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Lily Philips

Ready-Made Template Suite

Posted by Lily Philips Employee Sep 17, 2018

Ready-Made Secondary Template Home Page Sample

Ready-Made Template Suite


The Instructional Design Team at Instructure is always looking for opportunities to assist teachers and admins in the creation of engaging Canvas courses. In the past, we have created and shared our Course Evaluation Checklist, Mobile App Design Course Evaluation Checklist, and Home Page Templates.  


We took another step forward in Canvas design by creating a suite of Canvas course templates available for purchase.


We did this because we believe that templates help reduce stress load, encourage growth, and help you and your faculty create an engaging Canvas experience! How is that possible, you ask? Well, it's simple... a template turns a blank course shell into a fill-in-the-blank Canvas course. 


Our Recipe For Success 

Provide Teachers with more time to focus on enhancing learning content 
Provide Students with simple navigation, clear directions, built-in support, and technical guidance right when/where they need it most
Increased Canvas buy-in from Teachers and increased Student engagement


What's Included 

We've loaded our templates with modules that include sample pages, assignments, support materials, and more. Banners, buttons, icons, and other design elements are included and can easily be customized and re-used. 


Template Preview

Watch the following short clip to preview a template designed for Secondary students: Secondary Template Preview


Sample Home Page Designs 


Ready-Made Template Suite Screen-shots

What's Available 

We currently offer the following template types, with more options added all the time: 

  • Early Learners
  • Elementary & Middle School
  • Secondary
  • Higher Education
  • Clubs & Activity Groups
  • Professional Development
  • Global
  • Canvas Orientation

Learn More

Contact your CSM today to learn more about our Instructional Design service offerings and to access our Ready-Made Template Suite (which includes full-course previews).

I'm starting to lose track of all the different rubrics and checklists related to course design that I've come across, and some new ones have come out very recently, so I'd thought I'd list them here.  If you know of others, please comment below.  Thank you


Canvas Checklists

Course Design / Quality



Learning Objectives/Outcomes






I've shared a resource in Canvas Commons with some examples of brief, research-based teaching strategies implemented in Canvas, such as: transparent assignments, minute papers, values affirmation, social belonging, goal setting, student testimonials, nudges, discussion protocols, wrappers, and midterm student feedback. 

You can preview this resource here.  You can also download an export of the Canvas resource in the attachment section below if you do not have access to Canvas Commons.


Evidence-based teaching refers to teaching strategies and principles for which there have been research studies indicating their effectiveness at improving student learning, engagement, attitudes, or other factors related to academic success.

This resource is not meant to be comprehensive.  As detailed in the table below, there are many different types and scopes of evidence-based pedagogical strategies and principles, and this resource only begins to tackle just one small part of this space.


And this is not to suggest that only evidence-based teaching strategies are useful or valid.  Just as in medicine, science, and other disciplines, we must constantly experiment with strategies when teaching, even when there is not, or especially when there is not, a solid research base to help inform decisions.


Some Categories of Evidence-Based Teaching Strategies & Principles

Briefer, Targeted StrategiesBroader or More Comprehensive Techniques
More Concrete Strategies

These are some of the strategies covered in this Canvas resource:

  • Minute Paper
  • Student Testimonials
  • Transparent Assignments
  • Value Affirmation
  • Discussion Protocols
  • Nudges
  • Wrappers
  • Midterm Student Feedback

Examples of some face-to-face in-class strategies (which are not addressed in this Canvas resource):

Many of these broader teaching techniques derive from discipline-based educational research and development.

More General Principles/Techniques

These are some strategies that primarily derive from cognitive psychology and mainly apply to practice and memory.

  • Retrieval Practice / Testing Effect
  • Spacing
  • Interleaving

These are links to more comprehensive Canvas-related resources on effective teaching practices.



More Online Resources about Evidence-based Teaching Practices


Books for Further Reading on Evidence-based Teaching Practices


Some Other Potential Canvas Activities that Could be Included in the Future


Your Suggestions, Comments are Welcome

Feel free to comment below with suggestions for other activities to include or improvements to make to these samples.  Or share your own examples on Canvas Commons, like the Metacognitive Awareness Inventory survey Kyle Heatherly shared and that I copied in this Canvas resource.

