Category Archives: blog

Web Accessibility: A Team Approach

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

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:

Korbey, H. (2015, October 8). Why recognizing dyslexia in children at school can be difficult. Retrieved from KQED News website:

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:

Using Open Educational Resources to Support Academic Achievement in a First-year Humanities Class

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 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: .) 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.

The six OERs I selected are included in the preliminary course schedule and resources here.

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:

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:

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

Moore, K. (2017, March 22). Attribution statements for remixed OER content [Website post]. Retrieved from:

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

Archives and Analysis

Extending Literary Interpretation through Archival Research and Global Collaboration

Visit the Website for this Project



The goals of a 100 level college Introduction to Literature course include learning the rudiments of literary analysis, considering how literature interprets the human condition, and analyzing the cultural and historical contexts of works of literature to interpret the meaning of literature and articulate the contemporary relevance of literary works. For these goals to be realized, a literature course needs to inculcate both independent critical thinking and a classroom (or digital space) community of critical discourse.

While core college courses in the humanities, such as Introduction to Literature, generally include an outcome connected to the use of digital information literacy competencies (see, for example, ISTE Standard for Students 2) such as (in the case of this course) “using contemporary technologies to select and use sources relevant to the study of literature,” these competencies are often interpreted by instructors of introductory literature courses as students’ use of library databases to find secondary works of interpretation to use as sources when writing analytical or interpretive papers. However, requiring novice readers of literature to synthesize scholarly interpretations of texts too soon can undermine the development of students’ independent critical analytical and interpretive skills; even with appropriate instruction in synthesis writing, students in an introductory course may transfer previous habits of working with sources such that their use of secondary sources tends to replace rather than extend independent inquiry.

By contrast, providing students with access to primary sources can give them additional textual and contextual elements that may serve as more productive tools for independent development of new lines of inquiry about the texts they have read. Charlotte Nunes (2015) described her incorporation of digital archives into a first-year literature class, arguing that “students can benefit greatly from even preliminary exposure to archives early in their undergraduate careers, by means of short-term, small-scale archival research tasks” (115).

This teaching unit builds upon Nunes’ suggestion by providing modelled and scaffolded access to digital archives to allow students to develop hypotheses about literary texts and address those hypotheses through contextual documents located in digital archives; in turn, the archival information located can problematize students’ original questions, and thus extend their critical thinking and allow for better application of students’ new understanding of literary, political, and social history to current issues as well.

The use of digital archives to position students as knowledge constructors aligns with ISTE Standard for Students 3. Through critical curation of primary sources located through digital archives, students can use archival technologies to develop inquiries, explore real-world sources, grapple with ill-structured problems presented by how primary sources must be interpreted to provide contextual relevance (rather than with the predigested solutions that may be the focus of students’ use of secondary sources), and pursue more personally owned theories and answers.



Students who are first or second year students at two-year colleges may or may not have taken the freshman year writing course sequence, may be nontraditional students with considerable life and academic experience, or may lack the preparation typically required by four-year colleges for admission, so their levels of skill in using research methodologies can vary considerably. Nunes (2015) noted that while learning the research strategies involved in archival research is beyond the scope of an introductory literature course, providing students with the “intellectual access” to archival materials can greatly deepen their ability to contextualize their thinking about the historical and social issues they encounter in literature (p. 117). Hence her approach to including primary sources in an introductory literature class typically involved students in working from instructor-provided primary sources.

Similarly, in a study of a problem-based learning project supported by digital archival resources, Chen and Chen (2010) noted that digital libraries face the challenge of effective informational architecture: even when curated by a college library, digital archives may not be intuitively or optimally organized for use by novice students. Likewise, Sharkey (2013), a professor of library science and Head of Information Use and Fluency at Illinois State University, noted that “information and technology are no longer separate entities but are inextricably connected” (p. 34), highlighting the importance of the instructor’s role in designing technology fluency instruction that focuses on the higher order thinking that will “give students a high level of aptitude to interact fluently with both (the) information and technology” (p. 37). Thus, the use of digital archives in this learning context itself presents a twofold barrier in terms of a lack of student knowledge about digital archival research methods, as well as in terms of a need for the development of 21st century teaching competencies that can support students in developing understanding of the nature of the information contained in digital archives, how that information is organized, and how to access and use that information (see ISTE Standard for Students 1). What is needed are both teaching approaches and instructional design approaches that will allow for student use of archival technologies while still foregrounding content learning and extension of students’ critical thinking and inquiry skills.

There are precedents for such an approach. In a controlled study of a Problem-Based Learning unit incorporating digital archives, Chen and Chen (2010) found that the use of digital archives that had been structured by the instructor resulted in deeper learning for students at three phases of the learning process (cognition, action, and reflection), in part because the problem of cognitive overload and the problem of students finding ineffective resources on the Internet were bypassed when more structured resources were presented (25).



The pedagogical frameworks that form the basis for this unit work together to support the concept of student “intellectual access” and draw upon the social constructivist approaches of Problem- and Project-Based Learning (PBL) in which student design of learning goals and iterative work on developing solutions (ISTE Standard for Students 4) is enacted through collaborative knowledge construction supported by the digital communication media that characterize these students’ world (ISTE Standard for Students 7).

