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Intentional Tech Solutions with Derek Bruff

Welcome to Episode 77 of the Think UDL podcast: Intentional Tech Solutions with Derek Bruff. Derek Bruff is the Assistant Provost and Executive Director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University and Interim Director of Digital Commons as well as a Principal Senior Lecturer in Mathematics. He is also the host and producer of the educational technology podcast Leading Lines. Derek has recently written the book Intentional Tech: Principles to Guide the Use of Educational Technology in College Teaching. My colleagues and I at Appalachian State who are “faculty Champions,” faculty who help our peers with tech and teaching problems, have been reading his book together and discussing it asynchronously, so I am eager to talk with Derek today and get the answers to my questions! I am excited to talk shop with him about his book and how his principles relate to the UDL guidelines. And I thank you for joining me and Derek today for our conversation on UDL and Intentional Tech!


Find Derek Bruff on Twitter @DerekBruff and follow his educational technology focussed podcast @LeadingLinesPod

Want to read Derek’s book? Here is a link to purchase  Intentional Tech: Principles to Guide the Use of Educational Technology in College Teaching through WVU press

Derek also has a great website in which he blogs about teaching topics and more at

Check out Derek’s class podcast site One-Time Pod to hear his students’ work.

Find out more about what Derek and his colleagues do to help faculty at Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching

Here are a few of the ideas and tech that Derek and Lillian mention on the episode today:

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle– This was in relation to “Times for Telling” and how if we experience something first and then unpack it later, we have much more of a hook to grab our students’ attention

Lillian mentions The Monkey Business Illusion as a way to draw in her students to look more closely at their surroundings and think about what they may have missed

Derek mentions “Her Story” as another ingenious way to engage students with the purpose of the learning experience

Derek also mentions Perusall is a fantastic tool for students to collaboratively annotate texts asynchronously

Tiki-toki is a free timeline maker that Derek introduced Lillian to years ago. We both highly recommend it!
Prezi and Pinterest are excellent tools that Derek mentions for students to present information in flexible formats


Lillian Nave  00:00

Welcome to think UDL, the universal design for learning podcast where we hear from the people who are designing and implementing strategies with learner variability in mind. I’m your host, Lillian nave. And I’m interested in not just what you’re teaching, learning, guiding and facilitating, but how you design and implement it and why it even matters. Welcome to Episode 77 of the Think UDL podcast “Intentional Tech Solutions with Derek Bruff.” Derek Bruff is the Assistant Provost and Executive Director of the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University, and Interim Director of Digital Commons as well as a principal Senior Lecturer in mathematics. He’s also the host and producer of the educational technology podcast leading lines. Derek has recently written the book intentional tech principles to guide the use of educational technology in college teaching. My colleagues and I at Appalachian State who are faculty champions, and that’s faculty who help our peers with tech and teaching problems, have been reading his book together and discussing it asynchronously. So I am eager to talk with Derek today in real time and get the answers to my questions. I’m excited to talk shop with him about his book and how his principles relate to the UDL guidelines. And I thank you for joining me and Derek today for our conversation on UDL and intentional Tech. Thank you so much, Derek Bruff, for joining me today on the think UDL podcast.

Derek Bruff  01:53

Thanks, Lillian. I’m very excited to be here. 

Lillian Nave  01:55

Yes, I have followed a lot of the things you say from your podcast, and also from seeing you many years ago at a Teaching and Learning Conference where you introduced me to some tech tools and some low tech solutions. So I’ve been very thankful for that. We’ll get into talking about that a little later. But I did want to have you on the podcast and talk to you especially about intentional tech, your book about principles to guide the use of educational technology and college teaching, and especially talk about that in light of universal design for learning. So my first question to you is what makes you a different kind of learner?

Derek Bruff  02:37

Well, it’s a very interesting question. I had to think about that a little bit. I think one of the things that I lean into in terms of my own learning, I did, I did the strengths finder inventory years ago, the kind of Personality Inventory. And it named something that was true about me that I hadn’t had a name for. But I have the input strength. And so this is why I back in the day, I would read a lot of blogs, um, I read a lot of Twitter, I listened to a lot of podcasts. I like to kind of consume media, shall we say that where I might learn something that could come in handy later. And so it’s kind of grazing approach, I guess, to learning. And I’m pretty good at remembering Oh, I think I heard something about that on a podcast two years ago. And then I can track down the thing. I’m pretty good at bookmarking things, so I can find it later. And so I think that makes me a slightly different kind of learner, right? Yeah.

Lillian Nave  03:43

Oh, my goodness. Yes, it does. Nobody’s ever answered that way before. 75 or so episodes. Yeah.

Derek Bruff  03:51

And then, you know, over time, I have this kind of pool of things I’ve heard about and then, you know, this was, it’s really helpful, like when it came time to write my book is that I was like, oh, I need another example of this principle. But hopefully, from maybe the humanities instead of, you know, the natural sciences and, and I could go through my bookmarks or kind of go through my mental Rolodex and realize, oh, actually, I heard someone interviewed about that on a podcast three years ago. Let me follow up on that. Right. And so I think it’s been a useful part of my process, and it kind of keeps me open to new ideas.

Lillian Nave  04:23

Yeah, I’ve noticed that that a lot of this book is connecting those points of information. And you’ve got that spiderweb of connecting lines, right, that help us to put those together. And I know that when I talk about Universal Design for Learning, I talk a lot about learners who are just starting out, right, they’re novices, and then we as the instructor, as a professor, we’re the experts in that and a lot of times we don’t realize they haven’t drawn that connection, that line right? To that point of information. His Oh, that’s related to this and this theory. And we’ve gone over this before in class, and it’s connected in there. And we see all of it, right? We, we know there’s a grand plan. But our learners are like, what? Here’s a piece of information A and B, and C. And it’s like, makes no sense at all. So that’s what I found when I was reading your book is there was so much as like, Oh, this is how it was, oh, this is how it connects to this UDL principle. I can. No, that’s what I really appreciated about the book.

