Monthly Archives: July 2016

Reflection onM8: Improving accessibility fosters improved learning environments-Zhiyun

The article about accessibility humbled me. My eyes were opened to some things that might make my courses are confusing. Making organized and tagged slides, chunking content in lecture notes, and providing succinct learning objectives are not only important for students with difficulties but these ideas can help make the course more accessible for all.

After recording videos I also realized that closed captions (although work and time intensive) would be very helpful (especially when the instructors are not native speakers, like myself). Chunking videos in an intelligent and natural way is also an effective way to break up a lecture into more easily digestible bits.

When developing an online course, we always need to keep accessibility in mind for all kinds of students, especially for students with disabilities; it is imperative to try our best to build as much accessibility into online courses as is reasonably possible.

On one hand, online courses require developers to work hard to make course clear, attractive, accessible, and enhance student learning. On the other hand, students taking an online course should be engaged, diligent, and willing to work together with the instructor to facilitate the growth and improvement of the course. After all, it is the students’ responsibility to take an active role in their own education (and perhaps this is even more important for online learners).

Moreover, universal design for learning (UDL) is a very interesting concept and I have put some real thought into how to implement this in my classes (online and otherwise). In my field, representing material in different ways is very important (there are often complaints that students do not understand statistics and it is useful to have more than one approach for the concepts). There are many ways to engage the students with real world examples from a variety of fields (to appeal to many interests). Perhaps the hardest for me is the action and expression (we need to think about effective and interesting assessments in statistics for students to be able to demonstrate what they know). But I believe that it can be done with some careful thought.


M7 (Michael-Come-Lately): OERs and student time

I fell out of step with my colleagues while traveling and missed posting on this module–now, in the race to the finish, I wanted to add only this: I suppose I’m already supposed to be a dab hand at this, since I was the editor of online resources for the old “Bible” of theater history in English, Brockett and Hildy’s History of the Theatre (I should remember which edition, but just now I don’t ). So I have some sense of what is or has been out there in my field, and have referred my students to some of these resources in the past.  But I’m not sure how much I want to rely on the OERs I’ve found for my particular course.

My problem is that none of the online resources I’ve found takes the particular point of view I’m pursuing in my survey course–neither in the historical-materialist method of integrating the historical context that I choose to focus on, nor in doing the comparative work between European and Asian theaters.  And there are always historical disagreements and contentious terms, like “feudalism” and “primitive,” to struggle with.

So for this particular course I’m stuck with a lot of resources that I could refer students to only provisionally or with caveats. And there are many, many resources out there, but–sigh–it feels like an entirely different pedagogical (heutagogical?) task to prep them with the critical skills they would need to question these sources and view or read them critically.  Useful skills? Sure! But this is a 200-level survey course where I feel I need to focus the inquiry. It’s not a research methods course. I would gladly offer them many of these resources as extra credit or as illustrations to pursue at their leisure–but it’s summer and I’m racing them through centuries of material: what leisure?

There are other courses where OERs might integrate more easily . . .

M8 Michael’s Curiosity About How “Online” Affects Accessibility

I think I was one of the first to ask about accessibility and online instruction this year, and it’s something I try to think about all the time in my teaching–perhaps because Theater Studies often seems to attract students with learning differences, perhaps also because I have a close relative who’s learning-disabled, and, thus, have had to think a good deal about alternative neurologies–and other relatives who are mobility-impaired, as well. I feel I’ve seen Emory grow up a bit on this subject (I have some unpleasant memories, back from my department chairing days, when I saw faculty department chairs laughing together at the very thought of testing accommodations). I found these readings this week familiarly disturbing of simple ableist complacencies, and appreciated a few best-practice ideas about inclusive media.

I choose at this moment to be hopeful about online instruction and accessibility;  I’m wondering if our online technologies might not actually be especially helpful to students with these particular considerations. Certainly we’re getting past some physical accessibility issues from the get-go, yes? (No wheelchair ramp issues here.)  There are obviously steps that can be taken–some of them cumbersome and expensive, but they exist–to augment recorded lecture or other audible media with captioning, and visual media with narrative description. (Is anybody else disturbed by the inherent bias of so many of these technological tools against language and toward narrowly visual culture?) Hearing-impaired students might be able to participate more easily, both listening and expressing, in text-based interactions.I might be drawn to take these additional steps with online courses that I wouldn’t take in normal F2F classrooms, where the ease of face to face interactions might seduce me into thinking we’re all seeing and hearing the same.  So I think we’re in a great place to address accessibility issues thoughtfully.

As for learning differences, such as processing issues, media that allow students, according to individual need, to engage asynchronously, to stop, review, take a break, start again, skim, focus on outline or pattern of the lecture or material, might be transformatively helpful to some (after all, isn’t notetaking in  an F2F lecture just a way of providing asynchronous materials that allow for review and recapture of that fleeting synchronous lecture? Take that, Aristotle! Now we can go further).

A conversation Emory is having only slowly and behindhand deals with the question of educating ESL students; here, too, I think the asynchronous elements of online instruction might be key to helping students work through language difficulties and simply hear more of what we’re all saying.  It’s not the complete answer, but it’s a step.

