Workload Estimator

The Workload Estimator from the Center for Teaching Excellence at Rice University is a helpful tool for instructors to inform themselves about how much work they are giving students. This tool can be part of an instructors transparent approach by providing a way for instructors to communicate to students the amount of work that instructors require of students.

Making Accessible Office Documents

One part of creating an inclusive classroom is making sure that the materials we use are accessible to those with disabilities. As the University of Washington Accessible Technology blog points out, there are some common steps that one can take regardless of the type of document. These include:1

  • Using headings
  • Using lists
  • Using meaningful hyperlinks
  • Adding alternate text to images
  • Using tables wisely

I will include links below to helpful resources for each of the three Office tools. This link to the University of Washington page on creating accessible documents contain very helpful information. There is also a link to Microsoft’s accessibility video training hub that has helpful information and examples.





1. “Overview of Accessible Documents.” n.d. Accessible Technology (blog). Accessed February 20, 2020.

New Resource: Podcasting 101

I write today to share a video playlist resource for faculty, and their students developed through a collaboration between Instructional Technology and Mudd Library staff. We have created a series of three videos in support of podcasting projects.

The videos are hosted on the Podcasting page within the Digital Media Toolbox. we invite any instructor interested in having students complete a podcasting project to use these videos. Not to prescribe use of this resource, but the videos could be used in a flipped workshop model, where students view the video(s) ahead of time and then Instructional Technology or the Mudd Library staff could attend a class to facilitate work on a facet of the actual project.

The playlist shares recording tips, resources the Library has to offer, and how to get started editing in Audacity.

Individual Videos

  1. Recording Tips (6:22)
  2. Library Resources (7:43)
  3. Getting Started with Audacity (10:44)

*** Make sure to check out the video description in each video for linked bookmarks to specific points in each video and other resources.

Libguides – Teaching and Learning

Logo image for Libguides. A blue cloud with a white laptop icon in front.

I write today to share a link to a number of resources. Since coming to Lawrence I have begun curating a number of guides in the “Teaching and Learning” category. The purpose of these guides is to provide resources for instructors and their students. This list of guides is chosen to support instructors in making their courses more active and inclusive; and supporting students in their coursework.

If you are interested in viewing other guides you may do so by navigating to the Library’s main page (, and then clicking the “research guides” link located on the right under the “Research Guides” heading.

Rather than providing a summary for each guide in the teaching and learning list, I prefer to call out a few that I think are most important.

The first in this list is the Universal Design for Learning, Neurodiversity guide. Universal design for learning (UDL) is a design framework for reducing and removing barriers in the teaching and learning experience. Its purpose is to make the learning experience more inclusive and to produce self-directed and engaged learners. This guide provides an overview of UDL, explanations for each of the three principles (Representation, Engagement, and Expression), and an overview of what neurodiversity is and implications for teaching and learning. UDL has great potential to better the teaching and learning experience, particularly in the areas of student agency and executive function. One increasing issue faced on our and many campuses is clinical anxiety. UDL provides the means for an instructor to support a student by providing the structures and tools to help the student manage their work in a more digestible manner.

Second in the list is the Wikipedia as a Teaching Tool guide. One goal of all educators is to help students become producers of knowledge rather than solely consumers. Wikipedia is one tool that can help facilitate this is a pointed way. The platform provides a low barrier to entry for anyone to contribute to the repository of knowledge. This guide provides recommendations for instructors on how to have students evaluate Wikipedia, research with Wikipedia, and resources available to an instructor for teaching and students working in Wikipedia. One resource that I particularly want to mention is the WikiEdu organization. This group provides assignment examples and templates as well as design support for an instructor wanting to use Wikipedia in a course.

The third and last guide in this list is the Digital Media Toolbox. This guide was created with the purpose to be a resource for instructors and students in the creation of digital media. Among other things this guide provides information on copyright and citation of media, finding media that may be re-used in projects, and campus resources for creating projects. Digital media projects are a way to provide students options in how they show what they know (a tenet of UDL and the principle of Expression). They also allow the students to express creativity and participate in something that may be perceived as fun. These are all positives in a learning experience leading to increased engagement.

I invite you to review these guides in particular and the rest in the list too. Please feel free to reach out to me through comments or contacting me directly. I am happy to discuss the content in these guides and how it relates to the teaching and learning process.

IDC02-A Guide to Teaching in the Active Learning Classroom: History, Research, and Practice

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IDC02 Transcript (PDF)

Welcome to the second episode of the ID Corner podcast, where we talk about anything and everything related to teaching and learning.  I am your host, Jedidiah Rex, Instructional Designer at Lawrence University.

This podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts. You may also subscribe manually through the feed on my blog. Notes, resources, and transcript are also available there. My blog may be found at

Today I am going to review a book titled, “A Guide to Teaching in the Active Learning Classroom: History, Research, and Practice” by Paul Baepler, J.D. Walker, D. Christopher Brooks, Kem Saichaie, and Christina Petersen, published in2016. This is an important work, referenced by the Educause Learning Initiative in their, “7 Things You Should Know About … Research on Active Learning Classrooms.” Active learning pedagogy and active learning classrooms, or ALCs, are an important topic on many campuses. Lawrence is no exception. As higher education is looking for ways to engage with students, active learning has come to the fore as a means of doing that. This book is a great resource for anyone interested learning about, or considering teaching in an active learning classroom. My goal for this episode is to distill for you those things I found most informative and helpful for someone interested teaching in an active learning classroom.

As the title suggests, this book takes a past-present-future approach to look at how the pedagogy of active learning classrooms has developed. While it is not necessary to know the exact history of the development of ALCs, it is helpful to see that the use of ALC’s has over twenty years of research and development. Some of the key findings from research about ALCs shared in this book are, and I quote:

  • Students in Active Learning Classrooms (ALCs) outperform their peers in traditional classrooms;
  • Students is ALCs exceed their own grade expectations as predicted by standardized test scores;
  • Using an active learning pedagogical approach in an ALC results in significant student learning gains over using a lecture-based approach in the same space; and
  • Using a flipped classroom model and a blended learning approach in an ALC can compensate for significant reductions in face-to-face time in the classroom. (17)

So what do we see here? Student achievement can be increased through active learning compared to a traditional approach. Matching pedagogy with the space increases student learning. Utilizing active learning pedagogies, such as flipped learning, can make up for a reduction in face time. It has also become apparent from the research that the space design has an effect on the level of student achievement. Studies in 2008, 2010, and 2011 all point to increased engagement and achievement for students taught in an ALC. (19, 22, 24) There is a strong correlation between student achievement and the relationship between teaching design and space. The better the design fits the space and the space supports the design, the better the student achievement will be.

Due to the social nature of teaching and learning, ALCs change the ways in which instructors relate to students and the ways in which students relate to each other. The research presented in the book looks at four different variables when measuring how and to what degree the variables affect learning. I will post a link to the specific research, the Social Context and Learning Environments (SCALE) survey, in the blog post for this episode. There is a wealth of information there about the effects of ALCs and active learning pedagogy on student achievement. In short, results show that students out performed students in a traditional class.  

ALCs change how instructors and students relate to one another and may present some challenges to the teaching and learning process. The authors point out four categories of challenges. These are:

  • Planning to teach in the space
  • Teaching in the space
  • Managing student resistance
  • Employing technology in the space

Teaching in an ALC with active learning pedagogy requires planning. In most cases, doing so will mean modifying a majority of a course. All of these areas must be given careful thought and planning to have a successful experience. An example of something that may need to change is a reliance on lecture. The authors share that lecture has been shown to be less effective in ALCs as cited in Brooks, 2012; and Walker, Brooks, Baepler, 2011.

Some questions that the authors suggest that instructors consider are:

  • What is it like to be in the space?
  • How do I need to change the course to fit the space?
  • How can I adapt course materials to fit in the space?

Active learning requires a different level of energy and engagement from students. They may not initially participate with joy. If you find yourself in that situation, there are some things that you can do to help change the student perspective. These include communicating the ways in which the space supports the work and learning that you desire, sharing the connection between the kind of work and skills they will do and acquire in class to those desired by future employers. Any time you can point out the research on the positive effect of active learning and ALCs won’t hurt either.

Another challenge of teaching in an ALC is that students may feel isolated if you structure your course in such a way that the same group or teams of students only work with that same group.

Additionally challenging in an ALC is the redefinition or lack of a “front of the room.” As mentioned by the authors, “Instructors new to ALCs find that it can be difficult to locate and hear student, to move through the space, and to regain attention from a new spot in the room. The lack of a central focal spot means instructors need to plan for how to direct attention in the space, including defining the front of the room and positioning themselves to ensure students can locate the speaker.”

So what should an instructor do? What can an instructor do to mediate possible challenges? Being up front and sharing possible challenges with students along with how you as the instructor decide to address them can help greatly to minimize challenges. In the case of the –lack-of-front-of-room, discuss how this can and may affect how you and they relate to one another. If you experience difficulty regaining students’ attention, perhaps creating a common gesture or phrase, or using a timer can help. In the situation in which students may feel isolated, I recommend sharing the structure of the class, the pedagogy you will use and why you think it is important for their learning with the students. Being upfront about the ‘why’ provides an opportunity for the student to increase their understanding and engagement in the learning experience.

Some students (and instructors) might be intimidated by all the technology that can be present in an active learning classroom. First, let me say that active learning does not require the use of technology. An instructor can make use of active learning strategies without using technology. That said the best way to minimize this challenge is to make pointed use of the technology, making sure that the technology use aligns with the desired learning objectives. The technology use should support the learning goals. Sharing the learning goals with students and explaining how your use of technology supports the learning goal can help them see the purpose behind the use, which in turn can mitigate reticence and help them engage more fully.

