A Free Web Accessibility MOOC for Online Educators

word cloudI came across this "Web Accessibility MOOC for Online Educators (WAMOE)." Although there are no upcoming dates for the next live offering of WAMOE in D2L Open Courses, the site at https://weba11ymooc.wordpress.com contains all course content and activities that have been used in the MOOC. 

I know that many online educators are interested in learning about how to make their courses more available to students who struggle with web accessibility issues, but may not know where to go for information. This free MOOC, sponsored by Portland Community College and D2L, provides a free professional development opportunity to help eLearning professionals meet the challenges of improving accessibility in online learning.

I believe that using this resource in conjunction with a F2F cohort of faculty on a campus would be an excellent way to approach the topics contained in the MOOC. As with any learners in a MOOC, a hybrid approach to using the online resources is often the best approach to increasing completion of the c"course" and eliminating some of the frustrations of learning on your own.

NOTE: Much of the course content was originally developed by Karen Sorensen and other staff at Portland Community College. PCC also freely shares their comprehensive document titled “Web Accessibility Guidelines.” All course content is open licensed by CC-BY, NonCommercial, Share-Alike 3.0 with attribution to Portland Community College and D2L Corporation.

The Apple User Experience

user design

September is not only the start of a new academic year, but also the time for Apple announcements. Apple has an odd connection to its users. They are devoted, often called "fan boys," who used to line up at stores for new products. I doubt the lines will be very long for their newest announcements. But they have famously been known - especially in the Jobs days - to not listen to users but to tell user what they want and need.

The new iPhones, called the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, aren't very new. The most attention has gone to the new iPhones lacking a headphone jack. This helps make them more water-resistant, but it will require Bluetooth earbuds or phones. That is a significant additional cost and it will sap more power from that precious battery. Some of us also plug other external devices using that plug (I do that in my car.) This is the kind of deletion that recalls the removal of floppy disk drives, additional USB ports and CD/DVD drives which force users to move on and trash older media and devices. Is that good user design and a good user experience?

A colleague said to me that Apple's approach is like many teachers: tell the users what they need, rather than base your design on what they want. If you believe that Apple (or teachers) know better what their users need, then it is good design. But anyone who studies or works in user design would say that in both cases not spending more time in assessing what your users want is a flaw.

As an iPhone user, I was not looking for a revised home button with force sensitivity which will vibrate to give feedback - and I'm not sure that I need it. The iPhones are more water-resistant, but we all know that "resistant" is not "waterproof." Don't drop it in the toilet and expect no problems.

The Plus model of the new iPhone includes a dual-lens camera to take more professional-grade photos. But Android phones have had much better cameras without two lenses for a few years.

I don't see the Apple Watch as a hit, but the Apple Watch Series 2 will appear. It has GPS and Pokémon Go is available for it. Does that make you want to run out and buy one?

After the death of Steve Jobs, the cry went up that Apple would stop innovating and some of those who said that feel that they were correct in their prediction. Whatever happened to that Apple TV that Jobs was saying was on its way? The biggest change in smartphones the past few years is that users are using them less and less as phones and more and more as a computer. Your "phone company" contract is really a data contract.

I'm not sure that much more can be done with smartphones as hardware. the more important changes may be in the operating systems, battery life, more AI and new business models for data.

Degree-Planning Tools and Learning Advisors

road signOnly about half of all students who start college graduate with a bachelor’s degree within six years. It doesn't help that completion rate that the path to degrees is less linear than ever. More than a third of students transfer at least once during their college years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. Of those, nearly half change institutions more than once.
EDUCAUSE ELI published a new brief in its "7 Things" series on "Degree-Planning Tools" which discusses how some colleges are allowing students to design their own college experience. Working with advisors and based on their own research into academic, professional, personal and financial aspects of their career goal, they design a curriculum path.

I view this as a kind of adaptive learning on a larger scale, not just within a course.

Technology is playing a role. Tools can help guide students to move based on their strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and circumstances. I'm seeing these tools built into learning management systems. For example, Blackboard has MyEdu, Civitas Learning uses Degree Map, and Ellucian offers MyDegree. A newer player to me is Degree Compass which was acquired by Desire2Learn.