At the same time, I feel, as many have said, that this kind of media interaction will work better for some students than others, and that there is an executive function of managing your different needs, off-center strengths, or disabilities that inevitably places additional pressure on these students, and technologically-rich teaching environments might be especially challenging to some. I certainly have struggled with technological interfaces in our course, and strain to force ideas to cohere for me when I have to search for them across a variety of platforms. I could see an ADD student, for example, getting lost repeatedly in the mix. (Part of the reason I’m imagining a very consistent routine for my course, at the risk of engaging variety.) I have no idea how students with manual dexterity issues would manage keyboards and cursors.

I would love to find research on what online instruction itself makes easier and harder, just in terms of perception and cognition.

Oh OER, Oh Oer, has my little dog gone?

The truth is that I never heard the term OER until I read this module, though the idea has been on my mind for awhile. Our whole academic system is warped, in my view, by the economic interests that we never really name in our quest for purity. So, for example, we measure scholars and award tenure on the basis of decisions made by editors of presses who are themselves trying very hard to publish what will sell (and will tell you as much over a drink at any conference). They pay authors almost nothing ( I say with regret as the editor of a book series) and continually reduce their rights in a variety of ways.  Journals, some of which are quite profitable, do not even make the effort to pretend, and then cry with indignation if an author puts his own work up on a website or makes it available to colleagues. There has to be another way.

Lately, I have tried my best to publish with open access journals, which are a kind of OER I very much admire and respect. Of course, there are problems. Some just charge exorbitant fees to authors–pay us a thousand dollars for the chance to give people a chance to read what you yourself have written–while others struggle with various funding models. Two journals I recently published with, and that I recommend to others, are open access without charging authors– Medicine, Anthropology Theory, and the Jewish Studies Internet Journal. I believe they have some institutional funding and extremely dedicated staffs as well as some volunteers, so it is not perfect either, but it is at least an attempt to break out of the corporate stranglehold in academia.

We can also do more to support it.

A very fine Open Access journal in anthropology called HAU was started a few years ago. Rather than asking authors to pay for the publication of their work, they ask faculty to seek institutional sponsorships for a few years of $500-$1000, which sometimes comes from departmental budgets. Emory has a fund that will contribute to author fees if you want to publish open access but, to date, they will not support institutional memberships, which seems to me a shame.

Anyway, so much for my rant. My basic point is that these resources are growing in diversity and stature and that is something I think we want to encourage as much as possible, figuring out new funding models as we can.




Don Seeman Accessibility Module 8

It is funny, as I began thinking about my response to this module I thought about Maria Town, who was also mentioned by Susan. Maria took a freshman seminar with me on the topic of “Suffering, Healing and Redemption,” which I am offering with some revisions again next year. She spoke movingly in class about her family’s experience of Hurricane Katrina just a few months before. She also opened my eyes to just how difficult it can be for some people to physically navigate Emory campus and she devoted herself already as a Sophomore to pushing the administration hard to make some changes. Now she works in the White House and I wonder if she would chuckle to know that we are talking about her here. Should we tell her?

I am glad we had this unit, though I can’t help thinking in retrospect that this is training and information every faculty member should have and I am sorry I did not have it sooner. I very much like Marshall’s (?) formulation that thinking about accessibility is a means of enhancing education for all students and not just for those who specifically need some accommodation.

This unit has also unnerved me because honestly, I am not sure how to provide for all the eventualities we have been discussing. I don’t typically lecture from prepared papers. I have notes intelligible only to myself and I interact with the class to convey what I want to convey. Should I start writing out my lectures more formally so that they can be given to students who have difficulty with hearing or so that they can be used to caption the videos we are now being encouraged to use even for our f2f classes? How do I figure out the trade-offs between what some here called “access for all” and my own very real needs to play to my strengths as a teacher and to keep a lid on prep time given how deeply strapped for time many of us already are? We slip between calls for “access for all” and more measured language of “reasonable accommodation,” but I feel a bit adrift in figuring out what reasonable is, particularly in preparing these online materials. It feels as if there is a goal that we are not yet fully equipped to meet in terms of technology or even just my own ability to use the technology smoothly. Someone mentioned self-captioning everything she records online. That is a huge investment of time and energy I am just not sure I can make right now, though I agree with the aspiration.

Finally, as I myself get older, I wonder how this emphasis on accessibility as an institutional goal will help faculty members to continue productive lives as scholars and teachers even as it does get more difficult to get around campus or to see and hear with former acuity.

This course, at any rate, has opened up far more for me than simply how to use technology or strategies for online teaching. Though I am not sure how in each case it will or should play out, I feel as if I have been bumped up a notch in reflective awareness of things I have been doing for decades. Brava Leah!


Creating Instructional Video with Accessibility in Mind: Yu Li on M8

Honestly, I have not given accessibility much thought before we got to this module. I also have had nearly no experience dealing with accessibility issues thus far. During my nine years’ teaching at Emory, I have had a few students who requested deadline extensions or extra exam time, but have not had hearing-, vision-, or motor-impaired students in class. I can see, however, that teaching online may make my class more available to students, including those with disabilities, and I am excited about that. The challenge is to figure out how to make the course materials accessible to all given the limited time and resources we have.

