All posts by Stephanie Rodgers

W8 – Rodgers – Universal Design and Accessibility

I was first introduced to Universal Design several years ago in ECIT’s Technology, Pedagogy, and Curriculum class (ECIT now being a part of the ECDS, and TPC now including a research component, becoming TPC+R).   I will be candid and say that it took me a while to understand the importance of the concept; while I was thinking of it simply as a way to provide accommodations to a student with a disability, it seemed like a back-up plan, and one that I would implement only in the specific case where a student requested it. When I thought about it more, I realized that Universal Design actually entailed thinking about and accounting for the different ways that people navigate their world (including, but not limited to, their unique learning styles), regardless of ability. Based on whatever combination of factors (demographics, DNA, past experiences) we all perceive, interpret, and learn from our environments differently, so it just makes sense to provide multiple ways to access material, for the good of all of our students and not just those with disabilities.

For me, the three networks were yet another way to think about Universal Design, and one that I had not encountered before (previously, I thought of it more in terms of sensory modalities). One thing I particularly like is that it breaks down the strategies by the motivations of the individual learners and provides suggestions for appealing to each set. I think it would be really interesting if there were a self-test to figure out what sort of learner a person was, because I would definitely make a class of students take the test and (anonymously) report their results back to me. It might allow for more targeted teaching strategies, and I think it might be illuminating and beneficial for the students to learn that sort of thing about themselves.

To increase accessibility in my own classes, I think I should definitely record (and then share) our classroom sessions. Providing access to classes after-the-fact would alleviate the burden on students to write down every important thing they hear during lecture, and free them up to engage in discussion. Also, I need to plan my board work in advance and commit to doing it the entire class session—currently, I tend to write things on the board haphazardly when it occurs to me, and that doesn’t do anyone any favors. In an online or blended classroom, I think I would be forced to do both of the things more thoughtfully, which is probably a really good thing. Finally, I’ve mentioned before on the blog how I’d like to incorporate Voice Thread (using it to lay out difficult concepts in small chunks and allowing students to ask questions about the individual pieces), and that is still something I’d like to do, regardless of classroom setting. One thing the readings made me realize, however, is that I’d need to include closed-captioning for any audio recordings I included.

My questions about this topic derive from my own experiences as a student: how does an instructor assess students who might be reticent to engage across a particular medium but very comfortable using another? Should the instructor require participation across every medium (blog posts, asking questions during synchronous sessions) or kind of grade them as a whole (student is very active in the blog but quiet in synchronous sessions)? I ask because I write pages and pages given the opportunity (as seen here multiple times, sorry y’all!) and develop All of the Opinions, but I actually never speak in traditional classrooms, and the mere thought of it makes me nervous. I’m just a lot more comfortable writing than speaking, because there is more time for reflection, and processing, and editing. (I actually thought I’d be a terrible student in an online classroom, but having blog posts as a main component of this class has actually made me engage with the content a lot more than I might have as a student in face-to-face classes.) And that leads to a follow-up question: to what extent should we, as instructors, push students out of their comfort zone, specifically in terms of their mode of engagement?

Week 7 – Rodgers – OERs

I have heard of specific Open Educational Resources like Project Gutenberg and I know about copyright and public domain (and Creative Commons), but I was not aware of OERs as a category of things, if that makes sense. Mainly, professors in my department have shown us Project Gutenberg as a resource for philosophy texts that are in the public domain (which is a lot of them, as philosophy is pretty old, and they’re still useful, because our discipline is still pretty obsessed with arguing about theories from 2,000 years). However, I also just learned about LibriVox, which is an online collection of free public domain audiobooks read by volunteers. Though I have not used this collection before, it’s wonderful for students who are better audio learners than visual learners (and might be a good way to listen to some classic literature on a road trip). And, I think provided in tandem, Project Gutenberg and LibriVox would make a great resource for online courses beyond philosophy, just in terms of providing multiple modes of access to a text. For my own classes, I might also use TedTalks, particularly in an issue-driven course like Bioethics. I’m sure there are lots of talks on things like abortion, universal healthcare, physician-assisted suicide, organ donation, stem cell research, etc. (a quick search tells me I’m correct), and a video like this might be an easy way to sort of trim the fat from the issue, so to speak. In general, though, I think OERs provide not only more material for classroom use, but also provide it in different sensory modalities, which is helpful for students who have a range of learning styles, and at different depth levels (where some give a very superficial overview and others deeply probe an issue).

As an instructor in a Philosophy department, my feelings about OERs are ambivalent. On the one hand, many works of philosophy are available under public domain, alleviating financial burdens on students and providing them access to many more classroom materials than they might otherwise have. For example, the entire corpus of John Dewey, a very important American philosopher (who happens to feature heavily in my dissertation), is in the public domain and available through Project Gutenberg. However, I am also skeptical because students sometimes fail to critically assess the credibility of the sources they stumble across online, weighting equally the commentary of a foremost scholar of John Dewey and the ramblings of an internet blogger who happens to have read a John Dewey quote online somewhere. I think the solution here is to be very clear with students how they can evaluate the merit of the OERs they find and check their sources before deciding which work merits greater consideration.

