Universal Design for Learning at the University of Vermont

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Periodic Table of Visualization

I am passing this great stuff on from Ross Peterson-Veatch, PhD out of Goshen College.
“A local High School Math teacher (who happens to live on my block),
just sent me this cool link. I thought I’d pass it on. Seems like a
great way to promote exploration of visuals in teaching and
presentation. Doing a “mouseover” on any of the “elem…ents” will
generate a pop-up example of that visualization concept.

Have a look:

The larger web site is about “Visual Literacy” and has some fascinating stuff on it.http://www.visual-literacy.org/ Enjoy!”
I went to both sites and found them VERY useful and a great example of the UDL principle multiple means of representation.See MoreA Periodic Table of Visualization Methods www.visual-literacy.org

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Reform or Transform: What is the vision of UDL?

Wil Richardson is one of my favorite bloggers.  He’s a 2o year veteran teacher who now oversees instructional technology and communications at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, NJ.  He’s my favorite visionary these days on all things learning.

In this reflection, he draws attention to the NYTimes magazine article this past Sunday on the Quest To Learn school in NYC, a school organized around gaming.  The school involves sixth and seventh graders and will add a class a year until they are grades 6-12.  Pay particular attention to the video that is linked at the end of his reflection.  This man’s vision for the activity based, collaborative learning that goes on at Quest is a transformative vision, one that contrasts nicely, and somewhat discouragingly,  with the vision of reform advocated in Time magazine’s theme issue on education this week.  The two futures laid out couldn’t be more different.

I think we who work to make University teaching more accessible to a wider range of students need to be tweaked by transformative examples such as Quest.  I don’t know about you, but so often it just feels like we are playing the higher education game, making learning more easily attainable for our UVM students when perhaps what we should really be thinking about is how to change the game, not how to improve the game.  Some questions for us:

Should we be thinking about how to help faculty change the game?

Does gaming itself play any role in what we should be advancing to faculty?

Is gaming so much a future vision that it creates a learning setting beyond UDL?

How can we advise faculty on the facilitative uses of technology when we ourselves are relatively limited in our own use of it to serve our needs and purposes?

Is UDL a reformative practice or is it a transformative vision?  What should it be?

If our goal were to be transformative, what technologies and web-based programs would be useful for us?

It’s questions like these we should be considering from time to time, and it’s people like Will who can help us think through our responses.  When you get into his blog, scroll down through it and read the statements from parents who attended back to school nights at their sons and daughters schools.  Ouch.


Observations for Doing Cooperative Learning in Higher Ed Classrooms

David and Roger Johnson, one a counselor educator, one a special educator, set out in the early 1970s to define and refine the successful practice called cooperative learning.  Embraced by special educators, cooperative learning as a task structure became a major tool to achieve the integration of students receiving special education services under PL 94-142 into regular classroom settings without sacrificing the integrity of the academic program.  Other task structures, individualized learning and competitive learning, usually led to inequitable achievement outcomes.  Cooperative learning, when done well (as the Johnsons advised) usually meant every student learned more than they would either doing the work alone or in traditional ability grouped fashion.

Cooperative Learning groupwork has become a mainline instructional practice used by all educators who want to promote high rates of learning for all students, most especially those students at the margins.  Many of the attributes of good cooperative learning fall within the three principles that guide the design of Universal Design for Learning practices advanced by CAST and the Universal Design for Learning Project at UVM.  Regardless of the target audience, all cooperative learning activities must adhere to the basic criteria for effective cooperative learning as set down by David and Roger Johnson in the early 1970s:  positively interdependent tasks, face to face interaction, group processing, individual accountability, and the learning of small group and interpersonal skills.

Others have carried out lines of research into the effectiveness of cooperative learning task structures that can be helpful to us.  Of particular interest to me is the work of Elizabeth Cohen and Rachel Lotan of the Program for Complex Instruction at Stanford University.  Cohen and Lotan used expectations states theory, a theoretical base for understanding small group interaction based in sociology, and created an approach to planning cooperative group work endeavors called Complex Instruction.  Their addition of status theory to the basic criteria laid down by the Johnson’s in the 1970s is a helpful addition to teaching teachers how to plan, teach, assess, and understand cooperative learning activities.

