May I have your attention please?

As instructors, we face challenges just as our students do.  And one of those challenges is successfully addressing the question:   What are some of the considerations we should keep in mind for persons with disabilities using these different technologies for delivering content?

According to a study reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education in November 2010, many universities may be susceptible to complaints about accessibility issues in online courses because they often do not have formal policies to ensure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). (1) In fact, only 16 percent of 183 colleges and universities responding to a survey reported that a centralized system is in place to review every course for compliance. (1)

Multimedia content can enhance classes by allowing students to experience certain content in a way that text only simply cannot do. Additionally, multimedia content can serve as a springboard to discussions, group projects, and other creative activities. And, multimedia can be viewed before, during, or after a class. (2) Multimedia content, however, should be accessible to students with disabilities. North Carolina State University suggests guidelines to make audio and video content available, including, but not limited to:

  • providing a text transcript or description for audio content;
  • providing an audio or written summary for video content; and
  • providing closed captioning for audio or video content. (3)

Effectively adapting multimedia content to meet the needs of students with disabilities requires a broader understanding of the challenges faced by students and their instructors.  Challenges faced by students and instructors in online courses include:

  • visual impairments,
  • specific learning disabilities,
  • mobility disabilities,
  • hearing impairments, and
  • speech impairments. (4)

According to Sheryl Burgstahler of the University of Washington,

“Designing course strategies and materials from the start with accessibility in mind will enhance the learning experience of all students, not just students with disabilities.” And, “[w]hen universal design principles are applied, products meet the needs of potential users with a wide variety of characteristics.(4) Universal design principles are based on making tools usable to the greatest extent possible by all people without the need for adaptation. (4)

The University of California has an extremely strong commitment to making instructional materials accessible consistent with the requirements for equal access found in the Americans with Disabilities Act. (5) Recommendations to ensure student access to instructional materials include captioning all video used for instruction and providing transcripts for audio-only presentations and materials (5).

Another recommendation is to “communicate with students about their learning styles and using multiple instructional methods to address their needs.” (5). And, if in fact, individual professors who teach online often are responsible for complying with the ADA” (1), then communication about accommodation is critical to ensuring that multimedia resources are used effectively in distance education courses.

Sources:

(1) http://bit.ly/b26JTS

(2) http://bit.ly/g0PPH

(3) http://bit.ly/gWiE0o

(4) http://bit.ly/dWgWZR

(5) http://bit.ly/fvfMtA

You say synchronous, I say . . .

I recently attended a TCC (Technology, Colleges and Community) Conference session, Open Content for Online Faculty Development, which provided attendees an overview of professional development courses offered by Colorado Community Colleges Online. 

Upon reviewing my notes, I realized the presenter managed to do more than walk us through links on the CCCO’s wiki, which, for some reason is what I seem to remember the most. In fact, the Q&A part of the session yielded a fair amount of information. I was impressed enough to visit the wiki and feel certain that I will use it for my own development.

Elluminate was an excellent choice for the presentation. Downloading it was easy and quick, with only one minor Windows-related issue that was very easy to resolve. Elluminate is intuitive and easy to use. The interactive features – chat box, raising hands, and smiley face, for example, proved to be an asset, not a distraction. And, I like the fact that presentations can be recorded.

I think Elluminate holds possibilities for working with tech savvy students to create and present content for a mini-conference of their own. With steady training throughout a course, students could be prepared to present papers or group projects. What a great opportunity for upper-level undergraduates or grad students. Of course, free access to attend a conference would be a great benefit, too. I suppose the most practical, by which I mean free or inexpensive use, however, is for officer hours. 

I would like to have attended another session, but, it was a long week and just didn’t happen.  I plan to access the recorded sessions as time permits.

Give us the tools, and we’ll finish the job!

As a librarian, I have attended several webinars that used WebEx as the collaboration tool, including a series of three workshops I attended last fall. The workshops were led by an outstanding presenter who provided clear instruction with great accompanying visuals. Interestingly enough, there were technical problems with two of the sessions, but the problems did not diminish the value of the series.

For example, with WebEx, audio can be heard through either a speaker phone or computer headset. The telephone requires a mute button or the ability to enter a code that allows the phone to be muted. The phone a colleague and I used did not have a button, so several attempts were needed before we could successfully mute the phone.

Additionally, we found that our need for IT support to provide access to WebEx varied. We successfully participated in the first session without the need for IT assistance to prepare the computer.

Unfortunately, we were able to participate in the first 30 minutes of the second session via audio only while we awaited the arrive of IT to provide access to WebEx. We had not anticipated a problem, so we did not have a back-up plan. Also, during one of the sessions, several attendees lost audio. At other points, several lost visuals. The problems could not be resolved during a brief break, so part of the session was rescheduled.

