All posts by Daniel Dever

Dever -Module 8: UDL Yes and No

Part of me thinks that there is definitely something valuable to UDL and part of me says that UDL is a superlative that is impractical in the real world.

UDL, of course.

Yes, I think that it is important to provide learning opportunities for everyone.  In addition, it is important to attempt to design/originate and incorporate new and/or different methods of information transfer in order to allow the largest audience to become active learners and to benefit from learners’ contributions in return. Yes, I do think that incremental changes, design improvements, and varied stimuli can mean huge improvements for both individuals and learning communities as a whole.

How to overcome barriers to learning should be considered prior to the design of any class or instruction.  These barriers should be considered based on any potential learners who will be in the class and, if possible, considering any potential learners who will view public online or “legacy” material from the class: this is difficult and maybe come only in incremental steps.

Even incremental improvements are important because they can lead to a larger improvement when repeated or built on in subsequent modules of a class or subsequent classes. In addition, it is no secret even to those limited to simple observation that people are stimulated to learn, observe and understand in varied ways.  It is equally no secret that, in both social and education situations, even simple observation shows that people express their understanding of things in different ways and through different outlets – and at different levels depending on what outlet is available to them.  Therefore, the three “networks” of UDL can actually assist in course design as opposed to making course design more burdensome.  Meaning, when an instructor is considering designing a course, they can utilize the three networks to engineer which technologies to use for presentation of particular material, organize different methods to assess/allow evidence from the learner as to understanding/appreciation of the material, and communicate the actual value of the material (i.e. who, what, why).

An example of this is evidenced by the amount of participation on various assignments in this class. The material in the modules was presented in different ways and using different technologies.  The assignments and types of stimuli brought about varied amounts of participation and quantity and quality of responses (true, life situations also influenced this). Questions, responses to peers, video replies, etc, gave a brief glimmer of insight as to which stimuli worked with this target audience.  In addition, several of my fellow learners through both group activities and individual responses mentioned their preference and general level of stimulation from different sources.

UDL Really?

No, I don’t think that principles that apply in one industry can be directly applied to another in every case, or even in most cases. The idea set forth by CAST and in our readings that a universal design for learning will eventually be devised to stimulate all learners is a lofty goal at best and a practical impossibility at least.  The example given in several places including the CAST website video is to state that a building designed for those who have the most difficulty obtaining access and getting around is in the end the best design – because it allows access and functionality to the largest number of people. I realize that this is an example or metaphor for how a principle that may work in architectural design can relate to a principle that may work in education design. However, this principle in architecture is actually only applicable to some extent even in public buildings under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or to those designers with the best intentions: meaning, a universal design that will be the best breakdown barriers for all and to be able time wise and practically address every physical and mental limitation is not realistic.  Am I saying that improvements should not be made or that we shouldn’t try to overcome as many barriers as possible because we cannot obtain perfection? No. But what I am saying is that the danger in completely adopting UDL, or at least thinking that it is necessary to come to a Universal Design to the diminishment of alternative/specialty classes or not meeting the learning potential of a number of individuals, is that we may make things so time laborious and frustrating that learning that could be accomplished is so severely diminished that UDL is impractical. In addition, though it may seem politically incorrect or not progressive or the “separate but equal” trap, but there are practical and compelling reasons for specialty classes or courses and not universally inclusive instruction – and they are not prejudicial reasons.  Rather, many times classes set up to address specific learning disabilities or physical limitations can be extremely beneficial to specific learners when compared  to “accommodations” made to “mainstream” classes because of extra attention and/or specialized instructional methodology.  For example, when I have taught sight-impaired learners, the assessment/feedback I received was that familiarity and instruction specifically targeted to the sight-impaired allowed a “deeper learning experience” than a mainstream class that accommodated the sight impaired.  My comment: the amount of design and actual instruction that I was allowed to provide for the “specialty” sight-impaired class would have diminished the learning experience for “normal sighted” learners because it was so heavily geared toward the sight-impaired learner. Further, specialty technology such as high level screens and visual imagination actualization that have grown out of specialty learner needs might either arrive much slower or not at all if we are strident about UDL (and therefore greater mainstreaming).