Have you ever wanted the ability to know which files from the Canvas Files section are being used in course content or where they are being used? How about the ability to identify and delete unused, irrelevant files?  


Read below about a tool we have built to to solve these problems at Utah State University. 


The Problem with Unused, Irrelevant Files

We have been using Canvas since the Summer of 2011 and one of the challenges is the accumulation of significant amounts of unnecessary and unused files in the files section as courses are copied forward. Some of those irrelevant files are past syllabi (i.e. syllabus-2011.pdf) or files from past years or duplicate files that were never used. Up until recently there was no way to identify which files were being used or not. 


We brought the problem to our data analyst Meghan Lewis who was able to use Canvas Data to look at data on every file across our courses and determine whether there was a link to that file or not from the Canvas content.  Given that some instructors choose to make the files section visible to students we filtered out that data to determine what percentage of files were being used. 


From that data we found that only 32.7% of the files in those courses were being used. In other words, over 67% of the files in those courses were no longer being used!


Old irrelevant files in courses in the files section are problematic for a number of reasons: 

  1. More irrelevant files makes it more difficult for faculty (and students when the files section is visible) to find relevant content. 
  2. When a student with disabilities requires accommodations in a course it is difficult to determine which files are are being used and need to be made accessible and time is spent making unused files accessible. 
  3. LTI tools that work with files (i.e. Atomic Search or Ally) operate on the assumption that all files in the files section are relevant to the student which has caused problems in our use of those tools. 

With an understanding of the problem, we set out to provide a solution to help instructors better understand how their course files are used. 


The Solution

To address the challenges around file management we have build a "File Cleanup LTI Tool" that allows faculty and instructional designers to identify and delete unused files and empty folders and see how files are being used.


The reception to this tool has been very positive on our campus and we are excited to share how it works to measure interest on whether there might be interest from others to merit the development work that would be needed to make the tool available for use by others. If you are interested take a moment to review the tool below and leave a comment with any feedback or to us know if this is something that would be helpful to your institution! 


Overview of the File Clean Up Tool

The File Cleanup LTI Tool is installed at a course level and is visible to instructors from the course navigation: 


File Cleanup link in course navigation.



When you click on the tool the following information and instructions shows up at the top of the tool: 
Overview of the File cleanup instructions, see specific notes below image.

This section of the tool provides brief instructions and a chart that shows what percentage of the files in the course are in use. There is also a note at the top of the tool that shows when the information displayed in the toolwas last updated - we currently Canvas data that is updated nightly, but hope to use Canvas Data Live Events in the future. 


Below the instructions we present a warning that the tool is still in beta and a conditional warning that shows up when the instructor has made the files section available to students: 

Warnings to users to make sure they understand limitations of the tool. The first warning for courses that display the files section makes sure that those instructors know that some files may be used by students even if there are no links from Canvas content.  The second beta warning lets the users know that we are currently unable to determine if there are links to content from a limited type Canvas data (outcomes, rubrics, conferences, calendar items and quiz question answer submissions). We hope to remedy this with the move to Canvas Data Live Events.   

List of Course Files

List of Unused Files

Now the good stuff - the default view of the tool that lists all of the unused files from the course with the ability to preview, search, select, and delete those files: 

Default listing of files, functionality described below.

Instructors can quickly select all unused files and delete them or click on the file name to preview an individual file, sort by file name or date created or search for an individual file by file name or file type (i.e. all PDF files).  Files can be deleted individually or all at once. When you delete a file an "Are you sure" message pops up:  

Modal asking if you are sure you want to delete the files

Then a confirmation message appears showing how many file were deleted: 

Confirmation of the number of files deleted.

Once the files are deleted the list of files updated and the chart at the top of the page is updated to show how many unused files are in the course. 

List of All Course Files

You can also view a list of all files in a course including those that are in use: 

File list showing all files whether in use or not.

Note in this view there is a link for files in use that users can click on to go to the page where the file is used.

List of Empty Folders

We found that deleting files left a number of empty folders, so we recently added a tool that identifies those empty folders so they can be deleted individually or all at once. This tool is updated live rather than relying on the nightly Canvas Data dump.  

