WBU and Accessibility

 

What does it mean to have your classroom and content accessible?  Think easy to approach, or reach.  Easy to use, or engage. It also refers to our students with disabilities being able to acquire the same information and engage in the same interactions within the same time frame as those without disabilities. Don’t think you have students with disabilities?  Think again.  Whether they are declared or not,  15-20% of their students in any given class may have a disability.

Structure of Courses

On a recent exit survey, our students told us they like using Blackboard and find it easy to use BUT they find the lack of consistency between courses, in our course organization and navigation, confusing.  For example, some instructors place the assignments within the weekly lesson, some place them in an assignment folder, some don’t place them at all…they list it in the syllabus.  Our menus are as varied as our instructors, some tall, some short, some colorful, some complicated.  I have always believed in instructor’s  ‘free choice’ in how they place their content in the classroom, but our students are requesting a bit less variety.  Universal Design for Learning is a set of guidelines that points to an architectural framework for creation and organization of learning materials. Individuality for your course, with some common structure for your students is the goal. The Virtual Council will be addressing this issue in the fall. Your school has a representative.  Make sure you get in on the conversation.

Accessing Materials

Another component of accessibility involves barriers that students encounter in our classrooms.  We need to be more aware, more sensitive to students who may be very intelligent but have some disability (physical, psychological, developmental) that makes working in the classroom more of a challenge than it is for students without disabilities. A file that won’t open or can’t be read by a screen reader; video that won’t play or is not captioned; text that varies in size, color, and contrast are common issues. But what about the student for whom English is a second language, a student with dyslexia, a student who has had a traumatic brain injury and processes learning differently – what is our responsibility to them?  The law says we must accommodate them.  But what it really involves is a change of thought, a change of heart, a desire to help others learn, for us to truly live our profession.  At WBU, we are committed to educate students in an academically challenging, learning-focused and distinctively Christian environment.  We are inclusive and caring with quality courses. We need to learn to use tools and resources to create a learning environment that provides for all students.  Is this easy? Somewhat. The hardest part is to break old habits and accept some change. We need to develop a culture that does not just see a set of rules, but sees the objectives of the rules as a basis for our cultural values, ensuring equality in an enriched learning environment so our students have professional success and can provide service to God and humankind.

This change needs to happen.  We hope to make it gradual without too much stress, but  need your help and your support.  We need your ideas and cooperation.  The changes will require a bit more of your time in the classroom set up, but won’t be difficult.  We will also start to include training, and EDI components to help you create that accessible classroom both online and f2f.

To start getting acquainted with some accessibility ideas and techniques, please see the tutorials posted in the WBUOnline Toolbox under Recommended Tutorials.

Have a great summer term and God Bless

Trish

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Romans 12:2

A Welcome from Your New Director

In nature, spring is a time of transition and transformation, and so it goes for the Virtual Campus. After 21/2 years as your distance learning specialist I have been blessed with the opportunity of serving as the Director of the Virtual Campus.   I come to this job with 20 years of experience in distance education including teaching, designing courses, and implementing and directing a new online program. I am very active in the Texas Blackboard Users Group, and currently serve as the President of the Texas Distance Learning Association, a non-profit organization of over 700 individuals, universities, colleges, corporations, non-profits, and military in Texas that keep abreast on ideas, technologies, legislation, and content to help develop and maintain leading-edge distance learning programs.

Wayland has an outstanding online learning program and I am excited to be a part of it. I bring to this job a foundation of integrity, a passion for learning and teaching, a commitment to excellence and quality education for our students, and a conviction that integrating faith and learning throughout our program will lead to graduates who are successful professionally, and in service to God and their community. I am excited about the opportunity to market Wayland’s online program beyond its current borders. We have a unique niche in the world of distance education created by our excellent programs and Christian values.

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Transactional Distance Theory

Those in the School of Business can probably tell us a lot about transactions. We most commonly think about them in the exchange of money for a product. This involves a close face to face component where money is handed back and forth between the people. Some transactions involve credit or debit cards, and some are on the Internet where distance is a factor. We may not feel so secure about those distant transactions. Transactions in learning are the exchange of knowledge between instructors and learners. And in online learning this involves distance; a potentially insecure, lonely environment.