Specifically, this unit develops a pedagogical foundation for the use of digital archives in an introductory literature course through: 1. The Community of Inquiry model, and an outgrowth of it (the QUEST Model for Inquiry-Based Learning); 2. The cultivation of 21st century instructional competencies in instructional design, facilitation, and collaboration (See ISTE Standards for Educators 4, 5, and 6; Florida State University Technology Integration Matrix) to scaffold and support students’ development of critical knowledge construction and communication competencies; and 3. The affordances of 21st century communication venues such as Web 2.0 content authoring tools, the platforms in which today’s researchers and tomorrow’s graduates will communicate, for similarly supporting students’ development critical knowledge construction and communication competencies.


The Community of Inquiry and QUEST Models

The Community of Inquiry model that has been the subject of research for nearly 20 years at Alberta’s Athabasca University and beyond describes the inter-relationships between three key elements that must be present for a meaningful higher education learning experience to take place among a community of instructors and students: cognitive presence, social presence, and instructor presence. The most essential element, cognitive presence, denotes the cognitivist elements of the learning process (such as experience, questioning, pattern recognition, making and applying connections, and noting and reconciling dissonances). In this model, the overlap between cognitive presence, social presence and teaching presence creates ways to focus on developing social critical discourse through the design of the educational experience. QUEST is a model for an instructional unit or learning experience based on Community of Inquiry principles. In the QUEST model, which focuses on the elements of cognitive presence and social presence, students formulate a personalized Question about course content, Understand the topic better by conducting research and sharing sources, Educate and collaborate by interacting with peers through an iterative process of discussion of the shared questions and resources, engage in defining a Solution through reflection on the inquiry process; and Teach others through presenting a final product in a blog or other Web 2.0 genre that engages an authentic audience.


21st-Century Communication Media

The use in college humanities courses of multimodal composition assignments presented through blogs, video and other Web 2.0 technologies represents more than a shift to 21st-century composition media. This movement is situated within a larger pedagogical “social turn” that emphasizes literacy as not merely cognitivist but sociocultural in nature. In this theoretical view, ways of reading and writing such as genres and written and spoken forms of the English are generated by the communities of practice–professional and institutional, but also historical and cultural–who use these conventions to achieve shared goals (Gee, 2010). Thus people learn not literacy but “literacies” that involve the ability to engage with those communities in terms of the evolving discourse structures of those communities. From the perspective of compositionists, “digital literacies” involve the way digital tools are used within sociocultural groups, such as the scholarly communities who use blogs, digital archives, and online journals for scholarly communication, but also the many other sociocultural groups that produce work in online media to learn and communicate (Gee, 2010).

Although the design for this unit presupposes neither that the unit must be used in a primarily online course (in fact it is piloted here in two face to face course sections) nor that digital composition tools should be chosen other than in the context of a comprehensive list of criteria for how learning materials should be optimized for learning, several factors suggest the use of a blog format for student work in this unit: two factors in particular–1. that this unit brings together students from across the globe in a condensed timeframe to achieve the desired learning outcomes of articulating the relevance of literature for contemporary contexts; and 2. the reciprocal goal of developing students’ existing social media literacies for an academic purpose and relating such a purpose to 21st century research and communication venues–indicate the type of computer-mediated learning context for which the QUEST model suggests the use of a blog format for student work.

For this unit, students from multiple classes and locations need shared venues in which they can locate primary sources in digital archives, post sources and reflections on sources, collaborate through feedback, and share final presentations of the results of their inquiries. They need a research and communication environment that will support the process of development of deeper understanding of a problem, generating ideas, and finding solutions (Kuo, Chen, & Hwang, 2014). On the other hand, they need an environment with affordances that support the creative development of student final products that display learning. Further, they need to work in an environment in which the cognitive load of learning new technologies and methods is minimized.

Criteria considered in the choice of a primary content curation tool for this project, included:

  • ease and affordability of access (a free tool was desired)
  • capacity for instructor and student curation of web links to digital archives
  • capacity for supporting student development of creative content
  • capacity for supporting student writing and revising
  • capacity for supporting the small group and peer-to-peer aspects of a research and writing process as well as the “voice to all” and visual presentation aspects of an archival product (Brownstein & Klein, 2006)
  • ease of use, including minimal layers of technology
  • privacy: students should be able to opt out of associating work posted publicly with their names

In addition to developing this list of criteria, the main venue for student work in this unit was also considered in light of how it would support the exemplary instructional design in terms of the 6A’s Project Idea Rubric and Puentedura’s (2003) Matrix Model for designing and assessing network-enhanced courses. Puentedura’s model includes the diagnostic tool for selecting computer-based technology tools, known as SAMR, in which the best use of technological pedagogy achieves “redefinition,” where “the computer allows for the creation of new tasks, inconceivable without the computer” (Puentedura, 2003). The combination of student digital archive research and curation with the collaborative process of the QUEST model in the context of highly creator-friendly blog space seems to meet this criterion.

After developing two prototypes using different Web 2.0 tools, the instructors for this unit chose to create a Google Sites webpage to house students’ work, interaction, and access to digital archival resources. Support for student use of the site was provided both through a series of modeling sessions (Preparatory Lessons 1 and 2) and through written project instructions and a technology tutorial, as well as daily in-class “check-ins” and individualized support through email and in person.


