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.

7 responses to “Multiple Means of Representation

  1. As I read your response, I got really interested in knowing more about using multiple media within writing classrooms. I admit that my background on these technologies is little but I feel that learning writing this way is very exciting as well as challenging. Engaging students in writing activities is one of the most difficult tasks but it seems that utilizing and integrating all these new technologies which most students prefer, is very creative.
    I agree with you that having all these different options through which we can deliver information, doesn’t mean that one is better than the other but it means that choosing the mean depends on its suitability for the task and the recipient.

  2. Do you think it’s possible to use PowerPoint in an interactive way? I think it’s possible to use any of this media in ways that hinder or help student learning. Even digital text can be done poorly. It will be fun to see if your thinking about PowerPoint is reinforce or if it changes at all as our class goes on… I find myself using it partly because students *expect* PowerPoint!

    Wendy Harbour

    • Oh yes, I think PowerPoint *can* be used interactively but isn’t always done so. I think my frustration comes from the idea that if you use digital media, you automatically create a more interesting learning experience for students. As you said, digital text can definitely be done poorly, and a 1-hour lecture is still a lecture, even if it’s facilitated by PowerPoint.

      I know people who use student quotes (from blog posts and response papers) in PowerPoints to encourage discussion, and I think that’s interactive. It disrupts a typically teach-centered activity to include student voices and creates opportunities for dialogue.

      I imagine the book we will read about PowerPoint may also give me some different ways to think about its uses.

  3. When I was reading this weeks material, it made perfect sense to me and I understand why there needs to be multiple means of representation built into teaching. As teachers it is important to provide options for perception, symbols and comprehension. I wanted to tell you that after looking over your post, it really demonstrated for me how powerful multimedia can be. Your use of a picture and a video clip (besides written language) made the posting, much more engaging and comprehensive. I can see why students are more interested and likely to learn. It sounds like you do lots of fun stuff in your teaching. I would like to incorporate more multimedia into mine, as well, to provide some options, especially for comprehension. What advice would you give me as a high school teacher who is a novice in this area? And, how and where do you find all this good multimedia stuff?


    • Thanks, Lisa! I think it depends on 1) what you’re teaching, and 2) what you have access to within your classroom. My classes are focused on analysis–close readings and critical thinking. So I feel like I have a ton of sources to pull from. YouTube is one of my favorites. You can look at ad campaigns, music videos, educational videos to analyze what’s happening, what the text says, what the images say, etc. Even if I don’t have access to the Internet in my classroom, I will print out song lyrics or visual ad campaigns to analyze.

      These websites, which are all open access, may also be useful: (free cultural & educational media) (educational videos that this guy created for teaching math, science, and humanities lessons) (this one is a bit difficult to navigate because it has SO MUCH information, but it provides teaching materials, open access and multimedia resources, and texts to use)

  4. Rose & Meyer reference a lot of norms in their writing. By teaching through many modalitiies, we do reach the “broadest audience possible”, but what about those that do not see normatively, have normative hearing, speech, and so forth. We are, of course, trying to reach them through many different lesson plans, but what about accessibility of particular parts of the lesson, What should be done about those parts?
    In another conversation about norms in your post, in reference to the Briand article, you referenced “norms of the moment” which can also be called fads. What role do you think this ought to play in education? Are there any limitations to teaching this way? What are the strengths?
    Andrew Bennett

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