One final challenge related to technology may be digital distraction. The combination of a room filled with screens and the possibility of having and needing a device of their own can make it easy for a student to be distracted. Some of the strategies shared by the authors include moving around the room, providing cues for when devices may be used and not, and beginning class with a rigorous activity. This last recommendation gets the students focused on an activity and reduces the opportunity for distraction.

We are going to turn now from challenges to look at differences between traditional and ALC experiences. Aside from the flexible furniture, focus on group work, and heavy technology presence, how is teaching in an ALC different from in a traditional classroom? The authors point out four common features of effective activities in an ALC. These are, and I quote:

  • Most of the information transmission in the form of lecture by the professor is significantly reduced or moved out of the classroom;
  • Most activities are supported by graded pre-class reading, homework, and quizzes or post class homework;
  • Students often work in small teams on activities designed to provide them with a deeper understanding of the topic, and;
  • Classroom activities are typically followed by some form of whole-class synthesis facilitated by the instructor that may take the form of a discussion a short assessment, or a mini-lecture. (72)

So from this, we can see a few general characteristics. Teaching in an ALC lends itself to a flipped model where traditional information transfer happens outside of the class and the class time is devoted to discussion or work on problem sets. Next, the work students are required to do outside of class counts toward their overall grade. It is not busy work, but preparation for the learning that will happen in the class. Finally, there is some sort of culminating group synthesis activity to make sure that everyone is on the same page. There is a mixture of group time and whole-class time. I see this mixture as movement. Movement of the class along a trajectory toward the course goals, and movement within the students toward shared understanding. It is a churning of information as students work with the subject matter in order to construct their own understanding. What should a collaborative experience look like and how can an instructor manage this movement? How can an instructor facilitate a positive experience for the students?

The next chapter in this book looks at these questions and outlines benefits of collaborative work, characteristics of collaborative groups, and then recommendations for configuring groups and experiences within an active learning experience. Some of the benefits of collaborative work the authors share are:

  • Exposure to multiple perspectives and increased openness to diversity;
  • Increased problems solving abilities; and
  • Greater satisfaction with learning. (121)

One benefit the authors’ share that I find particularly pertinent in today’s higher-ed environment is that it has been found that introducing collaborative work in the first year increases the likelihood that a student will persist to the second year of college. (121) This finding on its own should encourage any instructor to consider working this type of activity into first-year and intro courses. The authors also point to the power of collaborative work saying that, “researchers have also suggested that students develop the capacity to reach mastery through a complex and challenging objective that no single student could reach alone.” (124) So the collective nature of the collaborative group allows the students as a whole achieve more than the individual students could on their own. Not to reduce this to cliché, but is seems that the sum is greater than the parts when collaborative work is involved.

How does collaborative work facilitate these benefits? The authors point out 5 common characteristics of all active learning strategies that facilitate learning gains. These are: accountability, group processing, interaction, interdependence and skill development. (124-125) An instructor should attempt to structure an active or collaborative learning experience to contain these things. The rest of this chapter details strategies that an instructor may use to do so. The very first strategy mentioned by the authors is developing learning outcomes or objectives for the group. (125) This is paramount for a couple reasons. First, to clarify for the instructor what the learning experience is to be about. Objective define what is it that the instructor wishes the students to get out of the experience. Second to communicate to students the ‘why’ of the experience. It communicates the importance the work that the students will be doing. Questions the authors share to help an instructor get at these are:

  • “What ideas or concepts should endure for the students one month, one year, and one decade after they complete the course?”

And next,

  • “What competencies or levels of mastery should a student be able to demonstrate after finishing the course? (125)

The next section in this chapter focuses in on creating student groups and addresses issues such as when to form groups, ways to form groups, group size, group roles, and group duration. (127-134) I will do my best to summarize each of these. When you might form groups depends on the objectives for the group and the scope of the activity. There is a range of time that groups may be formed but most instructors polled by the authors agreed that doing so as early as possible is best. (128) Next the authors share ways in which groups may be formed. They list four. They are random, instructor-generated, self-generated, and mixed. (128-130) There are plusses and minuses for each of these methods. I have seen each of them used in by instructors at Lawrence. One recommendation I have received from a number of instructors related to forming groups, no matter the specific method, is to provide the students an opportunity to confidentially share if there is someone they are not able to work with. This is a proactive strategy to meet student needs and promote group success. Another consideration an instructor needs to take into account in the group size. This can vary but generally staying within four to seven students per group seems to work best. (132) the scope of the activity has some determination of the size of the group. The group size should correlate with how much work is required or how challenging the project or activity is. (132) Space logistics may also play a role in the group size. (133) The success of a group can be influenced by the use of roles, however there is mixed opinion on whether roles should be used. (133) Those opposing group assignment mention that roles form organically. (134) An instructor should make an effort to allow students to function in different roles if roles are assigned. (133) Last in this list the authors discuss how long a group should last. Some reported that groups lasting the entire term are best while others reported that a shorter duration is better. (134) The authors additionally mention that may instructors shared that it is easier to manage groups that persist over a longer duration. (134) I think key to determining how a group will be structured and how long that group will remain, is to create a planned structure based on the learning objectives, taking into consideration influences space may have, then thinking about the structure, difficulty, and scope of the activity.

