Ways of Implement UDL principles in Canvas

As educators, we tend to replicate techniques we are comfortable using while assuming our students are OK with them. But in fact, our learners differ in ways that “they perceive and comprehend information that is presented to them” , and learners differ in ways in which they can be engaged or motivated to learn in various learning environment. The UDL principles scaffold and support to students variability.


Principle I: Provide Multiple Means of Representation (the “what” of learning)

Principle II: Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression (the “how” of learning)

Principle III: Provide Multiple Means of Engagement (the “why” of learning)


In Canvas, there are several approaches to empower students’ engagements especially in online learning environment.


  1. Prerequisite Modules

When determine the students best interests and their prior knowledges, instructors can create an optional modules with pretest or pre requisites materials.  For examples, the modules can include quizzes that contain the background knowledge check in that required for further learning. Once they have passed a certain level, they can move into the next core content modules.

  1. Extension/Optional Modules

On the other hand, some students will benefit from extension/optional modules if they would like challenge themselves, explore more opportunities above beyond what is required. For example, instructors may fill in an extension modules with extra credits items, additional course materials, or optional assignments build on students’ own interests or objectives.  


  1. Optional Discussion Board

Optional discussion board provides a space in which students may interact with each other and the instructor in a way to allow students to choose the comfortable level of engagement. For example, it may be useful to provide students with discussion boards that focus on questions related to assignments. And this kind of discussion board can be open-ended for questions and ideas for students to raise questions of ideas related to the learning whether in or out of class.


  1. Facilitate Peer Feedback

Students may benefit from the opportunity to give and receive solicited feedback during the writing or project design process. In Canvas, there are at least two ways to enable students to provide one another with quality feedback: (1) group discussions and (2) peer-reviewed assignments. Peer assignment review enables instructors to assign peers (manually or automatic/randomly) to review one another’s work before it is submitted for instructor review. This method is excellent for students to consider the rubric explicitly in commenting on one another’s work.

How to Embed Videos in Omeka Items

Are you a librarian, archivist, or scholar interested in creating your own digital collection? Omeka, one of the tools you can install on your Emerson.build domain, might be for you! Omeka is a content management system similar in some ways to WordPress or Drupal, but unique in its focus on curation and archival metadata. It’s great for creating digital exhibits that showcase scholarship—both texts and media—in interactive, detailed, and highly organized ways.

An “item” is Omeka’s most basic building block; think of it as a bucket containing all the data and metadata about an artifact or topic. Because Omeka offers about a million different fields to complete when creating an item (most of them optional), it’s easy to miss some of the more dynamic options. One such hidden gem is the ability to embed video into your item. Here’s how!

  1. Go to your Omeka dashboard (your Omeka URL ending with /admin). Click Item Types on the left-hand menu. Under Moving Images, click Edit.
  1. At the bottom of the form: select the button next to New, then click the green Add Element button. Enter “Player” for the title and (optionally) a sensible description. Then, you can drag this new element to the top of the list so it’s easy to find when you’re making items.

Add the Player field.

  1. Begin creating an Item. Click the Item Type Metadata tab. Select Moving Image as the item type. This will cause more fields to appear below. In Player (now the first field): first, check the Use HTML box, then click the HTML button that appears in the top right corner:

Embed the code in the Player field.

  1. A pop-up window will appear called “HTML Source Editor.” Paste your video’s iFrame embed code (or whatever other kind of embed code) here, and click Update. The embed code will look something like this, but with your video’s URL (typically from Youtube, Vimeo, or a similar service):

<iframe width=”480″ height=”360″ src=”//www.youtube.com/embed/sJZTlrQZMjY” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen=””></iframe>

  1. A yellow box appears in the Player field. Click Save Changes, and you’re done! Your video should display on the Item’s public page:

An Omeka Item's public page containing an embedded video.

If you’re working with Neatline exhibits—interactive maps or timelines—you can import your item into Neatline, and the resulting record will contain your video!

If you’re interested in using Omeka and/or Neatline, I recommend checking out the following resources (in order):

  1. See some inspiring demos of Neatline in Omeka.
  2. Learn how to use Emerson.build.
  3. Learn how to use Omeka.
  4. Learn how to use Neatline.

