Multiple Means of Representation

Recognition Networks and Multiple Means of Representation

Recognition Networks and Multiple Means of Representation via

Universal Design for Learning has three major principles (Provide multiple means of 1) representation, 2)  action and expression, and 3) engagement). This week, we focused on Principle 1, which has three separate guidelines: 1) Provide options for perception, 2) Provide options for language, mathematical expressions, and symbols, and 3) Provide options for comprehension. (CAST)

In many ways, the classes I teach—undergraduate composition & rhetoric—are designed with these guidelines in mind. Since Paul Briand wrote about using multimedia tools to teach composition in 1970, comp instructors have been engaging with multiple media within their writing classrooms. This becomes the norm as technology advances: many comp instructors teach in tech classrooms, use web resources, and prepare lessons that involve technology (e.g. creating PowerPoints to introduce new material, playing video clips from YouTube for students to analyze, and using resources like wikis, Google sites, and BlackBoard platforms to organize class materials and assignments).

In “Why We Need Flexible Instructional Media,” David Rose and Anne Meyer write, “New classroom media, liked digital text, sound, images, and the World Wide Web, can be adjusted for different individuals and can open doors to learning.” The idea behind this, of course, is the flexibility of new media, which moves beyond the barriers of individual modalities. New media can affect our recognition networks, those neural networks that allow us to comprehend new ideas and concepts.

According to Rose & Meyer, the benefit of presenting a new concept using speech helps us to emphasize significant points, to sharpen impact, and to interact with our audiences. However, speech requires a great deal of memory, which can bog down listeners as we present new and complex concepts. This leads to text, which helps to support memory and comprehension by presenting a physical artifact that students can revisit. Again, text has its downfalls, particularly when individuals must decode meaning from dense text. Images (or iconic representations) present ideas immediately and can connect with viewers on more personal levels. But as Rose & Meyer note, images fall short of conveying conceptual and abstract information.  Using any one, and only one, of these modalities is limiting. For example, relying on images to convey information places students with low vision at a disadvantage, while a dependence on text could limit students with LD or students with different larding styles.

Rose & Meyer present the advantages and disadvantages of these three modalities as a way to build up to their recommended communicative modality: digital media. Implementing digital media within the classroom allows for flexibility and versatility. This can be seen in a typical PowerPoint presentation. Presenting information via PowerPoint automatically combines multiple means of representation—text, visuals, occasionally video and audio. Presenting a PowerPoint also combines speech (someone certainly has to present the information!) and sometimes text (it’s super easy to print the slides or notes from your PowerPoint to pass out as handouts). The flexibility of this medium combines all of the modalities that Rose & Meyer discussed (speech, visual, text, digital media) to try to reach the widest audience possible.

Though I don’t use PowerPoints (mainly because of their lack of interactivity), I can appreciate the medium and the combination of different media to communicate and try to aid student comprehension. What we can see from PowerPoint’s critics (e.g. it’s teacher-centered vs. student centered, passive vs. active) is the importance of combining all principles of UDL, not just choosing one (multiple means of representation) and dismissing the others.



Briand, Paul. “Turned on: Multi-Media and Advanced Composition.” College Composition and Communication 21.3 (1970): 267-269.

CAST. “UDL Guidelines – Version 2.0: Principle I. Provide Multiple Means of Representation.” National Center on Universal Design for Learning. CAST. 2011.

Rose, David H., and Anne Meyer. “Chapter 3: Why We Need Flexible Instructional Media.” Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning.  Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2002.

UDL on!

I just found a really interesting resource for UDL that I wanted to pass along. I’m not familiar with the platform (!), but a woman named Kathleen McClaskey has been curating information about UDL from around the web: UDL—Universal Design for Learning.

I noticed she included one of my blog posts from last semester about some UDL research I was doing. After some brief perusing, it seems like she has a pretty substantial (and diverse) spread of resources: blog posts, library guidesnewspaper articlesYouTube videosofficial UDL center websites, and even iPhone apps!

Flexible Curricula

“How can we rethink and remake educational systems that will provide more flexibility and educate more students effectively?” (Young & Minitz 501)

This is the most important question that we can ask if we want to create accessible curricula and classroom environments where all students feels comfortable sharing and learning. Young & Minitz argue that instructors should take responsibility for making classrooms, curricula, and teaching practices as accessible as possible (502). The question, then, is how we do that.

Ginsberg & Schulte note that ~10% of U.S. college students have a disability, yet college instructors have the least support and knowledge about how to educate students with disabilities (84).  Through their qualitative survey—which admittedly feels a bit shallow (i.e. They only interviewed faculty from one school, and it’s not entirely clear why they chose that school.)—we see faculty responses that range from “I’m treating the students [with disabilities] differently” to “I do for them ‘what I do for all students’” (88). It seems like the most negative comments come from instructors who support the deficit-model of disability, positioning students with disabilities as “defective” and in need of being fixed (85). So a shift in attitude may be the first step to creating more flexible curricula. Instructors who view students with disabilities from clinical and othering perspectives can’t begin to create accessible classroom environments. Post-secondary instructors need to adopt the social model of disability that locates the problems within our interactions, relationships, and environments.

Adopting a social constructivist model is certainly important, but it doesn’t answer the original question: How do we physically enact accessible practices?