List of empty folders



While we are still gathering feedback from users and continuing to add features and improve the user experience there has already been significant interest and use of the tool by instructors excited to be able to clean out their files. Our Disability Resource Center has also greatly appreciated the ability to work with professors to clean out old files and focus their work on files that are being used in the course.  At an institutional level it has been great to start to see the number of useless files start to go down instead of up and instructors copy their courses forward each semester. 


If you have questions or interest in using this is a tool, please leave a comment below. Follow this post for updates on the availability of the tool in the future. 


Additional Resources 

Below are some Canvas ideas and other resources that also may be of interest: 

  1. Canvas Idea: Indicate Where Files Are Linked Within a Course
  2. Canvas Idea: Deployment Status for Course Files Canvas Idea
  3. Canvas Idea: When Searching Files, Show File Path (Breadcrumb) Idea
  4. If you are interested in how often files are downloaded in your course, take a look at this Google Tag Manager recipe anyone can use to track file downloads


Thank you! 


(header photo by bandi, CC License)

When Shauna Vorkink - Education Services Director first approached me about collaborating on a Course Evaluation Checklist with Erin Keefe - Training Team Lead and Deonne Johnson - Consultant, I was beyond thrilled. I knew this was something I could utilize in my current position as an Instructional Designer for Instructure, but even more importantly, it would provide the framework to ultimately help millions of Canvas users.


Potential Uses

  • Share this checklist with your colleagues
  • Apply the principles to your own course
  • Elevate the quality of your institution’s courses




Scrolling image preview of document



The checklist is available via Google Docs "Make a Copy" so you can customize for your institution. Please select the following link for access: Course Evaluation Checklist Editable


Note: We ask that you maintain our Citation list located at the bottom of the document. 



Members of the Education Services team collaborated with Canvas mobile app guru, Ryan Seilhamer, to create another go-to resource to help you understand mobile app design considerations. Please be sure to visit the Mobile App Design Course Evaluation Checklist blog post to access this additional resource!


Please comment below. We’d love to hear from you!


The Education Services department is always ready to help your organization create a cycle of success with
Canvas through Training, Instructional Design, and Adoption Consulting! Our Instructional Design team offers full Course Evaluations. Course evaluation services provide insight into best practices. Recommendations will focus on aligning course objectives, accessibility, and overall creation of an enhanced user experience. If you would like to learn more about our services, please contact your CSM or Shauna Vorkink - Education Services Director at

Thanks for the likes, tweets, and feedback regarding the Course Evaluation Checklist! Members of the Education Services team collaborated with Canvas mobile app guru, Ryan Seilhamer, to create another go-to resource to help you understand mobile app design considerations.


Why Consider Mobile App Design?

Some students will access your Canvas course and materials from a computer at school or home. Other students will use their mobile device during their lunch break at work, standing in line at a local coffee shop, or (for younger students) in a classroom that is tablet friendly. Students will have a slightly different experience whether accessing Canvas from a browser or using Instructure's free Canvas app. 


About The Checklist

This checklist focuses on design principles for mobile app users. Examples are built directly into the checklist so you can quickly see how incorporating these considerations creates a dramatic difference for students. We hope you'll find this checklist to be a simple and illuminating glimpse into the mobile app.  


Potential Uses

  • Share this checklist with your colleagues
  • Apply the principles to your own course
  • Elevate the quality of your institution’s courses



Preview of document via scrolling gif.



This checklist is available via Google Docs "Make a Copy" so you can customize for your institution. Please select the following link for access: Mobile App Design Course Evaluation Checklist Editable


Note: We ask that you maintain our Citation list located at the bottom of the document. 


Please comment below. We’d love to hear from you!


The Education Services department is always ready to help your organization create a cycle of success with
Canvas through Training, Instructional Design, and Adoption Consulting! Our Instructional Design team offers full Course Evaluations. Course evaluation services provide insight into best practices. Recommendations will focus on aligning course objectives, accessibility, and overall creation of an enhanced user experience. If you would like to learn more about our services, please contact your CSM or Shauna Vorkink - Education Services Director at

From: Our Instructional Design Team 

To: Our Amazing Teachers

We feel that a well-designed course home page can inspire students to engage more deeply and quickly with learning materials. In appreciation for all that you do, we have created two customizable home page templates that you are free to use in your courses as-is, modify as desired, and share with others. 