So where does this leave me with UDL?

I do think that learning and instruction should be available and be a rich experience for as many potential learners as possible.  Instructors should design and attempt to provide multiple stimuli through as many different technologies as practical to enhance their online learning experience. It is also my contention that classes should utilize the principles of universal design only to a practical level and should be based on an appreciation of the target market for the class – and used in combination to get the same level of learning and rich experience when augmented with “specialty” classes.

Dever_ Week 7: OERs and My Online Instruction and Learning

OERs are an exciting tool for instructors to use when teaching and learning in an online setting.  I was somewhat (a little) familiar with OERs prior to the readings and research for this class, but had no idea of the depth and extent available – nor the limits and leeway afforded by different licenses.

My familiarity prior to the class was through use and participation in the Kahn Academy.  Kahn offers a toolbox of videos and interactive material that can be utilized not only to augment the main portion of my teaching current and future entrepreneurs/managers about analyzing their organization and using that analysis to plan, detail and implement positive change, but also in refreshing/establishing the basic math and financial skills that are the foundation for complex decision-making. The videos and interactive teaching tools afforded can not only instruct through information, but also the interactive “games” and scenario analysis (math, specifically calculus and algebra) can give repetition and practice for both those familiar with math and those who need clarity and/or a refresher.

In addition to providing an augment to the math and financial basis (and exercises and repetition for the learner to self-assess and be comfortable with their individual basis), a second augment that can be provided by OERs to my teaching is that there are video interviews where top managers and entrepreneurs muse in depth their stories, decision methodology and what are their basic organization parameters.  I find that interspersing these types of videos with research and readings can not only greatly augment the learning experience through instruction, but also assist the learning experience by providing comfort and confidence to the learner in that they see how a successful entrepreneur/manager has the same trepidations and some of the same thought processes that they do: also, it gives practical ideas as to the process one can use to think through important decisions that change organizations. Khan actually offers a section under economics/finance specifically relating to this, including a video series of visits with major entrepreneurs.

I have not had any difficulty (yet) with copywrites or licenses.  Partially I would attribute this to my absolute maniacal focus on attribution and credit not only on direct quotes or ideas, but also on concepts or general  parameters which (even) may have some relation to others’ work I have previously encountered or been exposed to.  In fact, recently I was asked to work with a nursing student/senior at Trinity Washington who was brought before the Trinity Honor Board for plagiarism regarding concepts/ideas from online sources.  In preparing her “defense” or explanation that it was not plagiarism, I had to conduct interviews with lawyers and academic professionals and research the stipulations of licenses and material usage.  This included Creative Commons license types. My main takeaway was that I am far from an expert and that I need to have a healthy respect for what my sources are, proper use and license of that resource, and what are the benefits of that resource.

Dever – Week 4 (Prompt 1) Assessment is My Friend and My Enemy

This course has exposed me to several new ideas and techniques of assessment for online teaching. Importantly, these techniques are not only for overall course assessment, but also periodic, in course assessment.

Since most of my instruction is to mature learners, the incorporation of heutagogical learning and assessment is both a refining of and a confirmation of what I need to pursue. However, for my thought process and what I have experienced the development of my assessment parameters and my process will have to be a hybrid of heutagogical learning and “traditional” learning. This is because the idea of “instantaneous” feedback is essential (since my learners are from several very different professions), yet I also have to provide base knowledge as, though business concepts are applicable in some form across industries, the concepts I teach have a singular basis. That is, the different industry and experience dictate heutagogical learning for interpretative exercises and instruction, but the base concepts do not lend themselves to heutagogical learning as they are both rote and the learner may not appreciate the technique or nuances they must learn to make the interpretative aspects of the course/learning possible.

I would consider my strengths in assessment the ability to see the course I teach as a dimensional entity. Meaning, I feel that the course is both a tool provider and an application. I try to ensure that the learners appreciate from the beginning of the course that there are short-term and long-term goals and celebrations – and that as a result it makes sense to the learners that the assessment and feedback amounts, types and techniques be unique to that section of the course. I try to explain and obtain understanding/appreciation of this from the learners by incorporating this idea explicitly in the course orientation and syllabus.

