Nugget #13: Celebrate Good Work

Take Time To Celebrate Good Work

There are only two more days of instruction this semester then on to finals to complete the spring semester. Hopefully you’ve found a way to work at least one of the UDL or Accessibility nuggets into your course this spring. Congratulations and well done!

Our team has been busy with applications, finalizing research publication papers, hosting a workshop, and all of the other work that comes with the end of a semester. So, to avoid adding one more item to your to-do list, we wanted to summarize our UDL Nugget topics from this last semester so you could jump into any of the topics as you wrap up this semester and begin to plan for the next. We thank you all for your support and interest thus far. We’re excited to get back into UDL topics with weekly nuggets next fall!

Onboarding Forms

At the end of January, we encouraged you to Use Onboarding Forms to Understand Your Students Needs We provided an example of a semester onboarding form that you can use to proactively gather information about your students, their needs, and preferences. The Dig Deeper section highlighted ways such a form could allow students to submit their Letter of Accommodation, but also ask about interests, their comfort level with subject material, and other data about workload, assignment timing, and grading methods. 


In February, we really focused upon accessibility tools and best practices. In Use an Accessibility Checker to Improve Course Accessibility, we suggested using available accessibility checkers, particularly the one built into the rich text editor of our learning management system (LMS), to make even small changes to improve navigation of educational content and effective learning for all students. We also shared a variety of other accessibility resources for our campus LMS. In our dig deeper section, we suggested you encourage students to utilize the accessibility checker for their discussion board posts to take an active responsibility for accessibility in their learning community.

We discussed alternatives to color for information design in Use More Than Color to Highlight or Differentiate Pieces of Information. We recommended best practices to use text treatments, lines, patterns, and icons to reinforce importance rather than the use of color to solely communicate information. We introduced the idea of alternative text and descriptive text for graphs, images, and digital dashboards in the Dig Deeper section. And we introduced a few tools for testing color contrast when color is used. We also suggested tools for student use to control color contrast and suggested encouraging student use of color checkers for their own content creation.

In Know and Share About Assistive Technology for Students and Faculty, we defined accessibility tools and gave examples. In the Dig Deeper section we urged you to encourage students to use our school’s Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) accessibility tool resources, we suggested you do your own exploration of these tools. We provided a contact at DRES for further questions about specific tools, we linked to their ‘Try It Out’ webpage and included a link to policy pages.

UDL Foundations

In March we introduced the three pillars of UDL in Learn About the Foundations of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and included a brief history and four fun facts. In the Dig Deeper section we presented about the theory, best practices, and tools of UDL. We included a plethora of links: 20 Accessibility Tips, lecture-related software, UDL Guide from Yale, Interactive Module on UDL from Vanderbilt University, Cornell UDL resources, links to the latest research, an encouragement to hear from practitioners and join available UDL communities (CITL, UDL Team, UDL Podcast, Canvas Commons).

Course Organization

After spring break, we focused on some best practices around course organization and tools. We started with Course Organization – Syllabus and focused on how organizing your course with an effective syllabus can elevate your students’ understanding of the semester and course content. We covered topics of syllabus formatting, the use of inline topic links, and the use of multiple pages if hosting the syllabus in an LMS. We included fun facts about syllabus use and history. The Dig Deeper section highlighted the available supports for our school: DRES resources and guidelines and the student counseling center. We also included research information about syllabi and examples.

Next we tackled the Use of a Course Calendar and Scheduler. We provided a short discussion of what information should be included on a course calendar: due dates, deadlines, and progress in course content. We encouraged the use of the LMS built in calendar, explicit about deadlines and important dates, calendar feed to export to google calendar to provide students an alternative way to manage courses, be sure to include course staff office hours, fun facts, research on calendar tools, links to canvas and google calendar guides

Then we wrapped up course organization with Tools, Built-In Features, and Share Resources to Keep Your Students Informed and Engaged. We highlighted methods and tool types that enhance learning, provide multiple pathways to knowledge, and gave a long list of available tools available to both instructors and students. Tools included online discussion forums, remote meetings, multiple ways of engagement, video platforms, assessment tools, roster management tools, appointment tools, and survey tools. The Dig Deeper section provided a non-exhaustive list of links to examples of each type of tool and links to relevant support documentation.

Thank you for all of your feedback and support this school year! We’ll return next fall with more UDL Principles and tips for applying them to your instruction practices.

