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 webaim.org 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.
I feel that I have been putting off learning about copyright, but the infographic PDF in this week’s reading package grabbed my full attention. Its cheerful colors, neat-looking symbols, and many speech bubbles made me feel that this was something I could learn. It must have taken Silvia Rosental Tolisano (the author) so much imagination and energy to plan out and create this graphic presentation on such a complex topic. For what? Just to attract readers? I am amazed, and it certainly worked on me. Well, I digress.
The takeaway for me was to create one’s own as much as possible, and if not, use materials form the public domain, with Creative Commons licensing or within Fair Use allowance. This is why, I think, websites like openwashington.com would be so useful – OERs are usually in the public domain or CC-licensed, am I right? Another tool I found helpful was Google’s Advanced Search feature. Apparently it allows specification of various usage rights such as “free to use, share or modify,” and I did not know that!
On a related note, I’ve discovered that the library has been purchasing more and more new publications in electronic format only. To check it out, we are granted access for 14 days. But, we cannot download or copy/paste any of the material. I wonder how this would impact classroom use of excerpts from scholarly books. In the past, I would request for sections of the book (with the fair-use allowance) to be uploaded to CourseReserve, so that students can download and print as needed. I guess students can access the ebooks the same way we do, so we can bypass CourseReserve, but I can no longer require them to bring a hardcopy to class (I don’t allow computers in the classroom). Well, maybe that’s not the end of the world.
This week’s readings resulted in a shift of mentality for me and led me to make two major changes to the course/syllabus.
The first is to make it one of the course objectives for students “to exercise and increase autonomy in pursuing self-determined learning in the online environment” (quoted from the revised syllabus). As you have probably heard me saying, I have been struggling with formulating measurable outcomes to include in the syllabus. After reading up on assessment and learning outcomes and watching the JIT video, I do have a better understanding of how to do this – the ABCD method is especially helpful in a concrete way – and can imagine writing a long list of very specific outcomes for each lesson of the course. I have decided, however, not to do that; instead, I will have students reflect on their own learning outcomes throughout the course as a way to cultivate their ability to pursue self-determined learning. More specifically, they will write three reflections, two at the beginning of the course and one anytime before the course ends, to respond to questions that require them to articulate their learning outcomes and examine the effectiveness of their personal learning approach based on their experiences during the previous week. They will post these reflections for their peers to comment on. I will set aside time in the synchronous session to highlight the main themes and discuss them with the students. By doing this, my hope is that students would become more aware of the learning process and will be more willing and able to take charge of pursuing their own learning goals. Do you think this would work, to a certain degree?
A second change I’ve been thinking about as a result of this week’s reading is to make it a “flipped” class. I originally had the idea that synchronous sessions should be devoted mostly to lecturers and organized discussions. Now I wonder – now that students are expected to be more autonomous, if I should enable them to learn on their own before the synchronous sessions via prerecorded VoiceThread lectures, and then when we meet, I will give them questions and tasks to work on. This idea also made me wonder if I should change the format of the course to meeting once a week for 3 hours, so that we would have more time to work together. For this I would need to do more thinking. Maybe this can be addressed as part of the course design assignment.
In any case, I feel that this week’s reading got me to see the challenges posed by the online environment more as an opportunity than a crisis. It was quite inspiring to read about heutagogy, or self-determined learning, and how its approach could be particularly suitable in the e-learning context. The syllabus or course design is still work in progress for me, as I may also adopt assignments that require learner-generated content and learner-defined assessment, but I haven’t quite figured out what to do on those yet.
What motivates me to take on this project is my imagined ability to add more colors, flavors, dimensions… to a course I have been teaching increasingly off of canonical print materials over the years. When I developed the course – Chinese Writing Systems in Asia (Chinese, East Asian Studies, Linguistics 235) – in 2009, I did my homework. By that I mean I did extensive online research to find juicy supplementary materials, and archived them carefully on Blackboard for students to enjoy. They did, as sometimes these extra tidbits became conversation starters in the classroom. The problem was that I got lazy – and lazier – for subsequent iterations of the course, until when that Bb page finally stopped being copied over to the new course sites. I am not sure about the exact reason why that happened. Maybe I needed to do a better job integrating online materials in the class discussion of other readings. Maybe because I kept adding new print materials, which crowded out the online supplements. In any case, here I am, hoping that I would be able to revive the original cyber luster of the course by recreating it online. If I am clever enough, I may even be able to figure out effective and fun ways to engage the students in searching for and sharing materials that are particularly interesting to them. At least I am lucky in one respect – that is, the subject matter of the course lends itself really well to the online format. Much of the information is visual, and there are troves of websites, forums, and videos dedicated to the topic.
The biggest challenge in this endeavor, as I can imagine at this point, will be redesigning student tasks, activities, and assignments without compromising their learning outcomes. The current (traditional) course is already a very intensive one, perhaps having to do with the fact that I have been teaching it as a writing requirement course to its full capacity (19-23 students). For the online version, I would like to be able to maintain its rigor in writing training. Recognizing that the time span will be about 65% shorter than a regular semester, I will have to devise new assignments that students could reasonably complete within two or three days, for example, rather than two or three weeks, but will still enable them to progress and be ready to tackle a major writing project by the time the course ends. I’ve already started on some new ideas when working on a draft of the syllabus. Hopefully more will come and the syllabus will be ripe and ready in a couple of more weeks for my fellow troupers to review and critique. Stay tuned.