Derek Bruff  05:30

I think that’s my mathematics training, is being able to kind of abstract and find relationships and connections among, you know, concepts and ideas. And so yeah, that serves me well, too. But I think about like, you know, I teach our first year writing seminar occasionally at Vanderbilt. And a few years ago, I was giving them their first big writing assignment. And it felt like I was saying, pick a topic you don’t know anything about? Yeah, make an argument about it. Right? Pull together your research and your evidence to support your argument like that, like who does that you can’t just kind of start cold, right? Like, hey, and so now I try throughout the semester to try to get them to do a little bit of that grazing than I do. Right. So that they start to have some more ideas, some examples, some stories in their head so that when it comes time to make an argument and write a paper, they’re not starting from scratch. Yeah. Because I think a lot of times what happens at that point is, is they think they know, they know what they want to say, and then Google a few resources to try to support what they already want to say, as opposed to letting the evidence and the stories and the news articles lead them to some reasonable conclusion.

Lillian Nave  06:40

Yeah, yeah. That familiarization with the field. I do also in first year seminar, which is what I teach at Appalachian. And it’s totally new. Like, there’s, there’s no, right now I’m teaching about intercultural communication and intercultural competence. And there’s no high school subject, you know, that gets into that at all. So, I feel like it’s all like, brand new things, lots of risk, and we have to let them think. And I do want them to think it’s okay, you can risk you can try something new and build in that failure. So they can try something. And if it doesn’t work, it’s okay. That sort of stuff. So okay, so I want to get into all of all of this. And of course, we don’t want to go like, we couldn’t talk about the entire book. But I do have lots of questions about how, how and why you come up with these seven principles. So you go over seven principles in your book. And each one, for me, at least, is connected to at least one of the UDL principles. And I wanted to ask you how to intentionally use tech. And that includes an I appreciated this low tech, high tech, you know, chairs with with rollers is a tech tool for each one. And I often get asked about that low tech and no tech solutions for UDL, because I’ve talked with people in Ghana and in other countries where not everybody has their own iPad, right. And so what sort of tech solutions there are and to think broadly about it. So it doesn’t have to be costly. It doesn’t have to be electronic to have a tech solution. So I was really glad to see so many low cost non electronic technology solutions in your book. And your first principle time for telling falls under to me the UDL guideline of providing multiple means of engagement by recruiting interest in students, getting them hooking them into that problem solving and also making the goals of the learning activity relevant. Like why should we even learn this? Right? Why why is it even important? And you talk specifically about like the ordering of things, I thought that was really interesting. So could you kind of expand or expound upon your time for telling and why ordering your teaching activity is so important.

Derek Bruff  08:57

Yeah. And I think I mean, one of the reasons I included this principle in the book, so I do well, in the past, I’ve done a lot of individual consulting with faculty around their teaching. So before I was a director at the teaching, said, I was an assistant director. And so I would have, you know, multiple consults a week where I was talking with faculty around their teaching choices. And so this was a principle that I find is pretty easy to understand. And once you understand it, you can you can use it in a lot of different contexts. And it’s not hard to implement really. It can be like, you can kind of go all out. But so the idea and I got the term from an article by Schwartz and Bransford, from the late 90s, it’s it’s the principles, creating the time for telling that if we can, we can often motivate students to do the hard work of learning. If we give them a hard problem, or an interesting experience that kind of sets them up to learn. Well, yeah. And so the story I often tell with this is years ago My daughter’s preschool was having Science Day. And they, they asked the parents to come in and do sciency things. And so I had, I was I was the dad with the Mentos and Diet Coke. Nice. On YouTube, right? You put Mentos breath mint in a Diet Coke. And you get this Geyser of Diet Coke. It’s very dramatic, very fun. And so yeah, I had the flashy science stuff for the five year olds. But it was interesting to watch the five year olds then questioned me why it did what it did. Yeah. And, you know, I don’t, I offered some kind of explanation that was kind of five year old, appropriate, but right, I can imagine a chemistry or physics class where you lecture for 20 minutes on the forces involved, that lead to a Diet Coke explosion. But for Pete’s sake, do the thing first, right? Like, don’t don’t lecture on it for 20 minutes, show the students the exploding coke and then ask them to conjecture. Yeah, why it is what why it does what it does, and then provide your explanation after they’ve had a chance to think about it. And so it really is a kind of, often it is a reordering. So in the world of mathematics, kind of an upper level math class, it’s pretty typical to like, you know, introduce a new idea through a definition, and then have a theory about it and spend 30 minutes proving that theory. And then maybe at the end of class, use it in an example. Yeah. And, and so what you’ve asked your students to do is to kind of stay with you for 45 minutes without knowing why the thing is important. Right? And right, you could use it for

Lillian Nave  11:33

lost interest,

Derek Bruff  11:34

right. So just start with the example. And either kind of work it through for them or have them try it and get stuck and realize there’s something they don’t know that they need to add. And so it’s, it doesn’t even have to change up everything that you’re doing. But just doing it in a different order can be really, really powerful for for getting students interested in wanting to know something and cognitively ready, right, if they’ve already conjectured a little bit, they’ve, they’ve talked about it with their peer, they’ve, you know, they’re ready to understand the explanation. Yeah. And so and, you know, you don’t want to like, hide an explanation from students if they’re really desperate for it, but, but have them do more of the work up front. So that when you do come through with that explanation, they’re really ready to receive it.

Lillian Nave  12:15

Yeah. And, and I found that it’s worked so much better, students are so much more engaged because of that ordering. And I used Kolb’s experiential learning cycle, in trying to figure out how to do that with my intercultural students. And we’re all online. And so these are all usually things you do like in person, where you get in small groups, and you were looking at eye communication, you know, eye contact, or you’re talking about kind of really small details. And so I was like, how am I going to do this and ended up showing one of those, the Monkey Business illusion, which is something that many people have seen on the internet, and I can list it, but it’s where you ask students to pay attention to one thing, and then you see if they saw like, like, it’s two teams ask him how many times the white team passes the ball. And in the middle, some gorilla walks on, and you know, beats his chest guy in a gorilla suit? Yes, exactly. Right. And then you ask, okay, well, who saw the gorilla? Usually, about half of them? He didn’t know, they don’t see it. And it’s this whole thing about well, all of us did it at the same time, so they could see Yeah, like half of the class didn’t even see the gorilla, or that the color of the curtain change. You know, if people are primed to it, there’ll be looking for this tiny gorilla suit. Yeah. And I thought that was the the one way we could hook into things. And if you’re looking for something, you’re going to miss out on something else. And that’s pretty much the premise of this class. Like, if you are culturally conditioned to only or being the math student star, right, then you’re missing out on the really creative student who’s writing short stories, right? Or something like that. And I had to explain that because I thought, what are they’re gonna mute me, you know, because I’m showing them a gorilla costume for a college class, but had to explain that in order for them to understand. Now there’s really a point there’s, and we had to walk through it for a while. And I said, Look, I think this is what we’re going to be doing all semesters, we’re gonna start out with something, and I’m gonna ask you to process it. And then you try to figure out okay, well, what happened there after you reflect on it, then you process it. And then you can say, Okay, for the next time, I’m going to look for this, or I’m going to put into practice so that we start all over again. But your your time for telling was all about the hook the story, and then being curious.

