Diversity and Inclusion

Day 3: UDL Principle 2 – Multiple means of action and expression

Welcome to Day 3!

In Day 2, we looked at the first principle of UDL which is related to how we present information to learners. In a nutshell, there is not one means of representation that will be optimal for all learners. We must provide options for representation.

Today, we’ll move on to the second principle which deals with how we ask learners to express what they know. Remember the 3 learning networks of the brain? We will now look at the strategic networks and its associated UDL principle – provide multiple means of action and expression.

Strategic networks are specialized to generate and oversee mental and motor patterns. It enables us to plan, execute, and monitor actions and skills. Examples of strategic tasks are writing an essay and solving a math problem.

Learners differ in the way that they can navigate a learning environment and express what they know. Every individual will approach learning tasks differently. For example, those with movement impairments (e.g. cerebral palsy), those who struggle with strategic and organizational abilities, and those who have language barriers will need different options to express and communicate their knowledge. In reality, there is not one means of action and expression that will be optimal for all learners. Providing options for action and expression such as varied response methods is essential. It should also be recognized that action and expression require a great deal of strategy, practice, and organization, and this is another area in which learners can differ. (National Center on Universal Design for Learning)


When I was in primary school, we used to have a “graded recitation”. I would always fail that type of assessment because I just cannot organize my thoughts and compose my answer quick enough to deliver them orally. I would struggle to explain the water cycle in a spoken manner but I’m sure I would have done an excellent job if I were given the opportunity to explain it in writing or in drawing. Unfortunately, there were no options at all for me. We were all forced to go through the same type of assessment to, in the words of my teacher, “get us out of our comfort zone and expand our abilities”.


What do you think of my teacher’s reasoning? How can you provide options for action and expression and still challenge students to go beyond their comfort zone in order to expand their abilities?


The UDL Guidelines

Let’s now look at the UDL Guidelines that support this principle plus its supporting checkpoints so we can picture how they shall look in the classroom.

*numbering continued from previous principle04. Provide options for physical action
05. Provide options for expression and communication
06. Provide options for executive functions

Guidelines with its checkpoints:


04. Provide options for physical action

4.1 Vary the methods for response and navigation
4.2 Optimize access to tools and assistive technologies

05. Provide options for expression and communication

5.1 Use multiple media for communication
5.2 Use multiple tools for construction and composition
5.3 Build fluencies with graduated levels of support for practice and performance

06. Provide options for executive functions

6.1 Guide appropriate goal-setting
6.2 Support planning and strategy development
6.3 Facilitate managing information and resources
6.4 Enhance capacity for monitoring progress

The National Center on Universal Design for Learning produced this graphic organizer with the UDL Guidelines in PDF format.


This 8.34 minute video by Elizabeth Dalton from one of ISTE’s Short Open Online Courses provides a thorough discussion about providing multiple means of action and expression. She also mentions a lot of tools and apps that can be used to expand our repertoire of activities, media and materials to help students express what they know and what they have learned.

Prefer to read the text version of this video? Read the transcript instead.


“Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression” in a nutshell


What does “Provide multiple means of action and expression” look like in the classroom?

Below are some practical examples of how you can apply this principle in the classroom:

  • Encourage use of technologies to ensure students accurately express their understanding
  • Incorporate a variety of assessment formats
  • Establish framework for planning through detailed descriptions of assignments
  • Provide alternatives in the requirements for rate, timing, speed, and range of motor action required to interact with instructional materials, physical manipulatives and technologies
  • Provide prompts and scaffolds to estimate effort, resources, and difficulty
  • Provide students the opportunity to choose which type of assignment they would like to complete, for example, you may choose one of the following evaluation methods:   a poster presentation, research report or creating a video
  • Post goals, objectives, and schedules in an obvious place
  • Prompt learners to identify the type of feedback or advice that they are seeking
  • Use discussion boards or blogs to allow students who need more time to reflect on a topic to participate in the discussion
  • Compose in multiple media such as text, speech, drawing, illustration, comics, storyboards, design, film, music, visual art, sculpture, or video


Key Questions

When thinking about how learners are expected to act strategically & express themselves, ask these key questions:

  • Does the activity provide options that help all students act strategically?
  • Does the activity provide options that help all learners express themselves fluently?
  • Does the activity provide options that help all learners physically respond?