During each of the sessions, the presenter acknowledged each person as s/he logged in. He responded to questions clearly. Generally, if I recall correctly, the questions were posed via chat, although voice communication was used when attempting to resolve technical difficulties.

Nonetheless, I found WebEx to be a very easy to use tool. The strength of the presenter and the content made the technical problems – both on his end and ours – seem insignificant.  WebEx is a great tool for education, and education is a tool for success.

A poll on both your houses

I first should say that I look at polls with some skepticism – I want to know the methodology before I respond.  And, I definitely do not respond to polls that require testing.  I don’t text. I do not have a text plan nor do I plan to get one in the near future.  This is my technology line in the sand.

I responded  via my computer to a poll about using a cell phone in teaching.  The poll was created with Poll Everywhere, a text messaging voting application, and respond I did – that I was not likely at all to use a cell phone in teaching.

Then I thought, I don’t text, but how many of my geography students do?  In fact, many of them view their cell phones as an appendage of sorts.   So what did I do after taking the poll?  I signed up for a free account and created a poll for students in both of my classes.

Several students took the poll prior to class, but the majority of students did so at the beginning of class.  In each class, of the students who completed the poll, approximately 1/3 of the students either had no text plan or text plans that blocked their ability to participate in the poll.

Students seemed to enjoy taking the poll, which was used as a lead-in to small group work.  In fact, several students thought it would be great to create their own polls.

So, am I converted?  Will I cross my own line and text?  No.  Will I reply to the text messages I receive?  No.  Will I use polling in class again?  I believe I will.  Will I explore other uses of cell phones in class?  I believe I will.  In fact, I am very likely to use a cell phone in teaching.

Now, I’m off to read The Complete Educator’s Guide to Using Skype effectively in the classroom.  Bookmarked?  Yes.  Re-tweeted?  Yes.


The blog feedreader that time forgot . . .

Or, more accurately, that I forgot.  Once upon a time, I used Bloglines.  I honestly cannot recall the last time I logged in.  I recently popped over to the site only to find that the Bloglines I knew is no more.  I completely missed the news about its sale to MerchantCircle and, from what I gather, the transition has been less than successful.

I will rely on my memory to share some blogs that may be of interest to students and instructors .  . . however reliable my memory may be!

One of my favorite blogs is Mashable, founded in 2005 and now considered a top, if not the top, source for technology news.  Mashable, which is updated frequently, is a great resource for teachers and students alike no matter the discipline.  Posts are organized by categories that can accessed easily via the horizontal menu.

Additionally, for students interested in animal rights issues, the Farm Sanctuary’s blog, Sanctuary Tails, includes images and videos in addition to text, a manageable list of categories, and an extensive blog roll.

Google Lat Long Blog by the Google Earth and Maps team may be of interest to geography students and teachers.  The blog has solid information with great links, but the ads can be a bit distracting.

Google . . . I just remembered . . . I have a Google Reader account.  I wonder what shape it is in.  I suppose I should check it out.  Another day perhaps.

Book ’em, Danno

Flinch and you’ll be chasing your head down Fifth Street! Joe Friday.  He had a way with words.  Not that Bill Gannon didn’t.  He just seemed to have sandwiches on his mind a lot of the time.  Back to Joe.  Suppose I need to quote Joe in a pinch?  And, really, who doesn’t need to rely on Joe every now and then to make a point or two?  How can I keep track of all those great Websites devoted to Joe or to quotations?  Book ’em, Danno. Or, in the words of a tech savvy, Steve McGarrett, Social bookmark ’em.

Social bookmarking lets you save, organize, and share bookmarks of Web resources.  I have used Delicious for a few years now, but I have upgraded to Diigo.  And, I do believe it is an upgrade.  With Diigo, you can bookmark, highlight text, mark items to read later, and add sticky notes.  And, importing Delicious bookmarks is a snap.  Additionally, the Diigo Educator account allows you to create accounts for the students in your class and automatically sets your class up as a group.

How do I feel about social bookmarking.  Oh, yeah, I dig, Mister. Just like Bill and his garlic-nut-butter sandwich.

I’m all atwitter!

I’m all atwitter.  No.  I’m all aglitter.  That’s not it either.  Perhaps I’m a fence-sitter.  That’s more like it.  I am a lapsed tweeter, although, to be lapsed might suggest that I tweeted on a regular basis.  In truth, I have been a sporadic user of Twitter.  I just forget I have it.  My grand tweeting plan so long ago was to tweet:

  • reference resources,
  • information about organizations for which I volunteer, and
  • updates about my professional activities.

It seemed like  good plan, but I think I’ll add a new spin to it – to encourage students, when appropriate, to keep updated about current events by following reliable resources.

To tweet or not to tweet?  I think I’ll give it a try.  Maybe once a week.  Or once a month.  If I remember.  You can find me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/robinkdillow.   If you remember.