Derek Bruff  14:38

Yeah, getting them ready and sort of follow up on your examples. So one of the examples I share in the book is Alicia karabiners, who was teaching writing English courses at Purdue. And it’s interesting because part of what makes your gorilla business work is that some students thought and some didn’t, right? Right, like it, it actually works better as a group activity. Because if I assume everyone else has my experience, like there, there’s much less shock value there to like, oh, wait, I, you know, I miss that, or how could you not see that. And so she has her students play this computer game called her story. Okay. And in this game, it looks like a like a, like a Windows 95 interface, right? Like an old style computer interface. And it’s all these police interview videos with this woman. And you have to actually search the database in the game to pull up different video clips. And then you’re trying to watch those clips and piece together what really happened, right, some crime was committed, and you’re trying to figure out what happened and who was guilty. And what’s interesting is that any, you know, different people are going to play the game and search for different things. And they’re going to see a different set of video clips from this group. And they’re going to come up with different conclusions, wow, about what happened. And so she had her students play this game outside of class on their own time. And then they came to class. And then they, they kind of talked about the experience and who they thought was guilty and all this. And they come up with wildly different theories, because they had used different search terms in the game. And this was like a first year composition course. And so she was using this to get them ready for searching for scholarly sources. So the library, right, oh, great, man, like, like their search terms matter, right? It takes different search terms, you’re going to see different results, you may come up with very different conclusions because of that. And so that only worked. Right. That was a wonderful time for telling. It worked through this experience. And the experience really only worked because lots of students were doing it and having different experiences.

Lillian Nave  16:42

Yeah. Oh, beautiful. That’s great. A great example.

Derek Bruff  16:45

Yeah. Now those are hard to find. Right? Yeah, finding just the right. I’ve been, I play a lot of board games. And so I like to think about, like, what are some board games that could create particular kinds of experiences for different learning outcomes, but just this idea, so so you don’t have time and creativity to find the right game? Or whatever? Right? You know, what’s the problem? Or the question that you can throw students in? That’s a little bit beyond what they’re capable of doing. So they can get messy a little bit, start to come up with some ideas and and get stuck, right? Because here’s what happens is learning is hard. Yeah, you know, we have these mental models about how the world works. And it is hard work to change them. And so if we’re not motivated to do that work, we’re not likely to change those mental models. Yeah. This is kind of where arguments about politics on Facebook, don’t go anywhere. There’s no reason for people to change their mental models in that space. Yeah. But if you give students an interesting problem, and they want to solve it, but they can’t quite, there’s something they’re missing, there’s something they don’t understand quite yet. That’s a great way to move them to this time for telling, 

Lillian Nave  17:49


Derek Bruff  17:50

that can be done five minutes at the start of class, right? 

Lillian Nave  17:53


Derek Bruff  17:54

Or 30 minutes at the start of a unit where you’re really kind of forecasting what they’re going to learn by the end of the unit.

Lillian Nave  17:59

Yeah. And this is where so much of teaching is that art, you know, it’s, it’s bringing and bringing the students in and motivating them. And that’s what makes I think, a great teacher. And I can think of so many examples in my past of those teachers that really did inspire me and made me want to learn because they were thinking about those times for telling. And let me let me ask you in further, you talk about what’s next. Right? Your second principle is practice and feedback. And that also is very apparent in the UDL engagement category. But this time focus is on on mastery oriented feedback, you know, feedback for a purpose. So can you tell me more about how tech can be used to practice new skills and offer feedback as they go on this journey?

Derek Bruff  18:44

Yeah, so I think one of the main things, there’s a couple of principles here, kind of underneath this one, right. So we do need practice at new skills and new ideas, we need feedback on that practice. That’s, that’s, this is one of my principles that I usually don’t have to sell, like, people understand this has to happen. What I try to push though, is where it happens and for whom it happens. Okay, so I think this is often best done in a live class session where other students are there, right? And were you the instructor are there. So some classes, there’s a lot of introduction to new ideas and new concepts in class. And then students have to do something with it in the homework phase right after class when they’re on their own. But if you can bring some of that practice and feedback into the classroom while you’re there to help provide the feedback to help students give each other good feedback, right. So I think that’s key is thinking how do we use the limited class time we have with students to help actually do this really important part of learning? And the other key is this concept I get from the from my middle school rollerskating days. Okay. So when I was in middle school, the fun thing to do was to go to the skating rink and roller skate and we ran with let the same time All right. And I was not good at this right? This was not my thing. But, you know, I wanted to socialize and have friends. So I went. And you know, they would have used to do the hokey pokey, right? The DJ would kind of call the yes skaters out to the middle. And you know, put your left foot in and your left foot out and check it all out for there would be a couple skate where you were invited to skate romantically?

Lillian Nave  20:24

Right? That’s a tough one. Right? There’s a tall middle schooler on roller skates. Yeah. That’s more.

