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!


About Don Seeman PhD

Don Seeman is Associate Professor in the Department of Religion and the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies at Emory. He is a social anthropologist (PhD Harvard 1997) specializing in medical and phenomenological anthropology, ethnography of religion and Jewish thought.

2 thoughts on “Don Seeman Accessibility Module 8

  1. After I read Don’s “OER, Oer” post I felt that he had channeled my own thinking very well. And then there was the second one where “very well” was transformed into “perfectly.” I, too, have come to a place where I have unintelligible notes and enter my classes with a starting point and an end goal in mind and use the time and interactions to bring the class to that end goal in 75 minutes. How I get there will vary from semester to semester and day to day. More tightly organizing each “module” will surely add some discipline to my teaching, but I worry that I will lose the spontaneity that I feel keeps students engaged and thinking. As in most things, somewhere between heavy structure and utter chaos will be a better place to be , as the folk singer Harry Chapin once phrased it. Our class has illuminated for me not only the availability of so many new technologies but also new ways of teaching what is obviously a new kind of student in a new kind of world. As someone, as described by Bill Clinton at the DNC convention the other day, with more yesterdays than tomorrows, I would love to fill my tomorrows with the sorts of connections with students that filled my yesterdays. It’s clear that if this is going to happen, I’m going to need to meet them at least half way and embrace Web 2.0 and all the interactivity and technology it entails. Rather thana hand-written farewell note to my career, it looks like I’m going to need to create a VoiceThread…

    Thank you, Don, for your amazingly insightful pieces.

  2. Don:

    As always, it seems, I read your thoughts with a lot of muted cheers and nods of agreement.

    FWIW, I will admit that I went into this project with the thought that I was going to have to commit to more set and finished versions of my lectures, leaving the improvisational element to other kinds of synchronous and asynchronous interactions. (And at least I will have more one-on-one interactions in my online course that in the face-to-face.) I do so with great trepidation, because my lectures are never as good as I want them to be or hope to make them NEXT year, so I hate the thought of committing to them, in all their flawed state, in any such reified form–but I also remember my grad school mentor, Leon Katz, whose lectures were staggeringly eloquent and opened up whole vistas on the topic, all done without notes, who never got them written out and now they are lost to all but those of us who heard them at the time. I have to come to terms with recording my at-least-for-now existing versions of my teaching materials. So here we are. Creating this course becomes another writing deadline: a way to record where my thinking had gotten by a certain point. (Oh, the thought of re-tweaking them every year after! Ouch!)

    At least I’ll get a record of how I looked before I lost any MORE hair . . .



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