Based on the Guidelines for the second UDL principle – provide multiple means of action and expression, identify the current barriers to learning in the course that you are teaching, developing or supporting. In what way/s will you revise it to reach more learners? You can use this template to help you review your course content and activities in relation to the second UDL principle.

Please share also the tools, apps, or technology that you use, and how you use them to provide multiple means of action and expression. I’m sure all of us are eager to try different tools and ideas in our classrooms.


Stormtrooper making some coffee by renatomitra, used under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike Licence from: https://flic.kr/p/a1BW6H


Coffee get together!

The ANU Science Teaching and Learning day  is on this Friday, which is about ‘Inclusive teaching: Making it happen.’ As many of you will be attending this event we have decided that we could meet for our face to face coffee session during the morning tea break at 10.40 am, 3rd floor Teaching Room, Science Teaching Building, 136. We look forward to seeing you then.

25 thoughts on “Day 3: UDL Principle 2 – Multiple means of action and expression

  1. One point I would like to focus more on in my courses is providing alternate assessment forms for students with either social anxiety, who have trouble giving oral presentations in front of a group, and those with dyslexia or other conditions that don’t respond well to long-form essays (or those with other conditions that affect their ability to complete assessment tasks). I don’t think replacing these assessment tasks entirely would be a good move, but I have started allowing certain students to present their work to me individually or in the form of a podcast rather than a live presentation. I think we sometimes forget how the high pressure of an assessment situation can bring out students’ disabilities in more acute ways than a standard class.

    1. Gemma I love the idea of a podcast or one-on-one presentation instead of in-class public presentation! Those are really great ideas which should (hopefully) still address learning outcomes around verbal communication and organising information, but with the pressure of live public speaking. This actually gives me ideas to address something I just commented on in relation to how to address this issue, so thanks for that. 🙂

    2. Hi. I agree, Gemma. The coffee course and its UDL module has supported me in an assignment revision. I was concerned about addressing my students’ wellbeing (anxiety). As an outcome, I now am less fearful about how my students are going to cope with the assignment. I was quite concerned about the likely performance anxiety related to working in a group and presenting orally. In particular, the comprehensive catalogue (https://youtu.be/s-EsS6Cbkj4) was one of my favourites.

    3. Gemma, one of the courses I taught recently asked students to submit a vodcast en lieu of an in person presentation. Overall, this worked quite well and we received positive feedback from students who liked that they did not have to present on the spot. Some students, however, commented that recording a presentation was more time consuming and difficult than they anticipated. So it might be a good idea to include an in-class activity on how to do this if you plan on using this option.

  2. I don’t know how applicable this section is for universities. If I were teaching at a high-school, and especially if my subject was compulsory, then I can see that I would need to cater to all of my students’ individual needs, but my courses are not compulsory, and I am not the final arbiter of excellence in my field. I have a job because I write scholarly books and peer-reviewed articles, and because of my ability to teach these skills. This is the intellectual currency of my profession. My students come to me in order to learn how to trade in that currency. The best ones will go on to research, replicating that system, but most of them will go into professional careers where they will be judged on their ability to research and present knowledge through a relatively small range of responses (primarily written reports or oral presentations). Am I doing them any favours if I excuse them from those tasks? And who am I to judge? I rate my ability to judge whether or not an essay is crafted correctly, but I don’t think I know enough about, say, cinema, to judge a cinematic representation of the same knowledge. Obviously I can see the value of offering a variety of assessment options, but I guess I’m not sure how wide this variety needs to be.

