Universal Design for Learning

A brief introduction and resources for understanding the Universal Design for Learning.

According to the website Universal Design in Higher Education, http://udloncampus.cast.org/page/udl_about#.WueT98gh2V4,

“Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone–not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.”

For those of you designing new courses or new curricula, or if you are planning on revamping your course when the campus transitions from BlackBoard to Canvas, Universal Design for Learning is a great place to start. It provides a series of guidelines and strategies for organizing both instruction and assessment.

A great resource is the text entitled: Universal Design in Higher Education: Promising Practices edited by Sheryl E. Burgstahler. This book uses evidence-based best practices to guide higher education instructors in effectively designing or redesigning courses.

The University of Washington’s Center for Teaching provides a PDF for this book at:


Interested? Let me know how I can assist you.

Jim O’Connor

Are You Using Innovative And Effective Teaching Strategies?

TUC and TUN Colleagues,

Are you using innovative and effective teaching strategies in your teaching?

If so, the Center for Innovative Learning and Teaching would like to share what you are doing with your colleagues across both Western Division campuses, as well as throughout the TCUS.

If you feel you have something that you would like to share, please reach out to me so we can discuss how best to do this.

Thanks so much.

Jim O’Connor

Thoughts on Student-Centered Learning

Some ideas to consider.

Student-centered teaching is a philosophy of teaching originally shared by Dr. Carl Rogers in his book entitled Freedom to Learn (1969). Aspects of this philosophy were also put forth even earlier by other famous educators including John Dewey and Maria Montessori.

You can see a brief Prezi presentation on Rogers’ ideas by clicking on: https://prezi.com/azd0bojrkbfw/carl-rogers-student-centered-learning-and-learner-centered/.

Briefly, Rogers believed that the most important aspect of effective teaching was the development of trust between the teacher and the student. Trust could be built when the teacher demonstrated empathy, unconditional positive regard, and genuineness towards her or his students.

A 2014 study published in the International Journal of Medical Education (Int J Med Educ. 2014; 5: 157–164)  entitled “The evaluation of student-centredness (sic) of teaching and learning: a new mixed-methods approach” by Ana R. Lemos,John E. Sandars,Palmira Alves, and Manuel J. Costa. (See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4212413/) focused upon the  development and consideration of  the usefulness of a new mixed-methods approach to evaluate the student-centredness of teaching and learning on undergraduate medical courses.

The authors describe the the Bologna Process in Europe, which states “student-centred learning (SCL) is an approach to education, which aims at overcoming some of the problems inherent to more traditional forms of education by focusing on the learner and their needs, rather than being centred around the teacher’s input.”

Simply put, the philosophy of student-centered teaching suggests that the teacher be a “guide on the side rather than a sage on the stage”. I further distinguish the student-centered approach to teaching by suggesting that there is a significant difference between presenting information to students and assisting students to learn. Student-centered teaching focuses on the students taking responsibility for their own learning with the teacher serving as a facilitator of learning.

Consider reflecting upon your teaching as related to these concepts of student-centeredness. Remember, we can give a dynamic lecture and present information to a wall, but is there any learning taking place?

For further information about student-centered learning, feel free to contact me. As well, feel free to share any comments about this e-mail posting.

Let me know how I can assist you in improving the quality of your teaching, and student learning.

Thanks for reading this.

Jim O’Connor

Suggestions On Effective PowerPoints

Many of you use PowerPoint as part of your instructional strategies. What makes an effective PowerPoint presentation?

Below is information which came from Vanderbilt University’s Center for Teaching website.

Research about student preferences for PowerPoint

Laura Edelman and Kathleen Harring from Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pennsylvania have developed an approach to PowerPoint design using Baddeley and Hitch’s model. During the course of their work, they conducted a survey of students at the college asking what they liked and didn’t like about their professor’s PowerPoint presentations. They discovered the following:

Characteristics students don’t like about professors’ PowerPoint slides

  • Too many words on a slide
  • Clip art
  • Movement (slide transitions or word animations)
  • Templates with too many colors

Characteristics students like about professors’ PowerPoint slides

  • Graphs increase understanding of content
  • Bulleted lists help them organize ideas
  • PowerPoint can help to structure lectures
  • Verbal explanations of pictures/graphs help more than written clarifications

According to Edelman and Harring, some conclusions from the research at Muhlenberg are that students learn more when:

  • material is presented in short phrases rather than full paragraphs.
  • the professor talks about the information on the slide rather than having students read it on their own.
  • relevant pictures are used. Irrelevant pictures decrease learning compared to PowerPoint slides with no picture
  • they take notes (if the professor is not talking). But if the professor is lecturing, note-taking and listening decreased learning.
  • they are given the PowerPoint slides before the class.

Advice from Edelman and Harring on leveraging the working memory with PowerPoint:

Leverage the working memory by dividing the information between the visual and auditory modality.  Doing this reduces the likelihood of one system becoming overloaded. For instance, spoken words with pictures are better than pictures with text, as integrating an image and narration takes less cognitive effort than integrating an image and text.

Minimize the opportunity for distraction by removing any irrelevant material such as music, sound effects, animations, and background images.

Use simple cues to direct learners to important points or content. Using text size, bolding, italics, or placing content in a highlighted or shaded text box is all that is required to convey the significance of key ideas in your presentation.

Don’t put every word you intend to speak on your PowerPoint slide. Instead, keep information displayed in short chunks that are easily read and comprehended.

