All posts by Susan L Tamasi

M8 – Susan: Thoughts on ADA, UDL, ADSR and other acronyms

Yesterday was the 26th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Under the Obama administration, much has been done to enhance and support inclusion and accessibility in the US, and many policies have been enacted: The Every Student Succeeds Act assists “teachers in learning about the best ways to support their students with disabilities;” the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act provides “more employment opportunities for people with significant disabilities and youth with disabilities;” and the Affordable Care Act includes policy to “protect the rights of Americans with disabilities” ( Additionally, some of you might remember Maria Town (Emory College, class of ‘09) who currently serves as the White House’s Disability Community Liaison in the Office of Public Engagement. So much is being done to help those with disabilities, and there has never been a time when making classrooms inclusive was easier. So, it’s time that we instructors step up! (Like recognizing when I use a non-inclusive, ableist metaphor such as “step up.”)

I work with ADSR quite regularly, and I’ve tried to be as inclusive as possible in my courses throughout my time at Emory; however, as we all know, the online environment brings in a new set of challenges and potential issues. I do believe that available technologies are the first step to making a class accessible – well, recognizing that I need to pay attention to accessibility is the first step – so let’s say available technologies are the second step in making an online course UDL compliant. Having all videos captioned will not only help those who are hard of hearing but also has a secondary advantage of helping those who might only have internet access in a loud environment (e.g. café) or who might have a connection too slow to support full video and audio. Incorporating learning communities and multimedia into online courses, i.e. everything we have read in this class, gives students the ability to learn and perform in different modes, which is a key factor of UDL. Even the asynchronous learning environment gives those with some learning disabilities the chance to work at their own pace. If I keep these principles in mind as I create materials for my own online course, and as I revise materials for my current F2F courses, I believe that many of my initial challenges of accessibility will be met. That said, I also have to keep my eyes open for unforeseen issues that are sure to come up with every class and every semester. Wish me luck.

M7, Susan: OERs and what I thought I knew

At the beginning of this module, I did not recognize the term Open Educational Resource; although, I now realize that I have been benefiting from OERs for years. I have worked with material from TedEd (and TedEx), and some of the videos I regularly use in class are on YouTube and have Creative Commons licenses. That said, I’m now realizing that not all of my go-to a/v needs are open source, and I need to be a better citizen of the OER and academic world and get permissions to use material where needed. I also knew that there was a great deal of usable material out there, but I didn’t realize the sheer number of options available. For example, I’m very happy to been shown MIT’s Open Courseware site and its collection of Linguistics lectures. In fact, I’ve already started sharing some of these links with colleagues.

Instead of asking whether one sees value in OERs, I think it’s better to ask: How can one not see at least a bit of value in them? Even in working with courses that have been taught for years or decades, finding new materials to supplement the class is invaluable. It’s also amazing to see all of these talented, creative folks developing interesting ways of presenting material – I simply don’t have the skill or imagination to create these works. Speaking of, if you’ve never seen The History of English in Ten Minutes (broken down into ten one-minute cartoons) from The Open University, I highly recommend it: OER at its finest.

Susan’s M4: Assessing Assessment Authentically

The good thing about completing an assignment very, very late is that one has the opportunity to peruse, ingest, and contemplate those that have been written before. As I logged on to ScholarBlogs, I had my response mostly written in my head, but then as I read multiple posts, replies, and responses to replies, my ideas about assessment and X-agogies continued to change and grow. I especially enjoyed Marshall’s thoughtful post as well as the back-and-forth discussion between Don and Michael. If this isn’t collaborative learning, I don’t know what is. (Thanks Leah!)

During Module 4 I have started a Word document that now contains several notes about teaching strategies – strategies for every class except for the online course I’m supposed to be focusing on. But as many of you have noted, and Leah has stressed, these ideas apply to all of our teaching, not just to the course we are currently planning. For my large, introductory lecture course, I plan to make some small-ish changes that I think will help with assessing student knowledge and understanding. For example, I like the idea of starting out class on Mondays with a quick (5 min tops) discussion of the ideas that made the largest impression on them from the week before. This will allow me to see what information as well as what teaching strategies stayed with them after a few days of whatever-undergraduates-do-on-the-weekend. Additionally, I plan to rewrite (or really, write) my course objectives to focus on the Relational Tasks from the SOLO taxonomy (analyze, apply, combine, compare, explain causes). This will take what I already thought I was doing and make it fully transparent for the students. I’ve never been very good about writing courses objectives directly. I’m actually toying around with the idea of asking students in our capstone seminar to come up with a list of course objectives on their own. While I won’t necessarily use what they come up with, it will help me see what they think learning in this type of class should be. I can use their ideas as a way to talk about why my own course objectives are meaningful. (And if I can’t articulate that, then I should throw them out.) My plan is to test these changes out over the next two semesters, and see how I can incorporate any of them into my online course next summer.

One last note: I spent much of the time while reading the articles for this week thinking about the two objectives of every college course: developing critical thought and writing abilities. Are these to be assessed traditionally or authentically or both? Or rather, are these means of assessment in themselves?

M2: My Name is Susan, and I’m a Procrastinator

This blog assignment has itself been a learning experience in time management. On Sunday and Monday I did the course readings, and I decided to give myself a day for the material to simmer, so I could see what really stood out when I thought back to the topic. Now it’s Thursday, and I think I left the pot on the stove just a little too long. It’s not that I don’t have concrete thoughts about the topic or readings, it’s that I have had to face the reality that my basic state is procrastination, and that putting things off is really easy with an online class, even when clear, detailed assignments and deadlines are given. When I think to my class next summer – a course on Intercultural Communication for students doing internships abroad – I have to keep in mind that there will be many, many distractions for my students (a new home and a new job, in a new city in a new country) and that procrastination will be rampant. The readings have thankfully presented strong suggestions, and the themes of good communication and detailed instructions stand out to me more and more. (Of course, as a linguist, I’m always happy to bring everything back to communication.) Looking at online courses from the perspective of a student, including all of my procrastination and whining about not wanting to do homework, has been a true reality check and has helped me reflect on my own teaching philosophy and strategies.

I’m quite glad that this will be the first time teaching this course, because I am able to envision it from the onset as an online course. I will not be battling with myself on how to rethink something that I have already set in stone in a different setting. Normally, I like to keep my classes flexible, and I often go into seminars armed with only the readings and minimal notes. I never use powerpoint. I enjoy teaching most when students and I can construct each class session together. That said, I now recognize that while I can still plan for flexibility, I must have more concrete goals, rubrics, and set lectures for an online course. I have to rethink what pedagogical flexibility means as well as how students and instructors can co-create a course in different ways. Overall, through my hiccups as a student and my procrastination on this assignment, I now better understand the readings’ recommendations regarding time management and course development.

M1-Susan: Reflecting on my fears

In hindsight, I had no idea what I was getting into, and I was quite overwhelmed when I saw the (21 page!) syllabus before we started. However, I no longer feel lost, and as soon as I begin a tutorial, reading, or assignment, I always start to feel more comfortable. I have never been a fan of the unknown. I should also say that while I’m generally not one for ice breakers, especially ones that ask me to be creative, I recognize the benefit in having us complete an assignment which made us focus on content creation instead of being focused on the fears that come with having to use new technology. I definitely see myself using VoiceThread in my own course. It’s all about communication. In fact, this exercise allowed me to come up with a new assignment: use different communication technologies to communicate about communication. Meta!