Web Accessibilty for Designers

Web Accessibility for Designers infographic with link to text version at WebAIM.org

The Culture of Teaching- The Connected-Disconnected Teacher

Source: TheChive.com

Years ago you'd come into the school to teach and you'd stay in your office working- prepping, marking and seeing students.  You would have only in-person office hours. There was a lot of photocopying and lots of marking and some scantrons that would relieve you of some of the marking. When I hear the sound of scantrons in my office today, I say thanks to the gods that created online testing who have blessed me so I never have to hear the rat-tat-tat-tat cacophony of my students' mistakes whizzing by. Instead I go online and see the positive results first.

Management knew where you were during the day back then- in class or in your office.  I think this gave them a sense of control that maybe they feel they have now lost. There was a more solid community of teachers who you would communicate with in person. You were with them a large part of the day. Maybe you'd even get together as a group after work and hang out. If you were in an office with a group of teachers, you even had your own mini team that you could joke and rant with.

Although you had piles of paper, information was scarce. The textbook was king. Most teachers would supplement a textbook with added resources, the textbook played a prominent role in curriculum. If teachers were going to develop courses, they'd often find a book and then create their courses around the text. The book rep was a constant visitor to the office- often to the point of annoyance. Today the textbook is dying and publishers are scrambling to insert themselves more and more into the actual teaching profession. The teaching profession is under threat.

Back then there wasn't much technology; we used a lot of our time to do mindless tasks like photocopying handouts, and marking paper tests and creating class sheets to calculate grades and manually calculate them and then manually input grades in strange forms for someone else to submit. We handed off some tasks to others. Today we don't hand off things to others; we do them ourselves. Today our connection to support staff is lessened.

In days that seem long gone by, we had longer semesters that were 16-17 weeks.  Today it's 7-1-7. teach seven week, one semester intersession which is not time-off and then teach another 7 weeks.  But now we teach more semesters. There was also the two tiered system of full time vs part time people and the balance between them might have been more equal at least it seems like it was to me. Now of course there are more and more and more part time teachers. There was more space back then. A lot of part time faculty had their own desks or at least a shared place with one other faculty. Because part time faculty were in offices with full time faculty there was a stronger connection.  I recall that whether I was part time or full time, we were all friends.

The classroom was often the usual lecture format. Students seemed to be OK with that; they had come from similar teaching/learning arrangements. We complained about students not being prepared for college. Many never seemed to have the basic writing or math skills. If you walk around many schools you may see in some classrooms that not much has changed while in others there is a new dynamic.  But students aren't always coming from the lecture format scenario, so today they aren't so happy to see it. Faculty complaining about students being under-prepared is pretty much same as it ever was at least to my recollection.

As more and more technology came in a lot of the mindless tasks were removed but the time was more than filled by all the things we could do. There was so much information and so many good resources.  Before there was the LMS some of us ventured on the internet to create our own websites to support our classes. ( Oh our glorious past with site like geocities--may we be forgiven for our blinking gifs and bad colour choices!) To my knowledge in the beginning this was a small group but we started to build community out there on the web by sharing resources through list serves and even by creating resources that could be shared and repurposed.

When YouTube arrived in 2005, I remember feeling like I hit the jackpot. Resources that I had only been able to talk about were there and I could show them in class. Technology had made information and multimedia available. Those who were into the technology felt a bit alienated ( OK I did) so they sought out others who appreciated all the new tools. There has been and there still is a fight between the old guard who believe that nothing should change. They say technology is interfering in the classroom. They want the cell phones and laptops turned off in the room. Strangely the old guard also includes a contingent of young teachers who believe the same. So from my perspective it is not just an age thing.  While many new teachers do use some of the technology themselves, they don't always see the value of the technology for education.

Today faculty offices are often more like ghost towns, but it's not that faculty are not working or unavailable. If management does the walk around in offices they may wonder what faculty are up to.  I suspect they feel they have lost control of the inmates. It's possible that some faculty are mailing it in, but probably not more than were mailing it in in the old days. Today the faculty member is immersed in information and resources, sorting through all we can do. We are often available to teachers we teach with and our students 24/7 online. We have more stuff and we do more stuff. The line between life and teaching is blurred. Has anyone seen my life --it's M.I.A!

Just who is my family now?

Those of us who are connected to others through social nets are often more connected to people we don't really know than to the person who may share the desk beside us at our school. We may be sharing resources with people around the world and they may be sharing theirs and management knows nothing about any of that. A person who we once would have said was famous in education may be on one of our social nets. We now are out there with them discussing and sharing. The community for many of us is out there and we may be less connected with our local community.

Teachers who teach only online are becoming even more disconnected.  If they are part time their connection to the college does not include a desk or a space. Maybe they come in for once a semester meetings. If divisions haven't set up on online community groups, they are out there on their own unattached. Even full time faculty who are teaching strictly online are not as connected. How could they be, they don't often share the same physical space so they have never gotten to know the people who they are supposedly working with.

We might have a full time teacher who has been around for a few years, and who has been teaching only online. That  teacher doesn't have the connections with the other people like I did when I had been teaching a similar amount of time.

Teachers often talk about how kids have these thousands of friends on Facebook and how they spend all their time online, and how even when they are together they are texting others, but are we that different?