Derek Bruff  20:39

Oh, my, oh, yeah. Yes. But then after one of these kind of specialized activities, and a DJ would announce that it was time for all skate. Uh huh. And that meant, you just needed skates on your feet. Right? You didn’t have to be particularly skilled, you didn’t have to have a date, you guys needed to, you know, be willing to get out there on the floor and skate. And so that’s the kind of environment that I think is really important for class experiences around practice and feedback, right. And sometimes, you’ll leave class and you’ll know that three or four of your students got a lot of good practice and feedback that day, because they were very chatty. And, and you went back and forth with them, and you had a good conversation, and you have a real sense that, that some of your students got a chance to practice and get good feedback. But how can we use? How can we create opportunities for all of your students to do that practice and feedback. And that’s where technology can really help. Yeah, so kind of move from a small group of students to all of your students have opportunities to jump into this. And so my first book back in 2009, was all about classroom response systems, which we used to call clickers. But now I tend to just call call it classroom polling, because there’s a lot of apps that are available out there where students can use their own devices. And, you know, answer a multiple choice question A, B, C, or D, and you get a bar graph, you kind of see where they are. And that’s a great example of an all skate activity, because you’re asking all of the students to weigh in on this question, right? And maybe it has a right answer, maybe it’s just an opinion question. But you’re giving every student a chance to actually commit to something. Yeah. And I shouldn’t say often talk about times for telling with this technology, too, because part of the thing about a time for telling is that you are trying to get kind of buy in from all of your students. And so if you can give them a hard question that they can’t quite solve, and ask every single one of them to conjecture an answer and commit to it. Yeah, well, now you’ve got the whole class in the palm of your hand reading for what the solution is, right? Yeah. And so any of these technologies that allow for all of your students to respond at the same time, or in the same way, I think can be really helpful for giving those opportunities for practice and feedback. Yeah, and a lot of these technologies work really well with small group work of some sort, right? Here’s the question, you need to just talk about this. You know, this new technique, or this new principle, apply it to the situation, tell me what you think. And then talk about it with your neighbor. Put your heads together, try to refine your answer, right, and then maybe even vote again, or submit your answers again, in some fashion and see how it changed. These are great ways to do that practice and feedback with the whole class all at once. Because the problem with all skate is like I can’t give individualized feedback to each and every one of my students live during class. But I can give aggregate feedback. Mm hmm. I see a lot of you went for answer fee. Let’s talk about why that sounds good. But isn’t quite complete. Right? Yeah. But you can also structure class so that students are giving each other some kind of near peer feedback about what they’re trying to do.

Lillian Nave  23:43

Yeah, that was an important point is is that you know, you can’t be everywhere all the time. And and giving that feedback. And so those peer feedbacks, opportunities, I’ve found have been really, really great. Because they are kind of sussing out from each other. Oh, I didn’t have that perspective, or, Oh, that sounds better than my answer. Or let me you know, let me push that. And then their table, if you have an active learning classroom, and you’ve got table groups, they can do that. And then each table comes up with an answer. And now that I’m online, again, and I’m, you know, I want to be online, I’m trying to figure out ways that I loved having a table, you know, are discussing your table and you guys come up with it. And so I’m trying to get ways that people can kind of see what their answers are. And so I’ve used the annotation tool in zoom where you can kind of make that four corners activity, where if you think a go to that corner of the room, you think b Go to that corner, and then I have them kind of mark on the screen. And you can kind of sure Whoa, 75% of you said, you know, this over here or you’re sort of on a timeline, you can kind of see who’s close to this side. Yeah.

Derek Bruff  24:50

So fun zoom trick that I only learned like in 2021. I could have used it earlier. I have students respond to To like a multiple choice question by changing their screen name, with the letter of their response in the first character, because in your participant list will be sorted alphabetically, and you’ll see all the A answers and then the B answers and the C answers, right, nice. And so if you don’t want the bar graph, what that allows you to do is to see the aggregate responses while also knowing individual responses. Oh, good.

Lillian Nave  25:21

Yeah, there’s so there are so many ways, you know, as people are doing this more and more, we’re finding ways to kind of translate what really worked well on the in the classroom and try and do it electronically so that the students are still getting that same. I think peer feedback in sense of other people in the class with them not just sitting out their desk, at home or in their bed, usually. Something like that. And so the third principle to this thin slices of learning, I liked the way you phrase that deals with something different we were we were in the engagement part of the UDL principles. And now I’m seeing more of the action and expression, part of the UDL guidelines. And in your practical advice, part of your book of this chapter, you remind us to align your formative assessment efforts with your learning objectives. Yes, I’m all for that. So so this kind of alignment, it’s critical to the design of effective learning experiences. And you say, it connects specifically to Well, I say it connects specifically to executive functioning part of that UDL guidelines to make sure that there are appropriate goals, you break them, you break up larger assignments into smaller chunks, and you help students to monitor their own thinking along the way. So how is it that tech, high tech, low tech, no tech, what kind of tech helps you to do this? Because this is a major UDL guiding principle is matching those goals and activities and chunking out information.