It takes time and training to become an effective cooperative learning educator.   To think that higher education professors could be successful cooperative educators by virtue of their advanced degrees is patently absurd.  Deep content knowledge has little in common with deep pedagogical knowledge.  To teach group work practices successfully requires familiarity with what cooperative learning is and how to use cooperative learning practices in the college classroom with late adolescent / young adult learners.  We have much to learn about how to do this, how to teach college professors how to use cooperative practices.  But we have very broad shoulders upon which we can stand.  To get us started, I’d like to offer this set of observations.

ed 24 students at ems

Observations Regarding Effective Groupwork in College Classrooms

1.  Knowing how to work in a group is not an inherited trait.  Successful group practices can be taught.

2.  Effective group work has both task and interpersonal requirements.  Students need to know how to negotiate both sets of issues.

3.  Small groups naturally evidence a range of ability for any given task.

4.  The nature of a group task affects how well a group can work collaboratively.

5. Teachers need to take class time to orient students to collaborative projects and practices.

6. Group work should be graded on a point system.

7. Posting realistic benchmarks increase the quality of student work.

8.  Permitting students to put their own particular “spin” on a group product will increase student motivation to do their work well.

9. Being honest with college students about the particulars of cooperative learning procedures is the best path to follow.  Honesty is key to helping the groups solve their own unique issues of working together.

10.  Group work usually takes longer than teachers want it to.

11.  Small groups are better than big groups.

12. Heterogeneous ability groups are preferred over homogeneous ability groups.

13. Good group work needs to be publicly recognized.

14. Presentation skills are different from groupwork skills.  If you want good presentations, teach and model good presentation skills.

15. College departments should be responsible for promoting the skills and knowledge for working productively and gracefully in a group setting in their coursework.

16. The majority of college students come to college having had negative cooperative group experiences in secondary education.

C. Rathbone
September 1, 2010

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PDF Accessibility: a rough guide to making accessible forms

As someone who has illegible hand writing, learning how to use PDF programs has been so useful! To me, it is the difference of never having to stand over someone’s shoulder to translate the scribbles I made on their application form. Instead I can fill out a form from my computer, making it universally easy to read, professional and grammatically correct. People notice my work for the right reasons saying, “wow, that is easy to read”, rather than for the more embarrassing reason of how difficult to read my hand writing is.

When I try to write, I sometimes forget words, punctuation and make frequent spelling errors, and correcting all those mistakes ends up making forms vary mssy very messy. If PDFs are made the right way, they allow users to fill in necessary information, edit and proof without making a mess. The number one reason I care enough to make my own PDF forms is for the spell check. People really judge you if you use incorrect spelling. Also, the abillity to erase, save, copy/paste and use a dictation program such as Dragon Naturally Speaking. Dictation programs are great for eliminating contextual errors,  like writing “right”, instead of “write”. Another technique I use is employing the use of a text-to-speech program so that I can listen to my own writing, spoken by the computer, which helps me improve my paper further.  A typical example would be to listen and find pronouns that I forgot to put in, e.g. “going the store”, where I meant to say, “going to the store”.

The goal of the UDL at UVM grant is provide resources to incorporate Universal Design principles in to UVM courses. One place on campus to find help making accessible material is the UDTL. The Universal Design Technology Lab (Bailey Howe Library on the 2nd Floor, Monday-Friday 8am-4:00pm, 802-656-5537). The Universal Design Technology Lab (UDTL) specializes in assistive technologies that help with reading, writing, studying and information access. Also don’t be shy, ask for another format when you are given a form that is difficult to fill out. If you are making a form please make it accessible and don’t be afraid to ask for help and for feedback.


The rough guide starts here, you will need have intermediate understanding of personal information laws, scanning, OCR text recognition, general computer accessibility and adobe acrobat professional in you mental tool belt to get the most out of it, but I encourage all of you to read through it.

