Understanding Different Personality Types: Communicating Effectively in the Workplace

July 25th, 2014 by

“You have to get along with people, but you also have to recognize that the strength of a team is different for people with different perspectives and different personalities.” — Steve Case

What's your personality type? Photo by Victoria Nevland via Flickr.

What’s your personality type? Photo by Victoria Nevland via Flickr.

Do you feel that you have a hard time speaking to your boss or colleagues? Maybe your boss sets undeniably high expectations? Or maybe you feel that your colleagues are inappropriate and obnoxious, or maybe they just talk too slow and do not get to the point fast enough?

Whatever the reason, understanding that we as humans are inherently and genetically different and we all think differently is key to a successful workplace. When we understand the people around us, we become more effective entrepreneurs, business leaders, and friendlier colleagues.

What Are Personality Types?

Personality type by definition is the psychological classification of different individuals with specific behavioral tendencies. Organizational and industrial psychologists use science to study human behavior in the workplace. These psychologists can use personality tests to assign people to certain parts of organizations or companies based on behavioral traits and personality criteria or scores.

Now that you know that these personalities can actually be measured, let’s take a look at some personality types. Some of you may be familiar with the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator, which has 16 different personality types — though, for the purpose of this article, I’ll be discussing four personality types that Alison Mooney has divided people into.

Four Personality Types

  • The Playfuls – Energetic, funny, loud, enthusiastic, extroverts who love speaking to people. They are best at networking and socializing. They are also unorganized, forgiving, and easily distracted. They are innovative, full of ideas, creative, and tend to work fast.
  • The Peacefuls – Just as the title says it, they crave peace and order. They are easy going, patient, diplomatic – always avoiding confrontation with others. They are very grounded, and are emotionally stable. They balance out companies who are on the move or fast-paced, and are best at building a working team.
  • The Powerfuls – Authoritative presence, productive, decisive, take control, do not give up easily, internally strong, get to the point, work hard and accomplishing their many goals.
  • The Precises – They value structure, order, and compliance. They are organized, procedurally strong perfectionists. They put work before play and generally stop working only after they have done everything right.

In order to run a successful and engaging business, all personality types should be considered. Each one utilizes different strengths and weaknesses and should be valued consistently. Some of us offer insight, such as the Peacefuls, and some offer analysis, planning, and critical thinking, such as the Precises.

How to Interact With Each Personality Type

  • Playfuls typically want fondness, attention, and approval.
  • Powerfuls typically want credit, loyalty, and appreciation.
  • Precises typically want quiet, space to work alone, and sensitivity.
  • Peacefuls typically want respect, value, and harmony between people in the workplace.

Example Scenario: Playfuls vs. Precises

Playfuls like attention, and precises like to work alone in quiet. Playfuls are extroverts, and precises are introverts. These two are completely opposite of each other.

One way you can work with an introverted person is give them the space they need to work. Small talk may not be productive in working with them.

In Dr. Laurie Helgoe’s book, Introvert Power: Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength, she demonstrates that an introverted personality enjoys speaking in depth. Introverts find this stimulating and glorifying. Instead of small talk, try sparking a conversation that isn’t about the weather. Introverts do not like the “barrier” that small talk creates between people, and would like to know about you as person rather than the weather.

Playfuls, or extroverts, are the opposite of precises, and like to be surrounded by people. Playfuls generally feel very comfortable making direct eye contact when speaking to someone. Extroverts also like to feel they are part of the team, and that their hard work is not going unnoticed. Extroverts love socializing, and letting them have social freedom during work hours helps them with prioritizing and productivity.

Again, extroversion and introversion are very different. They follow a continuum rule — if you’re high in one, it usually means you are low in the other. Anyone who feels they are a mixture of both introversion and extroversion is called an ambivert. Ambiverts equally favor all elements of introverts and extroverts, such as solitude and socializing.

Start by Knowing Your Personality Type

When you understand what personality type you are, you can understand yourself and what communication styles are most effective for you. And when we understand our colleagues’ personalities, we can work better with them, develop closer relationships, and create a friendlier, more cohesive work environment.

Find out your personality type with this personality test. I scored 69% Extroversion — what is your score?

How do you feel about the four personality types listed?

Are you a mix or solely one personality type? Let me know your thoughts below!

