Category Archives: EDTC 6104

Using literature to teach students that taking risks, making mistakes, and persevering are key to success in today’s digital world

The Importance of Troubleshooting

 

Those of us who have ever used technology, especially those of us who rely on technology heavily in our daily lives, can recall a time (or 20 times) when the technology just didn’t work. Perhaps we knew the reason and could quickly troubleshoot the issue, perhaps we knew the issue but didn’t know how to fix the problem, or perhaps we didn’t understand why the technology wasn’t working.  All of these situations are frustrating, some more than others. Many of our students are attending schools that utilize digital learning environments and teachers are working hard to teach students how to use different devices and programs and also teaching students how to be respectful and safe digital citizens. But often how to troubleshoot the technology when things aren’t working correctly isn’t taught. We just stop using the technology, or call the Help Desk, or wait to try again later.  But if our students are depending on technology in their daily academic and personal lives, they should be equipped with some skills to problem solve technology “issues”.

ISTE Standards for Coaching 3e is “Troubleshoot basic software, hardware, and connectivity problems common in digital learning environments.”  While technology coaches are not IT specialists, it is important that they can troubleshoot basic problems. However, I think a goal of technology coaches (and all teachers who use technology in their classroom) should be to teach students how to troubleshoot basic technology problems.  Having technology not work as you had expected is frustrating and often a response is just to quit or give up. But, like with all aspects of school (and life), we are trying to teach our students that accepting obstacles, learning from mistakes, and figuring out how to persevere and problem solve are critical skills that will serve them throughout their lives in many situations.

 

How to Help Students Learn to Take Risks, Make Mistakes and Learn from Those Mistakes

How do we teach our students to take risks when there is an “easier” option?  Make mistakes without feeling like a “failure”? And to continue to problem solve and work hard even when feeling frustrated.  In the Brookings Institute blog, Kate Mills and Helyn Kim have written about “Teaching Problem Solving: Let Students get ‘stuck’ and ‘unstuck’ ”.   My favorite sentence in this post is: “Helping my students grow to be people who will be successful outside of the classroom is equally as important as teaching the curriculum.” Sometimes we, as teachers, can lost sight of that goal. I also enjoyed reading about how this teacher “normalizes trouble” in her classroom in hopes that her students learn to accept challenge and failure as opportunities for growth.  Another key point I took from reading this post was the importance of making sure students know that the teacher is not there to solve their problems, but there to support students as they solve their own problems.

“In the real world, students encounter problems that are complex, not well defined, and lack a clear solution and approach. They need to be able to identify and apply different strategies to solve these problems. However, problem solving skills do not necessarily develop naturally; they need to be explicitly taught in a way that can be transferred across multiple settings and contexts. (Mills & Kim, 2017)”.  I feel that one of the ways that these problem solving skills can be explicitly taught is through children’s literature. Reading books that show examples of characters struggling with problems, “failing”, and then persevering aloud to students and then having class discussions, as well as independent reflection time afterwards, could really help our youngest students gain the understanding of these mindsets that will be important to the success of their digital learning experiences.

 

 

Literature Recommendations

Grit, perseverance, growth mindset, and learning to fail are all “buzz words” in classrooms today. And for good reason.  As educators, parents, employers, and member of society we know (or are learning) that these characteristics, values, and attitudes are linked to success in school, career, and life.  We also recognize that often these “skills” are not explicitly taught. One of the reasons is that it is hard to “teach” these values and attitudes. However, literature allows readers to connect to the characters as an “outsider”. And often when we are outside a situation we can more easily see what is happening and learn from the situation. For this reason, teaching social-emotional skills and mindsets through literature is very effective with students. Below are some examples for books to use for primary students. I referenced Good Reads for suggestions, but many of these titles are ones I have used in my own classroom. These are just 10 books, but there are numerous books out there at every reading level and interest area that can be used to teach students skills such as risk-taking, perseverance, and acceptance of failure.

By Andrea Beaty

 

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires  

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty

What Do you Do with a Problem by Kobi Yamada

Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg

The Dot by Peter Reynolds

A Chair for My Mother by Vera Williams

Journey by Aaron Becker

Brave Irene by William Steig

Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back up Again) by Dan Santat

 

Sources:

 

Goodreads.com website. (Retrieved on 2018, August 10) from: https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/perseverance

 

Goodreads.com website. (Retrieved on 2018, August 18) from: https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/kids-problem-solving

 

ISTE.org. (2017) ISTE Standards for Coaches. (Retrieved on 2018, August 18) from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches

 

Kim, H & Mills, K. (2017) “Teaching Problem Solving: Let Kids Get Stuck and Unstuck”. Brookings Institute Blog. (Retrieved on 2018, August 10) from: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/education-plus-development/2017/10/31/teaching-problem-solving-let-students-get-stuck-and-unstuck/

 

Remind App for Parent-Teacher Communication

A key component in the success of our students is recruiting parents as allies in the learning process. For my exploration of ISTE Coaching Standard 3G, I wanted to learn more about the most effective digital tools for communication with students and parents. The standard asks teachers to “Use digital communication and collaboration tools to communicate locally and globally with students, parents, peers, and the larger community” (Iste.org, 2017).

An important starting point is to consider the needs of parents. The Speak Up Research Project for Digital Learning polled parents and principals in 2016 to compare the communication preferences of both parties. Highlights from the study can be found below in infographic format. What stood out to me was the disconnect that existed between principals and parents. Some of this disconnect likely trickles down into the classroom as well. Two significant methods of communication that principals believed to be effective (personal phone calls and Facebook) were viewed much less favorably by parents. Parents indicated a preference for email and text message communication.

Source: School-to-Home Communications: Most effective tools for parent communications & engagement; Speak Up Research Project for Digital Learning; 2016. Link.