    1. I totally agree Chris! I understand accommodating students who need a little extra help, but ‘typical’ assessments (primarily presentations and writing) are the basis for our entire profession. If we allow people to pass when they cannot actually structure an argument (in a way that they knew they were getting into), what does the degree/pass mean at the end? Obviously, not all students will be staying in academia, but if I were outside the university system and I hired someone with a degree, I would assume they know how to write; the degree is supposed to symbolise a general standard.
      That being said, I do see the value in allowing students to express their knowledge in a variety of ways – I find it so frustrating when a student clearly gets the concepts but just freezes on tests and essays and I have no way to acknowledge the learning they did. Overall, I could imagine making maybe 25% of my course an ‘alternative’ format suggested in this module. It would be fun to allow students to submit videos, podcasts, comics, etc. to give them some freedom in expression, but I would still expect a large chunk of their final mark to come from traditional assessment items.
      Does anyone have any idea how to make a standard rubric for these alternative assessments, though? Surely we have to assess all students with the same rubric, but one rubric will not apply to a song the same way that it will to a powerpoint presentation. Do we just scrap the rubric (which all my other teaching classes have said is of paramount importance!)?

      1. Hi Rebecca and Chris. I think you raise some interesting points about the challenges of applying UDL in a University context. There is often not the flexibility in how we can assess students fairly through the integration of a variety of learning experiences. I was defiantly a student who ‘froze’ in exam situations.
        We also need to keep in mind when looking at these principles that it would be impossible to incorporate all of them into our teaching spaces. They do give us something to strive for and help us be more aware of some of the issues students face.
        Here is a link from CAST that has a number of links to resources that might be able to help with generating rubrics. http://www.udlcenter.org/implementation/examples/examples8_1

  3. I agree that many students come to our courses to learn to write and present in standard formats. Not all of the students that enrol in the Aboriginal history courses I teach need to learn this way. Many take the elective course to focus not he content. So, the courses include options to use recorded presentations etc. Students don’t take the option of using other media. This includes a few students who deal with social anxiety issues. The students I work with so far have only asked for more time to prepare. They choose to write and present. Many do appreciate an offer to write non-standard academic formats. One student taking the course this semester excels at writing non-standard essays. That student does have social anxieties and was more comfortable presenting and writing in a more creative way. Other students choose to write in formats outside of the standard academic essay too. Some students seem to be able to express their thoughts better in other forms of writing. Though they are choosing to write and present over using other media.

    1. Hi Laurie. Looks like you are doing a good start in providing a learning environment that supports multiple means of action and expression. Giving the option to write in a non-standard academic format will give some students the confidence and the opportunity to express their learning better.

  4. I use multiple media for communication in my course – pdf course notes, powerpoint and pdf slides, handwritten diagrams, excel spreadsheets and R computer code, links to other reference material, etc, and everything is made available online. Some of you yesterday mentioned the use of Youtube clips at the start of lectures, and I really like this idea – not sure if I will be able to find sufficient appropriate material that fits in with the context of my course, but I’m looking forward to investigating this.

    Incorporating a variety of assessment formats is a challenge in very large classes (150+ students). Presentations (individual or group) are not practical due to time constraints, so I rely exclusively on written assessment. I have a range of redeemable assessment tasks (2 assignments and a mid-semester exam, albeit all written) which give students the opportunity to select which tasks they want to focus on, and provides a second or third chance if they struggle with early assessment pieces.

    I have – in another large course – used computer-based exams in the past, but ANU is not set up well to cater for this type of assessment. When I went down this path we had the students spread into 6 computer labs (each holding 20-30 students), with 10 invigilators, and I had to go from lab to lab to make sure things ran smoothly. Inevitably, we ran into hardware issues with some computers. Although a mix of computer-based exams and written exams would be my preferred method of examination for my course, I’ve abandoned this because of logistic difficulties.