Michael Moore, a leader in the field of distance education, coined the name “transactional distance” in 1980. It is “a psychological and communication space to be crossed; a space of potential misunderstanding between the inputs of the instructor and those of the learner”. The theory was expanded and elaborated by Saba and Shearer in 1994. If learning outcomes are to be maximized, the transactional distance must be minimized. Interactive components in the online classroom are the key to accomplishing this.

TDT

Dialogue between learners and instructors -learners in an online course are not just separated by geographical distance but by design and structure of a course. They may feel disconnected or isolated if they are just given an assignment and reading and told to meet a deadline. This leads to low motivation, less engagement with the course material and ultimately – attrition – the killer of all online programs. So how do you increase dialogue?

  • Use discussion boards where the instructor actually comments back to learner posts in a timely manner, or summarizes learner posts at the end of the discussion. A great motivator is to name learners and specific contributions in the summary: “John Smith provided a foundation concept blah, blah, blah. Susie Jones furthered that concept by explaining Saba’s research done in 1998”. Learners love that pat on the back or recognition and are motivated to contribute more significant ideas.
  • Use discussion boards that require learners to interact with other learners in a meaningful way. Don’t just accept replies that state “good job” or “I agree”. Ask the learner to further the discussion by bringing in evidence in an article, or personal experience, or by elucidating the idea posted by the first learner. Research shows that learners are more motivated and more satisfied with learning that involves peer to peer interactions or participation in a purposeful community of inquiry (Moisey, Neu, & Cleveland -Innes, 2008) and (Stavredes, Herder, 2013).
  • Blogs and Wikis provide a different peer to peer interactive experience. Blogs tend to allow more free flowing thoughts and ideas. Wikis require learners to contribute and refine ideas into a succinct product.
  • Use Blackboard IM as an immediate question/answer platform when learners and instructors are online simultaneously.
  • Provide a place for learners to ask questions or seek directions of other learners in the course.
  • Use Kaltura to place short 3-7 minute videos; either lectures, voice over power point, announcements, or feedback to students on a project. Add a question/answer component after a video to help ensure assimilation. Seeing the instructor’s face and expressions improves satisfaction in the course by fostering a sense of community.
  • Utilize Blackboard Collaborate in office hours, community meetings with learners and instructors for explaining or expanding concepts, or a place for learners to meet to exchange ideas and build knowledge without the instructor.

 

Structure and Design of the course – the flexibility or rigidity of instructional methods and strategies can greatly increase or decrease transactional distance. Structure has a big influence in motivation to succeed in the course, and general satisfaction with the subject matter. Learners who can’t navigate the course or find vital information easily will become frustrated with the course and are less likely to participate fully.

  • Extrude the components of your syllabus into the Bb classroom. Syllabi are very important documents. They provide the direction and structure of the course, and expectations of the instructor for the learners. We expect learners to read the document, but it should not be used as a listing of course activities. Learners are using more and more mobile devices in learning. Constant downloading of documents can be expensive, time consuming, annoying on a slow service, or hard to read once acquired. If you place the course schedule, textbook and resource links, parameters for discussions or papers in the Course Information area they are easily seen by the student by one click and become better reminders of how to act in the course.
  • Anything to do with course materials and content should be in a content item on the menu (not in the syllabus). If your course is arranged week by week use weekly folders with the reading, Discussion Board, written assignments and quizzes inside the folder. If you want to contain all the quizzes in one menu item “Quizzes” then link to the quizzes folder or quiz in the weekly folder. This will provide the learners with a clear list of activities and due dates. If you arrange by unit….do unit folders the same way.
  • Be sure there are active links to the VC for help, and the library, and any other technical assistance you deem important. Learners need to have a way to request help quickly to stay active in the course.
  • The Effective Design Initiative(EDI) course provides you with a checklist for classroom design items – some which are required and some that offer suggestions and best practices. Use this to set up your course design.
  • Think interaction in whatever ways are comfortable for you.

 

Autonomy – the degree of self-directedness of the learner. This is a trickier component. Some instructors have very specific components with which every learner must interact. But research has shown that some autonomy gives the learner a sense of ownership, satisfaction, and accomplishment. Giving learners options on how to learn is a good solution.