August 11–13 Shipping Discount on MBS Direct Textbooks

July 24th, 2014 by

Penn State World Campus’s textbook partner, MBS Direct, is offering free shipping for U.S. Contingent orders, and 25% off international shipping with UPS Saver.

To take advantage of this, you won’t need a special checkout code — all you need to do is purchase your books from MBS Direct on August 11, 12, or 13. The special discount ends at midnight CT on August 13.


Is Your Student Aid on Hold for Verification? How to Know and What to Do

July 24th, 2014 by

Photo by John Patrick Robichaud via Flickr

When the Office of Student Aid reviews your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you may need to clarify certain personal information such as your legal name or tax information through a process called verification. The Office of Student Aid will not disburse your aid until this verification process is complete.

Who Does Verification Affect?

If you are selected for verification, you will see a notice on your Student Aid Checklist stating that you need to submit documents to complete the verification process. You can find your Student Aid Checklist in eLion by selecting “Financial” in the menu and then selecting “Student Aid Summary.”  Select the academic year and then select “Continue.”

The Checklist provides an overview of the type(s) of information you must provide and acceptable methods for submitting this information. You will also receive a letter with detailed instructions and any forms that you need to complete and return.

Why do you need to do this?

Federal student aid laws require the Office of Student Aid to confirm certain information that you have provided on your FAFSA and collect certain missing information. Not all students are selected for verification, but over 10,000 students were selected at Penn State for the 2014–15 academic year. Verification ensures that you receive exactly the amount and types of aid for which you qualify, and minimizes changes to your aid after it has been disbursed onto your account.

What do you need to do?

  • Keep your permanent address up-to-date in eLion by selecting “Personal Profile” and then “Address Information.”
  • You can be selected for verification at any time, so regularly monitor your Student Aid Checklist, postal mail, and Penn State WebMail.
  • Sending additional documents that are not requested may result in delays, so it is helpful to carefully review and provide just what is requested.
  • Follow the instructions on your Student Aid Checklist and/or verification letter.
  • Follow these guidelines when preparing and sending documents:
    • If questions appear on your verification letter, do not leave blanks (for example, write “zero” when appropriate).
    • Ensure that your 9-digit Penn State ID number appears at the top of each page you submit.
    • Fax documents to 814-863-0322 or mail them to: Office of Student Aid, 314 Shields Building, University Park, PA 16802.
    • If you receive a busy signal when faxing, try again in the early morning or evening.
    • For additional tips and information about specific types of verification, visit the Office of Student Aid website.

When is the deadline?

If you are selected for verification, it is critical that you provide the requested documents as soon as possible. The official deadline is 30 days after you receive a verification letter. If you fail to complete verification by the end of a semester, you will not be able to receive need-based aid and may be left with a bill to pay out of pocket. If you are selected for verification after your aid has disbursed, you must complete the process or we will have to return aid that you already received.

How do you check your verification status?

  • To confirm that the documents you send are received, view your Student Aid status in eLion by selecting “Financial,” and then “Student Aid Summary.”  Select the year, and then select “Continue.”
  • If you fax your documents, please allow up to two business days for confirmation of receipt on eLion. If you mail documents, please allow a week from the estimated delivery date for confirmation.
  • After we receive your verification documents they will be processed within a timeframe of about one to six weeks, depending on the type of verification. Documents are reviewed in the order in which they are received.
  • When your documents have been reviewed and verification is complete, the verification messages on your Student Aid Checklist and Student Aid Status will disappear.


If you would like to speak with an aid counselor about your individual situation, please contact us at 814-867-4244 or studentaid@outreach.psu.edu.

Find Summer Volunteer Opportunities in Your Hometown

July 15th, 2014 by

Hello, fellow Lions. I hope this post finds your summers not too stressful, and not too hot. Over my way in California, our weather system has yet to decide if the June gloom will be able to prevail against the blasting rays of the July sun. We shall see.

At Penn State, thousands of students volunteer at THON each February in State College. But there are countless opportunities across the world to be a Penn Stater and give back to the community.

At Penn State, thousands of students volunteer at THON each February in State College. But there are countless opportunities for Penn Staters across the world to give back to their communities. Photo courtesy: Penn State (via Flickr).