I kept these preferences in mind as I sought out digital communication resources. In exploring Common Sense Media (a fantastic resource for teachers to use when exploring new tech tools), I found a curated list of communication tools. Common Sense Media begins their list of communication tools with a rationale for digital communication:

  • Digital communication is an easy way to keep parents informed about what is going on in class so that they can facilitate productive discussions with their children.
  • Digital communication tools allow for mass communication which saves time when compared to individual phone calls or notes.
  • Frequent digital communication increases student productivity. When teachers and parents present a united front, there is increased accountability for students. (Knutson, 2016)

Of the six tools recommended by Common Sense Media, I chose to focus on one that I felt would meet my needs as a high school teacher as well as parents’ desire to communicate via text message: Remind.

Remind is a digital communication tool that allows teachers to communicate with students and parents by sending out whole-class, group, or single messages. The great part about Remind is that you can send messages on your phone with the app while never revealing your personal phone number to parents or students. Likewise, students can send you messages and you see only their name, not their number.

Remind is an ideal communication tool because you can send messages to the entire class, a select group, or an individual student or parent. Messages can even be translated in order to facilitate communication with parents whose primary language isn’t English. I like the flexibility to communicate in these different ways within a single app. In addition to whole-class reminders, I can use the app to send resources or feedback to a group working on a project. You can even create a group message between a parent, student, and yourself. This would be ideal for detention reminders since everyone is in the loop.

I’m a believer in communicating the positives with parents and not reaching out only when there is a problem. However, it can be very time consuming to make individual phone calls and a teacher’s time is already limited. I love that I will be able to take and send a quick snapshot of a student’s work using Remind. Within the app, you have the ability to send photos, PDFs, and voice clips.

Creating an account with Remind was quick and easy. I set up two classes for the upcoming fall term. Each class has a unique URL which students and parents can navigate to in order to sign-up. Parents and students can also join by texting my class code to a Remind phone number. You also have the option to add people yourself via a phone number or email. If you log-on to the Remind website, you can generate a printable PDF that can be shared on the first day of school or Back to School night.

One concern I had with using Remind was getting messages in the middle of the night or on weekends. Using the Office Hours feature, I was able to select the days and times I can be contacted. Students and parents who send a message outside of those hours get an alert warning them that the message may not be viewed until office hours begin.

Another feature of Remind (which I hope to play around with more once school begins) is the option to integrate files from Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive. If you use Quizlet, you can also integrate a link to a quiz within your Remind message.

I am looking forward to using Remind as a digital communication tool with my students and parents this fall!

 

 

Sources:

Iste.org. (2017). ISTE Standards For Coaches. [online] Available at: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches [Accessed 19 Aug. 2018].

Knutson, J. (2016). 6 Tech Tools That Boost Teacher-Parent Communication. Retrieved from https://www.commonsense.org/education/blog/6-tech-tools-that-boost-teacher-parent-communication

School-to-Home Communications: Most effective tools for parent communications & engagement [Infographic]. (2016). Speak Up Research Project for Digital Learning. Retrieved from http://tomorrow.org/speakup/speakup-2016-school-to-home-communications-september-2017.html

Twitter as a Tool for Personalized Professional Development

Introduction

Professional Development (PD)  has changed drastically in the relatively short amount of time that I have been a teacher. PD no longer has to constitute a one-size-fits-all lecture model. Thanks to technology, teachers are empowered to take control of their learning. One of the most popular tools for teachers to communicate and collaborate in this fashion is Twitter.

“Teacher Twitter,” as some call the community, has become a valuable place to share resources and experiences. Teaching can often be a career that happens within the silo of your classroom. Twitter allows those walls to be broken down and for collaboration to occur on a global scale.

I’m not alone in my fondness for Twitter for teachers. According to MC Desrosiers, “Virtual communities make it easier for educators to engage in immediate, specific, and focused conversations with their peers” (Logan, n.d.). Not only does Twitter facilitate this focused conversation, it has allowed a much broader take on who your peers are.

In a 2014 study of 755 K-16 teachers, teachers reported their motivations for using Twitter as the immediate access to content, the personalized nature of the site, and the potential for building a positive network (Carpenter & Krutka). Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach to professional development (as assigned by school administration), Twitter allows you to interact with educators and resources that you find helpful. You might participate in a targeted chat or follow a hashtag that is of interest to you. Whether you choose to follow coworkers, authors, ed tech companies, principals, or teachers across the globe, the perspectives you see populating your feed are entirely self-selected. If someone is getting too political or no longer sharing resources you find helpful, simply unfollow and move on.

Workshop Presentation

Because of my belief in the power of Twitter to help teachers grow and become better educators, I chose to create a workshop presentation for teachers who were not yet members of the Twitter community. I submitted a proposal for the 2019 NCCE (Northwest Council for Computer Education). While I was initially focused on helping complete Twitter newbies join Twitter, I shifted the focus of my presentation to also accommodate teachers who had a Twitter but weren’t using it to the full extent possible. I am sharing my presentation here with the hope that it be useful for technology coaches and leaders hoping to harness the power of Twitter in their school or district. An editable link will be provided so that you may edit and use the presentation however you see fit.

My presentation includes a rationale for using Twitter for PD, a step-by-step guide to setting up a Twitter, components of collaboration via real-time hashtags, and a brief overview of the way teachers can tailor Twitter to suit their needs (including Lists, Likes, Polls, and Chats).

Since the nature of my project shifted, what was originally meant to be a 10-minute Ignite Session grew. If I were to present this at the NCCE conference, I would bypass the tutorial aspect and assume that audience members had a basic understanding of Twitter. If I were to use this presentation as a PD offering at my school, I would allow for 30 minutes in order to ensure that all participants could set up an account and get started. The benefit of sharing a link to your resource is that teachers can refer back to it and review anything they missed.

Meeting ISTE Coaching Standard 3

Twitter is a powerful way to connect, communicate, and collaborate with educators at your school site, district, county, state, and country. Twitter makes it easy to connect with educators across the globe if you choose. I cannot think of a better way to satisfy ISTE Coaching Standard 3 which asks technology coaches to “create and support effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students” (Iste.org, 2017). More specifically, Twitter allows teachers to meet substandard G: “Use digital communication and collaboration tools to communicate locally and globally with students, parents, peers, and the larger community” (Iste.org, 2017).