-UDL and Accessibility Group

Nugget #12: Engage with More Organization Tools

In addition to the course syllabus, schedule, calendar, many tools are essential nowadays for effective course management. Use technologies such as the following to facilitate UDL designs before the course starts. For example, the online discussion forum and remote meetings enable multiple ways of engagement (1st principle of UDL framework), the video platform allows for multiple means of representation (2nd principle of UDLframework)  and the assessment tools help implement multiple ways of expression (3rd principle of UDL framework). 

Utilize the following types of tools to improve your course organization:

  • Online Discussion Forums: to help your students stay engaged with your material and connect with each other
  • Assessment Platforms: for manual and automatic grading of assignments and clear rubric for assessments 
  • Roster Management: keeps your registration orderly, notifications and participation tracking easier
  • Appointment Tools: to help arrange for office hours, student-arranged group meetings or study groups
  • Remote Meeting Platforms: to use for office hours, remote group meetings, and remote class attendance 
  • Gradebook Management Tools: to keep organized on assessments, grades, and make end-of-the semester reports easier
  • Survey Tools: gather input and feedback from your students, demonstrating sound surveying practices
  • Video Platforms: to allow students accessing and viewing course lectures and other videos.

Dig Deeper:

Below are examples of these various tools. These lists are not exhaustive. The availability of these tools vary – some are available to all campus populations, others are available within the Grainger College of Engineering, and still others are publicly available but might need to be purchased. Every effort has been taken to include at least one campus-level tool.

Online Discussion Forums: 

Assessment Platforms:

Roster Management:

Appointments Tools: 

Remote Meeting Platforms: 

Gradebook Management:

Survey Tools: 

Video Platforms:

Thank you for your interest. If you found this tip helpful, please share it with your colleagues and encourage them to subscribe using the link at the bottom of this email.

See you again next week!

-UDL and Accessibility Group

Nugget #11: Schedule with a Course Calendar

It’s a good UDL practice to make use of a calendar and scheduler to help students stay on top of due dates, deadlines, and progress through course content. With these tools, students will have better learning outcomes and experiences.

If you use Canvas as the learning management system, use the built in calendar to make all the deadlines and important dates explicit for the course. This will result in better time management because the calendar for students spans all their courses on Canvas. Make use of the export of the calendar by “Calendar feed” to a Google calendar so that students have the alternative to manage their courses. Course staff office hours should be added to the calendar for the students as well.

Writing announcements as reminders for important dates is another good practice. Set the announcements using the time scheduler in advance on Canvas so that it is managed systematically.

Some fun facts

  1. “Provide a course syllabus that clearly identifies all course requirements, course expectations and due dates” has been identified as the 1st strategy among 9 UDLapproaches in the study by EnACT.
  2. Students check the deadlines very carefully and they are quick to find mistakes such as deadlines falling into a spring break.

Dig Deeper

Research on Calendar Tools

Interested in doing more research on course calendars? Check out this paper:

  • Mei, J. (2016). Learning Management System Calendar Reminders and Effects on Time Management and Academic Performance.

Check out Google and Canvas Calendar Guides

To learn more about organizing courses with calendars, check out this guide on Google calendars to familiarize yourself with its capabilities and this resource for Canvas calendars to implement the tool in Canvas.

See you again next week!

-UDL and Accessibility Group

Nugget #10: Constructing an Effective Syllabus

Organize your course with an effective syllabus

Course syllabus serves three overarching functions including structural, motivational, and evidentiary. Research has shown it’s good to have a detailed syllabus to make explicit the expectations for both the students and the instructor. Using a warm tone is good to generate an engaging atmosphere. In order to serve all students well, describe the UDL practices including ways students can get accommodations, flexibility in the assessments and the availability of course support or university supports such as disability services.

  • To format, use a word processor that generates structured documents such as html with headings and lists for better access. 
  • For a long syllabus, use inline topic links in the beginning to help navigation to specific sections of the syllabus. 
  • When using a learning management system (LMS), like Cavnas, as a content platform, use multiple pages for various aspects of the syllabus. For example, make the schedule easy to navigate by designing it as part of the landing page of the course. 
  • Stay tuned for more calendar/scheduling tips next week!

Some fun facts

1) “Provide a course syllabus that clearly identifies all course requirements, course expectations and due dates” has been identified as the 1st strategy among 9 UDL approaches in the study by EnACT.

2) A university in the US would ask students to sign that they read the syllabus and agree to its terms.

3) Canvas has a syllabus menu item for setting up a course syllabus, but it has a short width for accessibility considerations.

