3 ways to ‘zhoosh up’ online learning with UDL

Practitioners at the UDL-IRN Summit last month shared ways to add “zhoosh,” or excitement, to blended and online learning with universal design for learning's three principles
By: | April 22, 2019

Are blended and online learning in your district exciting to students? If not, perhaps it’s time to add some “zhoosh” with universal design for learning.

“‘Zhoosh’ means to make something more exciting, lively, or attractive,” Serra De Arment, assistant professor of counseling and special education at Virginia Commonwealth University, told attendees at the UDL-IRN Summit in Orlando last month. “There are several ways to add UDL zhoosh to blended and online learning.”

UDL is a framework to help educators design instruction to meet students’ individual needs, which can include students’ disability-specific needs. The UDL framework is based on three principles of multiple means of engagement, representation, and action and expression.

Consider these ideas for enhancing online and blended learning with UDL:

1. Use discussion boards to zhoosh up engagement. Many online discussion boards now offer students more ways to choose how they engage in discussion with the ability to leave audio, text, or video comments.

The platform VoiceThread is unique in that students can leave comments about a video by typing or posting an audio or video message and those comments appear alongside the content as it’s playing, said Joellen Hiltbrand, an instructor and online curriculum developer from Los Medanos College in Pittsburg, Calif. “I like that it’s very visual and centered [on] something that the entire class can see,” she says. “It really helps create a community in an online class.”

Several online learning management systems such as Blackboard and Canvas also include their own built-in discussion boards, De Arment said. Try adjusting the comment section so students cannot read what other students post before adding their own comments, she says. “That can make these discussions higher quality because students aren’t reading the comments ahead of them and only responding to what others say.”

2. Use videos, avatars, and screenshares to zhoosh up representation of information. Think about how information can be represented in multiple ways within blended and online learning. For example, a teacher could record a short video or screenshare to explain a concept, De Arment says. “They could also create an avatar through Voki and have that avatar deliver the presentation,” she said.

Another tool for representing information is Wakelet, a content curation tool that allows a user to collect websites, images, video, or other content from online and keep it in one web page that can be shared with others. “I like using it because you can put all the resources for your course there and when people have time they can go in and do a deep dive,” says Jennifer Borrelli, learning and technology resources specialist for the Florida Diagnostic & Learning Resources System.

3. Use ePortfolios, blogs, and infographics to zhoosh up action and expression. Provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate their learning, said Frances Smith, who teaches blended and online graduate coursework in UDL for The George Washington University. “They can do a paper if they want, but maybe they can also develop something in YouTube, a Prezi online presentation, or share their work by creating a visual graphic with Inspiration,” she said. Reflective blogs and “ePortfolios” are another way for students to express what they learned, she said. “When you think about the UDL principles, they really overlap quite a bit,” De Arment says. “If I’m doing something to represent materials in multiple ways, it may also be engaging.”

De Arment and Smith discussed this topic during the UDL-IRN Summit in Orlando.

Jennifer Herseim covers Section 504 and education technology as it relates to special education for LRP Publications.


Interested in edtech? Keep up with the Future of Education Technology Conference®.