I feel like a second should be taken to consider volunteering during the summer, whether you’re taking courses or not. Granted, it is much easier for those not going to class to find an opportunity, but for all of you admirable individuals who are taking classes, there are opportunities for you as well!

Three Ways to Find Volunteer Opportunities

One resource I’ve utilized over the years and have found to be reliable is volunteermatch.org. You can input your location and search for seemingly unlimited amounts of volunteer opportunities to choose from. Or, if you wish to create an account, part of the process is selecting different categories that interest you, such as Animals or Human Rights and finding opportunities that way. You can also look up local, physical opportunities, as well as virtual ways in which to lend a helping hand.

For those of us not taking classes, and for those who are, Volunteer Match makes it very simple to get involved and more importantly, engaged in what is happening in our local communities.

Another option perhaps for those with a little bit more time to dedicate is volunteering with the American Red Cross. Opportunities range from serving as a Board Member to helping with marketing and fundraising endeavors to serving as a disaster relief team member, to even helping with clerical work, which may also give you good experience for your resume.

The Red Cross has no shortage of chances to help the organization help others, and is definitely worth looking into, should you be able to volunteer on a regular basis.

One last one I’d like to touch on is Feeding America. Feeding America is a non-profit organization of food banks dedicated to feeding nearly 40 million people in the United States. This is done through soup kitchens, homeless shelters, and food pantries set up across the country. Naturally, volunteers are needed here.

Opportunities range from clerical work to tutoring children being fed, to spreading the word about Feeding America’s mission. If you have a social media account and one minute, this is the perfect chance to show some support for an organization doing good work!

Why Volunteering is Important to Me

To put into words the impact volunteering has had on me as a person is both difficult and all too easy. Volunteering offers a way to practice empathy. More than that, and selfishly, it has also allowed me the chance to forget my own troubles and daily stressors, and focus on a picture bigger than myself. This has then helped me return to my own situations and looking at them with a much more humbled expression, realizing that ‘Hey, maybe things aren’t so bad after all.’

Whether it was my Meals on Wheels experience, or my exceptionally eye-opening campaign to supply my city’s homeless men and women with backpacks of supplies, volunteering has not only changed my outlook on worries, but also my outlook on life itself.

Of course there are many other ways to volunteer in your community, and I encourage everyone to look into their respective city’s own website to find some of them. Or, perhaps visit your favorite small business and ask if they could use a hand. A simple shout-out on a social media site, or a positive review online could really make an impact. (The business student in me shines forth!)

The ultimate point I hope to make here is that even though summer is our time to relax (some of us more than others), we should keep in mind that it’s also a chance to enrich our lives with something completely outside of ourselves — volunteering. One day, one hour, one minute, whatever the duration, the most important thing is to go for it!

Fall semester will be upon us soon enough, and we’ll once again be wrapped up in upcoming holidays, school work, and regular life. For a time let us focus on things that don’t just impact us. Let us find a cause we can get behind, one that we feel a connection to, and support it in any way possible.

What do you think, Lions? Do you have any other resources that you rely on to find volunteer opportunities?

Have a lovely July, everyone. And in the wise, wonderful words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful,  to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”

To good experiences, and better lives,

We Are!

The Blue and White Society is Exciting Because…

July 11th, 2014 by

On July 1, the new executive board for the Penn State World Campus chapter of the Blue and White Society took office. We got some feedback from the new board members — Chase Kelly, Ray Vasquez, and Kelly Holcombe — on their plans for the coming year, and what they enjoy most about the Blue and White Society.

chase kelly at nittany lion shrine

Chase Kelly at the Lion Shrine


Chase Kelly

Information Sciences and Technology student from King George, Virginia

To me, membership in the Blue and White Society exemplifies Penn State’s overwhelming devotion to community and lifelong friendship development. It is by far the best way to enhance your World Campus student experience and truly feel like a part of our amazing university!”

“As the newly elected President of the World Campus Blue and White Society, I hope to bring new standards of engagement to our chapter throughout the next year. Nothing says Penn State like sporting events, special faculty conferences, online learning sessions, and of course, THON. We are already stirring up new and exciting ways for World Campus students and Blue and White Society members to virtually engage in more time-honored activities held across physical campuses. The coming year promises to be very exciting for our chapter.”

