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.
My interpretation of accessibility, in my own humble words, is not complicated, if reaching that as a sound pedagogical stage is not in today’s ever-changing university climate. I consider accessibility the state, stage, or platform, the surface that allows for everyone involved in teaching-learning spaces, to be in the same page. When talking about OERs and copyright last week, Yu Li and Marshall touched upon all students and instructors being there, in the same page, and how the negotiation of rights and responsibilities of and for all could become a hindrance, an obstacle, and not a possibility.
Accessibility is the stage when, if hindrances and obstacles happen because of differences in learning time, physical, mental, or emotional disabilities, because of materials not being readily available to students who cannot see or hear, or a professor who cannot understand why students do not understand, those hindrances and obstacles can fade because someone, something, is available, or is made available.
Come to think about it, the more the university’s goals are moved closer and closer to corporate ideals, to sheer pragmatism over imagination, to producing without necessarily thinking, I wonder how can that page ever be the same for all? Is a better university (whatever that means today) a hindrance to learning? That is one monumental question which keeps looming larger and larger in my pedagogical unfolding.
Alas, the best thing about being human is that there is always another day. A new thing can always be learned. I quote from a website by IMS Global Learning Consortium. They give me some visual and verbal food for thought: once upon a time, the sequence of accessibility (which IMSGLC organize as a merging of “language,” “preference,” “eligibility,” and “disability” in the “old scheme of things”) consider the latter area, “disability,” an exception, for it would represent an extra-ordinary set of tools, arrangements, and accommodations. At Emory, the artist once known as Office of Disability is now the Office of Equity and Inclusion. This is a big step, one we all as faculty can and should factor in our teaching, be it face to face, online, or blended. It seems that we’re actually moving along the lines proposed by IMSGLC, that is to say, removing the “disability” from being an obstacle and thinking about giving “access to all.”
Big question is, if everyone is pulling towards their own little corner of earth, if education is becoming the process, or worst case scenario, a mere excuse to reach a strictly pragmatic or vocational plateau (as my nephew keeps telling me, “to just obtain that little piece of paper” to get his parents off his back, so he can be the best airplane mechanic), then how can I make materials, questions, and possible answers about legal history, architecture, mysticism, drama, theater, film, and performance art, about the Hispanic world (whatever that is today) accessible to all? At Emory I have some truly outstanding resources, such as the ECDS, JSTOR, the Emory Libraries, the ECFDE, the ECLC, and all the other marvelous deposits, offices and centers at our disposal.
For as long as I breathe and stay in my position as Professor of Comparative Literature and Spanish, I will keep living accessibility, which as I recently learned from a wise dictionary, is “the quality of being available when needed.” Not a coincidence that in my evaluations of over three decades in four different centers of higher education of the highest caliber, all my students have coincided in one same page: to agree that I am readily available to communicate and explain things to whomever asks and wants to know. Stay tuned, it’s a mad, mad world, and we’re coming!
The issue of copyright is a big one for film and media studies instructors because the primary objects that we deal with are copyright protected. This makes simple tasks like putting your lectures online challenging. A couple of semesters ago, I decided that I would compile my lecture clips for my Introduction to Film class so that my students could refresh their memories when preparing for the midterm and final exams. I figured that Emory must have a way for me to do this easily…well, it’s not so easy because the files are huge and because they have to be behind a password-protected “wall” so that they remain accessible only to my students (similar to Course Reserves). Eventually, I was introduced to Echo360, which is a software system designed to capture live lectures or Skype calls and not intended for this purpose at all. Thankfully, it works, and I am lucky to to be able to stream my clips through Blackboard every semester. While compiling them is a lot of work (I tend to change my choice of films from semester to semester because I am a masochist), I prefer to do it this way instead of having my students find clips on YouTube for two reasons. First, because I have control over the timing of the clip, i.e. when it ends and begins and its quality, and most importantly for the purposes of this discussion, it falls under fair use whereas clips on YouTube are in violation of copyright law. This is so important that our academic organization, the Society for Cinema and Media Studies has a fair use statement on its website to clarify that The Library of Congress “created an exemption allowing film and media studies professors to create digital clips from legally-obtained DVDs housed in college and university libraries.”
I learned a number of new things from the Assessment readings for our M4. Firstly, I thought about self- assessment, an idea I have worked into some of my courses in an attempt to foster student agency in the learning process. For instance, when I was phasing out the weekly papers as the enrollment numbers swelled in my classes, I tried having them write the paper for the last day of class every week; we then rotated each paper, so every one of them read everyone else’s, added comments, and assigned a mark of check, check minus, or check plus. Including their own. That way they were able to assign themselves a ‘grade’ without contemplating the “what if the professor does not agree with my self-assigned grade?” Students benefitted from this exercise, but I deleted it when I dropped the WR tag from my courses and I got more and more students. I am considering that perhaps a version of this with the VT contributions may be a possibility.
Although I am not completely in the heutagogical realm (as a lifelong learner of foreign languages, including English, I give every new word a kind of moratorium until I feel comfortable using it), I appreciated tremendously both the concept of learning-centered assessment and the life-long learning. I have always set a very high standard for my courses by desiring that students enrolling in them do NOT learn for a test, or for a pretty conversation in a board room (where they prove they can say gazpacho and mean it, too), but by aiming for a long shot grasp of every concept they entertain. I seek for students to know the difference between mise en scene and mise en abyme, between something “absurd” and the Theater of the Absurd, between dress and costume, or between traveling and zoom, not merely to prove to me in a test that they know, and immediately proceed to forget it and about it, to toss it as soon as they delete that seminar file in their computers and throw away their papers. I want them to know, deep down, that their lives have many a mise en scene moment (when they gesticulate and raise a voice to make a point, for instance) as well as mise en abyme moments (when they don’t know what to do with themselves after a depression bout, or the death of a loved one); that they engage dress every morning, but turn to costume for a party or an interview; that they don’t get the lack of logic of their mothers telling them to clean their rooms when they go back home for the holidays, but that they’ll never forget Artaud and La orgástula. And that if their own optical and mental cameras can travel, zoom, and establish great raccord in the movies they are developing in their lives, perhaps there’s hope for a richer poorer world.