Meeting the Needs of Teachers

Technology coaches and leaders are wise to spend time teaching fellow teachers about the benefits of Twitter and how it can provide personalized PD. Unlike many PD sessions which offer a single strategy or tool, a session on Twitter enables teachers to access an ongoing resource that can be used again and again for ideas, collaboration, and resources.

When creating my presentation, I considered the article, 5 Things Teachers Want from PD, which I discovered through Liz Ebersole’s blog.

  • Relevant: Many teachers use social media in their personal life, but many haven’t made the jump to “teacher Twitter.” Because it’s such a familiar platform, adoption is natural. Through the use of hashtags and chats, Twitter has the ability to create a highly personalized experience for teachers.
  • Interactive: Teachers at a PD-session want the opportunity to practice the content then and there. Utilizing a document camera, coaches and leaders can walk newbies through the process of creating a Twitter account and getting started. My presentation also uses hashtags generated specifically for the presentation which allows for immediate practice and connection between participants.
  • Delivered by someone who understands their experience: As someone who is currently in the classroom, I know how valuable a teacher’s time is. There is a desperate need for PD that can be quickly and easily accessed. Twitter is the perfect tool for that. The presentation is also intentionally short and to-the-point to honor teachers’ time.
  • Sustained over time: Due to the social media element, Twitter is a constantly updating stream of information and ideas. It’s not a once and done strategy, but rather a tool that can be tapped as needed for ideas, inspiration, and collaboration. For this reason, it is very sustainable.
  • Trust teachers like professionals: This self-explanatory point is often neglected in the current PD setting. The beauty of Twitter is that you can curate lists of people and resources which result in PD that is done on your own terms.

Note on Accessibility

This quarter we also focused on accessibility and how educators can make sure their content can meet the needs of all learners. In order to demonstrate accessibility with my presentation, I’ve made the content available in a variety of ways. In addition to the presentation being projected on to the screen, the content is available online via a bit.ly link. This allows participants to focus on the content and not note-taking. It also enables me to link to additional resources. Multiple printouts of the presentation are brought to the presentation to support participants with vision issues. Additionally, the video I have made of my presentation is available with Closed Captions for those who may have hearing issues.

Links

Sources

Carpenter, J., & Krutka, D. (2014). How and Why Educators Use Twitter: A Survey of the Field. Journal Of Research On Technology In Education, 46(4), 414-434. doi: 10.1080/15391523.2014.925701

Iste.org. (2017). ISTE Standards For Coaches. [online] Available at: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches [Accessed 17 Aug. 2018].

Logan, L. 5 ways tech has changed professional development. Retrieved from https://www.amplify.com/viewpoints/5-ways-tech-has-changed-professional-development

Evaluating, Selecting, and Managing Digital Tools

With so many digital tools available for teachers and students to use and based on the ISTE Standard 3 for coaches, I wanted to know how coaches can evaluate, select, and manage these digital tools for teachers. To answer this question I first took a look at what my own district does to help make this process smooth for all staff members.

One Districts Technology Integration System

There are many different ways for districts to select and manage different digital tools for all staff members. My own district has a good system in place to make technology integration seem smooth and simple (in my opinion). To help manage all of the digital tools available for staff the district uses a platform called Powerschool.  On this platform the district provides access to materials such as Online Curriculum, Mobile Teaching, Technology Training and Integration, as well as, digital tools.

Evaluating and Selecting Digital Tools

Not all digital tools are created equally and therefore they need to be evaluated before staff and students can access them. My district has four things they look at when evaluating a digital tool and a simple flow chart to see if the tool meets the district standards.

The district job in evaluating digital tools allows for them to make sure they meet the requires for student privacy and safety, to make sure it aligns with current district curriculum, any potential cost, and any issues with district wide technology/Security. If a digital tools meets all of these requirements then that digital tool is uploaded on to the platform for all staff members to access. A great thing about this process is that any staff member can submit a digital tool for approval. This allows for teachers to have a voice in the digital tools they think would be a good fit for their teaching and their students learning.

Conclusion

Technology changes by the minute, and as educators we need to keep up with the times in order to best prepare our students for this ever-changing world that we live in. With a system in place to evaluate, select, and manage digital tools districts can keep up with the demand and provide its staff and students with safe, effective digital tools in the classroom. Coaches can take the model above to help teachers select what is best for their students learning, while making sure the technology fulfills laws around safety.

Digital Tools for Students with Dyslexia

What is Dyslexia?

 

Dyslexia is the most common learning disability,  affecting 10-20% of children and adults. Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability that causes difficulty with language skills, specifically reading (IDA website).  It is a disability that affects an individual throughout their life, although with interventions and supports people with dyslexia can become highly successful (Redford, 2014).  The following paragraph comes from the Yale Institute for Dyslexia and Creativity, which borrows their definition from the book Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz.

 

Dyslexic children and adults struggle to read fluently, spell words correctly and learn a second language, among other challenges. But these difficulties have no connection to their overall intelligence. In fact, dyslexia is an unexpected difficulty in reading in an individual who has the intelligence to be a much better reader. While people with dyslexia are slow readers, they often, paradoxically, are very fast and creative thinkers with strong reasoning abilities.

Source: IDA website- https://dyslexiaida.org/infographics/

 

The Impact of Technology

Advances in (and increased access to) technology have had a significant and positive impact for students with dyslexia.  Technology has the ability to provide students with supports such as more time, the ability to use assistive technology to read and write, and ways to provide interventions without drawing attention to the disability.  Many of the digital resources that have and will continue to provide support to students with language-based learning disabilities are free. Technology also allows increased access to information about dyslexia and the ability to connect online with others who share a common interest, such as dyslexia.  

 

Recommendations

Through my research and my experience working with dyslexic students, I have come up with some recommendations as listed below. I have grouped these recommendations into three categories: reading and learning, note-taking, and writing. These are the three areas of school where students with dyslexia typically experience the most difficulty and where technology supports and resources can be very valuable and dramatically transform the learning environment and opportunities for success for students with dyslexia.

