Mar 10, 2016

Web Accessibility: What is it? What do we need do?

Instructional Technologies and the Teaching-Learning Center invited Darrin Evans, the Director of the NC Virtual Learning Community's Professional Development Center to provide:
  • An Introduction to Web Accessibility
  • Hands-on training for making Word or PowerPoint documents accessible
  • Plus: all three workshops were offered twice: February 12 and March 9, 2016

WebAIM Color Contrast Checker
WebAIM Color Contrast Checker From Access MOOC CC-BY

Need a Plan: It was a bit of a surprise for many to find out that all 58 North Carolina Community Colleges are supposed to be in year three of a five year plan to develop college-wide accessibility goals and implement them. The NC Virtual Learning Community has developed a Web Accessibility web site to help faculty and staff update their content and web sites. Darrin also pointed out that our publisher content must be accessible as well.

LMS Accessibility: Faculty, developers and usability experts strive to make all of the Sakai LMS core tools accessible and are working towards meeting the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Level A and AA Success Criteria as well. Durham Tech has contributed grant funds to help make this happen!

Other NC CC's: Darrin noted that many NC community colleges (in the Triangle, too)  are in the initial stages of developing their college web accessibility plans and implementations. 

Example "Premium" Plan: To get an idea of the types of resources NC State University provides, here is their  Accessibility @ NC State University web page, which outlines an array of accessibility assistance available, such as transportation options, maps with designated building and parking accessibility, library accessibility resources, and procurement guidelines.


Mar 3, 2016

What is it like to be a student in your online class?

Even though we have the best of intentions, sometimes we could make a few tweaks to our online courses that would be appreciated by our students, more than we may know.
confused student
Untitled by Jazbecky (CC-BY-2.0)

Invisible Teachers and Missing Course Descriptions:

  • Shy Teachers: Your Home page has lots of great info, but there's nothing about your name, title, or contact information. Please share, your students want to know you!
  • Enigmatic Courses: Your Home page is very light in color, as it is all blank. Give your students and fellow instructors a hint: What are you teaching? Who are you?
  • How do I fix this? Here are the steps to update your home page as well as examples of how other faculty have updated their courses. 

Scavenger Hunts and Tricky Due Dates:

  • Hidden Due Dates: Some of us like to hide our due dates at the end of our Syllabus. Why don't we put it at the top of our syllabus? Or create a separate document for it? Or add due dates at the top of our weekly Lesson? Or all of the above?
  • Due Sunday at Midnight: Some of us love to use Sundays and midnight as a due date/time. But what does midnight mean-is it due Saturday at midnight or Sunday at midnight or is it Monday? Let's use 11:30, 11:45 or 11:55  pm instead.
  • Also, why Sunday? Don't you want to enjoy your weekend? How about Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, so you're available to help your students?

Math Impaired Gradebooks:

  • Creative Accounting: Why get lots of emails about mid-term and/or final grades? If you're not good at math, like myself, why create an overly complicated grading scheme?  Keep your Gradebook simple! Then it will be easy to make Sakai calculate your grades for you-and it will be easier for your students to understand their course grades too. 
  • Math Instructor Want-to-Be's: If you think you're good at math, please save your masterful math equations for your friends and family. Just let the Sakai Gradebook do your calculations for you: set up Gradebook categories and weighting. Your students will thank you when they can easily understand their grades and I will thank you. Oh, and make sure your Gradebook matches your Syllabus, many others in high places will thank you too.

Hide-and-Seek with Content and Assessments:

  • Where is that darn content and assignment? Is it in the Syllabus, Resources, Announcements, personal Email; or in Forums, Assignments or Test and Quizzes? Please use Lessons to organize your weekly content, and use Lessons to link to your assessments. Use the Rule of Three's: Students should click a maximum of three times to get to their activities.
  • Is this all there is? A Syllabus,  PowerPoints and Tests alone is a self-study course, not a learning environment. Mix it up: Add a video, a diagram, or an overview convincing your students why this info is important to them and their career (and to you).
  • Isn't there more than just Tests and Forums? Again, Mix it up: Add Chat Rooms, Blogs, Lessons Student Pages, Assignments (students can submit videos or mindmaps or projects), or interview someone in your field and share it in writing, by audio or by video.

 Feedback: Missing in Action:

  • Discussions/Assignments: A blank space for feedback or "Good job" is not constructive feedback; "referred to multiple examples in the text, correctly referenced an appropriate article" are better.  Time constrained? Provide feedback every two or three weeks, as long as it is effective. Here are dozens of examples of feedback for all types of learners.  Or limit discussions, replace them with reports, research or projects.
  • Quizzes: Check out creating tests and publishing tests step-by- step instructions and videos to find out how to add Feedback for both incorrect and correct answers. Help your students build their skills in your quizzes before their major exams.
  • Weekly Course Feedback: Make your presence known. Post a weekly announcement or email (send to email archive so they can review it if they miss it) or post something new on your Home page each week: what can your students look forward to in your course? How did they perform last week as a group on a discussion, activity or project? What happened in the news that relates to your course?