These tools fall under the category of predictive analytics, but I'm a believer that merely acquiring data won't make any positive changes without an intelligent way to apply it. I think this requires software paired with old-fashioned advising so that a student's goal and her academic career align. This is more than choosing the right courses and sequence. It is also about getting complementary experiences in internships, work experiences and professional networking. Those things probably won't come from software. 

A more human approach to this is perhaps the old-fashioned idea of having guidance counselors. They may come with new names. I have seen the title "learner advocate" used and most recently the odd "education sherpa" label used. "Sherpa" is Tibetan for "eastern people", and is an ethnic group from Nepal, high in the Himalayas. We know them as guides to explorers of the Himalayan region and expeditions to climb Mount Everest. In some cases, those guides do most of the serious work for inexperienced climbers. I wouldn't want to think that our educational guides would do much of the difficult work for students. 
The comparison has also been made to professional patient advocates who help people navigate the often-confusing medical system. This may be particularly important for students who are the first in their families to attend college and don't have natural access to people who can act as resources for academic decisions and guidance towards careers. 

Instructional Design in Education


I found it interesting that when The Chronicle of Higher Education assembled its list of national trends for its Trends Report, they included instructional design as one of them. It's odd to think of it as a "trend" since ID did not start in education, it has been around for several decades and it has a big role, especially in higher education, today.

Instructional design started during World War II with the armed forces. It came from a need to provide technical training to large numbers of people efficiently.

Having worked in instructional design formally since 2000, I have seen the field change during the past 15 years. I subscribe to a few of those job alert websites and every week I see more openings for designers. Some of those jobs are in academe and even more are in industry. Most major companies now use instructional designers to develop employee training materials.

In higher education, instructional design is likely to have started at a college as a way to prepare distance-learning and extension programs. Those programs initially appealed to non-traditional students with family and work obligations and often as a distance from the physical campus that made attending classes difficult.

As the proportion of those students increased and as the technology to deliver courses became more sophisticated, online learning became more popular. Its acceptance by faculty lagged behind its acceptance by students. Designers who worked with faculty helped gain acceptance as they learned what an ID could do to actually help design their course for online delivery.

The share of students taking online courses has gone from less than 10 percent in 2002 to 28 percent in 2014, according to the Babson Survey Research Group. Babson also found that the percentage of academic leaders who see online learning as critical to their institution’s long-term strategy went from about half to nearly two-thirds. And that is why the one of their ten trends is to say that there is increasing importance and visibility for instructional designers.

A professional ID is needs technical ability, design skills, pedagogical knowledge, and the interpersonal skills to work 1:1 with subject matter experts - SMEs, or in this case, faculty. 

In my early days of managing an ID department, we often met faculty who were told that they had to "teach my course online" and who fully expected to just digitize all their regular face-to-face materials. They would ask us to scan hundreds of pages of handouts and readings, create or convert PowerPoint slides, and they wanted to videotape their usual 90 or 180 minute lectures. It was a very big learning curve.

A few saw the opportunity to translate their in-person courses to be offered online as an opportunity to really rethink the course objectives. In those early days, all faculty had to learn technical skills, especially whatever the current course management system was that the college was using. (Those often changed, much to their dismay.) 

For me, the best outcome over the 16 years that I worked in instructional design was that we were viewed not as just "the people who do online courses" but also as a department that could help improve the quality of teaching, whether in online, in-person, or hybrid courses. 

Having myself been trained as a K-12 teacher and doing graduate work in pedagogy, I was initially surprised at the lack of knowledge that professors had in that area. I shouldn't have been surprised since they always told me that they never took an education course and tried to "do the things my best teachers did and avoid the things the bad ones did." Objectives versus goals, rubrics, Bloom's Taxonomy and almost all of the things I had been taught and used in my secondary school classroom were brand new to higher education faculty. My knowledge about pedagogy needed to be diplomatically transferred to professors, but the best ones were intrigued and eager to know not only how to teach online but why to teach in new ways.