After talking about how a collaborative activity and groups may be structured the authors turn to how an instructor may promote success of those groups within an active learning activity. The outline of the next section includes thoughts on group accountability, group dynamics, group dysfunctions, groups outside the classroom, and groups in a blended or online environment. The authors then turn to strategies for assessing student work in the context of a group activity. Strategies covered here are weighting grades to promote group work, avoiding grade curving, and peer assessment. They conclude the chapter with a discussion of strategies for closing the  collaborative activity. One idea to point out is the idea of accountability. Groups will function more smoothly and students more engaged if members are accountable to one another. Some instructors recommend a group contract (136). While this can be beneficial, an instructor at minimum should have the groups or class discuss norms for how the group will function. It can be helpful to include the students in the creation of norms instead of handing them down. Including the students will give them a sense of ownership and greater accountability. (136) Group dysfunction may arise and the literature mentions that encouraging the groups to work it out is the best strategy. (140) When assessing group work an instructor can promote collaboration by weighting the grading structure to highlight group accomplishments. (141) Another recommendation is to avoid curving grades. Curving grades, or using a norm- referenced grade puts students in competition with one another. (143) There are good recommendations here around peer assessment also on page 143 and 144. You may also listen to episode 1 of this podcast for information about peer assessment.

The next chapter in A Guide to Teaching in the active Learning Classroom tackles the topic of assessment specifically. Just as an active classroom supports collaborative activity it can also support collaborative assessment. (153) Active learning supports collaborative activities as well as collaborative exams or quizzes. Designing these can present a challenge to an instructor new to active learning. One example of a collaborative exam that works well in an active classroom setting is a two-stage exam. (155) In this model, a student takes one part of the exam individually and then participates in a collaborative portion. There are two main ways to provision grades: norm-referenced or criterion referenced. A norm referenced grading scheme may be seen as being more fair (161) but in effect pits students against one another in competition for a top grade. (143) Criterion-referenced grading conversely allows each student to earn a particular grade based on predetermined criteria. (162) The authors point out that if you want students to work collaboratively you should use a criterion-referenced approach. (162)

The authors now turn to the topic of supporting all learners. Many of the challenges mentioned before can be an even bigger challenge for students with disabilities. (169) Forethought and planning should be given to proactively meeting these challenges. The authors point out that the number of student with disabilities attending college is on the rise and that as of 2013 11% of undergraduates reported having a disability. (169) Another group for whom the active learning environment may pose a challenge are non-native speakers. The presence of these students on our campuses is also increasing. (169) One strategy for supporting all students is to share course expectations clearly from the very beginning of your course. (173) Additionally, making use of the universal design for learning framework in the design of the course and materials can help remove challenges that students may encounter. If you are interested in learning more about universal design for learning, please check out my blog and the materials I have there. The rest of this chapter outlines specific strategies for addressing challenges and removing barriers for students in the active learning classroom.

The last three chapters of this book share information about strategies for supporting faculty, how to design learning spaces research, and future direction with active learning classrooms. While these are interesting topics they all fall outside the scope of what I hope to address in this episode. This book is a wealth of information, and full of helpful, research-backed strategies for teaching in an active learning classroom. I hope that you found this episode informative and helpful. If you are interested teaching in an active learning classroom please reach out to me. I also welcome you to visit my blog to comment or discuss anything I have shared here. Thank you for listening and have a great day.



IDC01-Peer Assessment

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IDC01 Transcript (PDF)

Welcome to the first episode of the ID Corner podcast.
The ID Corner podcast is a place where I will share and invite you to think about anything and everything related to teaching and learning. I plan to release three episodes a term. My hope is that this podcast will be a resource to teachers and a source of discussion. I want to provide space for thinking and talking about teaching. I invite you to comment below.

Peer Assessment

In his article published in Theory and Practice, Keith Topping defines peer assessment (PA) as, “… an arrangement for learners to consider and specify the level, value, or quality of a product or performance of other equal-status learners.” (Topping, 20) Why would an instructor want to use PA? What are the benefits and challenges? If I decide to use PA in my course, how should I go about doing so?

PA can be used as a means of engaging students in the learning process (Allberg and Lorås, 6) especially when the instructor deliberately communicates to students about the reasons for and benefits from PA. (Topping, 25) It has been shown that there can be gains for both assessors and assesees due to PA. (Topping, 22)


What are the benefits of peer assessment? In the following section, we will look at benefits in three areas: academic benefits and social skill benefits for students, and benefits of PA for teachers.


