Sharing Best Practices in Accessible and Inclusive Learning

I recently returned from a 2-week visit to the University of Edinburgh, thanks to a grant from the UMD Global Partnerships program for my proposal “Sharing Best Practices in Accessible and Inclusive Learning Between the University of Maryland Learning Technology Design and the University of Edinburgh Institute for Academic Development.” I’ll be presenting about my experience at the ITL Conference in May, but I’ve also been keeping a blog during the trip.  Although I’ve been back for about a week, I continue to process what I learned and how I can use this experience to inform my work in accessibility, and in instructional design in general. So although the trip is over, I plan to keep writing at the blog as I continue to process everything I have experienced. My latest post is an attempt to sort through some of this, so I hope you enjoy:

Lessons Learned (Part 1)

If you are interested in learning more about the Global Partnerships grant program, I’d be happy to answer any questions about my experience. It is truly a wonderful opportunity provided by the University.

Conference Presentation and/or Participation Opportunity

The 3rd annual Mid-Atlantic Group Instructing with Canvas (MAGIC) conference will be held on Friday, April 7 at Howard County Community College (Columbia, Maryland).   Conference coordinators are looking for proposals to present on topics related to

  • innovative pedagogical strategies
  • agile LMS administration
  • assessment and learning metrics
  • faculty development and implementation
  • other ideas you might want to contribute

Deadline for submitting a proposal to present is March 8.  Submit at:   (Presenters receive free conference registration.)

Conference registration is also now open at a fee of $27.49.

TOEP – Tools of Engagement Project

Recently, I attended a webinar about the Tools of Engagement Project (TOEP) developed by The State University of New York  (  The instructional design model for this project is built on discovery learning.  Instead of cataloging tools and how to use them in the classroom, the TOEP project flips this model and lists types of assignments used in a classroom. The user can then search on the assignment type and the tools that support it.  For instance, “presentations” offers suggestions for implementing this type of assignment, numerous tools to use in a presentation assignment (MSPowerpoint, Prezi, Google Presentations,Haiku Deck, and more), and presentation assignments developed by peers in other colleges and universities.  I really like this resource because it is comprehensive, innovative and constantly being updated by peer educators and instructional designers.  This project  goes into depth with resources,  research and exercises for each type of assignment. Badges can be earned as well.  Instructors are encouraged to add to the data base for fresh ideas.  This is a valuable resource for all instructional designers to add breadth and depth to their repertoire of pedagogical solutions.  Below is a screen shot of one of the Presentations pages.

TOEP page for Presentations

Educause Learning Initiative Focus Session Announced

ELI will conduct an online focus session on “New Directions in Instructional Design:  Keeping Pace in a Time of Rapid Change” on April 19 and 20 from noon-3:30 p.m. each day.  ELI will confer a digital badge to those who are actively engaged during the sessions as a recognition of their professional development accomplishment.   See ELI Online Focus Session for more details and to register.

Considering Twitter for “Essay” Writing

In her contribution to the Digital Pedagogy Lab, “Twessays and Composition in the Digital Age,” Donna M. Alexander, American Studies lecturer at University College Cork, makes a case for integrating Twitter into the college essay writing process. She likens Twitter and essay-writing to haiku and poetry. Twitter and haiku both rely upon the writer to be focused and adept at conceptual imagery in a succinct presentation format. Alexander and researchers she cites, believe Twitter can “contribute to student learning in terms of critical thinking and engagement”. She provides interesting examples of assignments in which her students were asked to provide a 140 character response to a writing prompt; even her assignment description was provided as a Tweet.

I must confess that I had to re-read Alexander’s article a few times and then spend some time reviewing the examples of students’ responses before I actually “got it”. I put this struggle directly on my own aging shoulders. I have not grown up with social media, nor have I tweeted much of anything in any seriousness. To start to consider the potential of a writing “tool” with which many students are not only comfortable, but fluent, took a bit of suspension of my own disbelief and a bit more critical thinking. But I now have a glimmer of an idea of how I might try to integrate a “tweessay” into my own course, in a meaningful way. Currently I require several one minute papers on course content or readings, for which the student response is provided in a Canvas survey posting. Students are asked to identify a “muddiest point” and a “salient takeaway” related to the content. I am envisioning replacing one of these surveys with a Tweet in which students provide feedback in 140 characters, visible to and shareable by all. It will then be interesting to get their feedback on their perceptions on the effectiveness of these formats for providing me with their feedback.

Old dog, new trick. Yes, I think I can be taught…even though it is nearly impossible for me to communicate in 140 characters or less!

Closed captions, transcripts aid learning for almost all students

New research from Oregon State University highlights the importance of providing captions to videos for the benefit of all users. As described in the article Closed captions, transcripts aid learning for almost all students, the researchers found that “98.6 percent of students say captions are helpful, with 75 percent of them noting that they use captions as a learning aid in face-to-face and online classrooms.”

So while we now that we must provide captions for students with documented disabilities, the reality is that almost 99% of all students can benefit from them.  By including captioning in the planning of any video component in your course you can be confident that you are creating content that will impactful for the vast majority of all students who view it.

As we continue to work to find an affordable way to provide captioning services on campus beyond those captions required by law, which are coordinated by the UMD Disability Support Services, there are free options for creating captions using Camtasia, YouTube, or Vimeo. It’s important to remember that many qualified students at the higher education level choose not to identify as someone with a disability, or do not have the documentation necessary to receive accommodations for their disability.  Add to this the number of students who are not native English speakers, and you have a roster full of students who would utilize captions to further their learning — if captions were available:

For video transcripts, students referenced the tool as a learning aid 85 percent of the time …. More than half of students surveyed said captions help by improving comprehension. The most common reasons students use captions are to help them focus, retain information and overcome poor audio quality of the videos, while transcripts are often used as study guides and to find and retain information.