    An option which I’m exploring is to give assignments that require students to analyse and model specific data using the methods covered in class – thereby allowing students to demonstrate their understanding of the material through practical application of the techniques, rather than just relying on written answers to mathematical/statistical questions. A key challenge for large classes is to prepare assignment questions carefully so that the marking load isn’t overwhelming!

    1. I think your assessment on analysing and modeling is a great idea Tim. This will allow students to take different paths in accomplishing the assessment depending on their own understanding. I don’t know if it is possible to submit the final output in different forms or formats but that is also one way of implementing UDL.

  5. I agree that in my area, most students come to develop their ability to research and present knowledge through a relatively small range of responses (primarily written reports or oral presentations).

    To help students develop writing skills and improve essay writing, I used to show students examples I have extracted from essays of what was regarded as good or not good writing. I made quite a lot effort on it but received limited effect. The UDL Guidelines let me realize that maybe the way I did still looked too passive and subjective to students – this was from my perspective. I think in future I would ask students to collect what they regard as good or bad writing examples to present in the class and explain why they think so. I hope by involving students in, they would think from another way and develop better ideas as how to improve writing.

    In addition to research and presenting knowledge, I have also realized the importance of developing critical thinking to improve academic performance and more broadly to change our policies, system and life. This is not an easy goal to achieve though.

    I think that debate is a method that we can use to find problems and possible solutions. However, this is not applicable to everyone, particularly those not good at public speech. I encourage students to do reading journals to summarize the main ideas and interesting points from the readings and ask themselves questions like what’s missing in the article, any biases taken by the author, or what else we need to consider to understand the issue more thoroughly. I also ask those questions in the class to seek students’ thoughts. However, I do find the gap between students; only a very small number of the students engage in those questions. Are there any other ways that can help us do better in that area?

    1. Excellent idea to involve the students in developing exemplars of good writing, Jade. Maybe it would also work well if you ask them to discuss in groups the examples that they have chosen and present the group’s comments. This way, the students who lack confidence in expressing their opinions as an individual will not feel so ‘exposed’.

      When you say ‘very few students engage in those questions’, (last paragraph) do you mean very few express their answers to the questions orally in class? Engagement can take different forms. Some may actually be engaging with the task. They just don’t want to speak out in class. How about giving options to express what they think? Or you can ask them to discuss in pairs. If you are using a learning management system, maybe they can post their answers there as text, audio file or graphic which you can then discuss in class. This way everybody can see what everybody thinks but it is less confronting.

  6. Referring to Principle Checkpoint 4.2, I try to optimize access through careful use of the Learning Management System (LMS) provided by the institution. I select a subset of the LMS features and provide the content for the LMS as basic HTML. I define at least one default path though the content so that the student can simply go from one item to the next, without getting lost in branches.

    ps: Apologies: my previous posts were too long, with too many links.

  7. Comparing the behaviour of successful and unsuccessful students, I realise the importance of the guidelines relating to executive functions (effort estimates, goals, objectives and schedules, frameworks for planning assessments), particularly in first-year courses. Often students have just as much to learn in terms of ‘life skills’ (strategies to make the most of their time) as they do about the actual subject matter, and we don’t always make it easy for them. Helping students to better plan their engagement with the course could significantly reduce the failure rate.

    What should we do when the means of expression is intimately tied to the learning task? For example, in Introductory Programming, we want the students to be able to create a working program, which effectively means they need to express their ideas in code. This is a very dry and text-based medium, and many students dislike it, but it’s critical that we assess it. It’s simply not possible to fully assess a student’s understanding through other means e.g. answering questions, presentations or discussion – the only way is for them to actually build a working program.

    1. Excellent point about giving all the support that we can to students, Josh. I admire how you can empathize with your students. And these are all embodied in the UDL principles and guidelines as well.