Derek Bruff  26:57

Yeah. So this was actually I think one of the first principles I kind of settled on because I think technology is actually really good at giving us a little window into how other people think. Sometimes this is terrible. Again, Facebook conversations about politics, right? So I borrowed the the phrase thin slices from Randy Bass, who’s the vice provost for awesomeness at Georgetown University. It’s his official title, but I don’t know that that’s his official title. I saw him at a conference long ago, and he was talking about an American Studies class, he was teaching where his students were doing digital video projects as a final project. And so they were making arguments through video and storytelling. And he talked about seeing the final products. But wondering about the decisions that students had made to edit those videos in certain ways to make certain arguments. And he used the phrase he was like, some of the learning was was left on the cutting room floor. Right? Yeah. Right. Like the decision not to include something is just as interesting from a teaching learning perspective as a decision to include something. Yeah. And so this principle of thin slices is is is about finding ways to make some of those kind of the intermediate steps between novice and expert more visible to you as a teacher so that then you can respond to students more usefully. Right, right? And so one of my favorite examples, I shared this a lot. But it’s Margaret. Rebecca is a biologist and ornithologist at the University of Connecticut. And she teaches a class on birds. And every year she has her students tweet about the birds they see. And so they, you know, yeah, they’re tweeting about tweeters. But it’s great, because I talked to her about it. And again, it’s this connection, right? So she finds that a lot of her students come into this class on birds. And they think that all the really cool birds are in Africa, or the Amazon or Australia, somewhere exotic somewhere far away. Yeah. But she knows that bird behavior. And ecology is very interesting in Connecticut to write. And so and she wants them to take what they’re learning, and to actually apply it to something else outside of the classroom. Right. So their job is during the semester, as they’re going to work as they’re going to class wherever they tweet an observation about a bird, they have to say what they see where they see it, where they were, and they connect it to the course material in some fashion. And it’s great because they’re just living their lives going around wherever they are, and they see a bird. And, and honestly, I think having the phone in their pocket reminds them to keep an eye out for the birds, right? And then make this observation and it’s not long, right? It’s tweet length. But they can say what they see and where they are and they can make some connection to the to the class material and it’s this regular practice of transferring their learning from the classroom to some new context they’ve never been in before. And she gets to see she gets this window into how students are doing that. Right, are they applying the concepts from the class correctly? Right. We’re usefully as they’re doing this. And I just think it’s a really easy way. It’s, it’s, it’s one of my favorite matches between the learning objectives and the technology. Yeah. And I will say Twitter is a much more contested space now than it was five or 10 years ago. And so I don’t know that I would do this with my students on Twitter, although I might, because as we’ll talk in a minute, having an actual audience for your work can be very interesting for students. But you know, you could do this, if you were using GroupMe, or slack or teams, any kind of communication channel for your class, you could you could have them, you could have them do it there as well. Right. I’ve heard faculty who do similar things in engineering, right? Students taking pictures of the built environment, or have them kind of live tweet their reading. Right. This is another tool that I that our campus really started to appreciate. When we moved to teaching with perusal, yes, for annotation of texts and other media objects collaboratively, right. So I can post a reading up to perusal for my students. And they can all go in there and highlight things and add comments in the margin and respond to each other. And so that is, it’s an encounter with a reading that students have that I am not usually privy to, they will do the reading. And then they will maybe write a blog post in my class or come to class, and we’ll talk about it. So after they finish doing the reading, I get to hear what they think about it. But I’m not hearing what they think about it as they encounter the reading. Right. And perusal invites them to make that visible for me and for them for each other. And so I think that that allows me. So sometimes I’m not kind of proactively scaffolding assignments for students, sometimes I am but sometimes I’m not. But when I’m not, I’m still want to know, what are the intermediate skills that they they’re getting? Or they’re not getting? Yeah. And so as they’re making sense of the reading, I start to see how they think about the concepts in the course, how they read things, right? What. And so I can start to do some more targeted interventions, because I’m making those intermediate steps more visible to me,

Lillian Nave  32:12

right, those formative assessment parts help us to get students on track. If you know, if we see at the very end, just the paper and it’s like, oh, boy, this, this needs a whole lot of work. If we’re in step two, rather than step 17, and say, oh, let’s tweak this year and make it you know, everybody learns better that way. And we have a better results. And it’s a lot easier at the end of the semester to know for us. So it really helps.

Derek Bruff  32:37

Yeah, I don’t want to get to the end of the semester and realize my students don’t know how to find a good source. Yeah. And and reference it right, like like that. You want to get writing research papers, we should we should have gotten that, you know, much earlier in the semester. So I need to find ways to kind of make that part of the process of the class.

Lillian Nave  32:54

Absolutely. Yeah. And I made that mistake a lot when I was a much younger, earlier teacher in my career. And I and I realized, yeah, that was that was on me when I got those really bad term papers when I was very new, you know, and I thought, right out of grad school, everybody knows how to do this. Right? And I was wrong. I was totally wrong. Yes, I was totally wrong. And then I had to learn how to teach that part that I thought was everybody knew how to do and those thin slices of learning, like figuring out what did we learn? And what what do I need them to learn in this step? And each step has been a major part of how I got better as a teacher and my students are appreciate that, that’s for sure.

Derek Bruff  33:39

Yeah, well, I’ll add one thing, because you mentioned about kind of finding things in online teaching, that are ways to do things online that kind of carry some of the best of face to face. This is a case where I think there’s something that goes the other way, which is when I was teaching on Zoom, to be able to send my students to breakout rooms, and then have each Breakout Room report out on a Google Doc or a Google jam board or a shared spreadsheet, while they’re in their breakout rooms, like that was huge for me to be able to have that window into the small group thinking and learning that was happening. And so whether it’s a structured spreadsheet, or a less structured Google jam board, where students are putting ideas and images up, that’s something that I want to do when I’m back in the classroom, right, so that when those groups are working, I have a window in what they’re looking at. And that could be that I’m going to send my students to the chalkboards that are all around my classroom. Right, so that I can see from across the room, what you know, what they’re working on, and what they’re coming up with. But that’s another great way to make visible student thinking in the moment so that you can be more responsive to it.

Lillian Nave  34:47

Yeah, absolutely. That that’s something that I did when I started and I’m still doing it in my classes, and using Google slides where each of them has their own slide and I’m seeing them populating it, and then I can see oh, this script doesn’t work. quite understand. So I can pop in there and say, Oh, before you go and make sure, you know, this is what we’re we’re working on for this, you know, five or 10 minutes. And then I can go back out and and okay, that works and before it gets off track, but that’s been really helpful. So you continue along this line, I think, when you’re talking about knowledge organizations, I think feel like we’ve been getting towards that. Yeah, and multimodal assignments, that’s principles four, and five. And I’m lumping those a little bit together, because that’s also a lot about multiple means of action and expression, specifically, and this is very UDL multiple ways to express their ideas and communicate their learning using multiple tools for construction, and composition. That’s something UDL people talk about all the time. So and this is where I add that years ago, I think at a pod conference, maybe it was a Teaching and Learning Conference, you introduced me to a low tech and high tech timeline one was posted notes that we put all over the wall. And we reorganized it. And I still have pictures of my notes. This was must be five years ago. Yeah, at least Yeah, yeah. And also the timeline tool. ticky talkie Yes, I have loved that. It’s amazing. It’s so it’s free. And you can make these really colorful in depth, awesome. add images to it really, really neat. If you want, you know, high tech, but free ticky tacky timeline. I’ve loved it ever since. So, can you offer some other examples of these two principles about knowledge organization and multimodal assignments? For how students can demonstrate their learning in multiple modalities?