 

Reading and Learning

  • Provide shorter and less dense reading assignments, but still at same reading and information level
  • Allow students to listen to audio books (either human read or computer-generated)
  • Assign graphic novels for reading (Redford, 2014)
  • Make sure to increase font size and use font that is simple
  • Provide students with text to speech technologies

An example of using Assistive Technology (browsealoud) to read a website.

Source: IDA website- https://dyslexiaida.org/frequently-asked-questions-2/

 

 

Note-Taking

  • Provide typed notes when appropriate
  • Allow students to record lectures/instruction/ assignment directions
  • Allow students to take pictures of the board or any other visuals in the classroom

 

Spelling and Writing

  • Allow student to type their writing whenever possible and ensure they have instruction in efficient keyboard practices (Redford, 2014)
  • When students are generating ideas or mapping out their writing, allow them to dictate their thinking so that their ideas are able to be captured as their thoughts and creativity flow (Redford, 2014)
  • Provide access to programs that can translate speech to text
  • Encourage use of spell-check, spelling predictors, and grammar programs

 

Most Important

  • Allow extra time for students with language-based learning disabilities for reading, writing, test-taking, etc.
  • When appropriate provide the whole class with the accommodations options listed above for two reasons. 1) Accommodations for students with a learning disability are often beneficial to all students and 2) It allows the student(s) with dyslexia to access these supports without drawing attention to their disability

 

Sources:

Chernek, V (2015). “Will Accessible Books Improve Reading for Students with Dyslexia?” EdSurge. (Retrieved on 2018, August 5) from:

https://www.edsurge.com/news/2015-01-27-will-digital-accessible-books-improve-reading-for-students-with-dyslexia

 

Common Sense Media for Educators website. “Best Assistive Technology for Reading in the Classroom”. (Retrieved on 2018, August 3) from: https://www.commonsense.org/education/top-picks/best-assistive-technology-for-reading-in-the-classroom

 

Eide, F (2015) “3 Technology Must-Dos for Dyslexia at School” Dyslexic Advantage (Retrieved on 2018, August 5) from: https://www.dyslexicadvantage.org/3-technology-must-dos-for-dyslexia-at-school/

 

International Dyslexia Association website: https://dyslexiaida.org/

 

ISTE.org. (2017) ISTE Standards for Coaches. (Retrieved on 2018, June 21) from: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches

 

Hamman, J (2018). “Accommodating Students with Dyslexia”. Edutopia.org Website (Retrieved on 2018, August 1) from: https://www.edutopia.org/article/accommodating-students-dyslexia?gclid=EAIaIQobChMI4a3F16zA3AIVRIF-Ch0cMwcmEAAYAyAAEgLFVvD_BwE

 

Redford, K (2014). “Kids Can’t Wait: Strategies to Help Struggling Readers” Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity (Retrieved on 2018, August 5) from: http://dyslexia.yale.edu/resources/educators/instruction/kids-cant-wait-strategies-to-support-struggling-readers/

 

Shapiro, L (2018). “How Technology Helped me Cheat Dyslexia” (Retrieved on 2018, August 5) from: https://www.wired.com/story/end-of-dyslexia/

 

Meeting Students Where They Are with Assistive Technologies in the ELA Classroom

Meeting the needs of all learners in our classrooms can be a challenge. Students bring a wide variety of needs from learning disabilities, physical impairments, to attention issues. Fortunately, there are many assistive technology options available that can help teachers to meet these needs.

For this week’s post, I want to focus on ISTE Coaching Standard 3 which emphasizes creating digital learning environments that support the needs of all learners. Specifically, I consider substandard C: “Select, evaluate, and facilitate the use of adaptive and assistive technologies to support student learning” (Iste.org, 2017). My mission was to find and test out assistive technology tools available online to support students in reading and writing.

Assistive Technology, as defined by the 2004 IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act) is as follows: “Any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities.” When considering the use of the word ‘device’ in the definition, “…it is important to recognize that assistive technology devices required by students with disabilities include hardware and software as well as stand-alone devices” (“Definition of Assistive Technology”, 2014). All of the software I tested for this post is available online and all but one tool are completely free.

The reason I chose to focus on software is that it is an adaptation that can be made with relatively little cost and time investment. I wanted to explore options that teachers could implement on their own. Many teachers incorrectly view assistive technology as “an isolated, specialized factor understood and implemented by only a few specifically trained individuals” (Clifford & Reed, as cited in Connor & Beard, 2015). In other words, ‘not my problem.’ However, I hope to show that there are tools that are easy to use and that can benefit all students, not just those with barriers to learning.

Assistance with Reading

  • Rewordify
    • For: Students with reading difficulties
    • What: Rewordify has two important features. The first is that students or teachers can paste in text and have the software simplify the wording. The second feature is that many popular pieces of classic literature are already in the system. Students can access these translated versions for free. In both uses of the system, the replaced words are shown in yellow so that students can examine the original word and grow their vocabulary. While the simplifications aren’t always flawless, it’s a great starting point for students who aren’t reading at grade level.

 

  • Read&Write Chrome Extension
    • For: Students with visual impairments, students learning English
    • What: This extension has many features. In addition to reading either an entire webpage or just selected text, you can access both traditional and visual dictionaries and translations, making this an ideal tool for struggling readers or readers new to the English language. Another feature is the ability to simplify a webpage to remove ads and sidebars as well as change the contrast colors. Students can also use the masking feature to gray out all of the webpage except for a thin bar. The extension also allows readers to highlight any portion of the article and then generate a Google Doc with those highlighted notes. Unfortunately, all but the most basic reader features are only available at the premium level once the free trial ends. The cost for a single annual license is $145, so this may not be a great option unless you have special funds or a parent who is in a position to purchase this resource.