The second step is definitely implementing accessible classroom practices. The answers from Ginsberg & Schulte’s survey give us some ideas:

  • asking students to paraphrase materials to gauge understanding,
  • breaking down content (which Sousa tells us is necessary for comprehension, anyway),
  • giving exams in different formats,
  • meeting with students one on one, and
  • encouraging student collaboration (89).

These options are all fairly interactive, advocate student-centered learning (which makes learning more relevant and comprehensible), and encourage delivering information in multiple modes of communication. If a student has trouble listening to a lecture, try delivering that information visually or as a written supplement. Even better, if I’m trying to explain a complex concept, I have students work together to learn the material and then present it to me. This repositioning gets students involved, positions them as valuable knowledge-makers, and emphasizes their abilities. As Harwood & and Humphry may argue, it highlights what students “can do” rather than highlighting what is “done for them” (379).

For me, the best way to create accessible practices is to focus on multiplicity and flexibility, which are often interrelated. I teach Composition & Rhetoric to undergrads, which always involves a final research project. In terms of multiplicity, I try enacting as many different classroom practices as possible—we brainstorm ideas visually and verbally, do research in the library and in online databases, draft outlines in traditional formats and in mental maps, and share drafts with each other throughout the process. In terms of flexibility, there are always set curricular goals, but I always allow a wide range of media for the final product—e.g. traditional term papers, websites, scrapbooks, formal reports, collections of brief essays, multimedia presentations, etc. Students need the flexibility to learn and compose in whichever ways make them the most comfortable, which will ultimately allow them to do the best work they can.

So, what practices work in your classrooms?



Ginsberg, Sarah M., and Karen Schulte. “Instructional Accommodations: Impact of Conventional vs. Social Constructivist View of Disability.” Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 8.2 (2008): 84-91.

Harwood, Valerie, and Nici Humphry. “Taking Exception: Discourses of Exceptionality and the Invocation of the ‘Ideal.’” Disability & the Politics of Education: An International Reader. Eds. Susan L. Gabel and Scot Danforth. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2008. 372-83.

Young, Kathryn, and Emily Mintz. “A Comparison: Difference, Dependency, and Stigmatization in Special Education and Disability Studies.” Disability & the Politics of Education: An International Reader. Eds. Susan L. Gabel and Scot Danforth. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2008. 499-511. Print.

Technology Lab 1: Google Docs

I’ve been using Google Docs for a few years now, and it’s been incredibly helpful this year with the conference planning I’ve been doing with other members of the CCR Grad Circle. To organize CARR 2012 (Conference on Activism, Rhetoric, and Research), we have used Google Docs to distribute and edit documents, create spreadsheets, and create forms.

  1. Distributing and editing documents. Our core committee uses Google Docs to distribute agendas for our meetings, which could then be used to take notes that everyone could see in real-time. We also use Google Docs to edit documents when we can’t meet face-to-face. Even if we are meeting in person, it comes in handy when a document requires feedback from the entire group because we can see exactly who is making changes or comments, and they are applied immediately, which saves someone the time and hassle of gathering all the comments and applying them individually.
  2. Creating spreadsheets. Planning a conference requires funding, and we have used the Google Docs spreadsheet function to record funding: who we’ve contacted and when, who has donated money and how much, and a running total of how much has been donated. Because updates are immediately available to everyone and there is only one copy, there are never any issues with people looking at outdated copies, and I can know immediately who has donated so I can then add them to our sponsors on the website.
  3. Creating forms. We decided to use Google Docs to create the registration form for the conference. Once people register and enter their information, Google Docs will take that information and enter it all into a spreadsheet for us.
Screen Shot of My Google Docs Page

Screen Shot of My Recently Used Google Docs

Google Docs has wider applications than conference planning, particularly in the classroom. I’ve had professors use it in classrooms to distribute activities: We all open the document and, in groups, fill out the information. Then it’s all projected on the board, and we can discuss the information as a larger group. At the end of last semester, Clay Spinuzzi wrote a pretty great blog post about the benefits of having students use Google Docs: 1) It’s online; 2) it’s private, so students don’t have to worry about other people seeing their work; and 3) it easily facilitates collaboration, which can be great for peer review. Spinuzzi also write about using Google Docs for grading, allowing students to see your comments in real-time. I’m not teaching this year, but but I often grade using Track Changes in Word. I think I’ll give Google Docs a try next time I teach, though.

In terms of Universal Design, I don’t know of any glaring issues with using Google Docs. Google has its own page dedicated to the accessibility of its products——which speaks specifically to how blind and low-vision users can use Google Docs. In terms of tech accessibility, Google Docs is pretty user-friendly, too. If nothing else, Google has a fair amount of support forums that can help you troubleshoot their services.

Typically, I’ve found that using technologies like Google Docs for student collaboration is really helpful for students who are uncomfortable speaking or engaging within the physical classroom. Using Google Docs for peer review and other collaborative projects could be really beneficial for a wide range of students: students who interact better online or in non-verbal media; students with LD, AS, or other social anxieties; students who just aren’t comfortable talking in class.

Still not sure about using it in the classroom? Check out these resources, which range from K-12 applications to higher ed purposes: