With so many digital tools available for teachers and students to use and based on the ISTE Standard 3 for coaches, I wanted to know how coaches can evaluate, select, and manage these digital tools for teachers. To answer this question I first took a look at what my own district does to help make this process smooth for all staff members.
One Districts Technology Integration System
There are many different ways for districts to select and manage different digital tools for all staff members. My own district has a good system in place to make technology integration seem smooth and simple (in my opinion). To help manage all of the digital tools available for staff the district uses a platform called Powerschool. On this platform the district provides access to materials such as Online Curriculum, Mobile Teaching, Technology Training and Integration, as well as, digital tools.
Evaluating and Selecting Digital Tools
Not all digital tools are created equally and therefore they need to be evaluated before staff and students can access them. My district has four things they look at when evaluating a digital tool and a simple flow chart to see if the tool meets the district standards.
The district job in evaluating digital tools allows for them to make sure they meet the requires for student privacy and safety, to make sure it aligns with current district curriculum, any potential cost, and any issues with district wide technology/Security. If a digital tools meets all of these requirements then that digital tool is uploaded on to the platform for all staff members to access. A great thing about this process is that any staff member can submit a digital tool for approval. This allows for teachers to have a voice in the digital tools they think would be a good fit for their teaching and their students learning.
Technology changes by the minute, and as educators we need to keep up with the times in order to best prepare our students for this ever-changing world that we live in. With a system in place to evaluate, select, and manage digital tools districts can keep up with the demand and provide its staff and students with safe, effective digital tools in the classroom. Coaches can take the model above to help teachers select what is best for their students learning, while making sure the technology fulfills laws around safety.
What is Dyslexia?
Dyslexia is the most common learning disability, affecting 10-20% of children and adults. Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that causes difficulty with language skills, specifically reading (IDA website). It is a disability that affects an individual throughout their life, although with interventions and supports people with dyslexia can become highly successful (Redford, 2014). The following paragraph comes from the Yale Institute for Dyslexia and Creativity, which borrows their definition from the book Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz.
Dyslexic children and adults struggle to read fluently, spell words correctly and learn a second language, among other challenges. But these difficulties have no connection to their overall intelligence. In fact, dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty in reading in an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader. While people with dyslexia are slow readers, they often, paradoxically, are very fast and creative thinkers with strong reasoning abilities.
Source: IDA website- https://dyslexiaida.org/infographics/
The Impact of Technology
Advances in (and increased access to) technology have had a significant and positive impact for students with dyslexia. Technology has the ability to provide students with supports such as more time, the ability to use assistive technology to read and write, and ways to provide interventions without drawing attention to the disability. Many of the digital resources that have and will continue to provide support to students with language-based learning disabilities are free. Technology also allows increased access to information about dyslexia and the ability to connect online with others who share a common interest, such as dyslexia.
Through my research and my experience working with dyslexic students, I have come up with some recommendations as listed below. I have grouped these recommendations into three categories: reading and learning, note-taking, and writing. These are the three areas of school where students with dyslexia typically experience the most difficulty and where technology supports and resources can be very valuable and dramatically transform the learning environment and opportunities for success for students with dyslexia.
Reading and Learning
- Provide shorter and less dense reading assignments, but still at same reading and information level
- Allow students to listen to audio books (either human read or computer-generated)
- Assign graphic novels for reading (Redford, 2014)
- Make sure to increase font size and use font that is simple
- Provide students with text to speech technologies
An example of using Assistive Technology (browsealoud) to read a website.
Source: IDA website- https://dyslexiaida.org/frequently-asked-questions-2/
- Provide typed notes when appropriate
- Allow students to record lectures/instruction/ assignment directions
- Allow students to take pictures of the board or any other visuals in the classroom
Spelling and Writing
- Allow student to type their writing whenever possible and ensure they have instruction in efficient keyboard practices (Redford, 2014)
- When students are generating ideas or mapping out their writing, allow them to dictate their thinking so that their ideas are able to be captured as their thoughts and creativity flow (Redford, 2014)
- Provide access to programs that can translate speech to text
- Encourage use of spell-check, spelling predictors, and grammar programs
- Allow extra time for students with language-based learning disabilities for reading, writing, test-taking, etc.
- When appropriate provide the whole class with the accommodations options listed above for two reasons. 1) Accommodations for students with a learning disability are often beneficial to all students and 2) It allows the student(s) with dyslexia to access these supports without drawing attention to their disability
Chernek, V (2015). “Will Accessible Books Improve Reading for Students with Dyslexia?” EdSurge. (Retrieved on 2018, August 5) from:
Common Sense Media for Educators website. “Best Assistive Technology for Reading in the Classroom”. (Retrieved on 2018, August 3) from: https://www.commonsense.org/education/top-picks/best-assistive-technology-for-reading-in-the-classroom
Eide, F (2015) “3 Technology Must-Dos for Dyslexia at School” Dyslexic Advantage (Retrieved on 2018, August 5) from: https://www.dyslexicadvantage.org/3-technology-must-dos-for-dyslexia-at-school/
International Dyslexia Association website: https://dyslexiaida.org/
ISTE.org. (2017) ISTE Standards for Coaches. (Retrieved on 2018, June 21) from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
Hamman, J (2018). “Accommodating Students with Dyslexia”. Edutopia.org Website (Retrieved on 2018, August 1) from: https://www.edutopia.org/article/accommodating-students-dyslexia?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI4a3F16zA3AIVRIF-Ch0cMwcmEAAYAyAAEgLFVvD_BwE
Redford, K (2014). “Kids Can’t Wait: Strategies to Help Struggling Readers” Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity (Retrieved on 2018, August 5) from: http://dyslexia.yale.edu/resources/educators/instruction/kids-cant-wait-strategies-to-support-struggling-readers/
Shapiro, L (2018). “How Technology Helped me Cheat Dyslexia” (Retrieved on 2018, August 5) from: https://www.wired.com/story/end-of-dyslexia/
Meeting the needs of all learners in our classrooms can be a challenge. Students bring a wide variety of needs from learning disabilities, physical impairments, to attention issues. Fortunately, there are many assistive technology options available that can help teachers to meet these needs.
For this week’s post, I want to focus on ISTE Coaching Standard 3 which emphasizes creating digital learning environments that support the needs of all learners. Specifically, I consider substandard C: “Select, evaluate, and facilitate the use of adaptive and assistive technologies to support student learning” (Iste.org, 2017). My mission was to find and test out assistive technology tools available online to support students in reading and writing.
Assistive Technology, as defined by the 2004 IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act) is as follows: “Any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities.” When considering the use of the word ‘device’ in the definition, “…it is important to recognize that assistive technology devices required by students with disabilities include hardware and software as well as stand-alone devices” (“Definition of Assistive Technology”, 2014). All of the software I tested for this post is available online and all but one tool are completely free.
The reason I chose to focus on software is that it is an adaptation that can be made with relatively little cost and time investment. I wanted to explore options that teachers could implement on their own. Many teachers incorrectly view assistive technology as “an isolated, specialized factor understood and implemented by only a few specifically trained individuals” (Clifford & Reed, as cited in Connor & Beard, 2015). In other words, ‘not my problem.’ However, I hope to show that there are tools that are easy to use and that can benefit all students, not just those with barriers to learning.
Assistance with Reading
- For: Students with reading difficulties
- What: Rewordify has two important features. The first is that students or teachers can paste in text and have the software simplify the wording. The second feature is that many popular pieces of classic literature are already in the system. Students can access these translated versions for free. In both uses of the system, the replaced words are shown in yellow so that students can examine the original word and grow their vocabulary. While the simplifications aren’t always flawless, it’s a great starting point for students who aren’t reading at grade level.
- Read&Write Chrome Extension
- For: Students with visual impairments, students learning English
- What: This extension has many features. In addition to reading either an entire webpage or just selected text, you can access both traditional and visual dictionaries and translations, making this an ideal tool for struggling readers or readers new to the English language. Another feature is the ability to simplify a webpage to remove ads and sidebars as well as change the contrast colors. Students can also use the masking feature to gray out all of the webpage except for a thin bar. The extension also allows readers to highlight any portion of the article and then generate a Google Doc with those highlighted notes. Unfortunately, all but the most basic reader features are only available at the premium level once the free trial ends. The cost for a single annual license is $145, so this may not be a great option unless you have special funds or a parent who is in a position to purchase this resource.
- Read Aloud, A Text to Speech Voice Reader Chrome Extension
- For: Students with visual impairments, students with hearing impairments
- What: Of all the screen readers I tested, Read Aloud stood apart. This screen reader allows you to choose from multiple voices. The volume, pitch, and speed can also be manipulated as needed. You can choose to have the text highlighted as it is read. What set this extension apart from the others was its ability to read Google Doc files and PDFs (after uploading your file). The one downside is that it will read the captions of advertisements.
- Google Translate
- For: Students learning English
- What: Anyone can use www.translate.google.com to convert text between any two languages. Students can copy and paste text into the translation box. However, an easier way to accommodate students who are new to English is by adding the Chrome Extension. This will allow students to translate an entire webpage into their primary language. The extension will also enable students to highlight any text, right click, select translate, and see a translation in any language they choose.
- Mercury Reader Chrome Extension
- For: Students with visual impairments; students who have trouble focusing
- What: Mercury Reader removes all clutter from a webpage when you select the extension. This includes sidebar content, advertisements, comments, and more. Essentially you will have a clean article with only the images posted in the article and links shared within the article. Students have the option to change the contrast in case it is easier for them to read light text on a dark background. Students can also choose between a Serif and Non-Serif font and enlarge the text as needed.
Assistance with Writing
- Speech to Text with Google or Voice In Chrome Extension
- For: Students who struggle with fine motor skills, students with attention disorders
- What: Within a Google Doc, there is a built-in function to convert speech to text. You can access this function under the Tools menu or by using the shortcut, Ctl+Shift+S. Students simply speak into their device’s built-in microphone and their words appear on the screen. In addition to students who have trouble typing due to motor skill problems, I have had success when allowing students with ADHD to complete work in this manner. They seem better able to focus on speaking than on typing. Just like when using the speech to text feature on a phone, editing for grammar and the occasional mistaken words is necessary.
- What: Voice In is a Chrome Extension that will allow for dictation on any typable area of the web. This includes search boxes and forms. Anywhere you can type, you can right-click and select the option to Start Recording.
- For: Students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia and dysgraphia
- What: Grammarly is a Chrome Extension that can also be downloaded to a PC and used with Microsoft Office. Grammarly is a grammar and spell-checker that not only points out the mistake but explains why their suggestion is correct. Because of this, it is a more effective tool than a traditional spell-checker which simply makes the correction for you. This is a great tool for all students–not just those with learning disabilities!
One thing to consider when implementing any form of assistive technology is that the student’s needs should come first, not the device (Connor & Beard, 2015). In other words, consider what elements a student needs to be successful with a given assignment and then find a tool that offers those elements instead of changing the assignment to fit within a particular tool.
Connor, C., & Beard, L. (2015). Increasing Meaningful Assistive Technology Use in the Classrooms. Universal Journal Of Educational Research, 3(9), 640-642. doi: 10.13189/ujer.2015.030908
Definition of Assistive Technology. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.gpat.org/georgia-project-for-assistive-technology/pages/assistive-technology-definition.aspx
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 (2004)
Iste.org. (2017). ISTE Standards For Coaches. [online] Available at: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches [Accessed 19 Jul. 2018].
Digital tools in the classroom is an asset to learning. According to the U.S. Department of Education, technology in the classroom ushers in a new wave of teaching and learning that can enhance productivity, accelerate learning, increase student engagement and motivation, as well as, build 21st century skills, (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.). The offerings of technology tools for the classroom are plentiful as priorities shift to support a more integrated education. Educators now have several options for cultivating digital tools to better engage students, promote active learning, and personalize instruction. But choosing the right tools can be challenging especially considering that educators face a seemingly overwhelming array of options. How would can educators filter through all of the options to select the best tool(s) for their classroom?
Enlisting the help of a technology coach who can systematically break down the selection process to ensure that the most appropriate tools are used is part of the solution. In following with best practices, the third ISTE standard for coaching (3b) states that in order for tech coaches to support effective digital learning environments, coaches should manage and maintain a wide array of tools and resources for teachers, (ISTE, 2017). In order to cultivate those resources, coaches themselves need a reliable way to select, evaluate, and curate successful options. Much like an educator may use a rubric or standards to assess an assignment’s quality, coaches can develop specific criteria (even a rubric) to assess quality of technology tools.
Tanner Higgin of Common Sense Education understands the barrage of ed tech tools and the need for reliable tech resources, which is why he published an article describing what makes a good edtech tool great. The article seems to be written more from a developer’s point of view on app “must-haves”, however Higgin also makes reference to a rubric used by Common Sense Education to evaluate education technology. He mentions the fact that very few tech tools reviewed receive a 5 out of 5 rating which makes me assume that Common Sense Education has a rigorous review system in place. I was curious to learn what criteria they use to rate and review each tool and/or so I investigated their rating process. In the about section on their website, Common Sense Education mentions a 15-point rubric which they do not share. They do share, however, the key elements included in their rubric: engagement, pedagogy, and support, (Common Sense Education, n.d.). They also share information about the reviewers and how they decide which tools to review. This information serves as a great jumping off point in developing criteria for selecting, evaluating, and curating digital tools. Understanding the thought process of an organization that dedicates their time and resources for this exact purpose is useful for tech coaches in developing their own criteria.
Continuing the search for technology tool evaluation criteria led me to several education leaders who share their process through various blog posts and articles. Reading through the criteria suggestion, a common theme started to develop. Most of the suggested criteria fit under the umbrella terms defined by Common Sense with a few modifications, which are synthesized in figure 1.1 below.
There is consensus among the educational leaders who placed emphasis on engagement and collaboration features of the tool. Tod Johnston from Clarity Innovations noted that a good tech tool should allow for personalization or differentiation of the learning process that also allowed the instructor to modify the content as needed for each class, (Johnston, 2015). ISTE author, Liz Kolb added to this by stating that tools that allow for scaffolding help to better engage differentiation, (Kolb, 2016). Both Edutopia and ISTE authors agreed that sociability and shareability of the platform was important to engage students in wider audiences, (Hertz, 2010, & Kolb, 2016).
While engagement was a key element of selecting a tech tool for the classroom, even more important was how the tool fared in the realm of pedagogy in that first and foremost the technology needs to play a role in meeting learning goals and objectives, (Hertz, 2010). Secondly, the tool should allow for instructional best practices including appropriate methods for modeling and instruction of the device, and functionality in providing student feedback, (Hertz, 2010 &, Johnston, 2015). Another pedagogical consideration is the ability of the platform to instill higher level thinking rather than “skill and drill” learning, (Kolb, 2016). Specific rubrics on pedagogy such as the SAMR and TRIPLE E framework models has been created and can be used in conjunction with these principles.
Support and usability was among the top safety concerns for evaluating these tools. Cost and the desired features accessed within cost premium was among these concerns particularly when students needed to create an account or needed an email was a concern, (Hertz, 2010). Hertz called this issue free vs. “freemium”, meaning that some apps only allow access to limited functionality of the platform while full functionality could only be accessed through purchase of premium packages. If the platform was free, the presence of ads would need to be accessed, (Hertz, 2010). In terms of usability, coveted features such as easy interface, instructor management of student engagement, and seperate teacher/student account were desirable, (Johnston, 2015). Along with cost and usability, app reliability and compatibility with existing technology was also listed as important features, (Johnston, 2015).
The evaluation process itself varied from curated lists of the top tech tools, criteria suggestions, even completed rubrics. If those don’t quite apply to a specific evaluation process, a unique approach would be to convert the rubric into a schematic like the one shared from Denver Public Schools where each key evaluation element could be presented as a “yes” or “no” question with a “yes, then” or “no, then” response following a clear decisive trajectory for approval or rejection.
What I’ve learned through the exploratory process of developing evaluation criteria for tech tools is that It is not important or necessary that a tool meet every single criteria item. Even the educational and tech experts reviewed in this blog emphasized different things in their criteria. In his blog, Tod Johnston suggests that there is no right or wrong way to evaluate technology tools because this isn’t a cookie cutter process. Just like all teachers have a different style and approach to teaching so would their style and approach to using tech tools. The key to evaluating tools to to find the one that best fits the teacher’s needs, (Johnston, 2015).
Common Sense Education., (n.d.). How we rate and review. Available from: https://www.commonsense.org/education/how-we-rate-and-review
Hertz, M.B., (2010). Which technology tool do I choose? Available from: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/best-tech-tools
ISTE, 2017. ISTE standards for coaches. Available from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches.
Kolb, L., (2016, December 20). 4 tips for choosing the right edtech tools for learning. Available from: https://www.iste.org/explore/articleDetail?articleid=870&category=Toolbox
Johnston, T. (2015). Choosing the right classroom tools. Available from: https://www.clarity-innovations.com/blog/tjohnston/choosing-right-classroom-tools
Vincent, T. (2012). Ways to evaluate educational apps. Available from: https://learninginhand.com/blog/ways-to-evaluate-educational-apps.html
U.S. Department of Education., (n.d.). Use of technology in teaching and learning. Available from: https://www.ed.gov/oii-news/use-technology-teaching-and-learning.
Check out this dyslexic font. I’m not dyslexic, but I love using this font because I do have a bit of hyperopia. Fortunately, thanks to the accessibility features in the course LMS I use, both my dyslexic students and I can opt to have our course information display in this font.
College instructors are often not aware that there are students with disabilities in their classrooms or digital learning spaces. Dyslexia, a range of specific reading disorders and the most prevalent learning disability in the country, affects as much as 20% of the population (Korbey, 2015). Yet like many disabilities, dyslexia is invisible. As a composition instructor, I ask students in my first-semester classes to begin our journey forward into writing by looking backward and authoring a literacy narrative. I have never given this assignment to a class in which at least one student did not use it to reveal and explore their experience with dyslexia. I have found the literacy narrative a powerful genre for initiating a first-semester writing experience that so many students approach with trepidation in such a way that those students find the course to be more inclusive, empowering, and transformative than they had expected as they gain the critical, literacy and writing technology skills they need to be successful in college and career. But that topic is for another post.
My point here is that many disabilities are unseen, and that even educators, who know that every individual has relative strengths and weaknesses when it comes to learning, may not be aware of either the presence of disability among their students or of what barriers exist for those students. The need for faculty to be supported in developing inclusive, accessible learning experiences is amplified with the advent of ubiquitous digital learning tools such as LMS course shells. In fully digital learning environments, it can be harder to get to know students and their needs, and digital content may be inaccessible to students with, for example, visual, hearing, or movement impairments.
Web accessibility, a term sometimes shortened to accessibility, is an aspect of teaching in digital-age environments that “means that websites, tools, and technologies are designed and developed so that people with disabilities can use them” (Introduction, 2018). In an accessible digital learning experience, students can access all content and complete all activities without meeting barriers.
I believe that faculty want all of their students to succeed, but because they often receive limited “training” or simply receive requirements for accessibility compliance, they are not always equipped with the big-picture view of the issues and approaches that make inclusive educational design a joy rather than a burden. As a teacher and leader within the worlds of public higher education and public K-12 education, it is my role not only to know about adaptive and assistive technologies (ISTE Standard for Coaches 3d), and comply with accessibility laws (ISTE Standard for Coaches 5) that govern use of my institution’s existing educational infrastructure (ISTE Standard for Coaches 3f), but to make doing so a matter of mindset (ISTE Standard for Coaches 1) rather than just of compliance. This includes advocating for the time, training, and institutional approaches or processes that are needed for inclusive digital education and it includes creating vision for accessibility measures as tools that belong to the realm of teaching.
This post provides an overview of the laws governing web accessibility, two primary approaches to accessibility within higher education, and the different roles that faculty, staff/departments, and administrators can do to make digital college education accessible.
Higher education has become more inclusive in terms of access over time with the passing of legislation and social movements that have increased college enrollment among veterans, women, minorities, and those who experience disabilities. In the 1960s and 1970s, the U.S. also saw increased access through the development of the community college model, which seeks to bridge around half of today’s American undergraduate students to credentials, careers, and further education (Bailey, Smith Jaggars, & Jenkins, 2015). The work involved in designing educational options and programs that are effective for all types of students has moved more slowly.
Two approaches that are frequently used for re-envisioning education as inclusive of those with disabilities are Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and web accessibility. UDL, which won’t be discussed here but that I’ve blogged about elsewhere, replaces the idea of accommodation and adaptation with the idea of design based on multiple neurological and physical access points, a design intended to make a learning experience universally engaging and effective for all learners. In turn, this principle overlaps with educational approaches such as Guided Pathways and High Impact Practices that seek to provide program completion, deep learning, and equity for socioeconomically and culturally diverse students. I mention this overlap to reinforce the idea of equitable access as a matter of mindset that reflects the way educators today are approaching instructional design in terms of inclusion for deep learning in a 21st century context.
The second approach typically used in addressing issues of equity for students with disabilities is web accessibility.
Accessibility at a glance
There are essentially two realms of accessibility: content accessibility and platform accessibility. Platform accessibility involves addressing problems with accessibility in the code base underlying the LMS system or other software that may prevent the software from integrating with students’ assistive devices. Platform accessibility also addresses the way an LMS system or software device is coded to provide, for example, appropriate color contrast that will allow visually impaired as well as other students to read with relative ease. While faculty usually cannot resolve platform accessibility problems themselves, they can report those problems.
The second area of accessibility, content accessibility involves, barriers for those with disabilities that occur in the materials that faculty produce or use within an LMS. Examples of such barriers could include:
- Uncaptioned videos that cannot be experienced by the hearing impaired
- PDF files that cannot be read by a screen reader for the visually impaired
- Content that is not structured for a screen reader (for example, with content without frequent headings, with repeated blank spaces, or without alternative text for images and headings in tables)
- Inconsistent navigation patterns and naming conventions for files
The challenges for faculty as they seek to provide accessible course content is the sheer number of barriers that can be created in digital learning environments, the average technology user’s (i.e. faculty member’s) lack of specific knowledge of all of the possible barriers, and sometimes a lack of tools, training and time for eliminating barriers. But content accessibility is the realm in which faculty can have agency, for example by using accessibility checklists and protocols as they create courses that are more thoughtfully universal in design. Some resources for these types of checklists are provided at the conclusion of this post.
It is also important to realize that because of the number of possible accessibility errors and the potential of technological tools for glitches, accessibility checking should be approached as an inter-institutional partnership in which different individuals and departments help provide multiple perspectives and means of review. Accessible digital education is a team endeavor.
The legal landscape
In the United States, web accessibility is governed by procurement laws, accessibility laws, and non-discrimination laws that variously govern public, private, and government sectors. The beginning points for developing an institutional policy for accessibility are
- Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended in 1998
- The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended in 2009
- Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as amended in 1990
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Accessibility Initiative provides links to helpful explanations and to the guides and standards that have been developed for each law on its policies page.
W3C has also developed a series of Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) which are the standards or technical guidelines for accessible web content and web coding that many countries, including the U.S. and its higher education institutions, use to comply with their governments’ laws. The WCAG 2.0 standards were published in 2008, and WCAG 2.1 was just published in June 2018.
Many colleges and universities have developed their own shortened checklists for the WCAG standards. Two good places for faculty or departments to get an overview of WCAG 2.0 and 2.1 are
What faculty can do, departments, and institutions can do
Web accessibility requires such a breadth of specialized knowledge of specific disabilities and the available assistive technologies (AT) for them, of coding, and of the issues that may not be revealed through an automated checker, that it truly requires an ongoing collaborative institutional vision. However,
Faculty members can…
- Consider and modify course structures with UDL principles and potential accessibility issues in mind. For example, teach using assistive technologies such as screen readers as a de-stigmatized, useful tool for all students (Seale, Georgeson, Mamas, & Swain, 2015). A screen reader can allow a student to review reading while working out at the gym as well as provide a visually impaired student access to the text.
- Investigate the accessibility of software integrations before adopting them (Hamrick & Grabham, 2018)
- Consider putting content directly into LMS pages rather than as linked files (Hamrick & Grabham, 2018)
- Use accessibility check tools that are built into some content-creation software such as Microsoft’s Office tools and into some LMS systems. Third-party accessibility checkers also exist. LMS systems also have accessibility guidelines and community pages such as Canvas’ Accessibility with Canvas page
- Include on syllabi a list of software integrations that will be used in the course (Hamrick & Grabham, 2018)
- Gather student feedback and bring that information to the attention of the institution (Hamrick & Grabham, 2018)
Departments and instructional technologists can…
- Screen vendor software for accessibility (Hamrick & Grabham, 2018)
- Educate faculty about the basic laws involved
- Educate faculty about the basic principles of Universal Design
- Determine the top few accessibility issues with the institution’s LMS or curricula and support faculty in addressing those issues(Hamrick & Grabham, 2018)
- Develop lists of best practices, and checklists and tools (such as OCR conversion tools and Adobe Acrobat Pro) for faculty to do their own accessibility building and checking
- Provide support such as screening syllabi and course shells, as well as providing consulting and partnership with compliance or educational technology officers
What institutions can do
If goals such as universal accessibility require collaboration across an institution, such collaboration tends to exist only when it is supported by an administration that has a vision for an institutional pathway for achieving such a goal.
Cifuentes, Janney, Guerra, & Weir, (2016) provide a process model that their institution, a state higher education institution with a 6-person Office of Distance Education and Learning Technologies for its 12,000 student, 600 faculty member campus. The model involves three basic stages: it moves from, first, exploring needs, requirements and principles; to second, building infrastructure and related issues such as choosing software and training faculty; to third, evaluation and refinement. I think the visual display of this process is helpful not only for conceptualizing how to approach accessibility (or any other curricular goal) in a holistic way, but also for seeing which personnel might work on which stages of the process and for gaining a sense of the time involved.
A difficulty in developing accessible courses is the time involved, and this visualization helps place some of that time burden on the institutional planning and review processes rather than solely on the faculty or designers who design courses. Therefore, I think this model could be scaled to a smaller college with a smaller staff because it focuses on essential phases and the time, tasks, and types of personnel involved.
Bailey, T.R., Smith Jaggars, S. & Jenkins, D. (2015). Redesigning America’s community colleges: A clearer path to student success. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Cifuentes, L., Janney, A., Guerra, L. & Weir, J. (2016). A working model for complying with accessibility guidelines for online learning. TechTrends, 60(6): 557-564.
Hamrick, L., & Grabham, B. (2018, August). It takes a campus: Creating accessible learning experiences for students in an LMS. Conference session presented at Colorado Learning and Teaching with Technology (COLTT) 2018 Conference, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO.
Introduction to web accessibility. (2018, March 24). Retrieved from World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Access Initiative website: https://www.w3.org/WAI/fundamentals/accessibility-intro/#context
Korbey, H. (2015, October 8). Why recognizing dyslexia in children at school can be difficult. Retrieved from KQED News website: https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/41908/why-recognizing-dyslexia-in-children-at-school-can-be-difficult
Seale, J., Georgeson, J., Mamas, C., & Swain, J. (2015). Not the right kind of ‘digital capital? An examination of the complex relationship between disabled students, their technologies, and higher education institutions. Computers & Education, 82, 118-128. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131514002541?via%3Dihub
With the use of technology on the rise, schools are looking for tech coaches to help teacher integrate technology into their classrooms. After reading ISTE Standard 3c “Coach teachers in and model use of online and blended learning, digital content, and collaborative learning networks to support and extend student learning as well as expand opportunities and choices for online professional development for teachers and administrators” I wanted to know how these coaches could help Kindergarten teachers create technology rich environments for students.
To implement technology successfully, teachers need to understand why technology tools are important to young children, how to use teaching strategies, and apply the tools in the classroom. In my own experience teachers in my district have been given technology tools, but then were left to figure out how to implement it on their own. This tends to leave most teachers frustrated and technology goes unused. If coaches implement more teacher voice into the design of curriculum, I feel that technology rich environments can truly be successful. According to Teacher roles in designing technology-rich learning activities for early literacy by Cviko, Mckenney, and Voogt, “Active involvement in the design of technology integrated activities can help teachers implement them effectively in their classrooms.”
Teacher Involvement in Design
According to Hutinger, Bell, Daytner, and Johanson (2006) teachers need help in developing an understanding of how implementation of technology integration will impact children, and time to make the change. Coaches can help teachers with this implementation by giving teachers more involvement in the technology design. Cviko, Mckenney, and Voogt researched three different levels of teacher roles when designing technology rich learning activities. The three levels of roles were executor, re-designer, and co-designer. As the executor, teachers receive a ready-made curriculum, and can be assumed to have had minimal involvement in the curriculum design. For primary school teachers, executing a new curriculum typically involves anticipating changes/implications for one’s teaching role, and coping with concerns about materials and resources required to support implementation. The next role teachers can take on is the re-designer where teachers actively take part in the development process by contributing to changes not only during use (e.g. reshaping activities), but also in re-designing the actual resources. This is often done together with other teachers. Not only is this a practical process through which teachers fine-tune things for their own purposes, but it can also be beneficial for teachers to engage in analyzing curriculum together with colleagues, e.g. to deepen their own understanding of the subject matter. The final role for teachers is co-designer, which teachers take part in the development process by participating actively in creating new resources, often together with other teachers. Extending existing resources with self-made learning materials can be motivational to teachers and create a sense of co-ownership towards the materials. Co-design stimulates actual use, since teachers engage in developing resources that fit into their classroom contexts.
Why Teacher Involvement is Key
The role of the teacher in a technology-rich learning environment is simply to make the most efficient use of what they have and what is readily available. According to Cviko, Mckenney, and Voogt, “When teachers were initially involved in the co-design and use of technology in the classroom, they reported feeling that technology was at least partly theirs; while by the end, the teachers became strong advocates of technology use.” Everyone would benefit if technology coaches work as a partnership with teachers to help create these technology rich environments.
What Co-Designing Looks Like
When teachers are co-designing technology rich environments there are a couple of key questions they can ask 1. How are the students acting as consumers of content? and 2. How can we empower students as creators of content? With these questions in mind and with the support of a coach, teachers can create successful and diverse learning for their students. Teachers’ sense of ownership towards a new curriculum is suggested to positively influence curriculum implementation. The study also found that primary school teachers’ sense of ownership evolved over the course of a school year. When teachers were initially involved in the co-design and use of technology in the classroom, they reported feeling that technology was at least partly theirs; while by the end, the teachers became strong advocates of technology use. Teacher ownership towards a new curriculum seems to depend on how teachers are involved . To create sustainable technological interventions, teachers require time to develop ownership.
When coaches and teachers work together to create technology rich environments and teachers have more ownership in the process it is more beneficial for all. With co-designing teacher perspectives about technology’s impact on teaching/learning are found to influence technology integration.
Technology in Kindergarten
Kindergarten is a time of tremendous transition and growth. It is many children’s first formal educational experience and the Kindergarten year sets the foundation and tone for a student’s educational experience. Students this age are creative and are striving for independence. The are learning to take initiative and collaborate with their peers both socially and academically. Because we are working to embrace and cultivate creativity and social interactions at this age, it is crucial that we are intentional with our goals for the use of technology is the Kindergarten classroom. When technology is implemented thoughtfully “it is one more outlet for them to display their creativity and learning.” (NAEYC.org, 2012)
A component of many early elementary classrooms is center time. During this portion of the day students rotate through a variety of stations with each station or rotation focused on a different activity. Often during this time, the teacher is pulling small groups of students aside for individualized and focused instruction. There might also be some support staff or parent volunteers in the class working with small groups or assisting with the students working independently at centers.
To be honest, this time in my classrooms has often been a struggle. When it flows well and all students are engaged and independent it is such a magical time in the day. But, more often than not, the students rotating through the centers have issues with engagement or need assistance regardless of how much teaching, modeling, and practice has been done ahead of time. This is where I think technology can be used effectively and with intention in primary classrooms. This is also a time when students can be given choice in their work and activities can be easily differentiated.
Every classroom has learners at different academic levels with varied strengths and challenges, and different previous educational experiences, but in some ways a kindergarten classroom has the greatest learner diversity. All students enter kindergarten with different previous educational experiences and at the kindergarten age (5 and 6) students will different birth dates can be 20% older or younger than their peers, which is a large range developmentally. With all of our classrooms, but especially classrooms with large discrepancy among and between learners, differentiated learning must be part of the curriculum planning. Taking this a step further is involving students in their learning plan, often coined “personalized learning”.
The North America Council for Online Learning published an article in June 2018 titled, “A National Landscape Scan of Personalized Learning in K-12 Education in the United States”. In the introduction, authors Gross, Tuckman, and Patrick define personalized learning as “an approach to a school’s pedagogical strategy for optimizing supports for each student, drawing on research about learning, motivation and engagement. Schools that personalize learning call on students to be active co-constructors, making choices in how they learn, co-creating their learning experiences and pathways through learning, progressing through content as they demonstrate competence, and engaging in their communities outside the school. This stands in contrast to prior expectations that all students should progress along a set curriculum at roughly the same pace, and significantly advances more recent differentiation work by placing student agency at the center of the process (2018).”
Choosing Digital Tools
Because digital apps, websites, and programs are constantly changing and being updated, adults that are selecting digital tools for students must frequently evaluate the programs being used and be on the look at for new or updated tools that might fit with curriculum and goals. One of my favorite places to look for reviews of digital tools is Common Sense Media. There “top picks” lists are reliably packed with great resources and helpful reviews. Check out these “Best Apps” for kids, there seems to be a category for every learner: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/app-lists.
In her article on the Edutopia website, Tara Jeffs (2014) provides this list of key elements for technology use in Kindergarten classrooms:
“Whether you are using apps, computer software or interactive websites, look at the elements of motivation for learning. The following characteristics are crucial for obtaining and sustaining interest and extended play for young children:
- Developmentally appropriate content: not so easy that it is mastered quickly, and not so hard that it becomes frustrating or feels impossible.
- Fresh content: the app updates as the user plays (i.e. is multi-leveled or has stages).
- Wait time: not too long and not too short between levels or games.
- Humorous activities: having fun and laughing are part of the digital experience — the sillier the better for some of our early learners.
- Incentives: provides a reason to play and explore (i.e., stickers, levels or collections).
- Goals: children and parents should agree that there is a reason or goal in mind to motivate further play.
- Socialization: offers parental/adult involvement or playmate opportunities.”
Common Sense Media website. (Retrieved on 2018, July 22) from: https://www.commonsensemedia.org/app-lists
iNACOL. Org website (2018). (Retrieved on 2018, July 22) from: https://www.inacol.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/iNACOL_ANationalLandscapeScanOfPersonalizedLearning.pdf
ISTE.org. (2017) ISTE Standards for Coaches. (Retrieved on 2018, June 21) from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
Jeffs, T (2014). Edutopia.org Website (Retrieved on June 20, 2018) from: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/preschoolers-in-the-digital-sandbox-tara-jeffs
NAEYC.org website (2012). Retrieved on 2018, July 23) from: https://www.naeyc.org/resources/topics/technology-and-media/preschoolers-and-kindergartners
Well-designed digital learning environments combine effective management strategies with collaborative learning processes (ISTE Coaching Standard 3: Digital Learning Environments). Open Educational Resources (OERs) are instructional materials (such as textbooks, multimedia learning tools, and lesson plans) that can be used free of charge by instructors and students to customize, reduce costs, and increase the connectivity (timeliness, authenticity of audience, access to real-world learning communities, etc.) of learning, but that also call for effective instructional use and management.
Hilton (2016) surveyed a number of studies of the impact of OERs on college student learning outcomes, and of student and faculty perceptions of OERs, concluding that OERs provide similar outcomes to textbooks and address the problem of textbook costs, which can deter students from purchasing books. In my own experience I have found that OERs may be a good choice for student learning not only because they make course content more financially accessible but because they can be tailored to student needs, learning styles, and interests with much more flexibility than a textbook.
Choosing to use OERs in course design does involve the instructor and the institution in the responsibility to mitigate some of the potential barriers or difficulties they pose. For example, while OERs can enhance the content of a course, they can play a role in reducing engagement between peers and between students and instructor. For this reason, they may not be ideal for diverse and nontraditional learners who would benefit from more instructional interaction. Similarly, I have consistently heard from my students that while they appreciate the convenience and some of the affordances of digitized text, many students believe that they understand and remember what they read best when they read from a book that they can touch, write on, and experience in three-dimensional space. A third consideration of how OERs may actually compromise learning has to do with access; their use may disenfranchise students who do not have a reliable internet connection or who have limited technology skills or software or hardware.
In addition, three important contextual concerns that should inform instructors’ and designers’ thinking as we implement OERs are quality control, intellectual copyright issues, and sustainability. The open nature of OERs leads to a need for users (whether programs and institutions or individual instructors or designers) to establish and use criteria for evaluating the accuracy and academic credentials of these materials. Allowing individual faculty to use OERs may compromise the consistency across sections that use of a required textbook ensures and that is a goal in standards-based education. Second, though OERs are created in order to be shared, U.S. copyright and “fair use” laws still apply, and OERs need to be “re-mixed” in ways that give attribution to both licensed and public domain sources (Moore, 2017). States such as Oregon have created higher education OER guidelines that address matters of access and quality (Freed, Friedman, Lawlis, & Stapleton, 2018).
A final ethical consideration that is easy to bypass in the rush to create a strategic institutional plan or a new coursepack is that of sustainability. This issue involves considering how our short term choices in instructional modes and materials impact the education in the long term. For example, movement away from the use of textbooks has driven up the cost of textbooks and also encouraged textbook companies to transform themselves into digital content providers. And while the prefabricated digital learning materials now being marketed by what formerly were textbook companies may have many attractive functionalities such as “intelligent” tutoring software, the ease with which these new materials can in turn be adopted by instructors to replace teaching can further distance students from learning as a carefully thought out and human-mediated process.
For these and other reasons, I’ve used OERs sparingly, aiming to make and test one innovation at a time. I began with using OERs from my field, writing instruction, using peer-reviewed resources provided by disciplinary associations and networks such as the WAC Clearinghouse or internationally recognized writing labs such as the Purdue OWL. I also try to find valid and reliable ways to assess and document the impact of my use of digital resources, at minimum by frequently collecting student feedback and giving students opportunity to choose the digital resources that work best for them. In the case of OER textbooks, I first used OERs as supplements or as options, an approach that works best in courses, such as many writing courses, that are not textbook-driven, and that helps me maintain alignment with textbook requirements across sections in my institution while still taking advantage of the way OERs can be tailored to student interests, learning styles, and learning levels.
Instructional Design with OERs
When designing instruction, the basic steps I follow involve:
- Identify the concepts to be learned
- Identify barriers to learning
- Identifying research-tested “best” pedagogical and disciplinary practices to be used
- Decide how the unit fits into the overall scope of the course or create the comprehensive syllabus and structure for the course
- Develop the tools and instruction
Designing an online or a technology-enhanced course involves more consideration, throughout the steps of this process, of factors such as accessibility, universality of design to support various types of learners, considering and supporting digital skill sets, and promoting cognitive, social, and instructor presence (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000).
Lehman and Conceição (2013), in their book-length survey of models of student persistence and presentation of online courses design strategies based on their model for supporting supporting student persistence, also identify a number of institutional and instructional supports and tasks (for example, creating forums for both content-related and non-content-related interactions such as technical support and office hours; providing “Netiquette” guidelines; and considering how to help students prioritize tasks) that instructors like me should consider throughout the design process.
At the community college where I work, I have taught an the first of a three-course humanities sequence several times. This 100 level course provides a transfer credit and is often taken by students with little previous college experience. By requirement, HUM 121 is a textbook-oriented course that involves a survey of worldwide cultures from pre-civilization through the Western medieval era, also packing the disciplinary perspectives of cultural studies, art history, philosophy, and religious studies into a 15-week, 3 credit hour timeframe. Because of these constraints and the needs of my student population, my challenges in teaching this course include getting students interested, motivating them to read the required textbook, motivating them to learn vocabulary and disciplinary content that requires memorization, and supporting them in making the deeper connections that drive exploration, discovery, and authentic, personal learning.
This coming semester, the learning environment my students and I share will have some technological conditions that may act as further constraints or as opportunities. This course will be offered in a hybrid format, such that one of the three weekly contact hours involved in face-to-face instruction will be replaced by equivalent, asynchronous virtual instruction. The section will also be offered in what my institution terms a “global” format, meaning that some students will be present in a classroom for the two hours of weekly contact, while others will join on an individual computer from a remote site, while still others may be dual enrollment students who join as a group through a single computer. While I think that such a diversity of access formats inevitably leads to a privileging of one of the forms of attendance (for instance, on-site students may receive more teacher attention because of their physical proximity, or remote students in group settings may receive more instructor attention because of the problems associated with the relative number of layers of technology between them and the instructor), an equalizing factor is the fact that all students have access to the LMS course shell and associated student accounts (email, any software I embed, etc.), though not all students may have access at home. And while students and I are required to connect with content and one another using one or more other technologies (such as web-conferencing tools and the college website), one of my priorities for course design is to deliver as much content as possible in one place, using the shell as a hub. An opportunity that I have this semester is to use a slightly redesigned version of our LMS system, D2L/Brightspace. All these affordances and constraints make this a perfect time to re-examine the use of OERs to support these specific learning needs.
These, along with the considerations I listed above, mean that the three areas of most important consideration for me in the selection of OERs for this course will be the (1) nature and quality of any open educational materials, (2) copyright and licensing issues, and (3) how the tools and resources are used.
While the instructional and infrastructure challenges discussed above pose possible barriers, what makes designing this course fun is prioritizing the focus on designing effective learning experiences. The other pieces are all means to that end. Through the design process steps sketched above, I’ll be building:
- Learning experiences aligned with institutional curriculum outcomes and/or state guaranteed transfer standards, disciplinary and pedagogical best practices
- Integration of educational technologies
- Student technology training and support
- Learner experiences that according with Universal Design and WCAG accessibility principles
- Connections to means of social and cognitive engagement
- Connections to institutional supports through the learning environment
The shift to a hybrid format has caused me to conceive of the course’s basic unit in terms of a series of one-week learning experiences or modules. While this may not sound like a big change for the organization of a survey course, this shift includes: a sense of how students’ learning process should unfold over a week, how technology will enable me to help students organize their time and learning tasks more effectively, and how the tasks assigned might need to change. The basic learning task sequence for a week will involve the following steps: Read, quiz, vocab, discuss, mini-lecture, connect and create.
Our synchronous class meetings will be on Monday. The week’s learning activities will begin with turning in annotations of readings the evening before class. Rather than requiring students to turn in reading notes or summaries or relying on reading quizzes for accountability, I would like to provide an accountable reading assignment that is also motivating. One way to achieve this is to begin collaborative discussion during the reading process through the use of collaborative annotation tools. This will transform reading from an independent and unsupported task which students often avoid to a collaborative one in which readings can be approached more critically, multiple readings can be documented, students can ask and answer questions and make connections to other texts, reading discussion can begin before class and continue after class, and documented group interaction around readings can be used by small groups to support collaborative research projects.
I’m exploring using Stanford university’s Lacuna software for collaborative annotation or Hypothes.is. Both tools are free but may present barriers in terms of institutional willingness to partner or access to digitized content. In this first iteration of this hybrid format, the institution issued student textbook requisitions in print form prior to assigning the course in a hybrid format, so I’m seeking some retro-fitted funding to possibly create access to a digitized version of the textbook. In the absence of this funding, I can still have students access many of the primary source readings (which because of their antiquity can be located in the public domain) included in the textbook. OER resources for such primary source readings include the public domain primary source collection at Project Gutenberg and primary source archives curated by university humanities and digital humanities departments, such as Fordham University’s Internet Ancient History Sourcebook.
Two important considerations for facilitating collaborative engagement will be 1. making it easy for students to engage with each other and the content; and 2. fostering participation. While I hope that Lacuna can foster the first, with some thought I should be able to use another easy-to-access software format or the “groups” or other features of my LMS shell to help students see and comment on one another’s work. To foster participation, one approach I’d like to try is to provide a work style survey that can help students self-select groups in a judgment-free way based on a knowledge of shared work styles. For instance, they could self-select into groups for those who prefer to plan ahead or who prefer to get work done at the last minute.
The next step in the learning activity chain will involve quizzes. Online quizzes that students take before class can reinforce reading content and help students monitor what they have and have not learned. In the past, I’ve given students unlimited opportunities to take and re-take 10-15 question, selected response and short essay quizzes at the conclusion of each reading and before a deadline. The intent was that in addition to providing accountability for reading, students would use quizzes to reinforce learning. I found in this context that few students used these quizzes more than twice and many took them only once, with poor outcomes indicating incomplete reading of course materials, and concluded that they were not very effective with this student population either in providing accountability or concept and vocabulary practice. Rather than scrapping the quizzes, I’d like to retain them and see if students will use them for practice more after doing group annotations.
Next, to continue to address the difficulty I’ve encountered with students learning the vocabulary terms of the many disciplines they encounter in HUM 121, I plan to begin each synchronous session with vocabulary study. The first 10 or 15 minutes of class will use vocabulary learning tasks such as Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC)-oriented short writing tasks that move students from contextual mastery of terms to the ability to apply terms as part of their personal vocabularies, to having students develop their own tools for learning, say, architectural vocabulary terms. Finally, I hope to embed vocabulary learning in the course by the use of OER texts and resources, as I’ll discuss below.
Once students have read and begun to learn basic organizing concepts, they need to learn to work with primary sources, to process those sources and make connections between those sources, and to display their knowledge. Skill in these three areas will build a foundation for the more in-depth projects students may be able to undertake in higher level humanities or in digital humanities courses. (I’m blown away by what Miriam Posner’s students at UCLA can achieve in a 100 level Digital Humanities course focused not on survey content but on research approaches and technologies: http://miriamposner.com/classes/dh101f17/assignments/final-project/ .) These three levels of work with sources will be supported by classroom discussions, which I plan to have students lead by adapting the fishbowl discussion technique, by mini-lectures, and by a short written analysis that students will submit near the conclusion of the week’s learning, the topics for which will emerge not only from the primary source readings and visual objects, but from the week’s collaborations.
Finally, the capstone project for the course will be a presentation in which students explore issues that provide cultural and sociological background for understanding one or more of the significant primary sources engaged in the class. For example, if a primary source is the Roman satirist Juvenal’s “Against the City of Rome,” students could explore a cultural or sociological contextual topic such as Roman Religion and Cultic Practice or the Roman Welfare State. This project will be supported throughout the class by a series of milestones. Equally important, the project will be supported as well as by a series of short tutorial-style assignments that will support students in working with sources (for example, by approaching attribution not merely as a matter of avoiding plagiarism but of participating in and facilitating a conversation), in processing sources (for example, students will use TimeMapper to create spatial, chronological, and conceptual organization of a topic), and in displaying sources and showcasing knowledge (both in written and visual form). OERs will form a key part of this project, serving not simply as primary or secondary resources but as contexts in which students re-process information and see approaches to inquiry.
In a previous digital archives project for students in a 100 level literature class, I found that providing students with access to instructor-curated digital archives of primary sources boosted student inquiry. For this class, I’ve also decided to provide students with a limited body of high-quality suggested resources (which they may opt to add to). I took these resources from university librarian-curated or university department-curated research guides. One source, Art History Teaching Resources (AHTR), is written for instructors rather than students, but provides good models of inquiry topics, provides overviews of critical central ideas or sources that students won’t necessarily know about, displays the use of the same sorts of vocabulary terms students engaged with in their textbook but in a different context, and suggests “activities” that students may find useful for their own learning as well as for using in a presentation. The project design will prevent students from over-reliance upon any one source or type of source. I hope that the presence of OERs on the syllabus, as support materials for the projects, as sources I will model use of in my participation in class discussion, but not necessarily as assigned reading will encourage and make it easier for students to engage in exploration throughout the course.
They will need to be reviewed for accessibility features before the syllabus is finalized.
Supporting motivation and collaboration
An important principle in supporting motivation is to provide both consistency and variability in course structure. In this course design, the consistency of weekly course tasks with variable facilitators and activities and a progressive sequence of benchmarks and supporting assignments will help achieve this.
Another aspect of the consistency of a course is the degree to which collaboration is fostered consistently across the course. I believe that one reason group participation in asynchronous activities (such as the collaborative reading annotation activities I plan for this course) can be notoriously difficult to achieve in online courses is that students perceive many collaborative activities (such as threaded discussions) as poorly integrated into the learning of the course, and this perception may be correct. Fostering collaboration includes teaching students how to provide meaningful feedback, making it safe for students to do so, being highly present as an instructor, providing means for self- and peer-assessment that holds students accountable, and integrating collaboration into the culture of the course rather than just into discrete activities. My goal for my use of OERs is that, with appropriate modeling and use, these will also will foster collaboration, serving as go-to rather than required resources that can foster exploration in whole- and small-group discussions, so that, as students will be supported in knowing how to handle primary resources by the time they get to their projects, they’ll also be supported in knowing how to use open educational resources, and what it feels like to look work with well-curated academic OERs.
Freed, B., Friedman, A., Lawlis, S., & Stapleton, A. (2018, June). Evaluating Oregon’s open educational resources designation requirement: A report for the higher education coordinating commission. Retrieved from: https://www.oregon.gov/highered/research/Documents/Reports/HECC-Final-OER-Report_2018.pdf
Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education. Retrieved from the Athabasca University website: http://cde.athabascau.ca/coi_site/documents/Garrison_Anderson_Archer_Critical_Inquiry_model.pdf
Hilton, J. (2016). Open educational resources and college textbook choices: a review of research on efficacy and perceptions. Education Tech Research and Development, 64(4), 573-590.
Lehman, R.M. & Conceição, S. (2013) Motivating and retaining online students: Research-based strategies that work, Jossey-Bass / Wiley. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/spu/detail.action?docID=1376946
Moore, K. (2017, March 22). Attribution statements for remixed OER content [Website post]. Retrieved from: http://openoregon.org/attribution-statements-for-remixed-oer-content/
Redmond, P., Abawi, L., Brown, A., Henderson, R., & Heffernan, A. (2018). An online engagement framework for higher education. Online learning, 22(1), 183-204. doi:10.24059/olj.v22i1.1175
How you learn is built in to the larger part of who you are, embodies your collective experiences, norms, beliefs, and values; it is a part of your culture. Building community in the learning environment, whether on- or off-line, establishes safety, facilitates collaboration, and can help cultivate sense of self and role in the community. The ISTE standard for coaches calls coaches to “create and support effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students… by model[ing] effective classroom management and collaborative learning strategies to maximize teacher and student use of digital tools and resources and access to technology-rich learning environments”,(ISTE, 2017). In order to maximize these resources for learning, we need to establish a technology environment that engages students’ cultural background and understandings.
