Angrave to peers: UDL “should be part of your armory of teaching” to help all students excel

Apr 13, 2021, 11:56 AM

Lawrence Angrave admits he was somewhat taken aback when a student walked into his office after one of his lectures and asked, “What if lectures were actually useful?”

Instead of taking offense, Angrave, an award-winning Teaching Professor in Computer Science, used the idea – that students could go back and review a lecture – as the genesis of ClassTranscribe.

ClassTranscribe is a web-based tool that uses crowdsourcing to provide quick, reliable transcriptions of college lectures, providing students with another learning modality.

Angrave piloted the initiative – which encouraged student engagement through editing content, adding examples, etc. – in his Systems Programming course. Since then, it has been expanded to other computer science, electrical and computing engineering, math, bioengineering, information sciences, statistics, business administration, and advertising courses, and a Disability Resources & Educational Services (DRES) video.

“We now have a system, which 2,500 students used last semester across multiple courses,” Angrave said. “It’s been growing by word-of-mouth.”

Angrave shared this experience using Universal Design for Learning (UDL) practices in a course and others during his presentation, Accessibility, Equity, and UDL: Dos, Don’ts, and Time-Saving Practices, which he gave on April 1 as part of CITL’s Art of Teaching: Lunchtime Seminar Series.

“My game plan is you will take away that UDL is for you … and know how to exploit it in the future,” said Angrave, a CITL Faculty Fellow, whose interests include engaging underrepresented students in CS, improving accessibility, and creating novel ways to adapt and enhance learning opportunities, among other things.

UDL Dos and Don’ts

Before sharing other experiences with UDL, Angrave shared his dos and don’ts:

  • Don’t assume all students will tread the same learning path. 

“Creating, allowing, and facilitating multiple paths is part of the principles of UDL,” Angrave said, reminding his peers that students have different needs, backgrounds, interests, and ways of using course materials.

  • Do provide alternative equivalent multiple modalities.

He said part of the challenge is figuring out how to do it efficiently and help students navigate different ways to learn the material.

  • Do use digital tools to save time.
  • Do remember Love’s (2017) “75%” result.

Angrave said Love was a graduate student who interviewed students in Milwaukee and was surprised to learn that 75 percent said they had some kind of disability but hadn’t disclosed that to anyone. Statistics show that nationally, up to 19 percent of students have some kind of disability or chronic condition, he added. 

“These are things we don’t necessarily see,” he said. “So, the challenge is to recognize that many disabilities go beyond what we constantly think about … and to think about how can we actually make more of our students thrive in our courses.”

  • Do refer to UDL guidelines when in need of inspiration.

“It should be part of your armory of teaching … But also, … treat it as a way to be inspired in what are you going to do next in your course,” Angrave, adding his “wish list” for improving the educational experience includes having “better” accessibility, equity, and learning.

“I want to end up with engaged, self-motivated … happier students – and maybe happier faculty, as well,” he said.

Three principles of UDL


Angrave said UDL has three principles – engagement, representation, and action and expression.

“If nothing else, think about UDL as multiple means of things,” he said, “and multiple means of what we provide as content, how students engage with that content, how students can express their understanding of the material … and how they can work singularly and with each other to learn and engage in the content.”

With engagement, Angrave said, instructors should: Optimize individual choice and autonomy, recognizing there are multiple pathways of learning the material; optimize relevance, value, and authenticity so that students recognize the importance of the content beyond their final exam; minimize threats and distractions, so they don’t disengage with the material; foster collaboration and community, so students express their ideas – and their confusion – with each other; and give mastery-oriented feedback.

“We don’t wish them to … have a simple kind of recall on a test,” he said. “We want to get them to the point where they have mastered the content.”


Angrave said the first part of representation is perception. With that in mind, instructors should: Interact with flexible content that doesn’t depend on a single sense like sight, hearing, movement, or touch; offer ways of customizing the display of information, so students can customize them based on their needs; and offer alternatives for auditory and visual information.