Topping lists a number of benefits that students may enjoy because of participating in a PA exercise. Some of those listed are: time on task, increased sense of accountability, increased assessment of understanding, earlier error identification and analysis, and increased metacognition. (Topping, 23) These are all areas that a teacher should want to see gains in their students. There is some correlation between a high PA and high performance on exams. (Allberg and Lorås, 10) This means that those students who receive a high grade in the PA perform well on the exams. Another study by van Zundert et al. reports that students work revisions improved based on feedback from PA. (273)


Students may also realize gains in social skills. One such gain is the ability to judge good work. (van Zundert et al., 270) Related to criticism Topping reports that, “Learning how to give and accept criticism, justify one’s own position, and reject suggestions are all useful, transferable social skills.”(24) PA helps the student practice these skills. Lastly, Aalberg, and Lorås share that, “Research also shows that peer assessments, if applied successfully, can have positive effects on self-confidence, transferable skills and social skills.”(9)


Benefits to students should weigh heavy in favor of use, but there are specific benefits that a teacher may realize with PA. One benefit of using PA for the teacher is an economy of scale. Using the students as assessors creates that many more assessors and shares the responsibility of assessment. (Topping, 22) In addition, when taken as a whole, the sum of all the assessments may provide a deeper level of detail than with a single assessor. Aalberg and Lorås report that teachers found that the comments provided by the peer assessors seemed to, “have a higher level of detail than what the teacher would have been able to identify, and if when all comments are put together they gave a good overview.”(9) Related to PA of group work, the work by van Zundert et al. quotes a study mentioning that PA provides teachers, “a more accurate picture of individual performance in group work (Cheng & Warren, 2000).”(270) Another final benefit that teachers may realize is that the process of preparing for and administering PA may cause them to take a focused look at the course objectives and assessment, bringing clarity. As Topping mentions, “”Peer assessment can lead teachers to scrutinize and clarify assessment objectives and purposes, criteria, and grading scales.” (24)

Challenges & Questions

PA is not without its challenges. Students may feel anxious about assessing and being assessed by peers. (Topping, 24) Some students may feel that the assessment is not fair or that the assessment is not valid because their peer is not an expert in the area being assessed. (Allberg and Lorås, 8) They may also feel that the time and effort to complete a PA exercise is not worth what they perceive they may get out of the experience. (Allberg and Lorås, 8) One question related to PA is, “Are the grades valid and reliable?” It has been shown that PA grades are generally higher than a teacher may give. (Allberg and Lorås, 8) Can a teacher trust the PA enough to include the grades in the overall course grade? Aalberg, and Lorås share that PA may be used in grading, a finding that was confirmed by Topping. (9)  There are conflicting findings about whether and to what degree social processes may affect PA. Topping reports that social processes can, “influence and contaminate the reliability and validity of peer assessments.” (24)  He elaborated that, “Peer assessments can be partly determined by friendship bonds, enmity, or other power processes, the popularity of individuals, perception of criticism as socially uncomfortable, or even collusion to submit average scores, leading to lack of differentiation.” (24) A study referenced by van Zundert et al. conversely shares that the fairness of PA affected by personal relationships is negligible. (van Zundert et al., 272) There may be strategies that an instructor may use to minimize the possibility of these issues becoming a factor in the PA exercise.


How do we maximize benefits and minimize challenges associated with PA? As we will see in the following section, there are strategies that an instructor may employ to make the best use of PA in the learning experience. With forethought and preparation, PA can be an effective pedagogical tool.


The success of the PA activity is due largely to how much time is spent in preparation. As with any other learning activity, a teacher should define the objectives, what she or he wants students to get out of the experience, and why it is important for the students to participate. (Topping, 25) Helping students understand the ‘why’ of the activity will go a long way in alleviating some of the negative feelings students may have about the PA exercise.  Communicating the importance of the place the students are taking within the PA exercise can help them to be more engaged. As Topping states, “…students should be told that peer assessment involves students directly in learning, and should promote a sense of ownership, personal responsibility, and motivation.”(24) Providing support for the students in a PA experience should begin with defining how the students will be assessed and creating a rubric for doing so. The creation of a rubric can help bring focus on those most important take-aways, and provide language that the students may use in their assessment of peers. (Allberg and Lorås, 2) Providing guidance and opportunities to practice PA can have a great positive impact on both students’ perception of PA and ability to carry out a PA. (van Zundert et al., 270, 274-5)  Another strategy that can help students as they begin practicing a PA exercise is to have them give positive feedback initially. This can help to reduce anxiety they may have about assessing their peers. (Topping, 24]


A teacher must monitor and coach the PA activity in order for it to be successful. (Allberg and Lorås, 9) Providing guidelines and rubrics are one step in the preparation, but to be successful the instructor needs to continue to support the students through the experience. Students need direction from the teacher and opportunities to practice writing appropriate and helpful assessment comments. (Allberg and Lorås, 11) One strategy for reducing assesse anxiety in the initial PA experience is to give positive feedback first. (Topping, 24) In addition, providing multiple opportunities to practice PA will help students build skills for accurately assessing the work of their peers. Evaluating the quality of the PA is another way that teachers may support students through the experience and help them build good assessment skills. (Allberg and Lorås, 11)