Now, how to have this all work in a learning-centered assessment world? First of all, I no longer give tests, and if I do, they focus on their own articulation of an interpretation, not on multiple choice. Even when they are asked by me to show they are familiarizing themselves with facts in their daily discussion, reviews, reaction papers/chats/videos and the final performance project (using elements of vocabulary, grammar, audiovisual elements, languages, and performative expression learned through the semester), I take into account, and I tell them this beforehand, their voice, their take on things, their individual reading of performative pieces. Some students agonize over this, because they are still not ready to let go of their high school models, when they were told what to do; to those, I underscore that I do not accept them to come to my office asking “what do you want me to do/say/write/think?” They are to come to my office to ask questions, to test theories, to engage discussion about these facts they are learning, and then go home and read and write more on them. Not the easiest pedagogy, especially when standardization and inside-the-box-thinking are so overrated, but in the end, at least for some students, it works really well. I’ll keep searching for more sources about this.
You know those commercials with the attractive executive sitting on a beach somewhere with her smart phone and a big umbrella-drink, taking business calls while pretending to be at the office? I think somewhere in the back of my mind that is how I expected this summer’s online learning to proceed.
I mean, I am always interested in improving my pedagogy, but an eight week course? Over the summer? I could be writing another article or learning Arabic or just spending time with my family. Yet, here I am in a minivan packed to the gills with four young kids on a three day road trip trying to focus on responding to scholar blogs while someone is throwing popcorn all over the place, someone else is yelling about getting hit in the head with popcorn, and the effort of reading while my wife drives is making me carsick anyway.
But enough about me. I think my point is that aside from whatever pedagogical goals we may have, I would guess that I am not entirely alone is thinking that a primary motivation is the need to supplement my relatively meager salary and participate in the illusion of freedom that always seems to accompany new technologies before we realize how much our lives need to change in order to accommodate and maintain them.
Freedom is the real promise of online learning, for both students and instructors, and I would rather not hide that behind some grandiose vision of how much better our learning outcomes will be. Maybe they will, but at the end of the day, some student who needs to hold down a job over the summer will be able to take this course in a way that wouldn’t be as feasible if they had to spend the day going back and forth to Emory campus; just as I may be able to go away with my family or get some research done off campus while still hopefully making ends meet. I would be interested to know how online learning is being used in more lucrative academic professions like law or medicine where the impulse to find ways to double task is not so pressing.
For me, at any rate, this initial introduction has shown me that in order to do this well I won’t be sitting on a beach someplace because this kind of teaching takes real work and focus–maybe more than traditional teaching, or maybe that will diminish as my learning curve hits plateau.
Ideally, I would like my online teaching to enhance students’ sense of themselves as participants in the educational process and not just consumers–people who can be involved in the production of knowledge themselves. But I’ll settle for a little additional freedom, if I can master the technology, because that’s really the truth of why I am here.
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.
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!
I will be attempting to transform a standard course in abnormal psychology into an online course. Having taught abnormal psychology in the “normal” manner for more than 25 years, teaching it online will be quite “abnormal!” It’s my sense thus far, however, that this might be a fine thing to do for the following reasons:
- Teaching abnormal psychology requires lots of case examples, photos, videos, audio recordings, charts and graphs. All of these should translate well into an online format.
- Students find abnormal psychology inherently interesting so they will be motivated to overcome some of the frustrations and challenges that starting out online seems to present (at least that’s how I feel about our experience this far).
- The study of abnormal behavior affords many opportunities for the use of interdisciplinary resources and materials. Among these are artworks, music, film, dance and other media through which the stresses of life have been depicted. Again, online presentation seems a natural!
I have loved learning abut Voice Thread and can see how it could be adapted to my style of lecture and discussion in face to face classes. I really like interacting with students and VT allows that to happen with surprising ease. Also, Scholarblogs (SB) seems very accessible and it is something that most students are used to. This means that I won’t need to be seen as, nor be, a high tech advisor. Students will likely know more than I will about the platforms we will be using.
I also like diigo because it allows me to read and comment critically on research articles and websites. Psychology has been under fire recently for some methodological sloppiness (well-deserved, I might add) and I think that, for students, having a professor comment on readings in a personal way will be very enlightening and engaging. diigo felt oddly comfortable and casual–conversational–and I think that it will help me to establish the kind of relationships with students that I feel are critical to teaching. These relationships are the things that I feared most losing in transition to online teaching. I am intrigued by diigo’s potential for providing a channel for interspersonal connection.
While I am still a bit overwhelmed by all of the different types of technology we are using in this class, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to use VoiceThread (once I got it working on my computer, that is). One of the aspects of online education that has always turned me off is that you aren’t in the physical presence of your classmates and can’t build a chemistry as a group. VoiceThread and Adobe Connect don’t solve the problem entirely but I like how both programs allow for you to see the faces and hear the voices of those in your group. It helps build that sense of community and trust that is so essential for a productive classroom experience. I think that I would use both in my class. VoiceThread would be particularly useful for having students watch and respond to film clips.