Dig deeper

School Supports

Our university has a strong commitment to help instructors manage course policies, especially through syllabi. To take advantage of this, check out the Provost’s page on course policies or the Student Affairs syllabus statement recommendations. These are strong starting points on what to include in a syllabus to help students understand your policies and to access needed care.

Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES)

At DRES, you can find resources and guidelines for coordinating with disability services, including syllabus statements and course policy construction suggestions.

Counseling Center

Another key student resource to share through your syllabus is the Counseling Center. Mental health can be a difficult topic to approach, so a page with suggestions on referring students has been provided by the Student Counseling Center to help you navigate various situations relating to mental health concerns.

Research on Syllabus

Interested in doing more research on an effective syllabus? Check out these research resources:

  • Jeanne M. Slattery & Janet F. Carlson “Preparing an effective syllabus: current best practices” College Teaching 53:4, 159-164, 2005
  • Wagner, J. L., Smith, K. J., Johnson, C., Hilaire, M. L., & Medina, M. S. (2023). Best Practices in Syllabus Design. American journal of pharmaceutical education, 87(3), ajpe8995.

Example of syllabus and schedule

See you again next week!

-UDL and Accessibility Group

Nugget #9: Understanding UDL

Learn About the Foundations of Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

What is UDL?
UDL is a curriculum design framework that proposes three principles of course design:
1) provide multiple means of engagement;
2) provide multiple means of representation;
3) provide multiple means of action and expression.

These three principles address the learning needs of students regarding why they should be learning the content, in what methods they are given the contents and how they would express their understanding of the course content. Examples regarding the 2nd principle include: providing lecture slides, audio transcripts or lecture videos with captions to make the content accessible and understandable for all students.

A brief history
This framework emerged in the 1990s from studies of the variability among different learners and the successful implementation of computerized readers supporting multi-modalities of contents by researchers from CAST. Although UDL is closely tied with accessibility and accommodations via technologies, it emphasizes the design for all students rather than the accommodations for individuals. This concept was originated/inspired by the universal design principle in architecture. For example, the ramp for accessing a building is available to and usable by all populations.

Some fun facts
1) The researchers who established the UDL (Anne Meyer and David Rose) met in California with Alan Brightman, chief of disability access for Apple Computer in 1985 while Macintosh was introduced in 1984.

2) Apple products such as iPhone and iPad both have accessibility features, i.e. the built in screen readers.

3) UDL is widely implemented in the classrooms of K-12 education, but not much in college classes.

4) A lot of educators intuitively applied practices or tools that are UDL compliant without being aware of the framework. For example, a flexible deadline is a good practice regarding the 3rd UDL principle.

UDL is a framework that is well established based on research and its principles are used to help make our education more flexible, accessible and inclusive. As new technologies emerge, we anticipate UDL is gaining more attention on college campuses.

Dig deeper


  • CAST – non-profit organization that developed the UDL framework
  • Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice, 2013, book by Anne Meyer, David Rose and David Gordon

Best practices and tools

  1. 20 Accessibility Tips
  2. Lecture-Related Software: ClassTranscribe and I-Notes
  3. A Guide to UDL by Yale University
  4. An Interactive Module on UDL by Vanderbilt University
  5. UDL Resources by Cornell University

Read the Latest Research

  1. Opportunities and Barriers in UDL
  2. Evaluating the Low-Stakes Assessment Performance Student-Perceived Accessibility, Belongingness, and Self-Efficacy in Connection to the Use of Digital Notes
  3. ASEE Paper Repository

Hear From Practitioners

  1. CAST: UDL to Change the World
  2. Boston College: Universal Design for Learning
  3. ADA Playlist: Digital Accessibility

Join the Community 

  1. CITL UDL Team: Connect with UIUC’s dedicated group of UDL experts at CITL
  2. The UDL podcast (
  3. Canvas Commons

See you again next week!

-UDL and Accessibility Group

Nuggets #8: Assistive Technologies

Know and Share About Assistive Technology for Students and Faculty

Assistive technology, or AT, is a tool or device that reduces a barrier for individuals with disabilities. Many students use assistive technologies on a daily basis to help them access and comprehend course materials in different ways. It’s important for instructors to understand AT and the various ways that students interact with content so they can be accommodating for students using assistive technologies, and to help share these resources to students with accessibility needs.

Some examples of AT used in the classroom include screen readers, text-to-speech software, text magnifiers, and alternative keyboards. Lucky for us, Campus Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) maintains a list of assistive technologies available to University students and faculty.