21st-Century Teaching Competencies

Garrison, Anderson & Archer (2000), the authors of the Community of Inquiry model, note that “the binding element in creating a community of inquiry for educational purposes is that of teaching presence” (p. 96). They categorize this element in the three indicator categories: instructional management, direct instruction, and building understanding. Instructional management has to do with the design and planning, and the considerations of how technological teaching media change learning and call for the sorts of criteria for instructional choices considered above. For this unit, the lead instructor worked with the participating instructor to select and design learning environments, technologies, and a series of learning tasks structured according to the QUEST Model. The Community of Inquiry model also features a second teaching indicator, “direct instruction,” which overlaps with unit design but is not a focus of the QUEST Model. Direct instruction involves both content and pedagogical expertise, and is described by Garrison, Anderson, & Archer as “those indicators that assess the discourse and efficacy of the educational process” (p. 101). A significant shift in computer-mediated instruction such as that used in this unit, is the shift from instruction that takes place in written as opposed to verbal formats. Engaging this shift successfully involves much more than following a list of netiquette protocols, such as providing timely standards-based feedback at each stage of student work, and much more than choosing a unit design framework. Key aspects of direct instruction that were considered in this unit included how the instructors would teach the literary skills and content to be employed in students’ work, how we would how we would teach requisite technology skills and content to students, how we would facilitate student engagement with the unit project, and how we would move the learning of the unit along, for instance through intervention or providing opportunities for reflection. These aspects of direct instruction are nowhere more paramount than with a community college student population, with its diverse range of backgrounds in terms of culture, literacy, and preparation.

Two key ways in which we addressed direction instruction in this unit included instructor modelling and individualized support and feedback that anticipates and responds to student needs.

Pursel and Xie (2014) studied the use of blogs housed internally by a university to explore which blog patterns led to improved student performance over time. One finding of their study was the relationship between instructors’ use of modeling the behavior expected from students and student achievement. Instructors who model alongside facilitating and making effective technology choices are more likely to leverage student engagement.

Greener (2009), in her article “e-Modeling – Helping learners to develop sound e-learning behaviors,” provides a fuller picture of what effective instructional modelling looks like. She calls for not just demonstrating proficient skills, but for taking risks and showing students what it looks like to try new things and face unexpected results, then comparing those approaches to more effective strategies. The need for direct instruction, in part through this sort of modelling, which leads beyond observation on students’ part to collaboration as students engage with the dynamic and uncharted nature of digital learning environments, formed the basis for Preparatory Lessons 1 and 2, which precede implementation of the student project in this unit. These lessons were designed to be used in as many iterations as needed or to be distributed across class days as needed to provide instructors with flexible opportunities to provide effective direct instruction through modelling and collaboration as well as through lecture and through the videos that would be implemented in the student project.

Our second consideration for direct instruction involved how to proactively support individual student needs, including helping students develop the ability to use digital tools to connect with peer audiences, a key indicator of ISTE Student Standard 7. One approach was to provide modelling through samples of student work, including constructing peer feedback, and in Preparatory Lesson 2 to model not only products of student work but the process of constructing student work and peer feedback. A second was the decision to provide instructor feedback within the same learning and composing space that students occupied. (This decision was partly driven by the lack of a mechanism for a private communication channel between students and instructors on the blog site.) Thus in this unit, instructor provision of individualized feedback (direct instruction) is blended with small group facilitation (building understanding).

“Building understanding,” the third group of teaching indicators in the Community of Inquiry model, is described by Garrison, Anderson & Archer (2000) as follows:

A process that is challenging and stimulating is crucial to creating and maintaining a community of inquiry. This category is very much concerned with the academic integrity of a collaborative community of learners. It is a process of creating an effective group consciousness for the purpose of sharing meaning, identifying areas of agreement and disagreement, and generally seeking to reach consensus and understanding. Through active intervention, the teacher draws in less active participants, acknowledges individual contributions, reinforces appropriate contributions, focuses discussion, and generally facilitates an educational transaction. (101)

Building understanding in a digital learning space is a 21st century teaching competency that is critical for effective learning by community college students. Although the instructors of this unit considered whether instructor presence in students’ learning spaces would stifle student conversations, our hypothesis that, on the contrary, it would help to facilitate meaningful student conversations, was borne out by the fact that in the exit survey for the pilot implementation of this unit, some students requested more instructor feedback evaluating the quality of peer feedback they were providing, and a number of students expressed frustration at lack of peer involvement. Suggestions for how instructors of this unit can “build understanding” include: creating a visual social connection between participating groups prior to implementation of the student project, either through synchronous interaction or asynchronous video introductions; and intervention and support through email or another private channel for all students early in the project to provide coaching and support in their peer feedback.


Brownstein, E., & Klein, R. (2006). Blogs: Applications in science education. Journal of college science teaching, 53(6).

Chen, C., & Chen, C. (2010). Problem-based learning supported by digital archives: Case study of Taiwan libraries’ history digital library. The electronic library, 28(1), 5-28. Retrieved from:

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:

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2001). Critical thinking, cognitive presence, and computer conferencing in distance education. American Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), 7–23.

Gee, J.P. (2010). A situated sociocultural approach to literacy and technology. In Elizabeth A. Baker (Ed.), The new literacies: Multiple perspectives on research and practice. New York: Guilford, (pp. 165-193). Retrieved from

Greener, S. (2009). e-Modeling – Helping learners to develop sound e-learning behaviors. Electronic journal of e-learning, 7(3), 265-272. Retrieved from:

ISTE Connects. (2016, January 19). Here’s how you teach innovative thinking. International Society for Technology in Education. Retrieved from

Kingsley, T., & Tancock, S. (2014). Internet inquiry. Reading teacher, 67(5), 389-399.

Koehler, M.J., & Mishra, P. (2009). What is Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge?Contemporary issues in technology and teacher education, 9(1), pp. 60-70. Retrieved from:

Kop, R. (2010). Using social media to create a place that supports communication. In George Veletsianos (Ed.), Emerging technologies in distance eduction, Athabasca University Press. Retrieved from

Kuo, F.-R., Chen, N.-S., & Hwang, G.-J. (2014). A creative thinking approach to enhancing the web-based problem solving performance of university students. Computers & Education, 72(c), 220–230.

Lehman, R.M. & Conceição, S. (2013) Motivating and retaining online students: Research-based strategies that work, Jossey-Bass / Wiley. Retrieved from

Nunes, C., (2015). Digital archives in the wired world literature classroom in the US, Ariel 46(1/2), 115-141.

Puentedura, R.R. (2003). A matrix model for designing and assessing network-enhanced courses. Retrieved from the Hippasus website at

Pursel, B.K., & Xie, H. (2014). Patterns and pedagogy: Exploring student blog use in higher education. Contemporary educational technology, 5(2), 96-109.

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

Sharkey, J. (2013). Establishing twenty-first-century information fluency. Reference & user services quarterly, 53(1), 33-39.

Wicks, D. (2017). The QUEST model for inquiry-based learning. [PDF document]. Retrieved from:

Wray, E. (n.d.) Rise Model for Peer Feedback. [PDF document]. Retrieved from:

Toward a theory and practice of coaching higher ed faculty

Why re-imagine faculty professional learning?

Among the three 2017-2021 strategic priorities of Colorado- and Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit higher education association EDUCAUSE is “reimagined professional learning.” By replacing the term professional development with professional learning in its vocabulary, CEO John O’Brien (2018) indicates the extent to which EDUCAUSE and other higher education associations and collaboratives believe that for higher education institutions to thrive in a world characterized by “automation, cognitive computing, and digital transformation,” higher education faculty members, executives, and information technology (IT) administrators alike must cultivate the very digital age skill sets—“adaptability, creativity, empathy, problem solving and decision making”—that are characteristic of the digital age learning and of the teaching skills defined by ISTE.

Stating this equation in business management terms, O’Brien’s colleague Mike Meyer (2018) notes that community colleges in particular have failed to recognize that if the user experiences of students from specific populations will make or break the success of an institution, then the “purchase and partial integration of” new student pathway systems, tracking systems, and learning management systems into an old organizational infrastructure of divisions and committees, with IT (information technology) or ITC (information and communication technologies) remaining in a peripheral role, is a paradigm unable to support a viable future.

Reconceptualizing the central role that IT—which encompasses long-term strategic organizational approaches to developing digital learning environments; creating an administrative, teaching, and learning culture rich in digital creation, problem-solving, and collaboration abilities, and developing the information, data, media literacy, and ethical capacities that support that culture—involves, for one, a reconceptualization of how faculty professional learning intersects with the work of IT administrators and instructional designers in delivering an educational product that will serve a student population and sustain the educational market that population represents.

This post is about the quest for a professional learning model that a small rural community college can use to focus on how technology integration impacts faculty pedagogical capabilities. ISTE Standard for Coaches 2 calls for coaches to use technology in ways that model and coach faculty in best assessment, differentiation, and learning design practices. But the scope of this investigation has implications for how an institution-wide culture might grapple with its own quest to adapt to the current higher education landscape.

At the conclusion of this post, I’ll propose a model for a faculty-led professional development workshop series that uses assessment, differentiation, collaboration, coaching, communities of practice and their associated technologies to suggest how a faculty-led initiative could assist an institution in conceptualizing the sort of professional learning that might support cultivation of innovation and excellence in education.

To get there, I’ll explore the nature of coaching (a professional learning paradigm indebted to the fields of business and athletics) and the principles of adult learning (which apply to professional development for all higher education stakeholders), the collaborative- and action-based best practices for professional learning that are identical to the best practices used in higher ed classrooms and digital learning spaces, examine the implications of a validated construct of higher education teaching for professional learning, and review several professional learning models based on that construct, including a model developed by one of my institution’s sister colleges.


Andragogy and coaching fundamentals

Professional development is learning. In my conversations with higher ed stakeholders, I too have dropped the term professional development in favor of professional growth or professional learning. One reason I do this is to emphasize that higher education culture aimed at cultivating student learning should prioritize faculty development of the leadership, innovation, and teaching skills needed in digital age higher ed. A second is that I believe an institution’s approach to professional development should use the same principles of learning and teaching we say we expect instructors to enact. Professional development that results in professional learning, according to Zepeda (2015) should involve:

  1. active knowledge construction;
  2. collaborative learning;
  3. application in context, over time, with follow-up feedback that can be incorporated into continual learning; and
  4. differentiation.

The principles of andragogy further reinforce these well-established cognitivist and constructivist learning principles. Professional adult learners are self-directed and need to apply new knowledge immediately; as members of local and disciplinary professional learning communities, they need to collaborate in ways that allow each faculty member to co-learn, co-teach, contribute knowledge and benefit from collective knowledge; as those who are learning skills that were often not part of their graduate programs and may be determined by policymakers rather than by disciplinary best practices, thy need access to coaching, technical support, and follow-up as part of professional development projects and infrastructure; and they need access to differentiated learning that engages their particular disciplinary, technological, and pedagogical proficiencies and teaching assignments (Zepeda, 2015). Indeed, one key feature that distinguishes college instructors from K-12 teachers is their heterogeneity (Bachy, 2014). More on this below.

Institutions that seek to respond strategically to the changing higher education paradigms and markets of the 21st century need to overcome the obstacle for many of inspiring collective commitment among the highly diverse individuals who make up an institution (Gentle, 2014).

Characteristics of higher education institutions that are able to create such mutually committed, emotionally intelligent cultures include:

  • embracing collaboration between faculty and administration that promotes the sharing of best practices;
  • sufficient professional staff support for administrators and faculty in their primary roles (as in the current discussion of supporting faculty technological-pedagogical knowledge and practice);
  • a focus on student needs and expectations that also protects faculty from unrealistic demands;
  • and a balance between expecting accountability from staff and respecting and developing academic autonomy. (Gentle, 2014)

One of the keys to developing such an institutional characteristics is to establish a culture of feedback. Creating such a culture is much more stating a “open door policy,” providing places for various stakeholders on committees, or conducting annual faculty reviews based on models that may not include clear quantitative measures of technology-supported teaching competencies (Dana, Havens, Hochanadel, & Phillips, 2010).

What can make these practices effective and develop these characteristics are relationships based on coaching principles (Gentle, 2014). While these principles will be related to both faculty peer coaching models and to professional learning models below, coaching principles can also be adopted as consistent practices in the informal relationships that make up an organizational culture to keep the institutional focus on collaboration and growth.

If coaching allows facilitates the reflection and practice that allow faculty to grow in their application of specific disciplinary and technology-related 21st century teaching skills, and to approach challenges through problem-posing and problem-solving, coaching must be differentiated to address individual faculty members’ needs and also embedded in the real work of teaching (Zepeda, 2015). While much of the work of coaching involves positive conversations and questions that help a faculty member clarify and discern where she needs growth and respond strategically, coaching also involves modelling and progress monitoring. A higher education institution’s professional learning program or a single professional learning project can employ coaching effectively at the peer level as well as at the program level. Peer coaching as a form of professional development was introduced by Joyce and Showers (2002) in the 1970s. The hallmark of its effectiveness is not verbal feedback but rather the unexpected growth that happens through collaboration.

Zepeda (2015) compares peer coaching to “clinical” supervisory models, which also mirror constructivist learning approaches. In this cycle, an instructor is presented with a theory or technological pedagogical tool, observes and discusses modeling of the theory or tool in practice, creates and practices an application of the theory or tool, and receives feedback on that practice. Significantly, the model progresses to coaching, which involves more than observation and feedback, but for the faculty member to then step into the coaching role. Joyce and Showers (2002) found that including of the integral component of coaching led to 95% mastery and transfer by instructors. Indeed, this model parallels Wiggins and McTighe’s (2005) Understanding by Design model (also known as UbD or “backwards design”) for development of curricula or any other learning experiences, such as professional development. In this conceptual framework, learning (or “understanding”) results are first identified, then evidence of learning is established, flowed by development of instructional materials. A key concept in UbD is the nature of feedback; true feedback is formative and summative feedback defined through specific criteria that enables the learner to improve and meet goals (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005).


Using TDPK to understand faculty diversity and provide differentiated coaching

A fundamental consideration for either peer or supervisory/program coaching of postsecondary faculty is the heterogeneity of faculty, not only in terms of individual faculty members’ existing competencies with technology in general, but with knowledge of teaching technologies and of pedagogy/andragogy (which may or may not have been a focus of their graduate study). In addition, the nature and types of knowledge in each discipline vary widely. Individual faculty epistemologies—their individual beliefs about the nature of knowledge and how it can be constructed—also affect their teaching practices.  The complex interaction between these different components of teaching has been studied over time through the development of a series of models for understanding what is involved in postsecondary teaching, and hence in faculty professional learning.

Bachy (2014) summarizes the development of this evolving model, provides validation for it, and begins to suggest how this model relates to constructivist faculty development approaches (such as UbD). She also suggests how this model can provide diagnostic assessments to differentiate professional learning opportunities for faculty.

Bachy’s (2014) model of teacher effectiveness, TPDK, includes the four dimensions of an “individual teacher’s discipline (D), personal epistemology (E), pedagogical knowledge (P), and knowledge of technology (T). Each of these dimensions, as well as their effects on one another, contributes to a unique profile of how a faculty member teachers in terms of disciplinary knowledge, beliefs about learning, knowledge of pedagogies, and knowledge of technologies for communication, learning, and disciplinary knowledge-construction. For example, “when a teacher feels competent in the technology associated with their discipline (TD dimension), it influences their educational choices… and, to a lesser extend (we observe a lower, significant, correlation), their epistemological choices” (Bachy, 2014, p. 33). Thus by identifying four validated aspects of teaching as well as six validated dimensions (such as TD) or relationships between those aspects, faculty members and their reviewers and coaches alike can define and conceptualize an instructor’s teaching strategies and define and conceptualize how to chart professional growth.


tdpk model
The TDPK model, showing four knowledge dimensions and the relationships between them. Retrieved from
elationships between tdpk dimensions
Relationships between the TDPK dimensions each define a specific type of teaching knowledge. Retrieved from

In addition to presenting the historical underpinnings of the TPDK model, Bachy presents the study that provided initial validation of the tool. The survey used in this study, along with the resulting profiles of individual faculty members’ educational strategies, can provide a diagnostic tool and a graphically represented profile that can help faculty members and their coaches plan and measure professional learning. I tried out the survey and used the same radar data charts used in the study to create my TDPK teaching profile. The value of the radar chart that is used to represent the profile is that it shows the influences that each teaching dimension may exert on the others and which of the four dimensions influence an instructor’s practices most. (For more explanation of the profiles and a comparison of the initial experimental profiles of four faculty members to qualitative descriptions of their teaching profiles, see Bachy’s article.)


faculty tdpk profile
Radar charts based on my completion of Bachy’s survey. To compare with four other faculty profiles and written descriptions of those faculty members, see Bachy’s article at

Bachy’s presentation of the TPDK profile as a diagnostic and assessment tool for faculty coaching suggests a number of applications to guide effective professional development and coaching based on better understanding of instructors’ actual educational strategies. One valuable potential use of the TDPK profile in a small college with limited professional learning resources would be for trainers to develop training tracks (with tailored training focuses and materials) based on the most frequently occurring TDPK profiles at the institution. The survey and resulting profile could also be used for a training pre-assessment.

Another compelling aspect of the TPDK model is its affinity for constructivist views of teaching and learning, including its understanding of disciplinary knowledge as constructed by the “Communities of Practice” who make up disciplines, support of the trend toward student-centered learning that forms the basis for the “pedagogical knowledge” dimension of teacher, move teacher training beyond mere focus on tools and into application, and merge technology training with pedagogical training.

Thus TDPK provides a validated theoretical model upon which to build approaches to professional learning that use assessment, differentiation, learning by design, coaching, and communities of practice linked with technology. These are the principles that are established in professional development literature (Zepeda, 2015).


Models for faculty professional development integrating technology

Institutional support for faculty development of technological pedagogical knowledge should encompass three dimensions. First, faculty need immediate, navigable access to knowledge supports such as tutorials, videos and a repository of curricular approaches adopted by the institution. Second, faculty need defined, sustained pathways to development of TPCK knowledge, such as through trainings or articulated levels of development. Third, faculty need always-accessible support, such as coaching and troubleshooting. The institutions that form the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) have met these needs in a variety of ways. At Front Range Community College (FRCC), defined levels of technological pedagogical training can be earned, and result in pay increases. This model allows for both standardization and differentiation. For example while all teachers who teach online must take a 3 credit hour course in online teaching, professional development levels of certification can be earned from a menu of webinars and other options that can be customized by faculty. FRCC has provided the third dimension of a professional development program, ongoing support, through coaching. In 2010, FRCC began creation of an instructional coaching program embedded in its professional development approach. Although coaches were hired for each of the college’s campuses and its eLearning program, integral parts of the program included collaborative peer coaching through Reflective Practice Groups, workshops with follow-up, and networking (Patterson, 2013).

For the community college seeking to begin an embedded, centralized and sustainable approach faculty in effectively teaching with technology, a key consideration is moving beyond providing mere resources or mere conference-style, one-shot “training” focused on speakers (whether external or in-house), into practice-based learning similar to the “clinicals” approach developed by Joyce and Showers (2002).

peer coaching cycle
Joyce and Showers’ peer coaching model

Dysart and Weckerle (2015) propose a workshop model similar to one that I proposed at my institution that incorporates the principles of learning and professional learning that form a common thread through the literature reviewed in this post. Both proposals contain in seed form the three larger institutional professional development program dimensions of accessible resources, specific but differentiated training opportunities, and coaching with feedback, but on a small scale version. Both suggest that the TDPK (or TPACK, a prior conceptual iteration of TDPK) provides a way to differentiate professional learning for the broad diversity of faculty needs with regard to incorporating technology into discipline-specific pedagogy, and stress the importance of providing technological and pedagogical training to give content knowledge experts the self-efficacy they need to teach effectively and ultimately to become members of an innovative and collaborative institutional culture. Both incorporate the active learning principles, and the three research- and theory-based approaches of Learning by Design, Peer Coaching, and Communities of Practice.

dysart and weckerle model
Dysart and Weckerle’s (2015) professional development model. Retrieved from

In Dysart and Weckerle’s (2015) model, a practice-based professional development opportunity would follow Joyce and Showers’ active learning-through-coaching loop in three phases: during training, during teaching, and beyond training. During training, faculty would create a situated lesson or unit incorporating new technology. During the teaching phase, faculty would be supported by peer coaching that here would involve resource-sharing as peer coaches begin the transition to becoming future trainers. After implementation, faculty with similar interests in terms of any dimension of technology, discipline, or pedagogy would continue to share understanding and a repertoire of ideas. In the model I proposed, this repertoire would be housed in a digital repository, and would be housed and extended through technology-based repositories (such as LMS-based curriculum banks of pedagogies developed by faculty at the institution) and through the development of personal learning networks (PLNs) through which faculty could develop and receive ongoing real-time support through shared networking via blogs, twitter accounts that would support the limited centralized instructional design support that is currently available.

While in the short term, higher education teaching can be complicated by the policy changes—or failure to change—that may produce growing points in which faculty may indeed feel hindered from connecting disciplinary best practices to institutional technology decisions; overwhelmed by a focus on student success that unwittingly makes unrealistic demands on instructors along with insufficient support for developing the related competencies, it is the faculty leaders themselves who possess balanced technology, pedagogical, epistemological and disciplinary knowledge who may be best equipped to find professional learning solutions that will enable higher education institutions to cultivate cultures of collaboration, innovation, and teaching and learning excellence.