Want More Ideas? 

Make sure you review the Curriculum Online Course Guidelines with Resources. Plus here are other ideas:

Advanced Suggestions

Feb 29, 2016

Free: March MOOC Madness for Educators/Teachers

Today I was reading this interesting article about the popular MOOC "Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help you Master Tough Subjects", and was wishing I could take the course, too. The instructor, Barbara Oakley, was an engineer who was interested in teaching, but wanted to figure out how to reach STEM students. She saw that undergraduate students were finding college math and science a "death march", so she worked with a nuerobiologist, Terrence Sejnowski to create their online course in her basement...

Student with computer overlaid with word: MOOC's
Student, Computer Labs by Thompson Rivers University, CC (BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Over a half a million people have now taken Oakley and Sejnowki's course about Learning How to Learn. It's highly rated, too. Over 11,000 students have given it an average score of 4.8 out of 5.0. So guess what? It turns out we can take it, too. The course is being offered February 29, 2016 by Coursera. Here's the link to enroll: Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help you Master Tough Subjects

But watch out, Coursera has changed. Some courses are still free. But now, some courses are free, but there's a catch: you don't get to submit the assignments (I haven't taken one of these yet). And just like there were previously, there are courses you can pay for, if you want a certificate. But there's now a new wrinkle: paid specializations. Groups of individual courses are bundled into specializations. So if you want to take free courses, search for courses, not specializations.

I've taken MOOC's with, Coursera, and Open2Study. Other organizations I've heard good reviews of have been EdX and FutureLearnI don't work for any of these companies, I just enjoy learning new things, and the price is right: 

March MOOCs

Self-Study MOOC's (highly rated) 

Feb 24, 2016

What's Coming in Sakai 11? Find out now!

Durham Tech was lucky to get Neal Caidin, the Sakai Community Coordinator, to provide a workshop about what's coming up right around the corner (there's a 50/50 chance Sakai 11 will be ready May 2016, but don't quote anyone on that estimate).
First Neal made sure we knew the Sakai "basics":
  • What is open source? Free software (not kind of free, or strings attached)
  • What is Sakai? Sakai is not just a free Learning Management System, but a community of higher education developers and educators, working on creating the best learning environment they can. There are numerous groups of educators who work together on Sakai, such as the Sakai Teaching and Learning Group, Accessibility Group, Quality Assurance Group, or the Sakai User Group. 

Then Neal got down to the nitty-gritty: What is Coming in Sakai 11?
  • New responsive infrastructure (Morpheus): Sakai will not only work on desktops, but also on tablets and phones (some tools still need tweaking to be considered "mobile")
  • Student Dashboard: There will be one location for students to see all of their assignment due dates--for all of their Sakai courses 

Sakai Tool Enhancements:
  • Assignments: Added Peer and Group Assignments
  • Resources: You can drag and drop files into Resources
  • CKEditor (Text Editor): Autosaves your changes!
  • GradebookNG: Redesigned, simplified Gradebook, that looks and acts like an Excel spreadsheet 
  • STEP (Test Enhancement Project): Added the ability in a test to have multiple release dates/times for different students/groups, plus more user friendly options 
  • LEAP (Lessons Enhancement Project): Simplified, user-friendly design.

What can you do to get involved in Sakai? Explore Sakai

Feb 10, 2016

Are there Free (Open) Textbooks Available? YES!

In the recent article "Students, librarians urge professors to use open-source textbooks", the U. S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) found that the "cost of textbooks has gone up 73 percent in the last decade".  According to PIRG, textbook costs have hit community college students the hardest--50% have had to use their financial aid to pay for textbooks. 

Open Educational Resources by (CC BY-SA)
So what can be done when textbook and credit hour costs are sky-rocketing? Over 100 colleges and universities have banded together and formed the Open Textbook Network, to provide free peer-reviewed textbooks that can be "used, adapted, and distributed" to faculty and students. 

But what textbooks are available? The Open Textbook Network library contains textbooks in the following categories: Accounting & Finance, Business & Marketing, Computer Science, Economics, Foreign Languages, Humanities, Law, Mathematics & Statistics, Natural and Physical Sciences and Social Sciences. 

What if you didn't find a textbook that met your needs? Washington State Community Colleges have created Open Washington, which provides links to popular open textbook providers, such as OpenStax College, Boundless and WikiBooks. 

   By Becky Roehrs