Throwing the Dice for Content Representation: Don’t Gamble with Uncertainty in Online Course Design

Concurrent Session 6
Equity and Inclusion

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Many instructors have a hard time translating the creative activities they have built for their face-to-face classes to an online learning context. Universal design for learning (UDL) design framework can guide instructors create meaningful activities for all learners. We will demonstrate how to implement UDL into course design using SoftChalk. 


Dr. Gulinna A has been an instructional designer in Teaching Innovation and Learning Technologies at Fort Hays State University since 2016. Dr. A helps faculty with blended and online course development, as well as consultation for effective teaching and learning strategies. She also offers workshops on emerging technologies and instructional design at the university. Her research interests include gamification in education, learning experience design, and influential factors that affect student perceptions of active learning.
Seung Gutsch has spent the past four years as an instructional designer at Fort Hays State University. She has worked collaboratively worked with the faculty from various disciplines focusing on Nursing, Health, and STEM. Her focus is to help the faculty create meaningful learning experiences for students through the use of effective teaching strategies and valid instructional design principles. She has obtained an MS degree in Instructional Design from Emporia State University.

Additional Authors

Dr. Andrew Feldstein is assistant provost for Teaching Innovation and Learning Technologies at Fort Hays State University. He leads a team of instructional designers, technologists, and professional development specialists; who collaborate with instructors to create meaningful, engaging and impactful learning experiences. He holds multidimensional responsibilities related to professional development programs for faculty; supporting best practices in teaching, research, and service; innovative instructional design and course development; and the delivery, management, and support of technology focused learning tools and platforms. In the area of professional development he has expanded the use of asynchronous workshops and micro-lessons through the delivery of targeted, and engaging professional development opportunities for busy faculty members. He has also developed new technology enhanced learning tools, offering faculty a choice of strategies for a more interactive and increasing meaningful connection with students.

Extended Abstract

Purposes of the Study

The accelerating enrollment of distance education has brought opportunities and challenges for online course designers. Almost one in three students enrolled in at least one online course in 2016 (Seaman, Allen, & Seaman, 2018). Online student demographics have shifted away from the traditional 18-years-old college student toward older students who have full-time jobs or raise families. These changes lead us to rethink the way we design courses.  An engaging learning context for our new online student population should be authentic and can be applied to real world problems. To accomplish this, we look to incorporating key principles in adult learning theory; which involve practical, problem-centered activities (TEAL, 2011).

The 2018 Horizon Report identifies Authentic Learning Experiences as a “solvable challenge”. To do this we must be willing to go beyond “technology that simply replicates the one-way transfer of information from teacher to student” and create “authentic learning designs (that) have the potential to improve student engagement and educational outcomes” (Herrington, 2006). This has been a pivotal challenge for online course designers.

Many instructors have a hard time translating the creative and interactive activities they have built for their face-to-face classes to an online learning context. Lacking a creative way to make the transition, some online instructors substitute these interactive learning activities with additional readings and formative assessments. Instructors’ reluctance to create interactive learning activities in online learning environments are due, in part, to the static layout of the learning management system (LMS), as well their unfamiliarity with best practices of engaging online learning environment.

This is not the only challenge. Postsecondary students vary in age, experience, and cultural background. For many non-traditional students studying in front of a computer monitor imposes an additional barrier to their ability to access content. According to Rose, Harbour, Johnston, Daley, & Abarbanell (2006), the universal design for learning (UDL) framework aims to tackle the limitations of the standard learning environment. Implementing UDL principles can provide useful guidelines and help course designers avoid design choices that might create learning obstacles in their courses.     

Most universities use an LMS to deliver courses and, due to the limited choices of activity templates many instructors focus more on providing a weekly schedule with readings and activities rather than creating complex and engaging experiences for substantive learning (Herrington, 2006). SoftChalk is a content authoring tool that provides a number of options for creating interactive content. The SoftChalk lessons can be embedded to the LMS without directing students to an outside website, which can create a seamless learning experience for online learners.

We will demonstrate how, through the use of SoftChalk, we were able to help faculty answer the question “How can I possibly replicate this experience in an online course?” At the end of our session, we will conduct an interactive group Q&A to further engage our audience and, to assess their understandings of the UDL principles and implementations into course design. We will use interactive polling and “before & after” PowerPoint slides to facilitate the group discussion.

Design Process

UDL is a design framework to build a better connection between learning outcomes and student performance. UDL guidelines encourage course designers to consider the fact that students have preferred ways to process information and showcase their knowledge growth. All UDL guidelines emphasize providing options for all learners – options for learners to access, process, and assess. The goal of a UDL guided learning environment is to educate students become expert learners – self-directed, self-regulated, motivated and engaged to learn.