Derek Bruff  36:41

Yeah, and you’re right, like UDL is all over these two chapters. And so the knowledge organizations idea is what you were gesturing to earlier, like, our students don’t walk in with a complex web of how everything’s connected in our domain, right? Like we actually part of our job is to help them build that. So they know what the key ideas are the key samples, the key principles, and they see all the relationships. And often, it’s helpful for students to develop that, that web that knowledge organization, if you ask them to show you their current one in some visible way, right. And so it could be a timeline, right? It could be pretty structured, where you you have them construct a timeline of something so that you can see how they’re thinking about ordering and sequencing and chronology in your course, it could be much more loose, right? Could be some type of mind map or concept map where they there’s no, there’s a little bit of, you know, you put some, put some keywords in bubbles, and you connect the bubbles with lines, and you put some some relationships there. I often do a debate map in my first year writing seminar. So we, um, we talk about issues. It’s a it’s a course in cryptography, which is a math topic. But it also leads us into issues of privacy and surveillance encryption, like like, when do we use cryptography now, and we actually use cryptography all the time, because things are encrypted constantly. And so there’s a novel we read that kind of plays with these ideas of like how much surveillance is good for society, right, versus how much privacy. And so what I have students do is I have them get together in groups, each group gets a few large post it notes, kind of five by seven size, and a Sharpie. And their job is to identify and write down a pro privacy argument from the novel and a pro surveillance argument from the novel from one of the characters. And the privacy arguments go in one color or post a note and the surveillance arguments go in another. And then I have them take turns and bring them up to the chalkboard and just stick them on there. But we organize them as we go. So we can start to see how these arguments are either in tension with each other or supporting each other, or totally disconnected. Right, we see that that some of them are very principled in nature, right life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and that order, so we’re going to protect your life, even if you lose some liberty. This is very practical arguments, right? Like if we can keep track of everyone’s, you know, subway movements, can we actually catch bad guys that way? And so they start to see this complex debate space, right, it is complex, right? And they’re gonna be kind of swimming in it for a good chunk of the semester. And so I want to find ways to make that, that space visible for them. Wow. Right. And to see how they’re thinking about it. So a colleague of mine, Cynthia brain here at Vanderbilt has had her students to synthesis maps in a cancer biology course. And they’re using Prezi, which is nice for kind of mind mapping, and you can put images in there pretty easily. It also zooms in which is great for a biology course, where things are happening at different scales. And so three times during the semester, she’ll have them turn in a map of how they understand cancer biology. Oh, wow. And they have to kind of visualize through words and pictures and a little bit of zooming. kind of how the different, you know, biomechanical things work. And they get to revise it over time as they go through the semester. Right, they are continuing to represent the knowledge organization that they’re building. Yeah. And so, and I like it. I mean, again, there’s a real UDL here, because a student may. Like there’s some correlation between having a really good mental map of the discipline and like test performance. But it’s not necessarily one to one. And so students may have ways to represent their knowledge that you can see different sides of the student knowledge through this. One assignment I mentioned in the book is another colleague used to be at Vanderbilt, Kylie horseneck, I think she’s at UVA now. Again, a kind of writing class, she would have students do a digital revision of a previous paper. Okay, so they had to move it to a different medium. And, and then kind of make the argument but do it a little bit better. Oh, grant. So students were going from the written word, to often some type of visual medium where they, they, you know, they, one student created a PowerPoint presentation, one student to the Prezi, one student did a pinboard, like a picture style pinboard kind of making an argument. And so I love that idea of, again, giving students can multiple modalities to work in. Because we, you know, we don’t have just one learning style. In fact, we usually learn better when we’re moving among different modalities. Yes, yeah. And I found, whether that’s through consumption, or the production that our students do, right, like, the translation that it takes to go from text to images, or vice versa, is another opportunity for them to refine their understanding of what they’re learning, and they show it to you.

Lillian Nave  41:50

And I’ve found that oftentimes, a student can create something that I never would have thought of, that’s going to better explain it to another student than I ever would have come up with, you know, and I’ve done it done some sort of, like fun things, I thought in class, where I was like, Okay, well, let’s try and come up with, we’re gonna contrast these two, these two characters that we’re reading about. And so let’s make a song, you know, kind of like the Brady Bunch, you know, here’s the story. And they’re like, what’s that? Right, right, let’s and then. So then they have a whole bunch of other examples, like how it maybe it was a wrap, or maybe it was SpongeBob. They did that or Scooby Doo and things like that. I was like, huh, um, I am not the purveyor, you know, of all things. I am not the only producer. And when I give my students more choice, oh, my goodness, it’s so much better. And they come up with so many more ideas, I never would have thought of that are really useful. I say, well, let’s share that. And everybody can see it. And it’s so much more exciting, more fun. And I learned more they learn more,

Derek Bruff  42:56

when, and there’s also this piece of I mean, I’ll always hear from faculty who were when they give students the option to choose the modality, right, where they’re going to make the argument or how they’re going to represent stuff is that there’s often what they find out, or students have, as Liam Neeson did and taken very particular skills. That’s right. And so I thought I’d do a podcasting assignment in my course. And so I actually don’t give them the choice, they have to make a podcast. But I have some students who have audio production backgrounds, yay. And they really shine on this podcast. Or even the students who don’t I had one student, I remember once who struggled with all of the math tests that I gave him that semester, but his podcast was awesome. Like, he was kind of natural storyteller in that in that in that medium. And so, you know, if the goal is to show a certain set of knowledge or understanding and your discipline, right, if you’re also then requiring them to write a paper that follows certain academic writing conventions, where you really have two different goals there. Yes. Right. Right. And so, so if if you want to teach them how to write, that’s a great goal to have, right? And so, and sometimes I want to teach my students to think how do I express this idea through audio, so we do a podcast assignment, but giving them the choice can for some students have taken away the challenges of the medium that aren’t actually necessary for the learning goals that you’re after? Yeah. And they may really surprise you with how great they are and whatever medium they choose to go into.

Lillian Nave  44:25

Yes. Yeah. And one of the things that I talk about all the time for Universal Design for Learning workshops, is splitting up those goals. Are they skills goals? Are they knowledge goals? What and and that’s so much on us as instructors, like, what is it really that I want from this assignment, right? Do I want them to write a paper or I want them to communicate their ideas and that could be an audio could be a song, it could be a video, it could be a pinboard? But or do I really want them to have an APA format that has to go along with this because Because of XY and Z, and that makes me have to really think, Okay, what do I want out of this and be very specific, and then give latitude when, whenever I can, so that those shining stars, they can come out and then teach me more about it. Yeah, yeah.