Bachy, S. (2014). TPDK, A new definition of the TPACK model for a university setting. European journal of open, distance, and e-learning, 17(2), 15-39. Retrieved from

Dana, H., Havens, B., Hochanadel, C., & Phillips, J. (2010, November). An innovative approach to faculty coaching. Contemporary issues in education research, 3(11), 29-34. Retrieved from

Dysart, S., & Weckerle, C. (2015). Professional development in higher education: A model for meaningful technology integration. Journal of information technology education: Innovations in practice, 14, 255-265 Retrieved from

Gentle, P., & Forman, D. (2014). Engaging leaders: The challenge of inspiring collective commitment in universities. New York, NY: Routledge.

Joyce, B., & Showers, B. (2002). Student achievement through staff development. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Meyer, M. (2018, May 7). How change has changed: The community college as an IT enterprise. Retrieved from the EDUCAUSE website at

Obrien, J. (2018, May 7). The Future of EDUCAUSE, Part 3: Reimagined Professional Learning. Retrieved from the EDUCAUSE website at

Patterson, B. (2013). A model for instructional coaching at the community college. Innovation showcase, 8(12). Retrieved from the League for Innovation in the Community College website at

Wiggins, G.P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Assoc. for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Zepeda, S.J. (2015). Job-embedded professional development: Support, collaboration, and learning in schools. New York, NY: Routledge.

Writing Math: Integrating Universal Design with “Social Turn” Writing Pedagogy

Research-based Frameworks for Addressing and Assessing Online Learning Engagement

I begin this post with three hypotheses about online learning, based on my experience as a community college composition and humanities teacher in both face to face and digital formats, and on my experience as a graduate student who has taken digital courses from two public research institutions and one private university. The first hypothesis is that the ratio of nontraditional to traditional students is greater in digital than in brick and mortar formats. The second hypothesis is that despite the prevalence in #edtech online instructor training of “frameworks” and lists of “best practices” and available technologies, most college teachers and institutions that are implementing online learning formats could do more to align online course design and instructor behavior with cognitivist and constructivist learning theory, with empirically verified pedagogical strategies, and with systematic piloting and review of digital innovations at the course and program level.

At the intersection of these two hypotheses is the crux of the matter: if a higher ratio of first generation, English language learner, adult, and other nontraditional students is enrolling in online (defined here as any combination of synchronous or asynchronous learning) courses, and the shift to teaching in digital spaces and/or new technological innovations requires teachers to develop new communication, technology and pedagogical design skills while amplifying the negative effect of the lack of such skills, do resulting negative impacts on student retention and motivation create a significant disparate impact for nontraditional students? On the flip side, how can implementation of learning theories such as andragogy and social constructionism, together with more evidence-based review of digital teaching approaches, result in increased success for the less traditional student population that tends to take online courses?

A number of studies confirm that nontraditional students comprise the majority of online leaners (Chen, Lambert & Guidry, 2010: Thompson, Miller & Pomykal Franz, 2013). Teachers and institutions who create online learning experiences thus need to consider both the assumptions of adult learning theory, such as that adult learners have and use more personal experience in learning, maintain responsibility for their own learning and resist situations where learning appears to be dispensed or controlled by others, and are more intrinsically than extrinsically motivated (Holton, Swanson, & Naquin, 2001), as well as the issues of diversity such as adaption, acculturation, identity formation, and diverse practices and understandings of knowledge acquisition and demonstration (Nielsen, 2014).

I would like to posit that a question as complex as how to build capacity at the course and institutional level for supporting such learners in online formats cannot be addressed effectively without systematic analysis, design, and evaluation of possible solutions that consider not only what innovations may work but why they work and whether they are scalable.

In this post, I respond to recent literature seeking to put principles of learning theory into conversation with systematic qualitative analytical approaches to problems of student engagement by suggesting that other educators join in early implementation of these models as well as in systematic review of results. I’ll discuss two research-based frameworks for online course design and one for course/program review.




Chen, P., Lambert, A., & Guidry, K. (2010). Engaging online learners: The impact of web-based learning technology on college student engagement. Computers & Education, 54, 1222-1232. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2009.11.008

Ford, C., McNally, D., & Ford, K. (2017). Using design-based research in higher education innovation. Online learning, 21(3), 50-67. doi:10.24059/oli.v%vi%i

Holton, E.F., Swanson, R.A., & Naquin, S.S. (2001). Andragogy in practice: Clarifying the andragogical model of adult learning. Performance improvement quarterly, 14(1), 118-143. Retrieved from

Lehman, R.M. & Conceição, S. (2013) Motivating and retaining online students: Research-based strategies that work, Jossey-Bass / Wiley. Retrieved from

Nielsen, K. (2014) On class, race, and dynamics of privilege: Supporting generation 1.5 writers across the curriculum. In Zawacki, T.M. & Cox, M. (Eds.), WAC and second-language writers: Research towards linguistically and culturally inclusive programs and practices (pp. 129-150). Retrieved from

Oremus, W. (2015, October 25). No more pencils, no more books: Artificially intelligent software is replacing the textbook—and reshaping American education. Slate. Retrieved from

Redmond, Pl, 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

Thompson, N., Miller, N., & Pomykal Franz, D. (2013). Comparing online and face-to-face learning experiences for non-traditional students: A case study of three online teacher education candidates. The quarterly review of distance education, 14(4), 233-251.

