Active Learning meets Universal Design

Any­one already know what uni­ver­sal design is? [pause while stu­dents con­sider this]

If you don’t already know, and you had to guess, what would you guess? [take a minute to brain­storm with a neighbor]

What did you come up with? [offer a few stu­dents a chance to state their ideas]

Well, if you were think­ing about ways to make things acces­si­ble to a wide range of users, you are on the right track. Uni­ver­sal design (UD) is a set of prin­ci­ples that encour­ages the cre­ation of objects, tools, spaces, really any­thing — includ­ing teach­ing mate­ri­als — in ways that make them effec­tively usable to the widest range of peo­ple. There are seven prin­ci­ples, and they are:

  1. Equi­table use.
  2. Flex­i­bil­ity in Use.
  3. Sim­ple and intu­itive.
  4. Per­cep­ti­ble infor­ma­tion.
  5. Tol­er­ance for error.
  6. Low phys­i­cal effort.
  7. Size and space for approach and use.

Con­sid­er­ing the prin­ci­ples of UD as you develop your teach­ing mate­ri­als means that you are con­tribut­ing to equi­table access for all stu­dents, unde­ni­ably a pos­i­tive thing to do. So how does that con­nect to active learning?

In an active learn­ing class­room stu­dents take on some of the work, rather than sit­ting there pas­sively, wait­ing for it all to be over. Learn­ing becomes a shared expe­ri­ence between the instruc­tor and the stu­dents. Pow­er­Points that are chock full of infor­ma­tion do not offer much room for stu­dents to do any think­ing. All the infor­ma­tion is there in front of them and they sit pas­sively while the pre­sen­ter does all the think­ing. It’s even more paci­fy­ing if the pre­sen­ter then reads the slides!

Devel­op­ing UD Pow­er­Point slides not only pro­vides for equi­table access, but it sets you up for cre­at­ing an active learn­ing envi­ron­ment, just by being thought­ful about how much you put into each slide. Since I arrived in the world of med­ical edu­ca­tion from the K-12 world I have learned that doc­tors value hav­ing a LOT of slides in a pre­sen­ta­tion. I’ve heard one doc­tor, in prepar­ing for a talk, say, “But I only have 40 slides done for my 60 minute talk!” I’ve also seen Pow­er­Point decks for 60 minute classes that were 120 slides long. It’s as if hav­ing more infor­ma­tion on more slides is the only way to prove you know what you’re talk­ing about.

Instead, think of your slides as prompts for con­ver­sa­tions, as ways to illu­mi­nate the most dif­fi­cult aspect of an idea, not as your own notes or as stor­age for all pos­si­ble infor­ma­tion you could con­vey on a topic. Your learn­ers will still rec­og­nize that you know what you’re talk­ing about because you will prompt them to think deeply and guide them down the right path, so that they too know what you know.

Good slides that pro­mote UD and active learn­ing have many fea­tures in common:

  1. Use a clear font such as Ariel or Times
  2. Main­tain high value con­trast, for exam­ple black type on a plain white background
  3. Avoid fly-ins and dissolves
  4. Con­vey one idea per slide
  5. Include only what you need to prompt your­self and the learn­ers (you can print out your own notes to use to do your presentation)
  6. If you use fig­ures, keep them sim­ple and focus on the most impor­tant information

You can learn more about UD, and read descrip­tors for the seven prin­ci­ples, at the DO-IT  cen­ter at the Uni­ver­sity of Washington.

Here’s a good resource for think­ing about effec­tive Pow­er­Point. It’s called Really Bad Pow­er­Point (and how to avoid it).

Marco Rolandi of the UW (Dept of Mate­ri­als Sci­ence and Engi­neer­ing) has an excel­lent arti­cle on design­ing fig­ures for pre­sen­ta­tions. Rolandi, Marco, Karen Cheng and Sarah Perez-Kriz. 2011. A brief guide to design­ing effec­tive fig­ures for the sci­en­tific paper. Adv. Mater. 23: 4343–4346.  You’ll need a UW log in to reach the paper.

If you are inter­ested in try­ing this — if you’d like to pare down your slides to increase UD and active learn­ing, but you’re con­cerned about how to go about it — how to think about what to leave in and what to take out…give me a call! I’d be happy to help or to point you to other resources. We can start small — one pre­sen­ta­tion maybe. See how it goes. I’ll be wait­ing to hear from you!

One thought on “Active Learning meets Universal Design

  1. Julie, great ideas. I want to improve my power point pre­sen­ta­tions in Hu Bio. I am also giv­ing a grand rounds talk in March, and I’d like to try some new things. Per­haps we could meet and dis­cuss improv­ing my pre­sen­ta­tions. I will take a look at the links in your blog. Fendley

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