I started by thinking about the instructional video assigned as homework for this week, as most likely I will be using videos for the course. How to make it accessible to those with hearing disability, for example? Captioning naturally came to mind. Since it is not realistic to use specialized software or professional service for this assignment, I think I will figure out a way to add subtitles myself. I am not sure how well it will work, but I am considering simply manually adding text to each PPT slide before turning the presentation into a video. We will see how that goes.

As for accessibility to the vision-impaired, I will try to make sure that important visual information on each slide is conveyed verbally in the video. I want to be mindful about how I refer to items on the screen during the video. For example, I will avoid simply saying “the one on the left,” and will instead spell out specifically what it is that I am referring to. I will also avoid using color (or any other visual cue) alone to convey information.

I feel that I there is a whole lot more I would need to know about accessibility and universal design. I have found information on quite useful (and even took the liberty to borrow the name “web accessibility in mind” as the title of this post), but if there will be more systematic training on this topic, especially offered in the context of resources available at Emory, I will sign up for that.

M8–Marshall Duke–Universal Design may be old wine in new bottles but it works well with every cuisine!

The three fundamental principles of UDL—engagement, representation and action/expression—strike me as not new.  However, they are newly examined within the context of online learning.  The same three things, I believe, are present in F2F teaching.  In my own experience, I have had in my classes over the years blind students, deaf students, learning disabled students, students with limited or poor English language skills, students with culturally-derived maladaptations, etc.  For all of these, I have needed to find ways to engage them, communicate information to them and assess their progress.   The notion of universal design adds something more, however, and that is that providing for students with special needs also improves class experiences for everyone.  I like this idea a lot.

To improve my online teaching in each of the three main areas of UDL, I will turn to the research literature, which to my ever-lessening surprise and increasing delight, is copious.  I like using audio commentary associated with  all visual material.  I like captioning on videos and labeling all slides in words.  I like having students do things like posting scholarblog comments, adding video, audio or text comments on Voice Thread and posting Diigo “discoveries.”  I really LOVE Screencast-o-matic and how it engages students and teachers both synchronously and asynchronously.  Once comfortable with these technologies, students and faculty alike can actually have a delightful adventure in scholarship.

My one major question—and concern—is that for some reason the three principles have been tied to three brain regions with a level of confidence that I doubt we would find among most neuroscientists. I mean we know a lot about the brain, but even now with fMRI and other sophisticated mapping techniques, things are simply not that “clean.”  From my perspective, the brain stuff is not necessary for the principles to be believable and to stand on their own conceptually.  Recent research in fact has shown that the notion of learning styles (upon which these principles seem to strongly depend)  is actually pretty much unsupported. For example see this report from the world’s leading and most influential psychology journal, Psychological Science.  In addition, Here is a link to a TED talk by Professor Tesia Marshik at the University of Wisconsin in which she summarizes the research on learning styles and sounds a strong note of caution about relying too heavily upon them.

Sad as I am to say it as a psychological scientist, learning styles have become an accepted way of conceptualizing individual differences in learners.  But this is OK with me because the idea has also resulted in multiple methods of presenting information in educational settings.   These multiple forms of presentation are salutary  because they help everyone learn better,  despite the findings that concepts like “auditory vs visual learning” and “teaching to different styles” have little or no evidentiary basis.    Like it or not, “learning styles” (like “Type A vs Type B personality” which has also been debunked) have entered our cultural consciousness and they are not about to disappear because “science” says they are inaccurate.  For me, this situation actually argues for UDL in that we should try to provide means of engagement, action/expression and representation for everybody and stop saying we’re doing this because of individual differences.  Rather we should see all this multiplicity simply as ways of potentiating learning in all students.

I started out our course with a pre-existing awareness of the needs for multiple means of representation, engagement and expression.  As I said above, these are not new to me, nor are they likely to be new to any of my fellow faculty colleagues.  However,  what I now know  as well are several remarkable  ways to do a better job of addressing these  needs in the F2F setting and online.   I also am aware that what we have learned in the forms of management systems, blogs, rubrics, assessment methods, OER’s, etc, are really (really!) just the tip of the iceberg.  The more I surf the net looking for more of these tools, the more amazed I am at how many there are!  Some are easy to use and some are more challenging.  But I am also aware that eight weeks ago, the word “easy,” which I just used in the previous sentence, would not have conceivably been present in this post!!

I now feel I know enough to know what I don’t know.  I also have a sense of where to go to find out how to do the things I want to do in the ways of engagement, representation and action/expression.  On that chart from way back in M2 which showed how we would progress in our online exerience, I have gotten past the early panicked focus on technology and have moved into a calmer and more directed phase of learning.  I hope that one year hence, I will be firmly footed enough to succeed in applying all this for real!

Thank you, Leah!   I am very saddened that you will be leaving Emory.  I hope and trust that our level of loss will be matched by your level of success in whatever you turn your hand to.