Hence, my assessment design for the first part of the course (base) will consist chiefly of quizzes, Qualtrics, and some Adobe Connect. For the more interpretive part of the course, assessment and therefore adjustment will be through Adobe Connect, minute papers, mind mapping, some polling, and VoiceThread demos and feedback.

Dever – Week 4 If I Knew Anything I’d Be Dangerous (Prompt 2)

After reading the provided resources and examining the supporting research on heutagogical learning (HL), my thoughts are mixed as to its use in educational environments, including online educational environments. Meaning, the use of HL for mature learners is probably more prevalent with mature learners than people appreciate, though in my experience and research it is almost exclusively used in an adaptive manner rather than in the “pure” or stand-alone form described by its formal definition.

Again, based on my experience, research, and review of “supportive or evidentiary” research shown for HL, it seems evident that three major ideas standout when considering HL. One, HL is extraordinarily useful and can enrich the learning experience for both the instructor and the mature learner because assessment of learning and how to best provide a learning platform is an ongoing process. Two, the idea that the learner can shape her own learning experience or “what is important to learn” is a troubling concept for several reasons, most importantly the concept that if the learner knew completely what was important to learn, then they may not have to even seek a course or instructor. Three, the plethora of misinformation and “incorrect facts” that seem to be the bane of research and “Internet-based” or distance learning can be a real danger.

HL can be a useful learning tool because, as was pointed out in the articles provided and discovered through research, the idea of the degree of an increased or heightened applicability of the materials and information being taught to the field (real world) can be invaluable to the instructor and to the learner. Feedback from the learners seems to be richer (greater in amount and detail) than in other models. This enhanced feedback can allow the instructor to augment the course content and approach (both for the current course and future iterations of the course) to more closely address the needs of the learner within the course and to stimulate the continued thinking process and desire to learn of both the instructor and the learner. One basis for the idea that HL may stimulate the continued thinking process and desire to learn of both the instructor and the learner is that based on richer and faster feedback (i.e. compared with other learning models) the stimulus of “if this is true, maybe there is more or a better way out there to be discovered”, is moved to the front of the mind.

At this point in lauding HL as a learning tool where the idea of the degree of an increased or heightened applicability of the materials and information being taught to the field (real world) can be invaluable to the instructor and to the learner, it is important to point out that HL has been in use far longer and with more frequency than many article narratives would lead one to believe. In several fields HL methodology is the prominent learning tool because of any number of factors including geography, differences based on individual physiology, cultural context, fiscal parameters, and religious and/or social morays. HL can assist in the fact that learning does not take place, realistically, in a vacuum for mature learners.  As pointed out in our assigned readings, nursing and engineering are two fields where HL is used extensively and has been since the late 1970s – perhaps it was just not formally named in that particular vernacular. It should be noted that HL is also used extensively, and since at least the 1980s, in (perhaps) unexpected fields such as banking/financial services: for a banking example, one can look to instruction across an institution-wide educational need such as procedures of money laundering that need “local learner” feedback over online systems to tailor the education to the different laws, business procedures, fiscal parameters, etc. of the country or locality.

After lauding the positive aspects of HL as touched on above, it is important to consider the idea that the learner can shape her own learning experience or “what is important to learn” can be a troubling concept for several reasons, most importantly the concept that if the learner knew completely what was important to learn, then they may not have to even seek a course or instructor.  My major idea here is that using a pure HL model, even with a mature learner, promotes the idea that the learner knows what there is to learn – though they are seeking instruction. This is illogical in its pure form. Meaning, conceding that a mature learner brings life and field experience and an expansive thought process to the course and thereby can assist in judging the import of course direction and materials, a major portion of her rationale in taking the course is because she needs some guidance and mentoring in what is important to learn and, importantly, she is seeking to be informed of something she does not know by an “expert” in that particular field (aka the course instructor). Succinctly, you do not always know what you do not know – and you may never know something valuable if you influence your instructor to go in a direction that impedes or prevents you from learning a new technique or method or seeing the value in a method you had dismissed because of circumstance or how it came to you to learn. This can stunt your learning and thinking process. Of note, an additional danger in this is that a concession to a particular direction that has been augmented through HL feedback or process is that it could stunt your fellow learners’ learning and thinking processes.