  • Read Aloud, A Text to Speech Voice Reader Chrome Extension
    • For: Students with visual impairments, students with hearing impairments
    • What: Of all the screen readers I tested, Read Aloud stood apart. This screen reader allows you to choose from multiple voices. The volume, pitch, and speed can also be manipulated as needed. You can choose to have the text highlighted as it is read. What set this extension apart from the others was its ability to read Google Doc files and PDFs (after uploading your file). The one downside is that it will read the captions of advertisements.

  • Google Translate
    • For: Students learning English
    • What: Anyone can use www.translate.google.com to convert text between any two languages. Students can copy and paste text into the translation box. However, an easier way to accommodate students who are new to English is by adding the Chrome Extension. This will allow students to translate an entire webpage into their primary language. The extension will also enable students to highlight any text, right click, select translate, and see a translation in any language they choose.

  • Mercury Reader Chrome Extension
    • For: Students with visual impairments; students who have trouble focusing
    • What: Mercury Reader removes all clutter from a webpage when you select the extension. This includes sidebar content, advertisements, comments, and more. Essentially you will have a clean article with only the images posted in the article and links shared within the article. Students have the option to change the contrast in case it is easier for them to read light text on a dark background. Students can also choose between a Serif and Non-Serif font and enlarge the text as needed.

Assistance with Writing

  • Speech to Text with Google or Voice In Chrome Extension
    • For: Students who struggle with fine motor skills, students with attention disorders
    • What: Within a Google Doc, there is a built-in function to convert speech to text. You can access this function under the Tools menu or by using the shortcut, Ctl+Shift+S. Students simply speak into their device’s built-in microphone and their words appear on the screen. In addition to students who have trouble typing due to motor skill problems, I have had success when allowing students with ADHD to complete work in this manner. They seem better able to focus on speaking than on typing. Just like when using the speech to text feature on a phone, editing for grammar and the occasional mistaken words is necessary.
    • What: Voice In is a Chrome Extension that will allow for dictation on any typable area of the web. This includes search boxes and forms. Anywhere you can type, you can right-click and select the option to Start Recording.

  • Grammarly
    • For: Students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia and dysgraphia
    • What: Grammarly is a Chrome Extension that can also be downloaded to a PC and used with Microsoft Office. Grammarly is a grammar and spell-checker that not only points out the mistake but explains why their suggestion is correct. Because of this, it is a more effective tool than a traditional spell-checker which simply makes the correction for you. This is a great tool for all students–not just those with learning disabilities!

Conclusion

One thing to consider when implementing any form of assistive technology is that the student’s needs should come first, not the device (Connor & Beard, 2015). In other words, consider what elements a student needs to be successful with a given assignment and then find a tool that offers those elements instead of changing the assignment to fit within a particular tool.

 

Sources

Connor, C., & Beard, L. (2015). Increasing Meaningful Assistive Technology Use in the Classrooms. Universal Journal Of Educational Research, 3(9), 640-642. doi: 10.13189/ujer.2015.030908

Definition of Assistive Technology. (2014). Retrieved from http://www.gpat.org/georgia-project-for-assistive-technology/pages/assistive-technology-definition.aspx

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 (2004)

Iste.org. (2017). ISTE Standards For Coaches. [online] Available at: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches [Accessed 19 Jul. 2018].

 

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.

 

Mindset

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.

 

References:

Bailey, T.R., Smith Jaggars, S. & Jenkins, D. (2015). Redesigning America’s community colleges: A clearer path to student success. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Cifuentes, L., Janney, A., Guerra, L. & Weir, J. (2016). A working model for complying with accessibility guidelines for online learning. TechTrends, 60(6): 557-564.

Hamrick, L., & Grabham, B. (2018, August). It takes a campus: Creating accessible learning experiences for students in an LMS. Conference session presented at Colorado Learning and Teaching with Technology (COLTT) 2018 Conference, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO.

Introduction to web accessibility. (2018, March 24). Retrieved from World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Web Access Initiative website: https://www.w3.org/WAI/fundamentals/accessibility-intro/#context

Korbey, H. (2015, October 8). Why recognizing dyslexia in children at school can be difficult. Retrieved from KQED News website: https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/41908/why-recognizing-dyslexia-in-children-at-school-can-be-difficult

Seale, J., Georgeson, J., Mamas, C., & Swain, J. (2015). Not the right kind of ‘digital capital? An examination of the complex relationship between disabled students, their technologies, and higher education institutions. Computers & Education, 82, 118-128. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131514002541?via%3Dihub

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.

 

Considerations

Choosing to use OERs in course design does involve the instructor and the institution in the responsibility to mitigate some of the potential barriers or difficulties they pose. For example, while OERs can enhance the content of a course, they can play a role in reducing engagement between peers and between students and instructor. For this reason, they may not be ideal for diverse and nontraditional learners who would benefit from more instructional interaction. Similarly, I have consistently heard from my students that while they appreciate the convenience and some of the affordances of digitized text, many students believe that they understand and remember what they read best when they read from a book that they can touch, write on, and experience in three-dimensional space. A third consideration of how OERs may actually compromise learning has to do with access; their use may disenfranchise students who do not have a reliable internet connection or who have limited technology skills or software or hardware.

In addition, three important contextual concerns that should inform instructors’ and designers’ thinking as we implement OERs are quality control, intellectual copyright issues, and sustainability. The open nature of OERs leads to a need for users (whether programs and institutions or individual instructors or designers) to establish and use criteria for evaluating the accuracy and academic credentials of these materials. Allowing individual faculty to use OERs may compromise the consistency across sections that use of a required textbook ensures and that is a goal in standards-based education. Second, though OERs are created in order to be shared, U.S. copyright and “fair use” laws still apply, and OERs need to be “re-mixed” in ways that give attribution to both licensed and public domain sources (Moore, 2017). States such as Oregon have created higher education OER guidelines that address matters of access and quality (Freed, Friedman, Lawlis, & Stapleton, 2018).