Ray Vasquez at Lion Shrine Statue

Ray Vasquez at Lion Shrine

Vice President

Ray Vasquez

Information Sciences and Technology and Security and Risk Analysis (dual major) student from Dallax, Texas

The most exciting thing about the Blue and White Society is that it promotes student involvement. Penn State has always been innovative with their online campus. The Blue and White Society helps students connect with their school, network, and be involved with Penn State in a way unique to the online learning environment.”

In the coming year, we hope to increase our THON presence, increase our relationship with the school via events, increase our membership to provide more networking opportunity, and increase our relationship with the nationwide chapters of the Penn State Alumni Association. We believe these relationships will help enhance the Penn State World Campus student experience.”

kelly and son with Nittany Lion

Kelly Holcombe with her son and the Nittany Lion

Director of Communications

Kelly Holcombe

Organizational Leadership student from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

I find the Blue and White Society so exciting because it is a great opportunity to stay connected to Penn State, meet students, and connect with alumni.”

This year, I am most excited for all we have planned to connect with one other. We have many exciting new initiatives to get members involved.”

Have questions?

You can contact the executive board at wcbluewhite@outreach.psu.edu.

A Student Aid Professional’s Best Advice for Minimizing Debt: Carefully Manage Aid Refunds

July 3rd, 2014 by
Paying Bills

Photo by Dave Dugdale via Flickr

By Brad Yeckley and Nick Dikas, World Campus Office of Student Aid

An article in US News and World Report titled “Undergrads Blow It With Student Loan Refunds” (July 24, 2013) features students who found themselves struggling to pay back high loan debts as a result of their student aid refunds. It’s important to know that doesn’t have to be the case — you can manage your refunds carefully to avoid academic problems and high student debt down the road.

How Student Aid Refunds Work

If your student aid exceeds your billable costs (tuition and fees) for a semester, you will most likely receive the excess aid as a refund around the start of classes. At World Campus, the Office of the Bursar initially sends refunds by mail, but you can sign up for Rapid Refund on eLion for faster delivery via direct deposit.

Once you receive your refund, you can use it to help pay for educational expenses that do not appear on your bill. These expenses may include:

  • Books
  • Housing
  • Child care
  • Educational supplies

If you spend your refund on expenses that are not related to your academic endeavors, you may be adding to your student loan debt unnecessarily. Additionally, when you accept federal student aid, you agree to immediately repay any funds that cannot be attributed to educational expenses.

What Is at Stake: Increasing Debt and Limited Aid to Complete Your Degree

When you get your refund, keep in mind:

1. On average, every $100 you spend now using student loan money will cost you about $200 by the time you’ve paid off your loans. Most Penn State students do not have enough gift aid (money that does not have to be repaid, such as scholarships or grants) to cover their bill. As a result, the students who receive refunds most often do so because of loans. This means that you will most likely need to pay back the money you receive as a refund, with interest.

2. There are limits to the amount of money that you can borrow in the pursuit of your degree. You can view your progress toward these limits with the National Student Loan Data System. If you are attending less than full time and you regularly receive large refunds each semester, you may run out of loan funds before you complete your degree program – and you will be stuck with all of your loan debt.

When you consider these two items together you can begin to see how unnecessary student aid refunds can both increase your debt and potentially disrupt your academic progress.

What You Can Do to Minimize Debt and Stay on Track Academically

Managing your loans and refunds carefully can help you avoid unwanted outcomes:

  • Determine your critical needs each semester and then decrease your loans so that you only receive a refund to cover these expenses. Since you will have to pay loan money back after you graduate, with interest, it is a good idea to live like a student and minimize your expenses while you are in school, so that you do not have to live like one after you graduate. You can decrease your loans on eLion by selecting “Financial,” and then “Loan Decrease.”
  • While you may use your refunds to help meet your basic needs, you should not depend on them as your sole source of income. If you do, any changes to your aid timing, eligibility, or amounts can put you at risk financially. It is important to have a plan to support yourself separately from your refund.
  • You might consider estimating and adding the cost of books for the upcoming semester to your refund for this semester. This allows you to buy your books for the next semester before it begins, instead of waiting for that semester’s refund to arrive after classes have begun.

Contact Us

If you would like to speak with an aid counselor about your individual situation, please contact us at 814-867-4244 or studentaid@outreach.psu.edu.