Collaborative Professional Development as a Key to Sustainable Technology Integration

In a recent post, I explored the way faculty behavior—specifically in the form of modeling and collaboration in the classroom that enables students to co-construct knowledge—is a primary factor in connectivist learning. Here, I would like to address the subject of how an institution can help faculty cultivate that type of behavior and the pedagogical and technological skills to support such faculty behavior (specifically in terms of using the LMS required of all and videoconferencing system required of some faculty at my institution). Part of the answer is formal training, such as through online modules that address different aspects of using an LMS. Faculty can complete and return to such modules as they set up and manage course shells and synchronous class sessions. But faculty technology training also needs to become ongoing, discipline-specific, and innovation-oriented, and this can happen through collaboration more sustainably and effectively than through formal training (Future ready).

However, ISTE Standard for Educators 4, which addresses faculty collaboration as a key to improving instructional practices, particularly those involving technology, also raises the implicit administrative question of how faculty can have the time to do so.

At my college I have advocated for establishing a standing committee that would work toward developing a comprehensive framework for educational technology decision-making, including decision-making about professional development for faculty in pedagogical technology. Such professional development could include not only (1) formal training such as modules in the form of tutorials either purchased or created by the institution; but also (2) ongoing support to help teachers from diverse subject areas troubleshoot and adapt the LMS and synchronous platform to the particular learning conditions of those disciplines; and (3) trainings in which faculty would first develop technology-related solutions to instructional needs, then, after implementing their solutions, reconvene to refine and share their solutions which could then be permanently shared in a collection of curricular tools and resources that faculty could continue to develop and draw upon.

I began thinking about this third area of professional development, faculty collaboration in curricular development across the disciplines that meets an institution-wide curricular need, when reviewing literature in my discipline about addressing the needs of students (for example, resettled refugees) who enter open access institutions like mine and have literacy backgrounds that diverge considerably from the college-ready standard English speaking, reading, and writing skills that college instructors may assume students possess. In one such model, Hernandez, Thomas, and Schuemann (2012) described a campus-wide initiative at Miami Dade Community College to use corpus linguistics to analyze  the discrete language skills (e.g. the use of key grammatical features and interpersonal skills such as asking for clarification on assignments) students needed to be successful in general education classes. Faculty then collaborated through a series of workshops over a several-year period to transform the general education curriculum of the college into content-based instruction in the various disciplines that also supported learning English. The collaborative structure of this initiative could be applied in the development of institution-wide instruction that supports faculty (and thereby students) in learning and using the affordances of the technology platforms chosen by an institution’s administration.

The collaboration inherent in such a model would potentially empower faculty to not only work with required technologies, but to gain agency in developing curricula and, in so doing, to both employ the affordances of and overcome the limitations of required technologies. Potential drawbacks with this approach are the amount of time required for faculty and professional development planners alike, and the administrator and faculty “buy-in” needed to replace traditional approaches to institutional technology decisions and traditional course preparation with a willingness to re-design curricula.

Another collaborative approach that I have actually been able to help implement was an informal gathering of interested faculty who met once monthly over the course of a year to share pedagogical technological needs and solutions. This “Reflective Practice Group” met during the 2016-2017 school year in a classroom at my college and provided collaboration, idea sharing, and a deeper sense of support and community to the faculty who participated. Though it was appreciated by these faculty and the college’s administration, as an entirely ad hoc movement outside the normal faculty responsibilities and professional development structures of the college, it was difficult for faculty to devote time to the group following its initial year.

As I continue to dialogue with my administration about how to both sustainably support faculty in developing pedagogical agency in technology use and to build community among faculty (rather than perpetuating a “digital divide” among faculty who are more or less knowledgeable of technology use), I’ll be consulting literature from the interdisciplinary fields of digital education. One such source is Jaipal-Jamani, Figg, Gallagher, Scott, and Ciampa (2015), available at

This source describes a professional development initiative in which faculty developed pedagogical technology (TPACK) knowledge in a way analogous to the Miami Dade content-based English instruction initiative in that faculty members worked collaboratively to identify and address their own instructional needs, then develop an approach to professional development in which faculty themselves became professional development facilitators. Although this approach contains the drawback of requiring more time investment than faculty or administrators at my institution may be willing or able to give, the source looks like a useful conversation builder for ongoing discussion about technology-related professional development because it contains a practical framework for designing workshops, specifically addresses the TPACK knowledge that is becoming a felt need at my institution, and uses a qualitative research approach to evaluate how research and practice in the professional development of educators can be bridged.



Future ready: Establishing a professional learning ecosystem. (2016, April 05). Vancouver Public Schools Office of Educational Technology. Retrieved from

Hernandez, K., Thomas, M., & Schuemann, C. (2012). Navigating uncharted waters: An accelerated content-based English for academic purposes program. Teaching English in the two year college, 40(1), 44-56.

Jaipal-Jamani, K., Figg, C, Gallagher, T., Scott, R.M., & Ciampa, K. (2015). Collaborative professional development in higher education: Developing knowledge of technology enhanced teaching. The journal of effective teaching, 15(2), 30-44. Retrieved from

Blogging as Co-Emergent Learning Process


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