Derek Bruff  45:16

Well, and again, I think we’re gonna, we’re moving into the last couple of principles. But the other piece, so I’m going to go back to this podcast assignment I do. So there’s a couple of other important pieces here. One is that my students, most of my students have never made a podcast. Prior to the pandemic, most of them had never listened to podcasts either. But I find that has changed over the last couple of years. But because they haven’t made a podcast, I do a lot of intentional scaffolding on this assignment. Right? We listen to some podcasts that are in the genre, we talk together as a class about what makes them work and what doesn’t, we kind of use a rubric to evaluate a few. So they have a chance to kind of practice with the evaluation piece of it. They have to do a pitch, they have to do an outline. It’s just an annotated bibliography, right? I walk them through all these steps, because it’s a totally new genre for them. And I just assumed they don’t know how to do everything. Yeah. But you know, what? The academic research paper that my students write at the end of the semester, is often new genre and for them to Yes, yeah. Like it’s a it’s a familiar genre for me. But there’s no telling how much of those pieces they’ve done in more traditional assignments. And so I think one of the advantages of doing non traditional assignments as an instructor, is it reminds you of how much scaffolding you probably need to do and the traditional stuff, too. Yeah. Because our students come in with a wide variety of backgrounds and academic preparations. And just assuming that they know how to do an academic research paper now, so I scaffold that to in very similar ways.

Lillian Nave  46:41

Yeah, I don’t think we can say that too many times. I mean, I say it a lot. And I think we need to keep saying it all the time, especially as things progress. And there’s new things, we continuously need to help our novice learners understand what we expect from them and help them to get proficient at them. Yeah.

Derek Bruff  46:58

So the other thing about the podcast is they’d like to listen to each other’s work.

Lillian Nave  47:03

Oh, hey, wait a second, you’re getting into an audience.

Derek Bruff  47:05

I am, I am 

Lillian Nave  47:07

That is about quite a question I have about your authentic audiences. That’s another one of your principles, and learning communities working together, again, another UDL principle about working collaboratively. And that helps with sustaining effort and persistence, to foster collaboration and community, and it makes those goals much more important. All right. So tell me more about this. Adience.

Derek Bruff  47:32

Yeah, this was, um, I mean, you can ask your students to read each other’s essays and papers. And that can often be kind of productive in a kind of skill building arena, right? You write the paper, you swap it with a peer, they give each other feedback, that’s super valuable. But it also feels like it’s like when I go to the gym and run on the treadmill. So that later this year, I can run into 10k. Yeah, yeah. Right. Right. You have to put in the time and the practice. But the fun part is the 10k. Yeah. Right. And that’s when it feels real. And that’s when you get to do with other people. Right? And yeah, and that’s that the whole community, part of that is really exciting. And so I think a lot of times in our classes, we have students always on the treadmill in the gym. Mm hmm. But we need to build in a few more chances for them to do the 10k. Right, and to actually perform in a way right, but to do it, in collaboration with others, visible to others. And so my students actually like to listen to each other’s podcasts. Yeah. Right. They may not like to read each other’s academic papers. But it’s all hat. So they do they each do a kind of 10 to 12 minute podcast episode, and they’re, they’re telling this past semester, it was it was, again, things about privacy and, and surveillance. And in past semesters I’ve had, they have to talk about a code or a cipher from history, and they have to, they have to kind of do some, almost some science communication, right? Like, how do I explain this thing through just audio? But we talk about storytelling and hooking your your audience and making arguments, right, all these things? And so I’ll have them listen to each other. Well, first of all, I have to listen to their predecessors work. Okay. I’ve been doing this for a few semesters. So previous student podcast episodes are up on my podcast feed, right? Yeah. One time pod is our class podcast. We’ve done four years of this right now. And so I have students listen to their predecessors work, and nine times out of 10. The current students are like, that’s cool. I bet I can do it better.

Lillian Nave  49:33

Okay. Yeah. They’ve seen that somebody just like them has been able to do it. Yeah.

Derek Bruff  49:40

Yes. And that’s the other reaction is like, I don’t know that I can do this, but that guy probably didn’t know either. His sounds halfway decent, right? Yeah. Yeah. And then within the class, I had to listen to each other’s finished episodes and comment and kind of talk about their strengths and what they liked about him. And they really got into that, right. The kind of show and tell piece is really powerful and And honestly, again, a lot of the work that our students do, there’s an audience of one, you’re the instructor, the only one who ever sees your work. And again, that’s great. When you’re in the gym and you’re practicing, right, you’re running on the treadmill, and you’re getting your body in shape, but it’s not super rewarding. Yeah. Right. And so if we can find ways to connect our students work with enough preparation and scaffolding so that they feel prepared to do it and to share it with either each other, a different course on campus or real world audience of some kind, right, these can be hugely motivating for students. Yeah. Yeah. It puts in, and it’s a natural fit for technology too, right? Yeah. Like, like tech, not communication technologies are great at connecting people with audiences.

Lillian Nave  50:47

Yes, yeah. My, the last FYS (First Year Seminar) that I taught was about Nazi looted art. And so I had everybody worked on artworks that were lost, stolen, or I mean, there’s still repatriation projects that are going on. So they had to research that and they created a five minute said, five to 10. But five was about all you needed. Documentary film. And so yeah, they’re pulling V roll. And there, we went through again, like the we had a day with our librarians and our documentary film services, you know, professors, and kind of taught them how to do some, you know, minor editing, and they had to talk we had to talk about how are you going to narrate it? Or is it just going to be words? And like, there’s not an audio part necessarily, it’s maybe it’s, somebody else narrates it? Or is it an interview style, you know, all that sort of stuff. And the last, you know, the really, the final exam was a film festival, where we got to watch everybody’s, and it was so much better than everybody hand in your final project to me, and we got to, you know, eat some popcorn and watch these films. And we knew it was for each other. And it’s so much better and, and that’s what happens in the world, whoa, real world. Like, if you have a job, you’re not just working for your boss all the time, you are working with a team, you have clients, you have authentic tasks that people are counting on you. So you’re not gonna spend the rest of your world working for one person. Usually, I can’t think of a job that does.