Our connections to those close to us are sometimes weaker than to those we don't know. On the other hand, our impact to the larger community can be more meaningful. We can bring all those ideas, that information and opportunity back to our classroom and we can make meaningful connections with students not just in our classrooms but around the world.

The online community especially through twitter has the power to make an impact on the larger issues in education. Educators are out there talking and sharing more than ever before, so there is the potential for the big stuff.

It's all really good but it can make for very connected- disconnected people, if you know what I mean!

Are we outsourcing education?

The Case Against Adopting too much of a Publisher's Online Resources

Traditionally the role of publishers in education was to provide a support to aid in the teaching of courses. Publishers were publishers and teachers were teachers. As teachers we choose the supporting texts. In my own experience it would not happen that I would whole-heartedly adopt one textbook's point of view. A teacher's job is to develop and provide curriculum; that includes perspective and objectivity. One author or one publisher's materials may not provide that.  

Canadian teachers often find that many of the leading textbooks are American. Sometimes those leading textbooks are Canadianized. As a co-author of a Communications textbook that was Canadianized, I can say that our job as Canadian authors was to work within the framework determined by the American author and to remove American references and add in Canadian examples references and readings. Does this really make a book Canadian?  The publishers’ resources that support online courses may have the same American frameworks and biases even if they have been Canadianized. In a face–to-face class or an online class where the teacher determines the curriculum more objectivity can be assured. The teacher in this case is not just following along with what the publisher has determined is the "answer". The teacher uses selected materials and presents them and lets the class determine an organic path that allows critical thinking and learning. ( At least I hope) 

Publishers' resources tend to follow the traditional teaching model where one source is the expert. In this respect they can be regressive. The publisher is the new sage on the stage. These resources do not take advantage of constructivist ideas of learning. Students do not become the creators of their own learning through activities that just test content learning. As such. publishers resources are a movement away from experiential authentic learning - a direction we need to be going.

With the demise of the printed textbook, publishers have been scrambling to remake their businesses to survive. Part of that remake by publishers has been an increasing encroachment on the act of teaching. You can now see e-books and online publisher resources that when adopted as a whole, totally remove the teacher from the job that they are required to do- determine curriculum and teach. A set pre-determined curriculum outlined by a publisher where every person does the exact same things in the exact same way may not provide the rich experience that occurs in a natural environment. Often these materials do include interactive elements and multiple choice tests that are automatically graded. Students become familiar with the machine. Will they even know their teachers? Will they feel connected to the course, the program, the college? 

Teachers in some cases are left the task of putting the materials into the LMS ( Blackboard) and then pressing "Go" and  at the end pressing "Stop" and entering marks. Does one need a higher education to do that?

These so called "canned courses" can be offered anywhere in any school. If we adopt these types of courses, how can we say we are providing the best learning experience? How can we say we are "teaching"? What would differentiate our college from any other? 

Why have colleges at all when Pearson and McGraw Hill could just deliver and do automatic marking? Pearson is now granting degrees in England so they are already in the business of providing content, delivering material and teaching. Can we trust one of the most important jobs we have- to educate, to any organization whose premier function is to make money? Are we outsourcing education?

Any time that online materials are adopted from the large publishers and the students are also enrolled in the publishers interactive exercises and tests, those actions can be tracked by the publisher. The publisher will have a record of every action that every student takes and every result. They will also know the student's exact location through his/her IP address. Who owns the student's data? Have students signed up to  college to be part of a publisher's analytics?

For Canadians, where information is housed is an issue. Most of the major publishers' servers are in the US. Information about our Canadian students would be subject to the American Patriot Act. That puts our students privacy and rights at risk.  In the past some colleges have taken action especially with the LMS to ensure that no data of our Canadian students was stored on American servers.

LMS's like Blackboard now are working with some of the publishers to ensure easier implementation of the publishers’ resources. Although this may provide a smoother adoption of materials, it may lead to even more of a takeover of our courses by the two organizations. Blackboard is also able to track the actions of students, teamed up with publishers there is even more of a threat to student privacy. 

Adopting large portions of publishers’ materials in online courses can be a logistical nightmare. First of all, a college may have adopted one "box" to house the courses- perhaps Blackboard. The smoothest running courses in Blackboard are the ones that are developed within the Blackboard environment. These courses can be revised and edited easily by anyone. When other "boxes" like Dreamweaver, Soft Chalk and Publishers resources are added into the mix, things are never smooth or simple. Instead of one person being able to simply edit a course , now 2, 3 or more people have to jump in to figure out how to "make things work". Every new service pack  to the LMS has the potential to not work with the other systems, and if one moves to a new LMS that can be a timely and costly proposition, reformatting and ‘making it all work again. 

We have to ask ourselves, just what are we doing when we allow someone else to do our jobs, when we allow curriculum and teaching to be left in the hands of  publishers and their marking machines.  I'm not saying that we shouldn't use any publisher's resources. We need to select and choose carefully. It's our job.

Information is out there and deserves to be free. Open Educational Resources are widely available. We (both faculty and students) would do better to add to the pool of open educational resources rather than to just go along and adopt pre-packaged materials. We have a choice: we can buy the Kraft Dinner where the box is probably as healthy as the food inside or we can pick and choose the best fresh ingredients, and prepare a healthy tasty dish that is the best we can create.


Everything is a Remix Part 4

Everything is a Remix Part 4 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

Horizon Report 2012

Technology use on US College Campuses

Technology Use on the College campus
Via: Online Colleges Guide