We hope these home page templates will support your endeavors in crafting an exceptional online learning experience for both you, and your students!



Grades K5Grades 6-12
K5 Homepage Screenshot


  • Home Page with editable course title, course banner, and "Welcome" text placeholder
  • 3 Customizable Buttons:  Learn | Help | Parents
  • Directions on how to modify template buttons and banner
  • "Welcome to Class" student Module with content page templates: Support & Parent Resources 


  • Home Page with editable course title, course banner, and "Welcome" text placeholder
  • 3 Customizable Buttons: About Your Teacher | Class Resources | Learning Modules
  • Directions on how to modify template buttons and banner
  • "Welcome to Class" student Module with content page templates: About Your Teacher & Class Resources 

File Access

Select the following link to automatically download a copy of the K5 Home Page Template export package:


K5 Teacher Appreciation Home Page Template 

File Access

Select the following link to automatically download a copy of the 6-12 Home Page Template export package:


6-12 Teacher Appreciation Home Page Template 


Please note: For an optimal experience, please view this video using Google Chrome. Written directions are also available below the video. 

Part 1 | Importing Content Into Canvas Course Shell

Importing files are also explained in the following Canvas Guide: How do I import a Canvas course export package?
  1. Download the Home Page Template course export file of your choosing (linked above)
  2. Open the Canvas course in which you'd like to upload the home page template. As we note below, we recommend that you load these packages into empty course shells in order to prevent the potential overriding of your current course content. If you do not have an empty course shell (or course in which you feel comfortable loading these materials), please contact your Canvas Administrator. 
  3. Select "Settings" from the course navigation menu.
  4. Select "Import Course Content"  from the right-side menu and complete the following:
    1. For Content Type, select "Canvas Course Export Package"
    2. For Source, select "Choose File" and then locate the home page template file you've just downloaded (typically found in the Downloads folder on your computer) and unzipped
    3. Select the file and then "Open"
    4. For Content, select "All content"
    5. Finally, select "Import"
    6. A green box with the words "Completed" will appear once the upload is complete.  The content will now be uploaded to your course!


Part 2 | Customizing Your Home Page

  1. Selecting the "Home" button will take you to your new home page design.
  2. Within the Modules button, you will find two Modules that compliment this home page template. The first Module, "Customize Your Home Page" provides you with links to the customizable banner and button images. The second Module, "Welcome to Class: Your Journey Begins Here!" contains sample pages that are linked from the home page buttons.

Pro Tip: We recommend loading files only into empty course shells in order to prevent overriding any of your current content, or impacting your students' course experience.


If you have any questions, please reach out to your Customer Success Manager.


More Appreciation from the Instructional Design Team


Please comment below. We’d love to hear from you!


The Education Services department is always ready to help your organization create a cycle of success with
Canvas through Training, Instructional Design, and Adoption Consulting! If you would like to learn more about our services, please contact your CSM or Shauna Vorkink  - Education Services Director at

One of the most difficult things online educators have is to keep up with the changes in technology, especially mobile. One of the biggest challenges that my team and I have had to overcome is making sure that whatever we design for our faculty and students will be accessible in a mobile environment. We have gone through many iterations of templates to see what will work for all of our users.


We finally came up with using tabs. It seems that all of our faculty and students like the fact that they no longer have to page through many different pages to get all of the content needed to complete their assignments. By adding tabs on a single page, all of the information is there. The bonus is that tabs on a mobile device look great. 


Image on Canvas


Image from iPhone

Have you ever wondered how teachers create beautiful courses with graphic buttons that link to places within their course and even to external resources? Well, now you too can make your course not only appealing to the eye but also functional for your students or users. Any image can be used to create a button. To upload an image to your course follow these simple directions. This guide will help with creating links within your course. In the Rich Content Editor rather than linking text, select your picture to create a button that hyperlinks to content within your course. You can also add hyperlinks outside of your Canvas course using these simple steps


Here are a few of my favorite web-based free programs to create buttons in my Canvas courses. 

From the University that brought you the Merry Canvasmas!!!" and canvasmas we decided to show our love for all things Canvas!