      As to your question on expressing ideas in code, I personally think this is ok as long as they are given options in other activities and assessments. It is understandable that in some instances, we just cannot apply the UDL guidelines.

  8. To some extend I actually agree with Chris that we can’t cater for every individual preference and it is indeed true that for most careers good communication skills are essential and as a consequence students have to learn to write a report or present in front of other people. So we can’t just pamper our students and make them feel as comfy as possible, they need to go out of their comfort zone. However, I think it is also our job to teach them these sort of things and an assessment situation is not a good learning environment for students. As a consequence, we need to push our students out of their comfort zone in a “safe environment”, meaning when they are not being assessed. Short presentations during a course or reports that are not marked are a good way of teaching students the required skills without adding that extra pressure on them. As a results we will then find that our students are a lot more confident during the assessment. Well, that’s my experience anyway (both from when I was a shy student and now as a teacher).
    I don’t think that I like the idea of several options for assessment that the students can then chose from. Even after a simple short-answer exam you’ll have several students knocking at your door complaining about unfair treatment and I don’t want to imagine what this would be like if I had offered different assessment options. But I think it is important to have several different assessments over the course of the semester so that the final mark does not depend on only one exam in the end of the course. This is indeed common practice in biology courses where you would usually have some form of report after the pracs (individual or in groups), lab quizzes and a short-answer test in the end.

  9. I agree with a lot of the above comments, and thinking about how I might design a course, I struggle with the balance of asssessing oral and written skills while still providing flexibility. I’m also in the biology field and, like Hannah said, it’s common practice to provide a range of assessment types. Having un-marked activities, like presentations or short reports is a great idea, especially for smaller courses. Maybe providing workshops on writing and/or presentation skills could also help reduce some of the barriers with “traditional” assessments – does anyone know of any research on this topic? I’ve also been reading about the benefits of peer-review – getting students to provide feedback to other students – and this is something I’d think about including in a course as another way of assessing understanding and critical analysis skills.

  10. What do you think of my teacher’s reasoning? How can you provide options for action and expression and still challenge students to go beyond their comfort zone in order to expand their abilities?
    Like the cartoon showed, the teachers reasoning was a bit ridiculous! Perhaps a better option would have been to allow the student to choose they way in which they would answer the question?

    Identify the current barriers to learning in the course that you are teaching, developing or supporting.
    I largely agree with Rebecca and Chris that it is unclear how much you could vary common teaching practice in the university setting to address this section of the UDL guidelines. That said, I like the idea of having some un-marked activities to improve what might be deemed ‘soft skills’, but are nevertheless important and necessary abilities for students in science to develop. The cynic in me does think/has learnt that this might just mean a lot of students don’t turn up to class on those days though!
    In the course I taught this year, we provided a diversity of assessments: written lab report, journal article, oral presentation, short-answer questions… and we also provided some workshops (e.g., on oral presentation skills and academic writing) to go along with this. So, I guess I’d advocate largely sticking with the expected forms of assessment in a science/university setting, while making sure to provide support and guidelines at all points possible along the way.

  11. I had a similar story with Katherine. In Year 2, we had an “Oral Essay” every other Friday afternoon. A picture was provided. The students were required to stand up one by one and describe the picture with no less than fifteen sentences. In the beginning, I simply stood up and cried. I asked the teacher whether I could submit a written one after class. She refused and explained the excise was to improve our oral presentation. Probably because I cried too much (lol)… She added a twenty-minute preparation time before the presentations. Those students who knew how to write could prepare a written script. The script reduced my anxiety. This is how I began to dare to talk in public.
    However, there is a difference between our stories, which also answers to what extent we should challenge the students out of their comfort zone: the main learning objective. It looks like Katherine’s assessment was to check whether the students understood a certain mechanism, say water cycle. In this case, I think other assessment options should be permitted. In my story, the aim was to practice oral presentation. We may allow students to have some visual assistance but the assessment must be oral. All assessments are to serve for the learning goal.