Alumni Q&A: Hospital Safety Administrator Charlotte Roy

July 3rd, 2014 by

Charlotte Roy

While pursuing her master’s degree online in Homeland Security through Penn State World Campus, Charlotte Roy worked full-time as the hospital emergency manager at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. She was working in the hospital emergency operations center during the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, and the experience, she says, changed how many people approach hospital safety. We caught up with Charlotte recently to get her perspective on the tragic event, and her thoughts on how her Penn State World Campus education has helped her career.

Tell us about your background, and why you chose Penn State World Campus for your studies.

I was a nuclear medicine technologist for many years, and I was interested in radiation safety and decontamination. That led to my later interest in emergency management.

The Penn State World Campus Homeland Security program had an option focused on public health preparedness, and I knew that the curriculum would suit my needs and what I was looking for professionally.

What do you do in your job now?

I’m our hospital’s emergency management coordinator, and also the safety officer. Basically, I work on all preparedness and response efforts for our main hospital campus and offsite campuses. We try to prepare for any emergencies that would affect the physical structure of the hospital or our ability to provide care—hurricane, flood, ice storm, fire, evacuation, you name it.

How has your Penn State degree helped you professionally?

So much of what was part of my program at Penn State, from terrorism to critical infrastructure protection and cyber security, has molded what I do every day. And it has made me more qualified for my safety role.

One course in particular gave a good basis for preparation related to agroterrorism and biosecurity. It covered ways to prepare for and respond to events such as a poisoned food and water supply. We used a lot of that information when preparing for the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Take us back to the 2013 Boston Marathon. What was it like for you, while you were working?

The marathon runs directly in front of our hospital, but we’re at mile 17, which is not where the bombings occurred. We weren’t as impacted with trauma patients as hospitals near the finish line. But we had hundreds of employees who were working at the end of the finish line that day, and when the suspect was finally caught, it was only 4 miles from our hospital. We were impacted during the shelter that was in place while the suspect was at large.

It was very unsettling event, and very emotional. Everyone here knew, in some way, one of the victims or responders. Afterwards, there was a lot of psychological injury that we’ve been dealing with.

But the 2014 marathon was good. It was a healing year. We all made it through the preparedness and made it through the day. It was a good day to have closure and move on.

Have the bombings changed your approach to public safety and preparedness?

Yes, the bombings made all of us look at things differently than how we had in past. Much of what we were doing in past was focused on reacting to prior events. We were preparing, but now we’ve shifted our strategies to focus on active preparedness. We’re doing more training and drills, and really examining what we’re drilling and how we’re training.

Have questions for Charlotte?

Post them in the comments section below.

How to Stay Hydrated This Summer

July 2nd, 2014 by
glass of water on white table with white background

Photo by Ryan Hide via Flickr

The summer can mean cruel, humid, and hot weather. Hydration is the key to ultimate success to enhance brain functions, physical performance, and mood.

Do you know that some people don’t even know when they are dehydrated? Brain performance, mood, and exercise ability change when you are dehydrated. But summer is not the only time we need to replenish our bodies. Here are some tips for staying hydrated all year long.

Water is the Most Important Nutrient for Your Body

On average, the human body is 60–70 percent water by weight, depending on factors such as age, gender, and body weight.

Most of our tap water has fluoride, chlorine, disinfection byproducts, and other toxic minerals like copper that are not good for our bodies – period. If you drink from the faucet, buying a filter that combats all of these is essential.

But one thing you shouldn’t overlook is the level of alkalinity in your water.

What is Alkalinity in Water?

In many places around the world, water contains volatile organic chemicals (also known as VOCs), byproducts, and harmful bacteria that are abundant in most of our drinking water — so it is very important to filter your water. You can also alkalize your water to balance its pH level. pH is a measure of how acidic or basic (alkalized) the water is. Water fit for human consumption has a pH between 6.5 and 8.

Research: Why Alkalinity is Important

  • Normal, healthy cells die under extremely alkaline conditions. A study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry found extreme rising cellular pH causes alkaline-induced cell death as a result of extreme pH, which altered mitochondrial function.
  • A study conducted at Cornell University showed that antioxidants are not proven effective against neurodegenerative diseases due to the cell’s specific pH conditions. A cell’s mitochondria (its energy warehouse), may be damaged by pH conditions.