As it’s the most romantic day of the year (Valentines Day in case you've forgotten) we are using the #WeLoVeCanvas to share videos and experiences on twitter from our amazing staff and students. They showcase their stories in how they use Canvas and we’ve be posting them @WLV_CoLT


We ask anyone out there to share their top features and experiences in using Canvas by using the #WeLoVeCANVAS. It can be a video or tweet. Let’s start sharing the love for Canvas!


Deciding whether to use a Blueprint course, cross-list or commons can be overwhelming.

blueprint vs cross-list flowchart

This ridiculous flowchart (see attached for a pdf version) is a very late response post to Tracey DeLillo's reply on the Blueprint release notes back in August. Commons really isn’t utilized currently by our instructors. They mainly just add each other into each other’s courses as designers and share by importing specific content.


A basic summary of my workflow for when people come asking for help

My first questions always is: How many instructors?
If only 1 instructor, cross-list. My reasoning is at most they will have 3 sections. They can use differentiated assignment for due dates and since it is just them they have full control over mute assignment when grading.

Multiple instructors… things get tricky

If it is only a few teachers I’d say less than 3 they can go either cross-list or blueprint. More than 3, I usually recommend blueprint if they have a designated course lead.




Updating content

Instant updating of all content by all users. All teachers have access to everybody’s content and can update/delete or do whatever it is they do.

Designated users sync for specified shared content

Grading – Mute Assignment

Mute assignment for grading is connected to all sections. When teachers mute/unmute all the students in all sections are impacted. So you if teachers don’t coordinate well or you have a slow grader, grades maybe released in a very confusing manner to students

Courses are their own entities’. Grading one section has no affect to any other sections (unless teacher has cross-listed their own sections)

Ability to lock content so others cannot edit

No control

Designated users and lock certain specified content in the blueprint course

Add own content

Using differentiated assignments it is possible to assign things to specific sections. But, as far as sharing things like pages or files all sections can see.

If the content isn’t locked, teachers are free to add new and modify items from the blueprint in own courses.

Need Admin or other help to setup

Teachers can cross-list their own courses. Combining multiple instructors/sections you need admin.

Admin needs to setup blueprint, associate courses and add initial teachers. All associated sections must be in the same sub account and term.


I am sure I missed several other import things to consider but, hey I made the flowchart not paying attention in an unrelated meeting. Hopefully my top rate graphics at least made you laugh.

Paul Towers

Merry Canvasmas!!!

Posted by Paul Towers Dec 8, 2017

Ho Ho Ho….. Merry Canvasmas!!!!!


Christmas is upon us and we decided here at the College of Learning and Teaching at the University of Wolverhampton to do 24 day's of canvasmas . The Canvasmas advent calendar is bursting with tips and tricks, with one being tweeted everyday!


Yes that's right

Canvas + Christmas = Canvasmas



The Canvasmas hashtag has been a surprising success with some of our wonderful colleagues from Canvas and other institutions retweeting and spreading the #Canvasmas Joy!

If you want to join in simple tweet your favorite tip or trick with Canvas, but make sure you use the #canvasmas


I wish you all a Merry #Canvasmas and a Happy New Year

VoiceThread allows teachers to upload, share, and discuss documents, presentations, images, audio files, and videos. Teachers and students can leave comments and use annotation tools to mark up the presented material. With VoiceThread, teachers and students can comment on the material at their convenience.


VoiceThread Word Cloud

VoiceThread Feedback Word Cloud,

created with


My department recently conducted a workshop on VoiceThread. The workshop included a panel of three faculty from diverse disciplines who discussed how they use VoiceThread in their courses. This post is going to highlight some of the important takeaways. It's not a how to for implementing VoiceThread into your online course. For information on how to use VoiceThread in Canvas, check out these resources:

Using VoiceThread in your Online Class

Using VoiceThread for Students

How To: Using VoiceThread LTIOne with Canvas

How is VoiceThread Used

VoiceThread can be used in so many different ways, as evidenced by the examples provided by faculty, including:

  • Displaying work for feedback - student work can be displayed for feedback, such as in a graphic design or art class.
  • Discussing techniques, approaches, readings - media (images, text, audio) can be posted and discussed.
  • Interacting with classmates - students can dialogue with each other in an asynchronous format.
  • Improving comprehension - teachers can use VoiceThread to explore difficult concepts in more detail. They can use voice comments and the doodle tool to explain complex concepts.
  • Homework, quizzes, or answering questions from a prompt - comments can be moderated, so that no one sees them, except the teacher. That way, students can't see what their peers said in response to a teacher prompt.