Derek Bruff  52:19

Right? Well, it’s in anytime. And this is another thing I think about it. Like, if I’m asking my students to do something, would it be beneficial for the other students to see this work? Right? This could be a film festival at the end of your, your course. But like the the, the bird class on Twitter is the same kind of idea, right? Like, other students get to see what their peers are observing in the wild about birds, you know, and what they’re learning in the course. And so, the, the over I mean, if you go on Twitter right now and search for hashtag bird class, you’ll see, you know, the current semester of tweets like this, and it’s, there’s a lot of diversity there. There’s a lot of variety. They see different birds, they make different observations, right? You’re really turning what could be just kind of a class into a learning community where the students are learning from and with each other?

Lillian Nave  53:06

Yes, absolutely. And that’s so important that community is, I think, absolutely essential. There’s so much part of that social, emotional, emotional part of learning that I actually learned something last semester, still, during the pandemic, and still teaching online. I had the first for the first time I had a class that had many, many more students who did not pass Sadly, in that class, like almost a third. So it was, Wow, I’ve never had that before. I thought, Oh, is this the pandemic? I don’t know. But I had two other sections that did well, and one did exceedingly well, one of those classes did exceedingly well with mostly A’s. And it’s the same class I taught, you know, same three different sections. And I looked back and found that that group, that group of students had set up their own group me and talk to each other, the one that did so well, the one that did well, sorry, that did so well and had more as Nobody failed. And usually with a First Year Seminar, we’ve got a couple that, you know, that was not there yet. It was not there semester, and none of them fail. None of them struggled. They did so well. And so this semester, I just told all of my sections, I said, let me just tell you what happened last semester, right, the group that made their own group me that they were talking to each other, that they had chances to kind of bounce off each other. And I said, I won’t be in that, but I’m going to have other ways that I’m going to communicate with them. You guys can do that. And they all have made their own, you know, Group Me so they can also when you have different projects, they can get in touch with each other more easily. That learning community that part about the the students working together is so so important. And I’ve seen it help students a million times even though you hear the bad press about group projects, right? If it’s well structured, and I’d like these Just kind of everybody running a race together having these times to shine, if it’s encouraging, it makes, I think it made all the difference. I think I made all the difference between all A’s and a bunch of not so good semesters for my students. Yeah.

Derek Bruff  55:15

No. Well, in a lot of college students, especially if they’re first generation, don’t realize how successful you can be a college if you have some study friends. You know. And so whenever we invite that, whenever we build that intentionally into our courses, we are normalizing that behavior. Yes, like for them and saying it’s okay to work together in college, you don’t have to go it alone. You don’t have to prove yourself that you’re worthy to be here. But it’s actually smart to have a few people that you collaborate with and help each other out.

Lillian Nave  55:45

Yeah. And I think it is our job as instructors to tell our students that because they get mixed messages, like, is this cheating? If I’m discussing the reading with somebody, no, I asked, I tell my students, you can talk to anybody all the time, I really want you to, because that helps you to, it’s a lot easier for them to talk to each other than this for them to talk to me, even if I make myself as accessible as possible. They much rather talk to a friend than they are going to talk to their professor. So I really appreciated that you talked about that in a textbook about learning communities. That’s that was really impressive. So okay, so you have a really helped. I think our listeners understand a lot of this book, and I highly suggest it, it’s really helpful. And so what is your advice then to somebody who says, Alright, I would like to use tech intentionally. What’s my first step?

Derek Bruff  56:42

Well, I have two main pieces of advice. And one is, I think they say this in tech way. And I don’t, it sounds weird, but it’s the phrase eat your own dog food, right? Like, like, I forget where this actually comes from. But it’s the idea that like, don’t just tell other people to do stuff like, like, if you’re going to sell a product, you should use the product. Okay. Right. And so maybe you don’t eat your own dog food. But if you’re selling soup, you know, have some of your own soup. Yeah. And so if you’re to have students do some of these things, if they’re going to use Twitter or GroupMe, or slack, or blogs, or create a short podcast, right, dip your toe into that yourself, so that you have a little experience, you don’t have to be a master of that technology or that medium. But a little bit of experience goes a long way for being able to respond to your students, but also thinking through what is this good for? And how can I how can I fit it into my learning objectives? Right? Yeah. So one is to kind of do the tech a little bit yourself, at least dip your toes into it. And the other is to start small and work on small changes over time. One of the stories I tell in the book is about English professor Alberto Garcia, who was at Vanderbilt, and now he’s at UC Merced. And he came to me early in his career at Vanderbilt and wanted to start experimenting with a blog. But he was very clear that he did not have a lot of time to figure this out. So every semester, he tried a couple of new things, using that tool in different ways. And within three or four years, I started calling him the blog, father of English department, because he was so good. It was like the Swiss Army knife for him like he could, he could do so many effective learning things with his blog. But it was very intentional on his part, he you know, he was kind of a research first faculty member and like he had to manage his time. But it’s a good way to build technology into your teaching his small changes over time. That way, you’re kind of minimizing your risk. You’re being able to evaluate what’s working and what’s not working. Give it a chance for a couple of semesters, right? It’s often not going to work the first time, just the way you imagine. Yeah, but small changes over time. And over time, you can really have a much bigger toolbox for your teaching.

Lillian Nave  58:48

Yeah. Oh, great, great advice. I know start small. That’s another UDL principle. We talked a lot about us a plus one, just try something out and see how it goes and go from there. So thank you so much for your time today, Derek and speaking to me after I’ve learned so much for many years from you. So thank you so much for being on the podcast today. And and we’ll have links to the book. And to all the as much as the tech that we have mentioned today. I have links on the resources as well. So thank you so much.

Derek Bruff  59:21

My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Lillian Nave  59:22

You can follow the think UDL podcast on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to find out when new episodes will be released, and also see transcripts and additional materials at the think website. The think UDL podcast is made possible by College STAR the star stands for supporting transition, access and retention in post secondary settings and the web provides free resources and instructional aides based on UDL principles. If you’d like to know more, go to the college website. Additional support for the podcast is made possible by Appalachian State University where if you call it Appalachian, I’ll throw in Appalachia. The music on the podcast was performed by the Odyssey quartet comprised of Rex Shepherd, David Pate, Bill Folwell, and Jose Cochez as our sound engineer is Tanner Jones and I am your host, Lillian Nave. Thank you for joining us on the Think UDL podcast.

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