  12. I think there is merit in challenging students to explore beyond their comfort zones. However, that merit materialises only when the challenge to step out happens in a safe, supportive environment. Ie, you don’t teach students to swim by throwing them out of a boat and saying “sink or swim”. Rather, you build up the ability and confidence through scaffolding – perhaps getting them to simply tread water first, rather than swim back to shore immediately.

    I believe that using various methods for responses and navigation, together with good course organisation and sequencing, can achieve this balance of encouraging students to step out of their comfort zones in a supportive environment. Different teaching, learning, and assessment methods and activities push boundaries while offering alternatives within comfort zones. In general, there is something for everyone, both in terms of something familiar and easy, and something slightly more challenging.

    Related to this is a current boundary I have observed, especially among older academics. There seem to be academics who believe that as university students, particularly at the postgraduate level, are adults, it is not our job to teach life skills. They see our job as simply being the transmission of information, and not nurturing and developing these students. I have always struggled with this philosophy, and am glad to see Executive Functions and Self-Regulation (under Engagement) in the UDL guidelines. As I move forward in my academic journey, I intend to continue to develop and provide these supports to my students, and hope to see greater structural recognition of these in wider higher education pedagogy.

  13. I think the teacher at the beginning was right in one sense, that for those of us with preferences for or not for certain forms of assessment, it is good to have to practice these, even in stressful situations. I am certain that without my teachers forcing me to do presentations, I would never have overcome my fear of being looked at to be able to present confidently. That said, this is one specific example, for one person which should not be taken as a general guideline. And I am sure I would have failed if the ONLY form of assessment was public presentations.

    I really liked the quote in the video “make sure you do not remove the challenges when you remove the barriers” I think that many teachers would be worried about that — but the fact that these principles rest on scaffolding and options ensures that this is much easier to achieve. In my courses, we try to ensure that there are a range of different types of activities in assessment to make sure that students have a range of expression and communication options. We could do it better though, as they are still primarily writing focussed, and there are no additional elements.

    Scaffolding goal setting in an educational context is something I would really like to be able to do better. Unfortunately I am going to need more than a coffee course to get me there. But I am very glad to be working towards it.

  14. In my undergrad degree I took a music project course – basically a research project for music – at the same time I was doing an astronomy research subject. I found the differences between the way they were formatted interesting. For the astronomy project, I had a choice of research/data analysis, telescope observation, or a lab experiment, either way, the end result was a 3000-word report. On the other hand, for the music project, it was anything goes – I could perform something, I could do a vlog, or video performance, an art performance, improvisation to a silent film, synesthetic art/music performance piece… basically, if you could dream it and it had an element of music, you could do it for this project. However, at the end of the term, 50% of my grade was the project/video/performance, with the other 50% comprised a 3000-word report.

    Starting out, I will admit that I felt much more secure with the science project as I knew what I had to do, and the guidelines and expectations were clear. Completely the opposite for the music project and I did flounder for a while having simultaneously too many options and none at all. It took me a while to realize that these two projects really weren’t entirely different, and the assessment was actually rather similar – a music experiment and a 3000-word report vs. a lab experiment and a 3000-word report.

    While I appreciated the freedom to play to my strengths in the music project, it also had the downside of too little structure. I am also unsure how the lecturers marked the practical part of our music assignments as they were all so drastically different from each other. However, perhaps that is why the written report needed to be included to moderate the marking and feedback.

    If anyone was wondering, in the end I settled on joining both my worlds through music by composing a dance suite inspired by Newton’s laws of motion. 😉

    1. Hi Sarah, this is an interesting point about structure providing guidance to students on what to do – it is a difficult balance to find sometimes between appropriate scaffolding and no direction! Did you find the other students in the class found the lack of structure in the music project similarly challenging? Or was it part of the pedagogical approach of the course to let students determine their own direction?

      And that final dance suite sounds amazing! 😀

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