To see VoiceThread in action, check out some featured VoiceThreads in higher education.


What's to like about VoiceThread?

One of the major benefits of VoiceThread is that it can be integrated with Canvas, so that students and instructors don't have to log in to the platform separately. Also, the VoiceThread gradebook can be integrated with the Canvas gradebook.


Another major pro is that the tools allows for asynchronous interactions. VoiceThread offers flexibility in terms of when and how users can reply to comments. Other pros include:

  • Easier and faster to explain using video
  • Users have multiple takes and are able to redo a video reply, if they don't like the way the first one turned out
  • Users can read and revise comments as much as necessary
  • Students have more time to organize their thoughts
  • Different viewpoints can be shared
  • Users have the flexibility to type/record comments


What are some difficulties of using VoiceThread?

The major cons that I've heard primarily have to do with software of technology issues. To mitigate this, I suggest to faculty using VoiceThread to provide a test VoiceThread, or make sure that the first VoiceThread assignment is low-stakes, and to be more flexible and understanding the first time around.


Aside from technical difficulties, the issue I hear most often in terms of the interface is that students don't initially recognize how to navigate through the slides, so providing introductory or orientation material to the tool is helpful.


Finally some students feel uncomfortable in front of the camera or they have trouble finding a quiet place to record their video or audio comments. Modeling naturalness or imperfection is a great way to help students feel more comfortable. If it isn't necessary to require audio or video, be flexible and let students reply with text comments, if they prefer.


Why use VoiceThread?

Another question I hear a lot is why use VoiceThread, when you can just use a discussion board, especially since, in Canvas, the discussion board allows students to reply with audio or video comments. Here are a few reasons:

  • It is difficult to students to embed an image in Canvas discussions, and even if they do, students who are critiquing the image don't have an easy way to zoom in on the details. VoiceThread allows users to zoom in.
  • VoiceThread includes a doodle tool, so that users can annotate the media they are discussing.
  • VoiceThead includes an option for students to leave comments by calling on their phone. Canvas discussions require audio comments be recorded and then uploaded.
  • VoiceThread allows comments to be moderated.
  • VoiceThread allows comments to be left on each slide of the presentation, so you can have multiple threads within a single VoiceThread.


VoiceThread and Accessibility

Many people voice accessibility concerns as they learn about or use VoiceThread. Because VoiceThread comments can be in video or audio format, this can be problematic for students with visual or hearing impairments.


VoiceThread Universal, an accessible alternative to the VoiceThread platform, can be enabled for students who use a screen reader. The universal platform optimized for use with screen reader technology.


While VoiceThread Universal addresses webpage accessibility, it doesn't address the need for captions on video and audio comments and alt text on images. For a resource that discusses how to address this concern, see Penn State's Tips for making VoiceThread accessible.


To learn even more about VoiceThread and accessibility, check out some of these resources:



VoiceThread is an excellent way to bring the human element into your online and hybrid courses.


Happy VoiceThreading! If you have any VoiceThread resources, please share them in the comments!


Additional VoiceThread Resources

CI VoiceThread Faculty Toolkit

Universal Design for Learning is ultimately about disturbing tradition in education. In fact, it may be among the most disturbing things to happen in education in the 21st century.

And that's a good thing. 




What is Universal Design for Learning?


Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for designing multiple and flexible strategies for learning experiences that are effective for our variable and diverse students. UDL puts emphasis on the role of the environment on enabling or disabling learners, rather than negatively labeling students themselves.



How do instructors go about developing environments in which variable students may thrive without sacrificing rigor and challenge? That's what UDL seeks to accomplish. Two ways to understand UDL are linear and radial.



Linear process of UDL design


A linear understanding of UDL focuses on the whole instructional design process. According to UDL, good instruction doesn't start with determining material or instructional methods, but with good, clear learning objectives and progresses through faithful delivery and reflection.


Linear UDL Design Process as described in the text.