A final ethical consideration that is easy to bypass in the rush to create a strategic institutional plan or a new coursepack is that of sustainability. This issue involves considering how our short term choices in instructional modes and materials impact the education in the long term. For example, movement away from the use of textbooks has driven up the cost of textbooks and also encouraged textbook companies to transform themselves into digital content providers. And while the prefabricated digital learning materials now being marketed by what formerly were textbook companies may have many attractive functionalities such as “intelligent” tutoring software, the ease with which these new materials can in turn be adopted by instructors to replace teaching can further distance students from learning as a carefully thought out and human-mediated process.

For these and other reasons, I’ve used OERs sparingly, aiming to make and test one innovation at a time. I began with using OERs from my field, writing instruction, using peer-reviewed resources provided by disciplinary associations and networks such as the WAC Clearinghouse or internationally recognized writing labs such as the Purdue OWL. I also try to find valid and reliable ways to assess and document the impact of my use of digital resources, at minimum by frequently collecting student feedback and giving students opportunity to choose the digital resources that work best for them. In the case of OER textbooks, I first used OERs as supplements or as options, an approach that works best in courses, such as many writing courses, that are not textbook-driven, and that helps me maintain alignment with textbook requirements across sections in my institution while still taking advantage of the way OERs can be tailored to student interests, learning styles, and learning levels.

 

Instructional Design with OERs

When designing instruction, the basic steps I follow involve:

  • Identify the concepts to be learned
  • Identify barriers to learning
  • Identifying research-tested “best” pedagogical and disciplinary practices to be used
  • Decide how the unit fits into the overall scope of the course or create the comprehensive syllabus and structure for the course
  • Develop the tools and instruction

Designing an online or a technology-enhanced course involves more consideration, throughout the steps of this process, of factors such as accessibility, universality of design to support various types of learners, considering and supporting digital skill sets, and promoting cognitive, social, and instructor presence (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000).

Lehman and Conceição (2013), in their book-length survey of models of student persistence and presentation of online courses design strategies based on their model for supporting supporting student persistence, also identify a number of institutional and instructional supports and tasks (for example, creating forums for both content-related and non-content-related interactions such as technical support and office hours;  providing “Netiquette” guidelines; and considering how to help students prioritize tasks) that instructors like me should consider throughout the design process.

At the community college where I work, I have taught an the first of a three-course humanities sequence several times. This 100 level course provides a transfer credit and is often taken by students with little previous college experience. By requirement, HUM 121 is a textbook-oriented course that involves a survey of worldwide cultures from pre-civilization through the Western medieval era, also packing the disciplinary perspectives of cultural studies, art history, philosophy, and religious studies into a 15-week, 3 credit hour timeframe. Because of these constraints and the needs of my student population, my challenges in teaching this course include getting students interested, motivating them to read the required textbook, motivating them to learn vocabulary and disciplinary content that requires memorization, and supporting them in making the deeper connections that drive exploration, discovery, and authentic, personal learning.

This coming semester, the learning environment my students and I share will have some technological conditions that may act as further constraints or as opportunities. This course will be offered in a hybrid format, such that one of the three weekly contact hours involved in face-to-face instruction will be replaced by equivalent, asynchronous virtual instruction. The section will also be offered in what my institution terms a “global” format, meaning that some students will be present in a classroom for the two hours of weekly contact, while others will join on an individual computer from a remote site, while still others may be dual enrollment students who join as a group through a single computer. While I think that such a diversity of access formats inevitably leads to a privileging of one of the forms of attendance (for instance, on-site students may receive more teacher attention because of their physical proximity, or remote students in group settings may receive more instructor attention because of the problems associated with the relative number of layers of technology between them and the instructor), an equalizing factor is the fact that all students have access to the LMS course shell and associated student accounts (email, any software I embed, etc.), though not all students may have access at home. And while students and I are required to connect with content and one another using one or more other technologies (such as web-conferencing tools and the college website), one of my priorities for course design is to deliver as much content as possible in one place, using the shell as a hub. An opportunity that I have this semester is to use a slightly redesigned version of our LMS system, D2L/Brightspace. All these affordances and constraints make this a perfect time to re-examine the use of OERs to support these specific learning needs.

These, along with the considerations I listed above, mean that the three areas of most important consideration for me in the selection of OERs for this course will be the (1) nature and quality of any open educational materials, (2) copyright and licensing issues, and (3) how the tools and resources are used.

While the instructional and infrastructure challenges discussed above pose possible barriers, what makes designing this course fun is prioritizing the focus on designing effective learning experiences. The other pieces are all means to that end. Through the design process steps sketched above, I’ll be building:

  • Learning experiences aligned with institutional curriculum outcomes and/or state guaranteed transfer standards, disciplinary and pedagogical best practices
  • Integration of educational technologies
  • Student technology training and support
  • Learner experiences that according with Universal Design and WCAG accessibility principles
  • Connections to means of social and cognitive engagement
  • Connections to institutional supports through the learning environment

The shift to a hybrid format has caused me to conceive of the course’s basic unit in terms of a series of one-week learning experiences or modules. While this may not sound like a big change for the organization of a survey course, this shift includes: a sense of how students’ learning process should unfold over a week, how technology will enable me to help students organize their time and learning tasks more effectively, and how the tasks assigned might need to change. The basic learning task sequence for a week will involve the following steps: Read, quiz, vocab, discuss, mini-lecture, connect and create.

Our synchronous class meetings will be on Monday. The week’s learning activities will begin with turning in annotations of readings the evening before class. Rather than requiring students to turn in reading notes or summaries or relying on reading quizzes for accountability, I would like to provide an accountable reading assignment that is also motivating. One way to achieve this is to begin collaborative discussion during the reading process through the use of collaborative annotation tools. This will transform reading from an independent and unsupported task which students often avoid to a collaborative one in which readings can be approached more critically, multiple readings can be documented, students can ask and answer questions and make connections to other texts, reading discussion can begin before class and continue after class, and documented group interaction around readings can be used by small groups to support collaborative research projects.