A third major idea when considering HL, is that the ideas, concepts, plethora of misinformation and “incorrect facts” that seem to be the bane of research and “Internet-based” or distance learning can be a real danger. As pointed out by Allyson and others in this class during Module 1, the real world has a direct effect on any learning environment.  This direct is exacerbated, I would contend, with the mature learner because they have a larger amount of real world experience and have been exposed to a greater range of influences through either more education, more job  experience or more life experience. This is both good and bad. It is good because the experience can focus material and help judge the import of material. It is bad (or dangerous) because it can prejudice against an approach or limit material scope based on prior “bad” experience (based on factors other than the actual approach) or steer toward unreliable information sources.  Two examples of my point are: (1) many people through their business or education or social mentors were indoctrinated consciously or subconsciously in a certain, particular approach to education, execution and viewpoint. This thought process of “how it should be done” clouds the idea of alternative learning and methodologies that maybe important or even more relevant/correct. The danger is a particular learner in an HL environment may steer away from a valuable learning experience if not guided to learn the new way. , and (2) as  evidenced by the debunked “science” currently swirling around the idea of pediatric vaccines, the internet and research, while usually valuable tools, can cloud a learning experience in an HL environment. Meaning, in an HL environment learners who are given freedom to augment their learning experience, focus and breath may inadvertently move toward a less rich and accurate experience and thought process due to lack of exposure to information of which they are unaware or initially dismiss (i.e. without strong instructor guidance).

While recognizing the dangers or difficulties/limitations with HL, I do believe it is a valuable tool to add to my online teaching toolbox. It is definitely something to incorporate because of the assessment of content and direction that it affords toward practical application.  To me information for information sake has a place in everyone’s life to improve mental acuity. However, information for practical application for recreation or career or business or health or other purpose should be the dominant learning environment.  In my opinion, HL helps an instructor help learners (and themselves) get there.

Daniel Dever-Week 2 Improving Your Online Personality and Improving the World

The reason that I am interested in online teaching and conveyance of information is the potential to reach and interact with a vast audience. When I say interact I do not mean just presenting accumulated and my knowledge on a specific subject for consumption, but also to learn from and gain unique perspective from an expanded universe.

An example of how online teaching has both transmitted information and also led to improvement in many lives can be found in the field of pediatric cancer treatment.  Doctors in university or research centers who treated or researched pediatric cancers were members of one of two distinct groups, namely the Children’s Cancer Group (CCG) and the Pediatric Oncology Group (POG). Membership in one of the two groups was mutually exclusive as the two groups were rivals for patients and research money. In addition, which of the two groups the doctors belonged to was determined by the institution they worked for, not by the doctor’s choice. Since there was little or no collaboration between CCG and POG until research was published (i.e. many months or actually years after studies on drugs or treatments were published in peer reviewed medical journals), research and treatment doctors were unable to accelerate research and/or treatment thinking and methodologies of fellow researchers in a “competitive” group. Further, it is easy to conceive that many collaborative discoveries were not begun or consummated because of the man-made division between the groups.

With the advent of online courses and teaching, both CCG and POG set up virtual classrooms and courses to teach both in medical schools and to practitioners at treatment centers “new” (or augmented) treatment methods, research protocols, and drug combinations and results.  Almost by default, knowledge was spread much faster than in the past as individual members of each group could be “in class” and thereby learn from the “competitor” group.  Online learning also promoted collaborative effort (and therefore results) as CCG and POG researchers and practitioners who were working on the same pediatric cancer could collaborate and accelerate the learning curve in the fight versus that particular pediatric cancer.  In fact, this sharing of information led in some degree to the eventual combination of the two groups into one – and increased the usage of online teaching and learning by the new consolidated group both within the group and in a university setting.

Easing the suffering of children and changing medical treatment are lofty goals that I do not know that I can claim for my reason to entertain online teaching. However, the principles of combining the conveyance of information with increased learning and idea collaboration toward a type of result for both learners I am teaching and for me, like the principles in the CCG/POG example, is my driver.  In my chosen field of organization change and corporate governance, I can use my education, experience and updates on accepted practices to teach, learn and collaborate through online education: the result of which could be increased or extended employment, augment to the health of organizations, and improvement to what we receive from organizations.