Resources for making better PowerPoint presentations

One of the mostly widely accessed websites about PowerPoint design is Garr Reynolds’ blog, Presentation Zen. In his blog entry:  “What is Good PowerPoint Design?” Reynolds explains how to keep the slide design simple, yet not simplistic, and includes a few slide examples that he has ‘made-over’ to demonstrate how to improve its readability and effectiveness. He also includes sample slides from his own presentation about PowerPoint slide design.

Please feel free to contact me for a consultation related to your teaching.

Jim O’Connor

The Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning opens on both the TUC and TUN campuses

I am pleased to announce the beginning of the Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning (CILT) on both the Touro University California and Touro University Nevada campuses.

CILT was conceptualized in response to recommendations made during the last WASC accreditation visit,  and was a critical element in the TUC 5-Year Strategic Action Plan. CILT will provide support for faculty who want to improve the quality of their pedagogy  and increase student learning. As the newly appointed Director of CILT, I am currently meeting with campus administrators and faculty to best determine the needs on each campus, as well as how to best support faculty in their quests to improve their teaching. A faculty advisory committee from each campus with assist in providing direction for the Centers. In the meantime, I am happy to meet with any interested faculty. Please contact me by email at: jim.oconnor@tu.edu

Jim O’Connor

Leading the way in Nevada and California

I’ve been privileged to be at the helm of Touro University Western Division since January 2014.  The two universities that make up the Western Division are both very vibrant entities that have made significant impacts on their communities.

The students at both locations are very involved and volunteer hundreds of hours of their personal time to provide free health screenings and care under the supervision of dedicated faculty.

We graduate hundreds of new physicians, physician assistants, nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists and pharmacists each year.  These wonderful graduates are serving the ever increasing health care needs of our communities and across the country.

Our faculty, aside from imparting their deep knowledge to students, are involved in research projects that could lead to new treatments for health issues.  They also spend hours volunteering to provide health care to their neighbors.

Of course, the staff at each university are an integral component in the success of our students and faculty.

I encourage you to learn more about both universities.  Come take a tour.  Learn how you can support these dedicated students and faculty in their mission.

Giving Tuesday

This is a time of peace and giving to our fellow man. To that end, and at the request of our students who have served in our nation’s armed services, Touro University California is restoring its historic Mare Island Hospital flag pole to proudly fly the American flag over our campus once again.

Giving Tuesday, much like Black Friday and Cyber Monday, has emerged as an annual event centered on the Thanksgiving holiday. On Tuesday, December 2nd, charities and individuals around the nation will come together for a common purpose – to celebrate generosity and to give on #GivingTuesday 2014

At Touro, giving back to the community is a fundamental value. Our students regularly staff a free clinic that provides healthcare to the underserved community; provide public health programs into the community; and mentor elementary and high school students.  On Giving Tuesday, Touro University California will turn its attention to the place we call home – Mare Island, a former Naval Shipyard. Every day, our students walk in the footsteps of American military history, attending classes in buildings designated as historic landmarks.  Many of these landmarks are now showing their age.

Our goal is to restore one of these national treasures – the great flagpole at the Mare Island Hospital. Built in 1869, the hospital served tens of thousands of sailors in every world war and conflict until 1996.  When the weary and wounded arrived, they were welcomed by the American flag flying atop a majestic 100-foot steel pole, resembling the mast of the great navy ships.

Please help us restore the great flagpole to its former glory. The rich tradition of raising the Stars and Stripes is a touching experience we want to bring back to Mare Island to honor the great men and women who served here in generations past. I hope you will help us spread the word and consider making a donation by visiting www.tu.edu/givenow. Together we can raise the flag on Mare Island!

I wish you and your family a wonderful Thanksgiving and holiday season!


Touro Nursing School Answers National Call to Action

Most people regard nurses as health professionals who care for patients in hospitals. But with the Affordable Care Act bringing 30 million more people into our healthcare system, its success heavily depends on keeping people out of hospitals, or at least from returning to them. That will require more clinical nurses with higher levels of education, skill and management expertise — and fast.

As they retire, baby-boomer nurses are leaving a growing vacuum. Yet, a lack of faculty and resources force nursing schools to turn away thousands of qualified applicants nationally and hundreds in the San Francisco Bay Area. At the same time, hospitals recognize the necessity to employ nurses with baccalaureate or masters degrees able to adapt to a far more complex health care delivery system, as well as a future patient base requiring more sophisticated treatment. According to the Institute of Medicine, Future of Nursing (2011), it is recommended that at least 80 percent of nurses possess baccalaureate or masters degrees by 2020.

The biggest and most obvious need for more highly educated nurses is to improve patient outcomes. Higher demand from the newly insured and tighter restrictions from Medicare, which now penalizes hospitals for readmissions that occur from the same condition, within 30 days of discharge, also contributes to the need for nurses with a higher degree of training.

We, as health care educators, are meeting the challenge. Touro University California is adding a School of Nursing that provides a bridge for ambitious, talented and dedicated nurses to quickly advance their careers to meet the growing demand for nurses with advanced degrees. Touro’s program is designed for working registered nurses, opening career paths to masters degrees in nursing. Touro is one of only 30 nursing schools in the nation offering this kind of program that provides a path from an associates degree to a masters degree in nursing.

The end result – advancing nursing education — will be a life saver, far beyond helping make affordable health care a reality for all.

Our first cohort at the Touro University California School of Nursing starts August 1st. We’ll be preparing a new generation of transformational nurses for the next generation of health care.