Dig Deeper

How to accommodate for students using AT:

Encourage students to take advantage of DRES assistive technology resources by sharing information in your syllabus or in course resources.

Try out some of the assistive technologies on your own course content, course tasks, and assessments. For example, you can turn on your computer’s screen reader and try to go through a page of content or course website.

For more information on obtaining software, please contact Ann Fredricksen at DRES also offers information and assistance to faculty and graduate teaching assistants, see Resources on the DRES Instructor Information page.

Students can try out different assistive technologies through DRES.

These technologies are available to all students and faculty, and are great resources for considering additional accessibility tests for technology development as well. Check out their Try It Out section.

Learn more about efforts to identify, build, and incorporate more assistive technologies on campus.

See more information about IT Accessibility efforts and policies at Illinois, including information about the Technology Accessibility Review Committee and the Digital Accessibility Policy (HR-86).

See you again next week!

-UDL and Accessibility Group

Nugget #7: Controlling Color

Use More Than Color to Highlight or Differentiate Pieces of Information

Although adding different colors can help point out key details or differentiate between different pieces of information, make sure that you don’t solely use colors to convey information.

Color is often used to point out key details or to differentiate between different pieces of information, but this can cause accessibility issues with screen readers, those with color sensitivities, and general confusion of meaning or importance. Make sure you do not only rely upon color to convey meaning, importance or differentiation of information. Also note, it is a common misconception that Red/Green color vision deficiency is the only type of color vision deficiency, but there are multiple ranges of color-perception ability.

Dig Deeper:

Consider Alternatives to Common Uses of Color

Be sure to use underline text treatment to convey hyperlinks.

Use different lines, patterns, and points, or icons to differentiate information on graphs.

Utilize alternative text and descriptive text to explain meaning if color is used to convey data in graphs, images, or digital dashboards.

Font sizes and treatment (H2, H3, Bullet Points) can be used to indicate importance, meaning, and textual structure.

Use comment or review notes when collaborating on shared documents, but be sure the application uses more than just colored highlights to alert a collaborator to your comments. Luckily, common applications like Word and Google Docs already do this.

Test Your Color Use

You can quickly scan the content and ask yourself “would this make sense in grayscale?”. You can also manually change the color filters on your system:

Macbook: You can change the color filters on your computer by navigating to System Settings > Accessibility > Display > Color Filters on. Select grayscale. Check to see whether your content is still understandable with the filter.

Windows: To change the color filter on Windows 11, navigate to Windows Logo > Settings > Accessibility > Color Filters. Select grayscale.

Use and Promote Applications that Allow Students to Control Colors

The ClassTranscribe video player allows for students to choose a color map of their choice while viewing lectures.

Microsoft Word allows a person to adjust contrast, colors, text spacing, and line focus in a document by use of the Immersive Reader option available in the View menu.

What other ways can you adjust your use of color to create a more equitable understanding of your content? Do you know of other tools that allow a person to adjust color or contrast of content? Tell us what we missed via email to

Update and Correction from Color in Education Material Nugget from 02/13/2024

We were thrilled to hear from readers last week about another color and contrast tool they find helpful and a correction we need to make.

“The TPGi Colour Contrast Analyzer [CCA] is incredibly simple, and gives immediate results when checking if a color combo is pass/fail based on [Web Content Accessibility Guidelines] WCAG. Plus it is free.”

We also got feedback that one of our suggestions missed the mark, using underlining and italics font treatment on slides. Our reader suggested a resource for Designing Slides for People With Dyslexia which can improve everyone’s ability to understand and connect with slide content.

See you again next week!

-UDL and Accessibility Group

Nugget #6: Checking for Accessibility

Use an Accessibility Checker to Improve Course Accessibility

Most accessibility checkers will help identify incorrect text formatting, missing alternative content for images, improvements to links, and a better way to use tables for displaying data. Each individual fix may seem small, but the overall change towards improving accessibility makes a big difference for many students. Although students with accessibility needs are at the forefront in motivating these changes, visual clarity and other possible accessibility fixes allow everyone to easily navigate educational content and learn effectively.

Dig Deeper

Canvas Built-In Rich Text Accessibility Checker

Within Canvas, there is a built-in accessibility checker that can discover some common accessibility mistakes, though it does not capture all accessibility issues. Use the built-in Canvas Accessibility Checker in the Rich Content Editor to catch adjacent links, heading mistakes, missing alternative text for images or table captions, along with other formatting challenges.