How I make PDFs forms accessible for myself starting with a normal printed form:

  1. Scan the form as a pdf (72 dpi min, 200 max. is my suggestion)
  2. Open form in adobe acrobat professional
  3. If the your scan looks bad (fuzzy, tilted, unclear, etc.) start over
  4. Run OCR text recognition
  5. Run Find Form Fields
  6. With the form menu add form elements it did not find
  7. Fill in the form with by typing
  8. Print the form and mail it in.

How I make basic pdf forms:

  1. Start in adobe acrobat professional
  2. Make new blank pdf
  3. Add your form fields
  4. Be sure label each field with what you want to be typed or hand written inside of it
  5. Listen to form using to read out feature in acrobat
  6. Set security to limit use of form to only the way you intend. Check with your IT person if you are not sure.     uvm.edu/it

What are PDF? Portable Document Format were developed by Adobe in 1993, the format is designed work on any computer with any operating system. It can read-documents out loud, provide text equivalents for pictures and accept computer typing into documents while providing a level of security similar to a printed and hand written legal document. It has become a very popular format for medical, corporate and government offices which have set up paperless system. I have even heard about how some doctors offices will higher a company to use machines to open and scan all their mail into PDFs because they are flooded with insurance claim documentation.

Selected references referring to PDF Accessibility from Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portable_Document_Format, Retrieved on 2010-08-06

  1. “PDF Accessibility”. WebAIM. http://www.webaim.org/techniques/acrobat/. Retrieved 2010-04-24.
  2. Joe Clark (2005-08-22). “Facts and Opinions About PDF Accessibility”. http://www.alistapart.com/articles/pdf_accessibility. Retrieved 2010-04-24.
  3. “Accessibility and PDF documents”. Web Accessibility Center. http://wac.osu.edu/pdf/. Retrieved 2010-04-24.
  4. “PDF Accessibility Standards v1.2”. http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/futuremedia/accessibility/accessible_pdf.shtml. Retrieved 2010-04-24.
  5. (PDF) PDF Accessibility, California State University, http://www.csus.edu/training/handouts/workshops/creating_accessible_pdfs.pdf, retrieved 2010-04-24
  6. “Adobe Reader 8 – Read a PDF with Read Out Loud”. http://help.adobe.com/en_US/Reader/8.0/help.html?content=WS58a04a822e3e50102bd615109794195ff-7d15.html. Retrieved 2010-04-24.
  7. “Tip of the Week: Adobe Reader’s ‘Read Aloud’ Feature”. http://gadgetwise.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/04/10/tip-of-the-week-adobe-readers-read-aloud-feature/. Retrieved 2010-04-24.
  8. (PDF) Accessing PDF documents with assistive technology: A screen reader user’s guide, Adobe, http://www.adobe.com/accessibility/pdfs/accessing-pdf-sr.pdf, retrieved 2010-04-24
  9. Chris Rusbridge (2008-04-29). “Why PDF is a Hamburger”. http://wwmm.ch.cam.ac.uk/blogs/murrayrust/?p=1056. Retrieved 2010-04-24.

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Blackboard Accessibility

Blackboard Accessibility Home Page
The videos linked below are recorded sessions in which a blind user is using JAWS to interact with and complete various tasks in Blackboard Learn including submitting an assignment, taking a test, building content and grading students.

JAWS Demo Links
Student Submitting an Assignment
Logging into Blackboard Learn
Incorrect Login Messaging
Student Using “My Places” to Locate Course
Student Navigating the Course Homepage
Student Navigating Course Content
Student Taking a Test
Student Viewing Grades
Instructor Adding Course Content
Instructor Creating Assignment
Instructor Grading Assignment

Another interesting find on their site: The Blackboard Accessibility Grant organized in coordination with the National Federation of the Blind, Download the Grant Application.

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New UDL and CDCI are going Google about web accessibility

CDCI and UDL are going on a content frenzy to put as much of our great training material online. We are also going adding more navigational links to make our website easier to navigate. We realize that content is most important part of our website and the more the better. Since google is basically a hyper-advanced screen reader, making our website more google friendly make it more accessible over all. Happy googleing!


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