I’m exploring using Stanford university’s Lacuna software for collaborative annotation or Hypothes.is. Both tools are free but may present barriers in terms of institutional willingness to partner or access to digitized content. In this first iteration of this hybrid format, the institution issued student textbook requisitions in print form prior to assigning the course in a hybrid format, so I’m seeking some retro-fitted funding to possibly create access to a digitized version of the textbook. In the absence of this funding, I can still have students access many of the primary source readings (which because of their antiquity can be located in the public domain) included in the textbook. OER resources for such primary source readings include the public domain primary source collection at Project Gutenberg and primary source archives curated by university humanities and digital humanities departments, such as Fordham University’s Internet Ancient History Sourcebook.

Two important considerations for facilitating collaborative engagement will be 1. making it easy for students to engage with each other and the content; and 2. fostering participation. While I hope that Lacuna can foster the first, with some thought I should be able to use another easy-to-access software format or the “groups” or other features of my LMS shell to help students see and comment on one another’s work. To foster participation, one approach I’d like to try is to provide a work style survey that can help students self-select groups in a judgment-free way based on a knowledge of shared work styles. For instance, they could self-select into groups for those who prefer to plan ahead or who prefer to get work done at the last minute.

The next step in the learning activity chain will involve quizzes. Online quizzes that students take before class can reinforce reading content and help students monitor what they have and have not learned. In the past, I’ve given students unlimited opportunities to take and re-take 10-15 question, selected response and short essay quizzes at the conclusion of each reading and before a deadline. The intent was that in addition to providing accountability for reading, students would use quizzes to reinforce learning. I found in this context that few students used these quizzes more than twice and many took them only once, with poor outcomes indicating incomplete reading of course materials, and concluded that they were not very effective with this student population either in providing accountability or concept and vocabulary practice. Rather than scrapping the quizzes, I’d like to retain them and see if students will use them for practice more after doing group annotations.

Next, to continue to address the difficulty I’ve encountered with students learning the vocabulary terms of the many disciplines they encounter in HUM 121, I plan to begin each synchronous session with vocabulary study. The first 10 or 15 minutes of class will use vocabulary learning tasks such as Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC)-oriented short writing tasks that move students from contextual mastery of terms to the ability to apply terms as part of their personal vocabularies, to having students develop their own tools for learning, say, architectural vocabulary terms. Finally, I hope to embed vocabulary learning in the course by the use of OER texts and resources, as I’ll discuss below.

Once students have read and begun to learn basic organizing concepts, they need to learn to work with primary sources, to process those sources and make connections between those sources, and to display their knowledge. Skill in these three areas will build a foundation for the more in-depth projects students may be able to undertake in higher level humanities or in digital humanities courses. (I’m blown away by what Miriam Posner’s students at UCLA can achieve in a 100 level Digital Humanities course focused not on survey content but on research approaches and technologies: http://miriamposner.com/classes/dh101f17/assignments/final-project/ .) These three levels of work with sources will be supported by classroom discussions, which I plan to have students lead by adapting the fishbowl discussion technique, by mini-lectures, and by a short written analysis that students will submit near the conclusion of the week’s learning, the topics for which will emerge not only from the primary source readings and visual objects, but from the week’s collaborations.

Finally, the capstone project for the course will be a presentation in which students explore issues that provide cultural and sociological background for understanding one or more of the significant primary sources engaged in the class. For example, if a primary source is the Roman satirist Juvenal’s “Against the City of Rome,” students could explore a cultural or sociological contextual topic such as Roman Religion and Cultic Practice or the Roman Welfare State. This project will be supported throughout the class by a series of milestones. Equally important, the project will be supported as well as by a series of short tutorial-style assignments that will support students in working with sources (for example, by approaching attribution not merely as a matter of avoiding plagiarism but of participating in and facilitating a conversation), in processing sources (for example, students will use TimeMapper to create spatial, chronological, and conceptual organization of a topic), and in displaying sources and showcasing knowledge (both in written and visual form). OERs will form a key part of this project, serving not simply as primary or secondary resources but as contexts in which students re-process information and see approaches to inquiry.

In a previous digital archives project for students in a 100 level literature class, I found that providing students with access to instructor-curated digital archives of primary sources boosted student inquiry. For this class, I’ve also decided to provide students with a limited body of high-quality suggested resources (which they may opt to add to). I took these resources from university librarian-curated or university department-curated research guides. One source, Art History Teaching Resources (AHTR), is written for instructors rather than students, but provides good models of inquiry topics, provides overviews of critical central ideas or sources that students won’t necessarily know about, displays the use of the same sorts of vocabulary terms students engaged with in their textbook but in a different context, and suggests “activities” that students may find useful for their own learning as well as for using in a presentation. The project design will prevent students from over-reliance upon any one source or type of source. I hope that the presence of OERs on the syllabus, as support materials for the projects, as sources I will model use of in my participation in class discussion, but not necessarily as assigned reading will encourage and make it easier for students to engage in exploration throughout the course.

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.

 

References:

Freed, B., Friedman, A., Lawlis, S., & Stapleton, A. (2018, June). Evaluating Oregon’s open educational resources designation requirement: A report for the higher education coordinating commission. Retrieved from: https://www.oregon.gov/highered/research/Documents/Reports/HECC-Final-OER-Report_2018.pdf

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education. Retrieved from the Athabasca University website: http://cde.athabascau.ca/coi_site/documents/Garrison_Anderson_Archer_Critical_Inquiry_model.pdf

Hilton, J. (2016). Open educational resources and college textbook choices: a review of research on efficacy and perceptions. Education Tech Research and Development, 64(4), 573-590.

Lehman, R.M. & Conceição, S. (2013) Motivating and retaining online students: Research-based strategies that work, Jossey-Bass / Wiley. Retrieved from http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/spu/detail.action?docID=1376946

Moore, K. (2017, March 22). Attribution statements for remixed OER content [Website post]. Retrieved from: http://openoregon.org/attribution-statements-for-remixed-oer-content/

Redmond, P., Abawi, L., Brown, A., Henderson, R., & Heffernan, A. (2018). An online engagement framework for higher education. Online learning, 22(1), 183-204. doi:10.24059/olj.v22i1.1175

Planning for Success with Digital Collaboration

Even before the availability of technology in the classroom, group projects have gotten a bad rap. Students worry that the work will not be shared equally or that other’s actions (or inaction) will impact their grade. Teachers likewise want to ensure that collaboration results in all students accessing the content.