As always, you can contact ITG@emerson.edu for hands-on tutorials!

Don’t Generalize Generations

In this day and age, it seems you can’t read the Internet without coming across some kind of attention-grabbing headline about how Millennials are destroying an industry, or changing how employers are hiring, or how they present some other obstacle to keeping the world the way it should be. Higher education isn’t any different. In fact, if you were to perform a Google search for “teaching Millennials,” the top article in the search is entitled How Millennials Learn: The 5 Rs and goes through five distinct issues that differentiate Millennials from previous generations, and how a teacher’s pedagogy needs to be adjusted. The problem with the article and generational generalizations (yes, I said that) is that they’re just not true. The article breaks down the strategy as such: teaching needs to be research-based, relevant, rationalized, relaxed, and relatable. All things that are true, but in very different ways than what so many pundits are trying to attribute to Millennials.

Jon Laskaris’ article starts out with quite a statement: “The concept of learner-style is more pronounced in this generation. They prefer materials that are delivered to cater to their visual, auditory, and even kinesthetic needs.” Combine that rationale with the idea that Millennials’ attentions spans are shorter–all in bold–and that is the research the authors cite. Problem is, it’s not what the research actually says. The idea that there are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners is one of the greatest myths in education. It’s just not how the human brain works. Throughout the 21st century, articles in Science Daily (2009), Educational Research (2008), Journal of Neuroscience (2009), and Journal of Educational Psychology (2006), to name just a few, all found that human beings combine all of these modes simultaneously when learning. When you read, your brain is also “playing” the words to you, spoken in your head, while simultaneously registering the tactile feedback of the book or keyboard. It’s the same with audio-based strategies. Anyone who’s listened to an audiobook can vouch that they “see” the scene in their mind’s eye. So, why do we continue to believe that we need to make separate learning activities to cater to each sense? As for attention spans, why blame Millennials when it was the Boomers and Gen X-ers who invented all of the technology these same generations claim to despise. In her book, Minds Online, Michelle Miller simply sums this up by pointing out that these shorter attention spans are linked to us as a species, not to a certain age group (2014, p. 45). As I like to tell anti-Millennial critics, the 24-hour news cycle wasn’t created by 20-year olds.

The second “R” is relevance, and the article states, “Millennials are aces at ‘googling’ and discovering information. They do not value a piece of information for its own sake, rather for its relevance to their lives.” Well, did you know Iceland declared itself a republic on June 17, 1944, but was its own sovereign state under the Danish Crown since December 1, 1918? Probably not, because that kind of information likely doesn’t have direct relevance to your life. The article got it right about relevance, but this is NOT a Millennial issue. In fact, problem-based learning (PBL) has become very popular in recent years and serves, as Michelle Miller puts it, “to integrate knowledge — that is, build meaningful connections as opposed to just learning collections of disjointed facts” (Minds Online, 2014, p. 139). It’s a strategy that is rooted in the learning sciences and has even spurned its own peer-reviewed journal, Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning. Because human beings naturally gravitate towards applying new information into their pre-existing scaffolding, making things relevant is not just a Millennial strategy.

The next “R” according to the article is a real head-scratcher to me: “Baby boomers or generation X-ers respond well to an authoritarian teaching style. They follow orders for the sake of complying with commands. On the other hand, Millennials were raised in a less authoritative environment – where decisions and actions were constantly justified.” I can attest to my own experience teaching faculty here at Emerson that telling people to learn something “because that’s what the administration says you need to know” and leaving it at that would NOT foster a positive learning environment. The statement that ANY generation responds well to authoritarian teaching styles is pseudo-science at its worst. Now, remember that we’re talking about generational generalizations here. Telling someone to learn something because they need to can work for individuals on a case-by-case basis. But, the research on what motivates students to learn has been pointing to three distinct and basic things: competence, relatedness, and autonomy (Miller, 2014, p. 169). Psychologist Edward Deci began researching motivation in the 1970s, and his work laid the ground for self-determination theory (SDT), which contains the three aforementioned basic pillars of learner motivation. To learn more about current SDT research, be sure to look up Deci’s work in the American Psychologist and the Educational Psychologist.