In his article “Peer Assessment” Keith Topping provides eleven steps to executing a successful PA activity. I will not reproduce the entire list here, but there are a few items from the list that are important to recount here. The first recommendation is to find a partner. Do not implement PA on your own. I think this is important to share the intellectual load of talking through and determining objectives, rubrics, guidelines, and structure. This is work and many hands are helpful. The second recommendation mentioned is, “Clarify purpose, rationale, expectations, and acceptability with all stakeholders.” Determining the reason for and what you want students to get out of the PA experience is crucial for making the experience a success. Communicating these with students early and throughout the experience can increase their engagement, accountability and sense of ownership. Similar to this point is to include the students in identifying the assessment criteria. This is especially the case for PA of team or group work. Next is practice, practice, practice. Training students on how you want them to do PA is the best way to ensure that they do it the way that you want and to have a successful experience. To that end, providing exemplars, guidelines for and rubrics for the assessment you are asking them to do provides them a solid grounding in what criteria you want them to assess. This also provides a foundation for the sort of language that is appropriate and desired for them to use in the PA. Lastly, instructor should make a point to evaluate the assessments. This can be a graded exercise or not. Doing so provides a good means of determining if the students understand the objectives of the PA activity. This can also serve as a means of gathering exemplars for future iterations of the activity. (Topping, 25)

Peer assessment can be a great tool for formative assessment as well as benefitting students in a number of other ways. Preparing adequately and following the strategies listed her can help your PA activity be a success.


Aalberg, Trond, and Madeleine Lorås. 2018. Active Learning and Student Peer Assessment in a Web Development Course ; Active Learning and Student Peer Assessment in a Web Development Course.

Topping, Keith J. 2009 “Peer Assessment.” Theory Into Practice, vol. 48, no. 1, Winter , pp. 20–27. doi:10.1080/00405840802577569.

van Zundert, Marjo, et al. 2010. “Effective Peer Assessment Processes: Research Findings and Future Directions.” Learning and Instruction, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 270–79. doi:10.1016/j.learninstruc.2009.08.004.



UDL and Blended Learning

In her article on Edutopia, Beth Holland mentions the following:

“In a blended environment, students take advantage of the different modalities afforded by both the online and in-person contexts. I have argued in the pastthat neither digital workflow nor the dissemination of digitized, teacher-driven content constitutes blended learning. As Michael Horn and Heather Staker write in Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools, the proper role of digital technologies in true blended learning is giving students control over the time, path (e.g., type of content), place (online or in person), and pace of their learning. The online environment affords students with choice and control over their learning, and teachers gain opportunities for meaningful interactions with their students. “
[Emphasis mine]

This second part of the paragraph sounds very similar to a universal design for learning (UDL) approach. The article mentions differentiation but I would argue that UDL is not the same thing as differentiation. I appreciate the comparison made by Loui Lord Nelson in, Design & Deliver: Planning and Teaching Using UDL where she compares differentiation as creating separate meals for each student versus providing a buffet of options (UDL). the latter environment allows the person to choose the things that work for them.

I wonder how may educators view it this way?


Summary: “Active Learning is Loud!” Workshop

Four people high-fiving eachother around a work table.
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Yesterday a group of faculty, staff, and I convened in Main Hall 401 for a workshop, “Active Learning is Loud!” The well-attended session centered on active learning strategy, and associated challenges and countermeasures. The time consisted of a brief summary of active learning, which you may find here, presentations by Beth DeStasio (Biology) and Kathy Privatt (Theater) about their experiences with active learning, and then an activity and discussion around challenges associated with active learning and brainstorming ways about how we might address those.


Beth shared her work in biology highlighting her use of manipulatives in which she uses straws of various colors and lengths to teach DNA replication. She also shared some of the strategies she employs to manage the logistics of group work during the active learning activities.

Kathy shared a few different examples of active learning activities that she has done with her students. One well received example was the mention of a variation of the Think-Pair-Share strategy in which students will leave the classroom and walk rather than having a sit-down meeting. Kathy shared that the addition of the movement helps the students engage and have richer discussion.


While brief, the session proved valuable to all in attendance as was evidenced by their take-away’s. Some poignant comments are shared below.

One attendee noted, “It was good to see examples of active learning that are not dependent on technology. It was good to hear that other people run into some of the same challenges that I do.” The second part of that comment is probably one of the most valuable parts that I see come out of these workshops and something that I aim to incorporate into every workshop or session I facilitate.

Another attendee appreciated Kathy’s mention of the “walking meetings,” mentioning that, “Physical movement in classroom and outside of classroom promotes discussions.” The same person commented on Beth’s example of using the manipulatives saying that the, “visual aids/hands-on materials not only help students but also help instructors to check progress.” These are two benefits of an active learning approach.