A major challenge to achieving my goals of combining the conveyance of information with increased learning and idea collaboration toward a type of result for both learners I am teaching and for me in online teaching will be overcoming the preconceived idea that business and finance are dry and/or boring.  This perception is somewhat more difficult to overcome in online teaching as one has to stretch, make the content relevant, and inject some “personality” into one’s online persona. The personality or personal presence factor is one of my major strengths in a traditional or face-to-face classroom, institutional or individual setting.  Achieving the same level of personal interaction or personality (hence keeping up a level of interest) may be difficult to achieve in online teaching. In my pursuit of improving my “personality” in online teaching I came across an article which I hope I can assimilate into my practice when teaching online. I include an excerpt of it below because maybe it can be a boon to my fellow learners and instructors.

Specifically, in an article published in October, 2010 in Online Education, Errol Craig Sull not only states that injecting personality is possible in online teaching, but is actually essential. (Sull has been teaching online courses for 17+ years and has a national reputation in the subject, writing and conducting workshops on distance learning.) In his writing Sull states that, “Online instructors are hired because they are judged as having the right combination of education, teaching experience, content expertise, and professional accomplishments. But once an instructor is in the classroom, these abilities and achievements can go only so far. There also must be a constant injection of personality.” Sull offers practical suggestions “for conveying a positive, supportive, and enthusiastic personality. Establish a friendly and inviting personality on day one of class . . . your personality on day one can be examined, experienced, and revisited throughout the course. Thus, any postings on day one that speak of you must convey that you care about the class, the students, and the subject, and that you are looking forward to the course and are eager to help your students. Never confuse personality with teaching strategy. One can have the right—the best—teaching strategies ever created, yet a bland or dull online personality can make those teaching strategies nothing more than two-dimensional. Once those strategies are sprinkled with heavy doses of an upbeat and just downright nice personality, they truly come alive—and the students will react in a more engaged manner. “

Sull’s suggestions are:

  • Sometimes you may need be an actor who wears the right personality. Your everyday, “Hey, this is me” personality might not be the one that is right for online teaching, and that’s fine…as long as you can play the role of an online instructor with a great, enthusiastic personality for your students (as well as your online supervisors, support team, and colleagues).
  • Students take their lead from you—the way you come across to them will determine just how engaged and motivated they remain throughout the course.
  • Use your interest in the subject to help build your online teaching personality. You were selected to teach your subject partially because of your academic and/or professional expertise and interest in the subject, so share it with your students. Beyond what has been prestocked in your course, you can add articles, pictures, essays, cartoons, interviews, YouTube (and the like) snippets, and factoids that add richness and depth to your subject. The students will immediately know you really are “into” the subject, and your excitement and enthusiasm for the subject will spill over to your students.
  • Control knee-jerk reactions. Students can write or do things that get us upset. And we can make egregious errors in our hasty reactions to these student mistakes and oversights that may not only cost us our students’ respect and rapport, but possibly our jobs as well. So hold back—take some time before you respond, and if you don’t have the time—such as in a live chat, a phone call, or a video conference—always remember that your actions and reactions are not merely yours but also the school’s, and because you are the instructor you are always held to a higher standard than your students are.
  • Be careful of your vocabulary choice. Each of us has words we use on a regular basis; they are part of who and what we are, and they often simply pour out. But our online courses demand that we pay special attention to the words we write, the context of those words, and the perception of the message we are trying to get across. Once posted, our words will live on throughout the course, and thus we must focus on the vocabulary we choose.
  • Help your personality come alive with audio and/or audiovisual. Today’s technology allows us to get closer to our students—and lets our personalities really shine through. Skype, MP3, Twitter, Facebook, Jing, Adobe Connect, Prezi, Wimba, and other tools can take us to our students in an audio and/or visual way and thus allows students to see and hear an instructor who is excited, enthusiastic, caring, and dedicated to his or her students, the subject, and the course. “

(Sull’s suggestions are excerpted from Teaching Online with Errol: Personality DOES Matter in Teaching Online! Online Classroom (Oct. 2010): 6,7.)