What is Dehydration?

Even a slight deficit of water can have a substantial impact on well-being, exercise performance, brain performance and mood. Defined, dehydration is the loss of body water and important ions (blood salts like potassium, calcium and magnesium). It means that your body doesn’t have as much water and electrolytes as it should have, which interferes with normal body and mental processes.

You don’t have to be in a triathlon to become dehydrated—it happens easily. Every day, you lose approximately 2–2.5 cups of water by going about your usual activities. Coffee, tea, and sodas are not ideal drinks because they have a diuretic effect (i.e., they trigger water loss) and actually increase your daily fluid requirement. It is very important to replenish fluid losses daily.

Dehydration Can…

(For these last four, refer to the article “Mild Dehydration Affects Mood in Healthy Young Women“)

Different Types of Water

By becoming water conscious, you are one step closer to achieving better health. Here are the different types of water you can find:

  • Purified water — physically processed to remove impurities
  • Distilled water  water that is boiled and then evaporated to remove good and bad minerals
  • Bottled water — found in many convenience or grocery stores. Be sure to choose brands that source their water from natural springs, such as in Maine, or mountain springs like those in Norway.
  • Alkaline water  enhanced through electrolysis (naturally occurring electrical charges found in nature)
  • Electrolytes in water — water with electrolytes added (these are salts or ions, such as calcium and magnesium, which are naturally found in spring water)
  • De-ionized water  water where most, if not all, mineral ions such as calcium, chloride, and copper have been removed by electrically charged resins that attract and bind to the salts

You can buy by the gallon, which I prefer because it’s cheaper than purchasing anything smaller. I would suggest deciding whether your main source of water needs to be changed, and then be aware of what and how much you are drinking on a daily basis.

5 Ways to Enhance Your Water and Prevent Dehydration

  1. Add electrolytes to water (naturally) with this recipe:
    4 C water
    1 tsp baking soda
    2 tbsp organic maple syrup
    1/2 tbsp sea salt
  2. Alkalize your water by mixing Himalayan salt with lemon and water
  3. Drink organic raw coconut water. It contains naturally occurring electrolytes and is alkalized.
  4. Try Rooibos (pronounced “roy-bus”). This legume has minerals such as magnesium (essential for the nervous system), calcium and manganese (essential for strong teeth and bones), zinc (important for metabolism), and iron (which helps the blood and muscles distribute oxygen). Rooibos also contains powerful antioxidants and polyphenols that simply helps enhance any water you are drinking. You can get organic powder or make a cold tea.
  5. Use trace mineral drops – these are drops you can put into your water to enhance the mineral content, including magnesium, zinc, potassium, and manganese.

Final Thoughts

Staying hydrated is a must for everyone and will help you stay invigorated and stay on point mentally. You might find it easier to handle emotions and stress.

Water is the most important nutrient for the body and should be your primary source of liquid. Let your body tell you when it’s time to have a break and drink water. You can also stay hydrated with fruits, vegetables, and foods like homemade broth, too.

If you have any questions about staying hydrated, or have some recipes to share, please comment below!

How are you going to stay hydrated this summer?

Universal Design for Learning: Penn State World Campus’s Approach to Course Design

June 26th, 2014 by

Nikki Massaro Kauffman

by Nikki Massaro Kauffman, Multimedia Specialist with Penn State World Campus

“Teaching is a series of decisions that increase the probability that learning will occur.”

Early in my career, when I was working as a high school teacher, someone shared this definition of teaching, and I’ve taken it with me ever since.

What struck me about this definition was the idea that teaching was more than just delivering content. Teaching is thinking about how to increase access to knowledge and helping more students become successful.

I now work in Penn State World Campus Learning Design on a consulting team that looks at accessibility and usability of educational technology. In this new role, I learned about universal design.

Universal Design, as coined by Ronald Mace, is “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”

So if we apply universal design to learning, we are practicing good teaching.

Universal design for learning (UDL) is an educational framework based on universal design. This framework defines flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences. UDL advocates providing students various options for:

  • Representation (content)
  • Expression (assignments/activities)
  • Engagement (interests)

Representation: We try to make content available in multiple formats. For instance, videos have transcripts, or information in a chart might also be displayed as a table. This allows for students of all abilities and different learning styles to access all the content.