Related to the idea of movement another attendee commented that they, “especially liked hearing how leaving the classroom to go on a walk and then returning helped overcome challenges of a physical space.” This is a key point as limitations of space are a large challenge for active learning. The space doesn’t directly influence teaching and learning, but it does have strong influence in how the space is used and the sort of activities it can support. Finding creative ways to work within the space that we have is a key skill for instructors.

It was a pleasure facilitating this workshop and appreciate everyone who participated. I look forward to learning more about active learning strategies, especially with an eye toward assessment, and working with the faculty here to implement these and other strategies to make the teaching and learning experience the best it can be.


Active Learning

Four people high-fiving eachother around a work table.
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

What is Active Learning?

The Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching provides a very good definition of active learning. They define active learning as,

“… activities that students do to construct knowledge and understanding. The activities vary but require students to do higher order thinking. Although not always explicitly noted, metacognition—students’ thinking about their own learning—is an important element, providing the link between activity and learning.”1

I appreciate this definition as it touches on three important ideas:

  • Constructivism – the idea that students can/will construct their own knowledge and understanding through the learning experience
  • Bloom’s Taxonomy – pushing the students toward higher order thinking
  • Metacognition – providing opportunity for the students to think about what and how they are learning

These ideas work in concert.

The end-goal of any active learning strategy is three-fold:

  1. Increase student engagement
  2. Increase student motivation
  3. Increase knowledge retention by creating a more impactful learning experience.


There are a number of varying strategies that fall under active learning. A common characteristic of many of these strategies is that they involve students working in collaborative groups. The guide referenced earlier,1 lists a number of strategies. Some of the strategies being employed on Lawrence’s campus are the Jigsaw Method and Team Based Learning (TBL). Others are using manipulatives with collaborative learning groups, a walking meeting model, or movement based collaboration around connecting to literature.



As with any strategy there are challenges associated with active learning. A few of those include managing group dynamics, space limitations, and assessment of group work. There are countermeasures of course, but using active learning strategies must be approached with forethought.

On-Campus Resources

If you are interested in utilizing active learning strategies into a course there are people and places below that will help you in your endeavor.


If you are interested in trying or adapting active learning strategies in your pedagogy, please reach out to any member of the Instructional Technology Team:

  • David Berk – Dir. of Instructional Technology, x6756
  • Arno Damerrow – Instructional Technologist, x6710
  • Jedidiah Rex – Instructional Designer, x6729


The following spaces have been designed specifically with active learning in mind. While these spaces are specifically designed for active learning, the Instructional Technology team may be able to help you identify the best space to meet your needs.

Other Resources

ELI 7 Things You Should Know About Research on Active learning Classrooms

A Guide to Teaching in the Active Learning Classroom | History, Research, and Practice – Available in the Lawrence Library

Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty 1st Edition – Available in the Lawrence Library


  1. Brame, C., (2016). Active learning. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved 20181220 from

UDL Workshop Summary

What is UDL?

Image of the UDL Guidelines. Link to web version.
UDL Guidelines. Click the image to view an interactive version.

“Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. ”

UDL has its beginning in the universal design architectural movement which came out of “barrier free” movement. The term universal design was coined by Ronald Mace (North Carolina State University) in the 1960’s. Some examples of universal design are:

  • Smooth, ground level entrances without stairs
  • Lever handles for opening doors rather than twisting knobs

Universal Design for Learning was created by David H. Rose, Ed.D. of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) in the 1990’s. UDL, based on research in neuroscience,  uses three principles. These principles are to provide: 2

  1. Multiple means of representation
  2. Multiple means of action and expression
  3. Multiple means of engagement

The three UDL principles are based on three learning networks. The three networks are recognition, strategic, and affective.

  1. The recognition network deals with, “how we gather facts and categorize what we see, hear, and read.”
  2. The strategic network deals with how we plan and perform tasks,” and “how we organize and express our ideas.”
  3. The affective network deals with how, “learners get engaged and stay motivated.”

There are other uses of universal design in teaching and learning:

  • UD for Instruction (UDforI)
  • UD of Instruction (UDI)

While similar, they are not the same as universal design for learning. UDL is distinctly focused on the student experience and attending to  varied ways students may approach a learning experience.

Two common ideas and terms withing the UDL framework are the ‘myth of the average‘ or ‘learner variability.’ These terms point to the idea that students vary (in strengths, background, experience, perspective, and many more)  from context to context, and from day to day.

Some examples of variability are:

  • background knowledge
  • gender
  • socio-economic status
  • culture
  • non-native language learners
  • learning exceptions: physical disability, mental illness, anxiety

UDL is meant to address this variability by providing as many on-ramps to the course material as possible, and as many means for the students to demonstrate what they have learned. You may be saying, “Well isn’t this just differentiated instruction?” One analogy in, Design & Deliver: Planning and Teaching Using UDL3, by Loui Lord Nelson, compares differentiated instruction to creating single meals for each student while UDL is a buffet. The buffet allows each person to choose those things that the like and that work best for them.