“If we can do things which help students with disabilities and with accessibility, we actually also stand a chance of helping all students,” he said.

The second part of perception is the language we use, Angrave said.

“Our language may have multiple symbols mainstream vocabulary, and it’s important that students are able to feel that those terms have a bedrock and that they understand the syntax and structure in which we use these,” he said.

To that end, it’s important that instructors: Clarify vocabulary and symbols, as well as syntax and structure; support the decoding of text, notation, and symbols; promote understanding across language; and illustrate ideas through multiple media.

“We have students here from many parts of the world – some with … great English skills, others where they are still learning English,” Angrave said referring to promoting understanding across language. “Perhaps, their auditory understanding of English is far behind their reading ability of English. So, it can help to provide equivalent examples in multiple languages … Being careful to decode acronyms on first use can save a lot of time and make students be able to engage with the course much faster. Those often … are some of the things that they feel scared to ask … because they don’t want to be seen as foolish.”

Action and Expression

One part of the last principle is physical action, Angrave said. Instructors should: Vary the methods for response and navigation; interact with tools and environments that make learning physically accessible to all; and optimize access to tools and assistive technologies.

“Can we just engage with the content in interesting ways?” he said. “I would love to talk about a Rubik’s Cube from a kind of a mathematical, group-theory point of view … the number of combinations. I could tell you about the winners and the speed. In which robots can now solve a Rubik’s Cube … But there’s nothing like actually being able to say to a person, ‘Play with this. Experience this,’ and have that kind of tactile sensation, or watch that robot actually do it and listen to it, hear the sound. We can have students more engaged with the course if we give them multiple ways to actually touch and see the content.”

The other part of action and expression is communication, Angrave said. He encouraged his peers to: Use multiple media for communication; use multiple tools for construction and composition; and build fluencies with graduated levels of supportive practices and performance.

“This last one may actually be more appropriate when we think about our programs and as we have chains of courses, how we change the amount of scaffolding between say an introductory course and a more advanced course,” he said. “So being careful that those graduated levels are linked and enable students to climb those levels are a key part to good program design.”

After giving his peers a chance to reflect on well their classes incorporate the UDL principles, Angrave gave them a pop quiz.

“If someone asked you, ‘Should I provide content on a lecture slide in a recorded lecture or textbook? Yes! Our UDL principles tell us all of our media … are all powerful modalities, and they can be used to great effect. All modalities are powerful in the fight for inclusivity, equity, and learning.”

UDL research at the U of I

Angrave went on to share examples of some of the UDL projects he’s been involved with and ongoing educational research at the U of I. They include:

Live captions in lectures

“What if we could actually present what is spoken in a written form?” Angrave said of the premise. 

He tried this in three classrooms, using a Microsoft PowerPoint experimental add-on, “Presentation Translator,” in Fall 2018.

“Students were able to see live captions in English or translated into other languages … on their laptop, phone, or projected (in PowerPoint) on the projector,” he said. 

Angrave said about half of the students (95 students/44 percent) said they never used it; 13 or 6 percent said it wasn’t useful; 39 or 18 percent said it was slightly useful; 33 or 15 percent said it was moderately useful; 22 or 10 percent said it was very useful; and 15 or 7 percent said it was extremely useful.

“If you ask what the majority want, you move away from Universal Design for Learning. You start to say, ‘This is what most of my students want, therefore, I will do that,’” he said. But for “these 15 students … who said it was extremely useful, maybe that was actually making a radical change to their ability to get the education in an efficient way.”

Angrave published the study in the American Society of Engineering Education, calling it a “successful failure.” 

“Yes, we saw student interest, but actually getting people to do it, particularly faculty … meant ultimately, we couldn’t get it to scale,” he said, adding one component of doing that was cost-prohibitive.

Course Book (2014-18)

Angrave said he wanted to create a coursebook of his lecture notes in as little time as possible since he had no spare time. He did this by using GitHub to create a Wikibook. 