I’m going to group the final two “R”s, “Relaxed” and “Rapport,” together since they make equally laughable claims. First, let’s tackle the statement that “eLearning course mentors need to create a warm, empathetic, ‘no wrong answers’ collaborative environment.” Again, there is truth to this, but not because Millennials are special “snowflakes.” While many teachers are already familiar with Bloom’s taxonomy of learning, Dr. L. Dee Fink pioneered an additional taxonomy called the taxonomy of signification learning, which has “Caring” as one of its cores. Empathy, values, feelings, and interests have been found to tether learners to the subject matter and create stronger memory bonds. Interestingly, the more negative the emotion, the more it accentuates memory (Miller, 2014, p. 97). Luckily for teachers, positive emotions also help memory encoding. So, there’s no reason to emotionally torture your students, and the article’s advice isn’t terrible. Just remember that calling out a student for a wrong answer in class will lead to embarrassment, which will have a much better chance of solidifying the correct answer in their long-term memory. As for “Rapport,” the article positions that “[w]hen being raised, [Millennials] had complete attention from their parents. They are used to older adults showing more interest in their lives.” What this means, of course, is that the upper-middle class, privileged, two-parent household, white Millennials had complete attention from their parents. Even then, the demographics are spotty. According to the CDC (based on 2014 data), 38 percent of all marriages end in divorce in the United States. Statistics are not on the side of Millennials. Furthermore, from a purely mathematical view, the concept that Millennials need special attention from “adults” is absurd since Millennials now consist of people in their 30s. Treating every student, no matter what their age, as an individual with unique backgrounds is the only reliable way to make sure you connect with them.

Hopefully, you now have some additional vocabulary and concepts to apply to what some effective teaching strategies are for all human beings. As we are on the cusp of the next generation of young adults entering college, let’s strive to reflect on the scapegoating of Millennials, and let’s work to stave off the same mischaracterizations going forward.

Incorporate Video Feedback in Teaching

In traditional educational contexts, providing meaningful feedback to students can enhance their learning and improve their learning performance. In online teaching contexts or in response to assignments submitted for formal assessment, providing written feedback is considered to be the most commonly used format.

Research shows that video feedback can effectively enhance students’ engagement. For example, Crook & Park (2012) showed that video feedback enabled the provision of rapid, accessible and engaging, generic feedback, and most staff and students agreed that video enhanced their feedback experience.

In online classes especially, students find it difficult to engage with course content, assignments, and their instructor and classmates. Video feedback allows instructors to “help students take in feedback as part of an ongoing conversation about their work instead of a personal criticism” (Thompson & Lee, 2012, p.14).

There are different formats when using video feedback:

  1. Voice-over with screencasting/screen-recording: For some complex assignments, using screencasting together with spoken commentary allows instructors to provide students with in-depth feedback and/or evaluation with a demonstration. For example when instructors use video comments for response papers and written assignments, they can zoom in and highlight the portions for discussion while scrolling through the document.
  2. Using video commentary as the feedback: Different than written feedback, the organized voice feedback with or without the instructor’s facial expressions transform  feedback into an ongoing conversation. It is easier for instructors to show appreciation, introduce new ideas, ask questions, and provide suggestions for next steps in this dynamic format.

Although video feedback has a positive impact on students’ learning, it requires that instructors spend additional time at the computer and find a quiet place to record the video. Here are some tips to mitigate those technological challenges:

  1. Become familiar with the online teaching platform and video recording devices available.  Research and test the steps to record video and upload to the platform as feedback.
  2. Prepare/organize the narration by drafting an  outline before recording the video.
  3. Review the final version of the video, and edit if necessary.

In Canvas at Emerson, instructors can add a video comment directly to an assignment submission. Here are the instructions:

  1. Click on the assignment and go to “Submission Details.”
  2. On the right side of the screen, under the “Add a comment” box, either click on “Media Comment” to record a video or audio, or click on “Attach File” to choose pre-recorded media files from your device.
  3. If you want to record video or audio, click on “Media Comment” and then click on either “video” or “audio” icon to enable the recording device. If the request for access pictured below appears, click “Allow.”
  4. Click on the red dot to record media.When finish recording, you may review and click on the “Save” button to send the media comment.