Reaching all types of learners with UDL

You may have heard the term UDL buzzing around lately in your education circles. It stands for Universal Design for Learning and is a guiding tenet for us here in ITG. The term Universal Design originated in the world of architecture. It emphasizes designing to accommodate everyone from the start, rather than making adjustments after something has been built. This not only saves a great deal of effort but also leads to cleaner, more visually appealing designs.

In the world of education, UDL has become synonymous with accessibility for learners with visual or hearing impairments (e.g. closed captioning for videos, optimized text in PDF’s, etc). But UDL is so much more than that! Rather than designing for the average learner, UDL encourages us to design for “the margins” using a framework based on neuroscience. According to UDL, good teaching provides the following:

  • multiple means of representation: present information in different ways to target the recognition networks of the brain
  • multiple means of action & expression: provide different ways for students to express what they know to target the strategic networks of the brain;
  • multiple means of engagement: stimulate interest and motivation for learning to target the affective networks of the brain

You can learn more about the UDL framework and the neuroscience research behind it at National Center for Universal Design for Learning’s website.


Interested in incorporating the UDL principles into your teaching? Here are some ways that Emerson-supported technology can help you do just that…

Multiple Means of Representation

In addition to readings and lecture, you can…

Multiple Means of Action & Expression

In addition to papers or exams, you can…

  • Have students keep a blog or create a website using WordPress.
  • Use Canvas Discussions to have students analyze a topic or reading. Take it a step further and have students lead the discussions!
  • Input assignment due dates as well as other important dates into the Canvas Calendar to help students manage their time and build their executive functioning skills.
  • Take advantage of Google Drive. Students can create websites with Google Sites; input, analyze, and represent data with Google Forms and Google Sheets;  create presentations with Google Slides; and so much more!
  • Incorporate polls into your class using the Polls for Canvas app.

Multiple Means of Engagement

In addition to office hours, you can…

  • Get to know your students using Canvas Discussions. Have them introduce themselves and share their interests. You could also use Google Forms to survey them.
  • Give your students different options for required work using the various submission options in Canvas Assignments.
  • Get students working on team projects with Canvas Groups.
  • Provide ongoing feedback and encouragement for students via the Canvas SpeedGrader. Make it more personal with audio or video comments.

These are just a few ideas. Schedule a consultation with ITG if you would like to brainstorm additional ways to incorporate UDL into your courses. We can also train you on how to use any of the tools mentioned above.

Canvas’ Rich Content Editor and you

The Rich Content Editor in Canvas opens whenever you’re creating new content or editing existing content. It gives you a powerful set of tools upfront to help you make your Pages, Assignments, Discussion posts, and more engaging for your students. Besides the built-in options that you see when the editor first opens, there are several hidden ways to do even more with your content.

Keyboard shortcuts & the menu bar

Tucked at the bottom of Canvas’ documentation on the Rich Content Editor is information about a few keyboard shortcuts that can help make the editor more accessible.

While you have the editor open, click into the area where you type your content so that you can see the cursor blinking. Then,

  • press ALT + F8 (PC) or ALT + FN + F8 (Mac) to display a “Keyboard Shortcuts” popup with info about what other shortcuts you can use.
  • press ALT + F10 (PC) or ALT + FN + F10 (Mac) to put the focus in the editor’s toolbar, which will allow you to navigate the buttons using the arrow keys on your keyboard.
  • press ALT + F9 (PC) or ALT + FN + F9 (Mac) to unhide the editor’s menu bar.

That last one is important since it gives additional functions such as formatting text with a strikethrough, Undo/Redo buttons, the ability to paste without formatting, and wiping out all the content to start with a blank document.

Screenshot of the editor’s menu bar, with the “Edit” menu opened to show options for Undo, Copy, Paste and more.

HTML Whitelist

When you have the Rich Content Editor open, you can click on the “HTML Editor” link to open up the html view of your content. This allows you to fine-tune settings and styles on your content, such as forcing links to open in a new page by adding the target=”_blank” property to them or using media embed code from another site.

It’s important to note here that not all HTML elements will be accepted by the editor. Script tags and form elements (i.e., input tags) are examples of tags that will be stripped out when you attempt to save your content. To view the complete list of allowed html tags and properties, click here to access the Canvas HTML Editor Whitelist (PDF).

This is also true if a student is pasting text into an assignment for submission. For assignments where students are submitting blocks of html code, the best thing to do is have them save their work as an .html file and upload that to the assignment. The submissions will still preview in the Speedgrader and all of the formatting will be preserved.

Introducing Canvas Commons

Watch the Commons: Find and Import Resources video.
Watch the Commons: Share Resources video.
Find more information in the Commons guides

ITG and the Iwasaki Library have started you off with some Emerson content in Commons: if you search for Emerson College, the first results are from us. We’ve shared an Emerson College syllabus template, a student research page for your Canvas course, and CC100 Library Resources.

Quizzes Can Be Used for Learning!

One of the most interesting (and easy) strategies for helping students learn that I’ve encounted recently centers around quizzing. Yes, quizzing, the thing students dread to take and teachers dread to correct. However, much of the negative feelings around quizzes and tests is caused by how they’re commonly weighted in higher education. It’s often the case that doing poorly on a quiz or test will sink a student for the whole semester. However, there is a RESEARCH-based strategy on how to use quizzes and tests that not only achieves better learning outcomes, but also helps with fostering a less anxious atmosphere with students. The strategy is called Frequent, Low-Stakes (FLS) Grading, and you can read up on it in much greater depth here at this Faculty Focus article. As you can see, you don’t need to take my word for it (and I know I dated myself with that Reading Rainbow reference).

Where this blog post comes in is how ITG can help you achieve this strategy. Within Canvas, quizzes and tests can be created to auto correct students’ work, providing almost immediate feedback that adult learners do so well with, and can also feed directly into your Gradebook. Furthermore, it’s possible to use this technology in a non-graded way to check for understanding and to assess where your students might have gaps in, say, previous knowledge or after completing a dense reading assignment. Another great use of non-graded quizzes is to use them as practice for a more heavily weighted exam later in the semester. If you want to talk more about how to implement FLS grading in your course, give ITG a call at 617-824-8090 or send us an email at We’d love to sit down and help you implement your ideas!