One of the primary principles of UDL is to provide multiple means of representation of instructional materials. The three cases we present here demonstrate how focusing on content format, organization, and scaffolding information, in conjunction with SoftChalk’s built-in activity templates, helped our instructional design team and course developers move from principles to practice. Online instructors either came to us with course content that they would like to convert from face-to-face to online learning environment, or we collaborated with them to curate learning content from scratch. Our instructional design team followed the “analyze, design, develop, implement, evaluate (ADDIE)” instructional design process to collaborate with our content experts.          


Case #1 Simulation “Rolling the Dice”:

An Agricultural Accounting instructor used the “throw of the dice” as a proxy for determining the outcome of various farm-related events that would need to be logged in each student’s accounting ledger. For example, one student might throw a ‘six’ and buy a used $12,000 tractor and another might throw a ‘three’ and buy a new $42,000 model. He was struggling to come up with an effective way of replicating this process in his online class and was on the verge of dropping the simulation idea altogether.

We initially researched the most obvious approach, which was simulated digital dice rolling software. However, we realized the goal of this activity was to teach students how to report different transactions into the accounting ledger rather than rolling dice. We identified the “feedback quiz” activity in SoftChalk as a better way to communicate the random nature and logic of the process to students. We segmented the scenarios by months, as well as adding related graphics to the scenarios. Our design of this SoftChalk activity were aligned with the Perception and Language & Symbol guidelines in the UDL framework.       

Case #2 Creating Contexts for Online Students: 

An instructor in the Department of Applied Business Studies deployed long weekly lectures accompanied by diverse learning activities in his face-to-face course. He initially tried to emulate that approach in his online course. Some online students complained about the linear delivery of large blocks of content followed by learning activities. When the instructor tried to solve the problem by organizing the resources in folders, some students ignored the content and went straight to the activities.

 We decided to use SoftChalk to create cohesive, logically displayed content. One unique feature for this course was the instructor shared his random thoughts with the students each week. The random thoughts were personal reflections or related experiences with the assigned weekly topics. Since these random thoughts took a lot of space in the platform, we used “tooltip” to display this information. This case represents an example for the alignment of Language & Symbol and Comprehension guidelines in the UDL framework.      

Case #3 Interactive Learning Experience:  

An instructor in the Department of Nursing wanted to build an e-book. However, she needed a way to make it a robust interactive learning environment with intuitive, engaging, and customizable course content. She also knew that much of the content could be used in some lower-level nursing courses or other health-related courses. Therefore, she wanted to make the content easily editable by other instructors.    

We built the content in SoftChalk because it provided more flexibility for organizing the content and allowed us to add interactive learning activities unavailable using the LMS. We applied elements of engagement and representation from the UDL guidelines to maximize student learning effectiveness. We focused on providing different modalities of resources, scaffolding information by adding background resource links, highlighting key points, and opportunities for quick self-assessments to increase clarity of the information, as well as to promote student interactions with the content. 


Ultimately, the instructors were pleased with the transformation of their course content and, more importantly, they were gratified by the quality of student interactions and engagement with the course. The initial collaboration with faculty members on the SoftChalk lessons took a considerable amount of time. Some of this was due to an initial hesitance on the part of the instructor top proceed down this path. Another reason was that we were trying to solve design problems in new, unique and effective ways. The investment was well worthwhile. 

These existing case studies now help our instructional design team showcase the best practices of creating accessible, interactive, and engaging online activities in SoftChalk. As a result, more online instructors reach out to us and create interactive learning experiences for their students. The new courses have taken much less time to produce because, first, we have created the pathway, and, two, we can demonstrate the success of the earlier courses and get testimonials from those instructors.



Herrington, J. (2006). Authentic e-learning in higher education: Design principles for authentic learning environments and tasks. Proceedings of E-Learn: World Conference on E-Learning in Corporate, Government, Healthcare, and Higher Education 2006, 3164-3173.

Novak, K., & Thibodeau, T. (2016). UDL in the cloud: How to design and deliver online education using Universal Design for Learning. Wakefield, MA: CAST Professional Publishing. 

Rose, D. H., Harbour, W. S., Johnston, C. S., Daley, S. G., & Abarbanell, L. (2006). Universal design for learning in postsecondary education: Reflections on principles and their application. Journal of postsecondary education and disability19(2), 135-151.

Seaman, J., Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2018). Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States. Babson Park, MA: Babson Survey Research Group.

TEAL Center Staff. (2011). TEAL center fact sheet No. 11: Adult learning theories. Retrieved from