Many more Canvas Instructor Accessibility Resources are available from the U of I Canvas service provider. Of note, the Canvas Course Evaluation Checklist (document), which includes accessibility checkpoints, can be found in the first section.

Encourage students to use the Accessibility Checker in discussion board posts

When you assign or encourage students to post to Canvas discussion boards, be sure to suggest they use the built-in accessibility checker for each of their posts. When you encourage your students to be responsible for the accessibility of their own work, you give them the chance to take an active role to improve their learning community.

Stay tuned for future nuggets about use of color and contrast in learning materials!

See you again next week!

-UDL and Accessibility Group

Nugget #5: Use Onboarding Forms

Use onboarding forms each semester to learn more about your students and their needs, gauge their understanding and enthusiasm for class content, and better prepare to reach them.

By proactively asking students for course-related information and accessibility needs, onboarding forms are a great way to reach students who need support and promote an accessible, engaging classroom for all. Here’s an example of an onboarding Google form for a course in Computer Science. Notice the type of information asked, which include multiple choice questions on course interest and preferences, as well as free response questions on accommodations.

Dig Deeper 

DRES Accommodations

At the core, onboarding forms let you quickly understand students’ needs. Therefore, we recommend you include questions relating to accessibility needs and DRES accommodations. If you reference the onboarding form above, students are given a space to attach their Letter of Accommodations and free response textboxes to address specific topics. Students can then share how components of your course, such as a web page or choice of teaching medium, may interact with their accessibility needs.

Course-Related Questions

You can also use an onboarding form to understand students’ comfort, interest, and preferences in your course. As shown in the sample onboarding forms, questions gauging prerequisite knowledge and method of learning can inform your decisions on course structure to provide the most value for students. Most notably, the opt-out question on participating in specific course activities allows students to pick grading methods that work best for their needs. Questions related to semester workload and timing on an on-boarding form could also help you formulate your flexible deadline plan.

Thank you for your interest. If you found this tip helpful, please share it with your colleagues!

See you again next week!

-UDL and Accessibility Group

Nugget #4: Use Flexible Deadlines

Flexible deadlines return agency to students while cutting down on logistical work for course staff, in particular arbitration of requests for deadline extensions. When logistically possible, consider using a flexible deadline structure, especially for auto-graded formative assessments. Many students are likely to experience some form of disruption to their learning throughout a semester. These disruptions can range from a mild illness for a couple days, to serious matters that could require a student’s absence from class for over a week.

Rather than require students to ask for accommodations for these disruptions, flexible deadlines will give students agency to decide when to work on an assignment. Flexible deadlines also best utilize students’ time and energy given that they are simultaneously enrolled in multiple courses.

Dig Deeper:

There are many ways in which to easily implement a flexible deadline system:

Move Deadlines Back

The easiest method of adding flexibility in deadlines is to simply move deadlines backwards in time. Suppose a course has weekly homework assignments. Instead of releasing these assignments with a one-week deadline, simply use a two-week deadline. Given that homework is released each week, students are still encouraged to keep up and complete each assignment within a week, but failing to do so does not have an immediate and negative impact.

Rolling Deadline Method

Formative homework can also be put on a rolling deadline method in which the amount of credit received for an assignment decreases every week. For example, take an assignment from STAT 385, Statistical Programming Methods, a course with a weekly homework schedule.

Homework Released: Thursday, September 1, 11:59 PM
105% Credit Deadline: Thursday, September 8, 11:59 PM
100% Credit Deadline: Thursday, September 15, 11:59 PM
75% Credit Deadline: Thursday, September 22, 11:59 PM
Here we have three deadlines, all without students needing to ask for any accommodation. The above setup is enabled by the use of the auto-grading capabilities of the PrairieLearn system.

Dropped Assignments Method

Another method would be to implement a number of allowed “dropped” assignments, like allowing students to drop their lowest two homework scores. While this method is convenient and easy to implement, there are equity concerns with the drop method. For instance, students without any disruptions during a semester can use the drops to their advantage, possibly creating scheduling flexibility to work on other courses. This flexibility may not be available to students that need the dropped assignments as an accommodation for a disruption. Additionally, allowing drops can encourage students to simply “skip” some content, whereas flexible deadlines still require students to complete all assignments.

Thank you for your interest. If you found this tip helpful, please share it with your colleagues!

See you again next week!

-UDL and Accessibility Group