  1. Establish clear outcomes
  2. Anticipate learner variability
  3. Design assessments
  4. Design the instructional experience (methods & materials)
  5. Deliver and reflect


Radial approach to UDL application


A radial view of UDL is all about expansion of the learning experience to improve the outcomes for all learners. In this view, the practice of UDL is framed by a three-principle approach. Instructors ought to provide:

  • Multiple means of representationto enable options for how learners acquire and comprehend information.
  • Multiple means of action and expression, to enable options for how learners interact, communicate, and express their knowledge.
  • Multiple means of engagement, to tap into learners' variable interests, provide appropriate levels of challenge, and increase motivation.

These principles form the top line of the UDL guidelines.


UDL Guidelines


In so doing, instructors recognize that not all students learn in the same way, that traditional instruction tends to be narrow in terms of flexibility in methods and materials, and that increasing options and flexibility in how students acquire information, express themselves, and engage in the learning means more students are able to experience optimal learning conditions, for the benefit of all.


Graphic representation of the idea that more flexible approaches enable more learners to comprehend information, express themselves, and engage in the learning.


These two ways of viewing UDL are both accurate. One focuses on the longitudinal design process, the other focuses in on how to expand who is included when designing assessments, materials and methods. As a dynamic framework involving both instructor and learner decision making, UDL is not a two-dimensional method (intervention - result), but a three-dimensional framework (e.g., instructor facilitation - student choices - result).



Two views of a pencil: from the side and top.




UDL and Accessibility


Both the application of accessibility guidelines and the UDL design framework are intended to ensure equitable access for a variable range of students (e.g., ability/disability, interests/motivation, background knowledge/skill). Both call for proactive (design-oriented) strategies as opposed to reactive (e.g., accommodation-oriented) approaches. And ultimately, applying both will have the furthest-reaching benefit for your students, as depicted below.



Accessibility includes access to physical environments and content. UDL adds access to learning and expert learning.



Why UDL?


The best reason to invest time in UDL in higher education is because it works. Designing with UDL means improved effectiveness of instruction and -ultimately- efficiency for the learners and instructor alike. We know that at the University of Tennessee, some student groups are currently less likely to engage in a given class, learn in traditional ways, and ultimately graduate. UDL provides us with a framework to remove barriers for all of our students without sacrificing rigor.



Is UDL supported by theory and research?


Yes! A great deal of it!


In terms of the linear design process, UDL draws from strong foundational theory including the works of Piaget, Vygotsky, and Bloom, who drew from similar principles for framing individual differences and the teaching strategies for addressing them. Additionally, this design process overlays with established best practices for design from the fields of instructional design and universal design (originally an architectural concept).


In terms of the radial approach to UDL application, the UDL principles and guidelines are supported by over 800 peer reviewed research articles, provide benchmarks that guide educators in the development and implementation of UDL curriculum. UDL doesn't create new methods of teaching and learning, but rather organizes and frames established best practices according to recent developments in neuroscience and cognitive sciences regarding how humans learn.


Get Stated with UDL


Getting started with UDL can seem daunting. But UDL practitioners will be the first to point out that UDL implementation is about starting small and scaling up. What matters most is a willingness to jump in and get going. So what are some small ways to start?


The authors of UDL on Campus compiled these tips for getting started from those practicing UDL in higher education:

  • Start with small steps and select a specific challenge or issue.
  • You don't need to start with sweeping changes all at once. Think about each lesson and make small changes.
  • Start with tight learning goals for your students and then provide multiple ways for them to access content materials.
  • Have students help drive the changes. Have them be partners in the learning. They can be a great help to understanding what they need to be more successful.
  • Think about how each assignment can be influenced by the guidelines, provide multiple ways to access the information, multiple ways that students can demonstrate their understanding and multiple ways to engage with the curriculum.
  • Enlist the help of other faculty, talk with each other about your experiences implementing UDL.
  • Listen to a podcast from Teaching in Higher Ed where Bonni Stachowiak, Ed.D speaks with Mark Hofer, Ph.D. about his experience in implementing UDL in his teaching (para. 3).

Top 3 UDL Resources





Want More Support / Professional Development?  


  • I am a specialist in UDL implementation particularly in higher education and in Canvas and available for consults (view my website).
  • Other consults can be discovered via the UDL Nexus.

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