Building community can be particularly difficult in an online environment where social cues, particularly non-verbal ones, may be more challenging to interpret or oftentimes gets misinterpreted. This becomes confounded when factoring in cultural languages and exchanges. These exchanges are not limited to ethnic cultures, but also generational cultures where task interpretations may take on different meanings. For example, assigning students the task of investigating three community food resources may be interpreted and approached differently by students who are very familiar with technology, as opposed to non-traditional students or students that have limited access to technology. Coaches can help instructors build understanding of the cultures present in a classroom, and implement successful learning strategies through culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP).
What is CRP and why is it important?
McCarther defines culture as an “amalgamation of human activity, production, thought, and belief systems,”(McCarther, 2017). “Culture is fundamental to learning,” (Pitsoe, 2014). Each student brings to the classroom a “fund of knowledge” shaped by their culture that influences who students are, what they believe, and how they think, (Cavalli, 2014). It is easy to understand that students bring all of themselves represented through culture in their learning, but does how they are taught represent them and their culture? In 1995 researcher Gloria Ladson-Billings coined the termed “culturally relevant pedagogy” (CRP) in response to the fact that students learn best when their ideas and voice are shared and appreciated by the world, (McCarther, 2017). CRP invites educators to create socially just spaces and structure for students to share their voice by using teaching strategies that support the use of cultural knowledge, previous experiences, and unique performance styles that are familiar to diverse students in the classroom, (Cavalii, 2014 & McCather, 2017). According to Ladson-Billings, student learning success encompasses academic success, cultural competence, and sociopolitical consciousness. CRP is not prescriptive but rather flexible and ever-changing in response to the cultures unique to a particular classroom, (McCather, 2017). Good implementation of CRP in the classroom involve four key components as described by Pitsoe and summarized in Figure 1.1 below.
Understanding how students learn, the reality of their world today, and what skills they need to challenge the existing systems is crucial to the implementation of CRP.
Need for CRP in Nutrition
The need for CRP in nutrition education is great. Nutrition is incredibly personal as we all eat certain foods for a variety of different reasons. Most reasons for eating are linked to social and cultural norms rather than a strong connection to health (though cultural eating is linked to maintenance of health). Nutrition practitioners and educators need to be aware of the delicate interplay between culture and health as new foods and traditions are introduced to the diet. Presenting nutrition information in a culturally relevant manner helps engage individuals by giving them the appropriate context and tools to facilitate change. Below are two examples that help illustrate the need for CRP in nutrition counseling:
In the article, “Culturally tailored post secondary nutrition and health education curricula for indigenous populations”, the authors investigate the types and number of culturally relevant nutrition and health programs offered to students seeking to work with Alaskan natives and studying for an allied health degree. There is a need for such training as Alaskan natives currently face a disproportionate rate of chronic disease development, particularly when Western diets substitute the traditional diet, (McConnell, 2013). After a brief review, the authors found very limited curriculum related to culturally appropriate/relevant nutrition counseling that included spirituality, respect of elders, and personal relationships with the land, waterways, and animals, (McConnell, 2013). The information that they found was limited to stand-alone culturally tailored courses that the authors argued were considered “dead-end” trainings that were short term and only offered non-transferable skill-building, (McConnell, 2013). After a more comprehensive search, the authors found limited offerings of post-secondary training that resulted in a mainstream credential. Reasons for the limited availablity were hypothesized to be possibly related to funding, oral culture, researchers available for study, or a mix of the above, (McConnell, 2013).
The authors’ rationale for culturally tailored curriculum is very interesting, arguing that the more effective nutritional counseling approach was not to create courses for the indigenous patients themselves, but rather train future nutritionists/dietitians with additional credentials to tailor teachings that align with the food norms and beliefs of the target population. This correlates with the CRP theory principles in which states that is the role of the instructor to understand the culture of the class/client, not the client/student, as it is more effective to receive education in a context that is culturally familiar and resonates better with clients, (Pitsoe, 2014).
When considering my own education options, to my knowledge, there isn’t post-secondary continuing education ending in credentials available for nutritionists/dietitians on culturally appropriate/relevant counseling. However, when implemented well, CRP can deliver results. Another article, “Adaptation of a Culturally Relevant Nutrition and Physical Activity Program for Low-Income, Mexican-Origin Parents With Young Children”, described a community intervention nutrition program designed around the “Social Learning Theory” to help low-income hispanic families decrease rates of childhood obesity. This 5-year program gave individuals in the intervention group $25 a month to spend on fresh fruit and vegetables while participating in family nutrition and physical activity nights. As part of the model, the researchers used the “Anchor, Add, Apply, and Away” approach where participants would share food memories from childhood, share stories of life as an immigrant, problem solve by learning to make a new recipe with local foods, and share what was learned at the end of the process, (Kaiser, et. al., 2015). Parents were also asked to provide examples of what they did to promote nutrition and physical activity in their family. This served to give ideas and motivate others in the group. At the end of the program, parents reported that children spent less time watching tv or playing video games, did more physical activity, and either maintained weight or lost weight, (Kaiser, et. al., 2015). This article explores a patient-centered approach to culturally relevant nutrition education where success was gained not only through cultural food norms and values, but also encouraged the exploration of new foods through the social learning theory.
Implementation of CRP in Nutrition Classes
There is a demonstrated need for more culturally relevant pedagogy in nutrition education, particularly considering that using the same teaching techniques on all students does not set up these individuals for sustainable success when cultural aspects to nutrition are not fully incorporated. This begs the question: What are some approaches and examples of using culturally relevant pedagogy in nutrition classes?
According to Pitsoe, in order to maximize learning, teachers must first understand the cultures represented in their classrooms and use that understanding into their lessons, (Pitsoe, 2014). To help with this, the Milwaukee Public Schools offers a list of questions to help teachers gain a better understanding of their students. Figure 1.2 examines these questions.
Once the class culture is understood, the next step is to select instruction strategies that effectively engage that culture. Some ways that teachers have successfully implemented this is by using cultural mythology to open discussions about a topic, conduct an environmental study of pollution in local community, or investigate the nutrition status of the local community, (Cavalli, 2014). These strategies could also be expanded to include discussions on the impacts of technology on food culture and generational culture.
A master’s thesis by A.C. Cavalii, provides an fuller example of CRP as implemented in an urban science class setting. Her approach to CRP involved taking an eleven-lesson unit and blending strategies to incorporate not only direct teaching but also guided inquiry, and community investigation. A summary of her approach can be found in Figure 1.3 below.
By modeling and providing examples for instructors on building culturally relevant lessons, coaches can help teachers better develop online strategies that incorporates cultural relevance to enhance learning and build better online communities.
Cavalli, A. C., (2014). Teaching nutrition and health in the urban science classroom- A blended approach to culturally relevant and problem based learning. Education and Human Development Theses, The College at Brockport [website]. Available at: https://digitalcommons.brockport.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1547&context=ehd_theses
ISTE, (2017). ISTE standards for coaches. Available at: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches
Kaiser, L., Martinez, J., Horowitz, M., Lamp, C., Johns, M., et al. (2015). Adaptation of a culturally relevant nutrition and physical activity program for low-income, Mexican-origin parents with young children. Center for Disease Control [webpage]. Available at: (https://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2015/14_0591.htm)
McConnell, S., (2013). Culturally tailored post secondary nutrition and health education curricula for indigenous populations. Int J Circumpolar Health. Available online at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3748461/)
Milwaukee Public Schools, (n.d.). Culturally responsive practices. Available at: http://mps.milwaukee.k12.wi.us/en/Families/Family-Services/Intervention—PBIS/Culturally-Responsive-Practices.htm