Conveying a Snippet of Information

Include in the alternate text a very brief description that can be used as a supplement to the caption, if a caption is provided, as alt=”short text alternative”. The alternate text should not be identical to the caption but should be presented in a way that makes sense when read along with the caption.

Image Conveying a Significant Amount of Information

Often graphs, charts, or tables convey complex information that requires a long description. In most cases, this is best done by explaining the graph in text form elsewhere on the page or on a separate hyperlinked page altogether. This can be done by including a hyperlink below the image that says “text version of [insert label]”. In either case, alternate text is still needed to tell the learner where the alternate text can be found. For a long text description included elsewhere on the page include alternate text as alt=”[Image label] – text version below”. For a long description included on a separate web page include alternate text as longdesc=”[Image label]-text.html”.


Set the alternate text.


Provide the alternative text, as described above, by either accessing the image’s properties or by altering the HTML code. When you hover over the image or test accessing it using a screen reader the alternate text should provide a description and relationship to the surrounding content.


The above information is simplified for ease of use but for more information explore:

4Syllables (

WAC’s Guidelines for Describing Graphics (