  • Giving learners some choices can be simple or more complex. Because people learn differently you could provide videos, power point slides, or audio for the chapters. They select what works for them. Some textbooks provide at least the PPT’s and the audio in the faculty resources.
  • You can provide some different learning options in different weeks – such as a choice of article critiques.

You can encourage your learners to research and bring new found knowledge to the classroom discussion or blog.

So consider all those academic transactions you could make with your students. By decreasing the transactional distance and you will “show them the money”. You’ll give them evidence of a more successful classroom experience.

“Moore, M. G. 1991. Distance education theory. The American Journal of Distance Education 5 (3).http://www.ajde.com/Contents/vol5_3.htm#editorial

Saba, F. & Shearer, R. (1994). Verifying key theoretical concepts in a dynamic model of distance education. The American Journal of Distance Education, 9(3).

A Community of Learners

Have you ever been on a trip and decided to stop at a church for Sunday service?  You walk in.  A greeter says “welcome” and turns away. You’re not sure where to sit (do certain groups or people have an assigned seat?).  You slip into a side seat, listen to the sermon which includes an interesting message, and then you leave; no discussions of the Word, no fellowship, no sense of belonging because you are not part of that community. The next day you have forgotten the message, and it has had little or no effect on your life.  Is that the experience that your online students are having in your classroom? They read (see, hear, watch) the lesson, take a quiz to demonstrate their attendance, and leave?  If so, you are missing an important central feature of the online classroom, and missing out on a rewarding, enriching learning experience for you and your students. At WBU we want you to create a community of learners

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Blackboard SP8 part 2

Blackboard 9.1.8 Part II

Blackboard Learn 9.1.8 has some neat features that faculty will really find useful.  First is the course to course navigation.  By clicking on this action button near the home page icon in the upper left of the classroom the instructor can change to another of their courses with one click.  Blackboard will move you to the same location in the next course when selected:  announcement to announcement, or grade center to grade center.

 Enhanced Grading

Grading options are enhanced in Blackboard in regards to tests and quizzes.

  • Automated regrading:  Ambiguous or problematic questions in a Blackboard quiz or test will be much easier to correct by simply editing the question directly and having all necessary updates flow automatically to the Grade Center.  For any given question, an instructor is able to drop, give full credit, change point value, or change the correct answer.  After the question has been updated, Blackboard will recalculate the score of all submitted assessments that included the updated question, reflect the update in the Grade Center, and provide notification to both the faculty and optionally to the student for all impacted submissions.
  • Negative marking:  Negative marking will allow for the application of negative point values for wrong answers on test questions. This allows faculty to prevent (by penalty) guessing on a multiple-choice quiz.

Introducing Blackboard Learn 9.1 Service Pack 8 (SP8)

What is next for Blackboard in August 2012?

There are new features on the horizon to Blackboard’s interface, features, and overall functionality.  These changes will be ushered in with the Fall semester as Blackboard Learn 9.1, Service Pack 8 (SP8).

The Blackboard Interface

SP8’s interface changes will be immediately evident and more in tune with the Web 2.0 experience.  Most apparent will be the missing editing icons that allow users to drop-and-drag, access, make changes, and add content to the course.  These functionalities have not gone away, of course, but have been replaced with rollover editing, meaning the editing icons are only visible when your mouse cursor rolls over certain areas.  The result is a cleaner, less cluttered, contemporary interface.

Course Information page with some content

Faculty Workflows

  • Course-to-Course navigation:  When in a course, you will no longer need to navigate to Blackboard’s main landing page to access your other courses.  You will now be able to move from course to course from within a course by clicking the drop down menu in the upper left corner of the page.  This navigation allows you to move from a task in one course to the same task in another course. For example, if you are in one course’s Grade Center, you can jump to the next course’s Grade Center.

Course Structures and Themes

  • Course Structures:  A new course will come with pre-built course structures.  As in previous versions you will be able to style and customize your menu, and add various menu elements appropriate to your teaching strategies.

Blue background, gold letters in tab formation of course menu                gold buttons with blue text for menu tabs

On the left is the WBU default menu;  on the right is one of many choices for a stylized menu.

Watch the video below to see a 3 minute overview:

Also see Blackboard Learn 9.1 Service Pack 8, Part 2