Expression: We want students to be able to choose how they demonstrate their understanding of the content. One way this can happen is with group work — the instructor can allow teams to choose their mode of communication rather than having them use a specific tool.

Another way is to encourage instructors to use a variety of assessments with a mix of objective tests and subjective writing assignments or projects. Some students may have an easier time writing an essay, while others may prefer demonstrating what they know by taking a test. Offering both options throughout our courses allows opportunities for both types of students to shine.

Engagement: We know that learning is more likely to occur if it is relevant to the learner’s interests and experiences. This is especially true for adult learners. We encourage the use of content that is emotionally engaging and/or relates to real-world problems. Content that meets these criteria is enhanced with images, video, or interactive self-check activities.

We design with many different students in mind

One of my colleagues, Sonya Woods, an accessibility consultant, works on the consulting team with me. In that capacity, she reviews course content when a student with disabilities enrolls in a course. Doing that has given her a unique perspective. She once told me, “Looking at course content to make sure it works for our students with disabilities helps me identify what the best practices are that make a course work well for everyone.”

That’s why she is an advocate for universal design for learning.

Online Learner Personas: We consider visual impairments; hearing, speech, and language barriers; mobility impairments; neurological / cognitive differences; and more.

Online Learner Personas: We consider visual impairments; hearing, speech, and language barriers; mobility impairments; neurological / cognitive differences; and more.

So how do we pursue universal design?

When reviewing course content, we consider any student with:

  • a visual impairment
  • hearing impairment, or speech and language barriers
  • mobility impairments
  • neurological and cognitive differences

The strategies course authors, course designers, and instructors can use to meet the needs of students with disabilities can benefit all online learners. Making content available in multiple formats and allowing students multiple ways to submit content can benefit students who:

  • are traveling to a different time zone
  • have limited Internet access
  • are on mobile devices
  • spend a limited amount of time online

Universal design works best when it is not an afterthought

At Penn State World Campus, we’ve seen a big increase in the number of students who are receiving accommodations: from 32 in 2011 to 338 in 2014. That’s why understanding UDL is so important to the Penn State community. It is part of creating a great learning experience for all our students.

Sonya and I realized that course authors and course design staff would benefit from these principles before the course is ever reviewed for accessibility.

We find it important for course authors, designers, and instructors to think about universal design from the beginning in creating courses, and we present regular discussions and trainings to help facilitate this.

At a recent training, a woman who helps build online course content had a “light bulb moment” and she said, “Accessible design is just better for everyone.” She is now in the process of redesigning course content to increase accessibility based on what she learned.

Through these UDL talks, course authors and designers become aware of the challenges for online students, what we can do for them, and how they can collaborate with us. They learn that UDL isn’t just making learning accessible to students with disabilities; UDL is about deciding to build choices into learning. UDL is about increasing access to learning. UDL is, by definition, good teaching.


Accessibility as an Afterthought: The Rubik’s cube with Braille is a solution that is technically accessible because a blind student could use it. However, what if you wanted a version that would allow blind students and sighted students together?


Applying Universal Design: This Rubik’s cube has both colors and textures. Both sighted and blind students could use the same device.

How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Need to Study Effectively?

June 9th, 2014 by

Ever wonder how many hours of sleep you need to perform at your best? The deep stages of sleep — NREM and REM — are important for cognitive abilities such as memory and problem solving.  And magnesium — a vital mineral we need in our bodies — may improve overall sleep quality, as well as brain performance, memory, and problem solving.

dog sleeping on stairs

Photo by Mor via Flickr

Even though one-third of our lives are made up of sleep, most research still points to the question of why we sleep. Fortunately, a new study conducted at the University of Rochester actually made an impression in the scientific community because it was the first to find one of the reasons we sleep. Starting in the seventh month of birth, premature babies sleep 80% of the time, 20% more than babies not born prematurely. Why is this? The baby is likely catching up on brain and body development that it missed in the womb.

In addition, a Harvard research study showed that sleep may help with improving recent memory in the hippocampus, a region in the brain known for long-term memory. Adequate sleep is very important, and REM and NREM (which I’ll explain in a second) are two important tools in determining your mental development and learning capacity the following day.

What is REM Sleep?