Generally, copyright has not been an issue for my classes because my students purchase their textbooks, which are their primary resource for class. (If they choose to get their books another way, I am not aware of it.) However, if I only want to assign a small section of text, I will assign it through Course Reserves, or provide a link if it’s a work within the public domain. We also review proper citation procedure prior to their first paper, and I explain that citation management software like Zotero can really alleviate the burden of having to write your own citations. I also refer them to the Emory Honor Code and provide examples of plagiarism. In terms of delivering content, however, it’s relatively straightforward: I assign the book, they buy the book, I tell them page numbers to read, and sometimes we read aloud from those pages in class. Because I don’t generally use slides or presentations, copyright isn’t much of an issue (though if I were to incorporate something like images, I’d let Creative Commons be my guide).

W4 – Rodgers – Assessments in Philosophy

In my experience, the vast majority of philosophy courses use one, and exactly one, assessment technique: papers (and occasionally a participation grade). At times an instructor will require a summary of the reading (to demonstrate comprehension), and at other times, a critical response (to demonstrate both critical and creative thinking). Though the prompts vary, however, the format remains the same. While I am generally pretty good about having them write drafts and then improve upon those, I still have trouble getting students to craft a sound and reasonable argument. This class is providing me an opportunity to examine the grading rut I have fallen into, but unfortunately I’m having trouble seeing a better way to assess student learning and critical thinking than having them write papers.

My goals for my students, when they complete an assessment, are as follows:
-that they demonstrate that they understand the texts we’ve read,
-that they can think about the text as an argument,
-that they spend time carefully considering the argument as a whole,
-that they think critically about the argument,
-and that they formulate their own thoughtful response to it.


Bloom's Taxonomy
Source: Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching

Essentially, my goal is for them to work their way through Bloom’s taxonomy, and in writing a paper, to show me how they did it and where they ended up. I do sincerely believe that writing a paper is one of the best ways to do that, because it forces them to slow down and think.

However, I can think of two things that might improve their learning outcomes.

  1. Taking them through the stages of Bloom’s taxonomy paper by paper. In other words, require that the first paper be a summary, the second paper be an application, the third paper be analysis, the fourth paper be a critique, and the fifth paper be an original response. In this way, I can lead them through the process step by step, rather than just throwing them in the deep end.
  2. Using Voice Thread to break the argument into pieces for them, presenting them with a one part of it per frame, and then allowing them to respond to individual sections of it (bonus: getting to incorporate images for the visual learners). I think this might prevent them from getting overwhelmed by the task of taking on the argument as a whole, and instead break it into comprehensible, manageable chunks. It would also keep them from misunderstanding the text and then trying to base their whole response on a misunderstanding (which is a particularly frustrating paper to grade).

Both of these hinge upon breaking both the material and the students’ responses to it into smaller pieces. I think it’s a reasonable goal and one that would greatly benefit my students.


W2 – Rodgers – Reflections on Module 1

I have to say, I really loved Voice Thread. I can imagine creating a very concise introduction/explanation of the concepts to be discussed in class, spreading it across several slides, and then having students post their questions on the appropriate slide. Not only would that make our in-class time more targeted at their concerns, but it would also be a useful exercise for them and encourage some reflection (because they would have to spend a little more time formulating the question and figuring out where it fits into the explanation provided).

I also think the response options (text, video, or audio) are great. As someone who expresses herself much more effectively through writing and absorbs information much better visually, I appreciate that discussion participants are able to choose the medium best suited to their communicative and learning styles. I would definitely use Voice Thread even for classes that weren’t online.

W2 – Rodgers

Online teaching has the potential to make education available to those who might otherwise not have access to it, and for this reason, I think it’s important for instructors to understand the best practices for teaching their discipline online. The liberal arts, in particular, are losing funding in favor of the STEM fields, and diversifying the ways that we can offer classes might help offset this trend. I’d like to feel comfortable teaching online, should the need arise.

When it comes to my own teaching, one thing working in my favor is my desire to be prepared and organized. By keeping the course organized and presenting the material in a transparent fashion, I think I am able to communicate expectations and overall course direction clearly, thereby minimizing student stress. This seems especially important in an online course that has fewer synchronous meetings than a traditional face-to-face course.

But I suppose I should be perfectly honest: the idea of teaching a philosophy course online is very intimidating. The texts we read can be very difficult, and a large portion of face-to-face class time is spent ensuring that students adequately comprehend the material they’ve read. Sometimes, comprehension requires a brief history lesson (to explain to them why that thinker is concerned with that particular issue) or connecting the text to the students’ own lives (perhaps by showing them how they have encountered the text’s central questions before). The remainder of the time is generally spent engaging with the text critically and learning how to appropriately analyze and critique it. As a result, philosophy courses tend to be heavily discussion-based, and it’s not always clear at the start of class time what issues students will need addressed.

For this reason, it would be very important in an online philosophy course to make sure that there’s opportunity for dialogue in between meetings, so that I would know how best to spend our time as a group. Discussion forums would be essential and might allow them to resolve some of their problems among themselves.  Or, maybe students could complete a poll before the beginning of the synchronous class time to give a sense of where they’re struggling.  I might also provide explanatory materials or other resources in advance. But I do worry that the wide variety of problems that can arise will mean that I’d have to reinvent the wheel with every single course, possibly completely on the fly.