Here is a link to the guidelines. The way that this chart is organized is by principle. Under each principle are three guidelines. Each guideline then has a few supporting checkpoints. Each of the checkpoints in this chart are linked to further explanation. The three levels on the left-hand side, access, build, and internalize, speak to increasing levels of engagement of students with the learning materials. The checkpoints are what we  use to identify the specific strategies we will employ as we design a specific learning experience. I have attached PDF copies in the “resources” section of the guidelines and the graphic organizer to this post.

Let’s dig a little deeper into the checkpoints to see how we might apply them. Some examples are below.

  • 1 – Provide options for perception.
    • The mighty PDF. Quite ubiquitous in the higher-ed environment and at the core and inaccessible file. The PDF file format is technically an image. Even though we can see text, there isn’t any underlying text that may be manipulated. Optical character recognition, or OCR, is the process of identifying or extrapolating the text within an image.  Adobe Acrobat Pro is one example of software that can do this for PDF documents. Once this process has been completed other options for interacting with the document become available. Such affordances are:
      • having the document read aloud – providing another mode of interaction. Toward this end there are programs, web tools, and mobile apps that can help facilitate this.
      • searching the text – making the document a study/research tool.
      • Redeeming time – the ability for a student to listen to the document on a mobile device allows the student to listen when they have time e.g. student athlete traveling to/from and event.
  • 3.3 – Guide information processing and visualization.
    • Mind mapping or concept mapping provides a way for the student to organize information and make connections between the ideas.
  • 5.1 – Use multiple media for communication.
    • Providing the student audio or video feedback allows tone and non-verbal cues to be communicated. Making this an option for students can provide assistance to those students who are better explaining ideas verbally than in writing.
  • 5.2 – Use multiple tools for construction and composition.
    • Allowing students to create a podcast as an option to writing a research paper gives the students a creative alternative.
  • 6.1 – Guide appropriate goal setting.
    • Providing time estimates for readings/materials supports the student in managing their own work, planning and prioritizing for when works best for them.
  • 6.3 – Facilitate managing information and resources.
    • Chunking, or breaking a larger task or piece of information supports the student in managing the task and/or understanding the larger idea.
  • 6.4 – Enhance capacity for monitoring progress.
    • Helping students to see their progress in a course can allow them to better assess their work and the learning they are doing. Course completion tracking in Moodle is a tool that could be leveraged to support this.
  • 7.1 – Optimize individual choice and autonomy.
    • Providing alternative formats of course materials and providing options for assignments and activities support this checkpoint. Other strategies that may do so also are creation of class norms, collaborative assessment/rubric design in which the instructor and class work together to create the assessment or rubric.
  • 7.2 – Optimize relevance, value, and authenticity.
    • Whose voices are represented? Are the materials relevant to all the learners? How can they made to be relevant?
  • 8.1 – Heighten salience of goals and objectives.
    • The more an instructor can deliberately share of the “why” of the task/assignment/activity/process, the better the students will understand the importance of the said task/assignment/activity/process, and most importantly be more engaged and motivated in the learning process.
  • 8.3 – Foster collaboration and community.
    • Shared class notes are a way to foster collaboration and to support students who may not be as strong in this area.
  • 8.4 – Increase mastery-oriented feedback.
    • Providing learners feedback that a particular response is correct or incorrect really only provides limited information. Creating feedback that guides a student toward discovering the correct answer supports this checkpoint. Utilizing Moodle quiz feedback and the  question bank are examples of a tool that an instructor might use.
  • 9.3 – Develop self-assessment and reflection.
    • Including metacognitive prompts – “What worked?,” “What didn’t?,” “Why?,” “What would help you learn?” – Can support the student in taking control of their learning, knowing themselves better and provide them the means to identify and search after those things that help them the best/most.

Some things to keep in mind or questions to ask as you consider adapting a learning experience within the UDL framework:

  • What does this design change require? Technology? Time? Funds?
  • What are challenges against this design change?
  • How easily could this change be implemented in a course?
  • How might you assess the impact of the change?


The hour for the workshop went by very quickly. Everyone was able to get something out of the time together. One common thread was appreciation for the analogy of UDL being a “buffet” – providing options for the students to choose what they like and works best for them, versus differentiated instruction where you are making separate meals to fit each student. Others from the workshop voiced appreciation for the time and space to talk with peers about what colleagues are doing and realizing that they are dealing with a lot of the same issues.

This workshop was a great experience for me as a facilitator and I look forward to discussing these ideas further and working with instructors to implement these and other strategies into the teaching and learning experience.





  2. Burgstahler, Sheryl, Universal Design in Higher Education: from Principles to Practice, 2015.
  3. Lord Nelson, Loui, Design & Deliver: Planning and Teaching Using UDL,” by Loui Lord Nelson