I encourage you to read the full Study from Oregon State and 3Play Media, and then begin thinking about how we can increase the use of captions to help our students have a more meaningful learning experience in our online spaces. What do you think?

My Favoriate Blog Sites on E-Learning Instructional Design

As an instructional designer, we use our craft resolving unique and challenging problems via the design and delivery of instructional materials.  During the process, we hone job skills daily via all sorts of venues: practices and practices, challenge and challenges, and one of those venues as being learning from our co-workers and from the eLearing gurus in the field. During the past few years, I have benefited immensely by reading and following the blogs published by ID experts in the field.  The following are my favorite sites:

1. Cathy-Moore

Cathy-Moore is an internationally recognized instructional designer.  Her blog offers great design ideas, practical examples and templates to help instructional designers in any level to develop interactive learning materials.

Her Training Designer’s  Guide and Action Mapping concept are great resources for all instructional designers.

2. eLearning Industry

eLearning Industry has one of the the best eLearning instructional design blogs, the largest online community of ID professionals.

3. Rapid eLearning Blog

Many of us are familiar with the famous Articulate Rapid eLearning Blog by the eLearning pro, Tom Kuhlman. He offers tons of expert advice, design best practices and examples.

4. eLearning Brother
Check out their Instructional Design Best Practices site:

5. eLearning Guild
The basic eLearning guild membership is free. Many professionals  think the  eLearning Guild is  eLearning professionals’ most trusted source for trends, news, and updates.

The 12 Apps of Christmas

Here’s something a little different.  For the past couple of years, I have enjoyed participating in this project, run by folks at the Dublin Institute of Technology, known as “The 12 Apps of Christmas.” The idea is to learn about new apps being used in education to engage and motivate learners.  Starting December 1, a new web page becomes available to anyone who has registered at the site (you will be given a password when you register.) The new page will describe an app and where to access it, an example of how it is used, and a task for you to perform and share with others who are following the project.

This year, each app will also include a case study written by an educator who has used it in their instruction.  You just might see someone you know from UMD (no, not me!)  After the 12 Days are over, the site will be opened to the public, and you can share the information with your colleagues.

To register and to learn more about the project, visit the 12 Apps Of Christmas website.  To see last year’s project, visit the 2015 12 Apps of Christmas website.

This is a really interesting way to the creative and innovative ways that instructors are using these apps, even if they are apps you are already familiar with.  It’s also a great way to expand your network to educators around the world.  It’s low stress, in that if you have time to do the project the day it opens, great!  If you don’t have time that day — that’s okay too!  The deadlines are soft, and the commitment is minimal. It’s really about learning and sharing.

Reclaiming Conversation in the Digital Age

As an employee of the Division of Information Technology, it feels a little disloyal to say it, but I often wonder if our emphasis on online instruction might result in a degradation in students’ ability to have in-person, meaningful conversations.  At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I encourage you to read Sherry Turkle Says There’s a Wrong Way to Flip a Classroom

My students don’t want to come to office hours anymore. They would prefer to send me an email and have me send them an email back because they have a fantasy that they can send me a perfect email. They can present themselves as perfect and ask me their exact question, and that I will send them their exact perfect answer back. This does a few things. I think it reveals the way in which we try to turn conversations into transactions in digital culture — which is one of the larger themes of my work in “Reclaiming Conversation.” Whether it’s in education or in business or in love, we’re too often trying to turn conversations into connections or into transactions.

I’m probably showing my age now, but I have very fond memories of talking to my professors during Office Hours when I was an undergraduate.  Admittedly, I went to a small liberal arts college, but I distinctly remember having to discuss my proposed term paper topics, for example.  And in the proposing, my professor would ask questions, which would turn into a discussion.  It was immediate feedback on my understanding, and helped me develop my communication skills to talk about complex issues confidently.

In the perfectly flipped classroom, I would have done my online activities prior to meeting with my professor or coming to class  (in my day, of course, those “online activities” consisted of completing the assigned readings!) What we often see happening today, however, is that students do the online activities, and then come to a classroom where the online information is repeated, or reenforced, often in lecture or review format. What is missing is the interaction — the conversation.

In Turkle’s words:

In the ideal [situation], the flipped classroom brings conversation into the classroom because the students are learning. In a flipped classroom the idea is the students are learning the technical material at home and then the classroom time is designed to be about discussion of the material and questions about the material. But you have to be very careful because in so many of the flipped classrooms that I visited, when the presentation of the material is something that’s taken place at home, teachers sometimes use the in-class time almost as a sort of homework, recitation session and it becomes very dead. It becomes a kind of time to go over the facts and make sure everybody’s done the homework.

So instead, the perfect flipped class brings together the very best of both worlds: students engaged in online learning outside of the classroom, and then experiencing the conversation and interaction of the in-person classroom that will help them not only to learn the content, but also develop the communication skills they will need in life. But is that what’s going on on our campus? I’ve sat in on a number of classes where students do lots of online activities, and then come to the classroom to sit for 55 minutes and listen to a lecture — with maybe a clicker question or two thrown in for “engagement.”  My question: with whom exactly is the student “engaging”? I’ve suggested dozens of times that instructors have students talk to a neighbor about those clicker questions — have a conversation — as a way to make this a more meaningful activity. This is generally met with “I don’t have the time for that.”

Let’s encourage faculty to make time for conversation in this digital age.  It’s the missing link of the flipped classroom.

Where learning and technology meet

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