The benefit of using technology to facilitate collaboration is that students’ actions can be easily quantified and qualified. Features like the Revision History within Google Apps will reveal each student’s contribution to an assignment in color-coded format. Posts on a discussion board or LMS platform also make a student’s level of participation apparent. However, what can teachers do to eliminate the need for this “got you” approach and instead be proactive about ensuring the success of digital collaboration?

Carefully and intentionally structuring courses and projects is one way that teachers can ensure students have meaningful digital collaborations, thereby satisfying ISTE Coaching Standard 3a, “Model effective…collaborative learning strategies to maximize teacher and student use of digital tools and resources and access to technology-rich learning environments” (Iste.org, 2017).

The Argument for Collaboration

Though it may seem like planning for collaboration is more involved than traditional assignments, the benefits are overwhelming. Dr. Patty Shank makes the following argument for collaboration in the higher education classroom: “[S]ocial interaction can positively influence learning, motivation, and problem-solving, and can help learners gain needed support and overcome frustration” (n.d.). I put together the following infographic to highlight Shank’s rationale for incorporating collaborative learning.

Planning for Collaboration

One of my favorite sayings is ‘failing to plan results in planning to fail.’ The element of planning is vital to the success of collaboration. According to Shank, “It takes preparation and practice to design and implement good collaborative activities, and learners need preparation and practice to get the most from them” (n.d.). For guidance in what this planning might look like, I turned to an article written by Jan Engle, a coordinator of instruction development at Governors State University.

Build Collaboration into the Course

Engle suggests making your expectations regarding collaboration clear from the beginning.  In order to ensure that the responsibility for learning is shared by all students in a group, Engle makes participation in group work a grade requirement. Not adequately participating in group work results in an automatic single grade-level reduction (ie- A to B). Engle does this “because really bad group experiences and failure to participate in the online environment just decimate the sense of community we’ve worked so hard to develop up to that point” (n.d.).  

Initially Focus on Process over Product

Even adult learners may enter the classroom unprepared for successful collaboration. Instead of making assumptions about what students can or can’t accomplish as a group, Engle suggests explicitly teaching collaboration. Depending on the age group, this might involve giving students the language to disagree. When I taught English Language Learners, we used the Kate Kinsella framework to provide students with sentence frames. More advanced learners might just need guidance in developing group norms.

Engle (n.d.) asks her groups to collaboratively discuss and then respond to the following questions:

  • How are you going to divide the project so that each team member has a part?
  • Who is going to be responsible for each part?
  • How are you going to communicate during the project?
  • How will members submit their work to the group?
  • What is the deadline for the submissions of individual pieces?
  • Who is going to be responsible for putting the pieces together into one paper [or presentation]?
  • How are you going to handle final proofing?
  • What will you do it somebody does not do his or her part or does not meet deadlines?
  • How are you going to go about answering questions that group members might have about the project?

Scaffold Up to Larger Projects

Beginning the collaboration process with a low-stakes project is a great way to test out the group dynamics and work through conflict. Early in a course, Engle assigns a group project that is “relatively easy and fun in order to emphasize group processes” (n.d.). Once students have the concept down, Engle then moves on to larger collaborative projects. One example of an introductory collaborative activity is an information scavenger hunt designed to introduce students to the basic concepts of research. Engle chose this task because it was easy for students to divide the tasks, was not worth many points, and wouldn’t create much room for conflict since the answers were all either right or wrong.

Engle also suggests introducing smaller collaborative components ahead of time in order to scaffold up to the larger assessment. This might include sharing responses with a partner who is then required to report them out to the class. Or you might include Jigsaw learning where each group is responsible for reporting on a particular text or concept.

Multiple Modes of Monitoring

Peer Evaluation: While students are welcome to contact Engle at any point in time with concerns, they also have a say in their fellow teammates’ final grade. Collaborative project grades are based partly on end result and partly on peer evaluation. That peer evaluation is based on a rubric that all students review. I really appreciate the addition of a rubric component into the peer feedback process because it helps students to make quantitative evaluations and not judge based on personal chemistry or connection. An additional step that I would take is having students justify each line item response on the rubric.

Teacher Observation: Whether students are collaborating on a Google Slide, discussion board, or Wiki page, Engle requires students to give her access throughout the process. One mistake that many teachers make is being involved in the initial explanation of the assignment and then checking out until the final product is returned. By being involved every step of the way, you can head off potential inequities and disagreements. Even with this oversight, it is important to encourage a productive struggle before stepping in. Instead of simply solving the problem for students, consider how you might facilitate a resolution.

Self-Assessment: Though not mentioned by Engle as a monitoring strategy, I believe self-assessment to be a valuable tool in helping students ensure they are collaborating successfully. I have found that students are typically harder on themselves than peers (and sometimes even the teacher). Like peer evaluation, self-assessments can be based on a given rubric. In addition to the rubric reflection, I have also had success with asking students to explicitly share the contribution they made to their group on a particular day.

Conclusion

Just as it is essential to teach students rules and routines at the beginning of the school year, it is also essential to explicitly plan for and teach collaboration. The time investment made up front will pay off when learners are able to fairly and successfully participate in the online learning environment.

Sources:

Engle, J. How to Promote Collaborative Active Online Learning . Student Collaboration In The Online Classroom, 11-12. Retrieved from http://www.hartnell.edu/sites/default/files/u285/student-collaboration-in-the-online-classroom.pdf

Iste.org. (2017). ISTE Standards For Coaches. [online] Available at: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches [Accessed 19 Jul. 2018].

Shank, P. Considering Collaboration. Student Collaboration In The Online Classroom, 12-13. Retrieved from http://www.hartnell.edu/sites/default/files/u285/student-collaboration-in-the-online-classroom.pdf