“My practice was after the lecture, I spent about 30 minutes just typing everything I said in the lecture,” he recalled, calling the effort a “failed success,” because he spent as much time typing his notes as he did lecturing.

But “suddenly, I had an alternative way that students could get content,” he said, adding it was equivalent content. “It didn’t have a lot of extraneous, interesting things … No, it was about you read this, you will do well in this course.”

An added benefit, Angrave said: It became a mechanism for student engagement.

“I didn’t have time to do a great job with copy editing or proofreading,” he said, adding students jumped in and “fixed that … It took time, but we actually ended up with a resource that was very useful.”

Personal UDL (using augmented-reality glasses)

“We actually tried to say, ‘What if we could make it personal?’” Angrave said, adding this project is co-led with a physics graduate student, Colin Lualdi who is Deaf.

“They hated to look down at their laptop in order to see the live captions,” he recalled. “They wanted to be able to see all of the gestures … There’s an awful lot of gestures physicists use, so looking down was a disengagement problem.”

Angrave said he and other researchers set out to build a system with the augmented-reality glasses that provided captions and some visualizations of the audio format in the lower half of their vision and allowed them to see the blackboard or projector in the upper half.

“We’re excited for the end of COVID because we actually want to try this with students and see what it is like inside classrooms,” he said. “We also want to be able to then share that data … so students can review the transcript later.”


“The idea is if we have lectures where we understand the content of the lectures … then maybe we could create books, PDFs. Maybe we can create something searchable,” Angrave said.

In designing this, he and his fellow researchers thought about how to: Provide a better video player; use low-close cloud artificial intelligence to create captions; use transcriptions to include punctuation; and like his Wikibook, use crowd-sourcing to fix errors.

“With the added benefit that if we get this right, then we could actually do searching across all courses,” Angrave said.

“We’ve done this,” he continued, he said referring to a Universal Design-inspired video player, sponsored by CITL.

Its usage has led to improved exam performance, multiple Education Research Seams, and happier students, “who want to see it in more of their courses,” according to Angrave

The next steps: Changing the modality from video-based content into book-based content such as a PDF or an EPUB, which can be converted to other formats, and improving the video player’s interface so it will work for students, including those with ADHD and dyslexia; and allowing students to pause and resume watching where they left off, among other things.

Angrave shared ClassTranscribe data showing that UDL is making a difference. The data showed that in each quartile, students who used ClassTranscribe more than average surpassed the exam performance of students who didn’t use it.

“We saw an improvement in their final exam scores,” he said, pointing out it helped not only the honor students but also those who were struggling. “This shows us we provided a mechanism that lifted those students up, if they actually engaged with it.”

Angrave said UDL has also led to some new collaborative research on campus, including understanding learner-sourced caption editing for STEM education, and understanding the needs and learning pathways of students with disabilities.

In closing, Angrave talked briefly about relating UDL to computer science to rethink how to use and reuse transcription and other pedagogical content.

He said this is inspired by what the Gies College of Business is already doing with Gies Books – creating a book with equivalent content for every Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) it has.

Angrave suggested that instructors look into the following tools if they are interested in creating a coursebook:

  • CITL eText@Illinois
  • Web-hosted platform, student purchasable content
  • ClassTranscribe Video-to-Book (EPUB)
  • Use directly pdf/epub/html or as a first-draft
  • Wiki markdown
  • Pandoc/Word/Your favorite editor

“Part of the trick of creating content is just to get started and not try to create a magnum opus but instead stick very closely to what today you discussed,” Angrave said.

Instructors wishing to use ClassTranscribe for their course videos or EPUB book creation should contact or Angrave for more information.

The Art of Teaching: Lunchtime Seminar Series concludes on May 6. Join CITL from 12 to 1 pm for “An Exploration of Multi-Model Assignments” when Senior Associate Director Robert Baird moderates a panel discussion on using multi-modal assignments in teaching. 

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Learn more about The Art of Teaching here.