REM stands for rapid eye movement, and this is the fifth stage of sleep. We tend to go into REM sleep more frequently and deeply as the morning approaches. Interestingly, the body behaves as if it were awake during REM sleep — typically, the brain produces the same beta waves as it does when we are awake, and demonstrates psychological, physiological and biochemical activity.

REM sleep also involves theta waves. These work in the hippocampal region to improve short-term memory processes. In REM, you also experience dreams.

What is NREM?

NREM stands for non-rapid eye movement. There are several phases of NREM, but the final stages (known as stages 3 and 4) are the most important when you sleep.  You reach this stage of sleep about an hour after you fall asleep. During stage 3 of NREM, growth hormone is released, and the body and brain restores, regenerates, and repairs organs and tissues. It is usually during stage 3 of NREM that it is the hardest to wake a person up.

Stage 4 of NREM sleep promotes the deepest restorative functions on the body and brain. So, sleep is needed for proper development of cognitive functions such as learning, memory, and concentration.

How Many Hours of Sleep Do You Need?

Different biological circadian rhythms, or sleep/wake cycles, can vary from person to person. Someone who sleeps five hours may be able to perform just as well as someone who sleeps for ten. It is important to find a balance without caffeine beverages. Otherwise, for every cup of coffee you consume, you need to drink twice the amount of water to stay hydrated.

And if you need more than one cup of coffee per day, chances are you aren’t receiving adequate rest. On average, it is important for you to receive at least seven hours of sleep per night.

What happens if you aren’t getting enough sleep?

Adults who receive less than seven hours of sleep may experience:

  • impaired memory
  • difficulty solving problems
  • trouble focusing
  • depression
  • weakened immune system
  • fatigue
  • increased pain

Sleep deprivation can affect hormones in our bodies such as dopamine, so it is possible that all of these symptoms may be from a lack of dopamine and proper functioning in the reward center of the brain (known as the “nucleus accumbens”), which is known to make us feel good.

Oh, and if you have children (which I know many Penn State World Campus students do), here are recommendations for them. Children who do not get proper rest, at least 9 hours, may:

  • become irritable, moody, or cranky
  • have a shorter attention span
  • have difficulties focusing, remembering, and solving problems

If You Have Trouble Going to Sleep, You May be Lacking Magnesium

Magnesium is one of the most powerful relaxation minerals used for improving sleep. It maintains production of hormones during the day such as serotonin (known for mood and appetite and regulating proper sleep cycles) and hormones that work at night, such as melatonin (which regulates sleep). Typically, you see hormonal production decreasing with age, but it’s actually associated with a person’s overall health, not their age.

In a study conducted in 2012, participants who took 500 mg of magnesium showed an increase in slow wave sleep in the brain, specifically delta waves, which are primarily found during stages 3 and 4 of NREM sleep. Results also showed a statistically greater length of sleep time, greater sleep efficiency, increased concentrations of magnesium serum present in the body, and increased levels of melatonin. Most importantly, there was a significant decrease in insomnia severity in all participants.

This shows that taking proper magnesium supplementation may have a direct effect on optimal functioning of your brain and body.

Again, aging is the biggest risk factor for depletion of magnesium levels, but it is overall health that determines this.

Magnesium Levels Are Also Related to Brain Performance

Magnesium’s not just beneficial for sleep, but it may also help improve brain function.

One of the latest studies showed that 68% of Americans are not consuming the recommended daily intake of magnesium, and 19% are not getting even half that amount.

Results from another study indicated that rats fed 604mg magnesium for a month have increased activity in the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus (associating with learning and memory), and an increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which means that magnesium levels may enhance cognitive functions.

Our body’s internal clock and circadian rhythm is maintained by something called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. And this suprachiasmatic nucleus relies on magnesium in the body.

Other Tips To Help You Sleep

  1. Raising your blood pressure slightly helps induce sleep. Long, strenuous workouts, like a 30- to 60-minute run, might increase your blood pressure too much and can do the opposite.
  2. Avoid sugars before it gets too close to your normal bedtime.
  3. Try not to consume caffeine close to your bedtime, as it takes up to six hours for your body to eliminate half a cup of coffee, and coffee can increase the number of times you awaken during the night and lower the total amount of sleep time.

What Other Recommendations Do You Have for Promoting Healthy Sleep?

Post your advice below.