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Posts Tagged ‘universal design’

You Work Only 12 Hours Per Week, Do Not Work in the Summer & Have a Sabbatical Every 7 Years?!

In course evaluations, Education, faculty responsibilities, institutional responsibilities, teaching, universal design for learning on June 11, 2012 at 10:58 am

Consumatory Scholarship!?! Sounds like someone eating books and articles!

In the Chronicle article Just Because We’re Not Publishing Doesn’t Mean We’re Not Working, Bruce Henderson argues that faculty Eatingwork is inadequately recognized by the public and by legislators who make demands for accountability. He also notes that “teaching” as an activity in higher education, is not respected. He notes, as an example, that those who do the most teaching (adjunct faculty) receive lower pay.

I agree.

We do not honor teaching as we should. Universities usually measure and reward teaching by counting publications (research), looking for a key number on student evaluations (e.g. 4.0 on a 5 point scale or meeting the department average) and relying on peer evaluations, Publications in one’s area of expertise do not necessarily translate to good teaching, student evaluations are notoriously unreliable (see my latest post on student evaluations) and peer evaluations are only an indicator of one (or two) colleagues’ attendance at one or two classes. Adjunct faculty’s jobs are at risk if they have low student evaluations, even though the link between student evaluations and teaching is tenuous. So, let’s begin measuring teaching effectively: let’s show students, faculty and legislators how and what students learn. Let’s do that using evidence-based teaching practices, explaining how innovations can help improve learning and reward faculty who do their part (and remind others how learners must do their part).

University administration should reward faculty for their teaching accomplishments. And that means ALL teaching faculty, not only tenure-track faculty. Then, the public can begin to see that not only do many teachers work hard, that they work more than 12 hours per week but that we provide a substantial benefit to society.

I sometimes wonder whether there’s an element of classism, anti-feminism and racism in the continual demands for accountability. The University faculty and administrators were overwhelmingly middle-class white males in the 60s. Now, it’s much more diverse. The increase in diversity parallels the increased demands for accountability. And while I know correlation doesn’t mean causality (and accountability demands have complicated causes), it is frustrating to know that for years, higher education faculty faced no obligation to justify existence. During those times, faculty presented material in a way that only certain types of learners (those you might call read-write learners) could succeed. Student studyingTenure was awarded based on a handshake (at least according to some of the faculty who retired just as I came on board) or solely based on the school from which the faculty member obtained his Ph.D.  And while I was successful in that environment, I recognize that my success shouldn’t be the only measure of whether anyone else can garner educational success. I have met students and others who were just as intelligent, but who learn in different ways. So, I recognize that this system of teaching is not the only means of communicating.

I also wonder whether the accountability demands reflect an attack on intellectualism; that the demands represent an attack on those who want to explore and learn. In his blog posts, The Real Ken Jones discusses this in more depth in his “Celebrating Stupidity” series. He focuses on some of the contradictions between science and what some what to believe. Whether the attack on education is related to an attack on intellectualism in general is subject to debate, but there does continue to be a significant attack on education: justified on some grounds but not on others.

So this discussion returns to the topic line: what should we as educators do to let the public and legislators know what we do in the classroom? Regardless of the cause of the controversy, we need to figure out how to address it–how to rebuff the attacks and to go on the offensive. We provide an invaluable service to the community, yet that gets lost in the rhetoric about accountability.  Is using the term “Consumatory Scholarship” and defining it a way to address it? I think not-the essence is in the details. But to the core question I do not yet have an answer.

Do you?

Accessibility and Innovation

In accessibility, innovation in teaching, universal design for learning on December 13, 2010 at 8:41 am

In the article Colleges Lock Out Blind Students Online, Marc Parry describes the one-man odyssey of Darrell Shandrow, a self-described blind journalism student who has embarked on a campaign to demand that universities across the United States incorporate acccessibility into their design of websites, textbooks and all other college experiences. Mr. Shandrow joined the lawsuit filed by the National Federal for the Blind against Arizona State University for its use of Kindle eReaders for etextbooks. According to Parry, Kindle eReaders’ menus are not accessible, although the Kindle does include text to speech software.

In a previous post, I talked about Universal Design for Learning and some of the legal requirements for accessibility. As I noted in that post, one of the key tenants of UDL is that instructional materials should incorporate as many approaches as possible so that many different learners can understand the material. That approach makes sense from a philosophical point of view. However, practically speaking, it is difficult to develop a non time-intensive way for faculty to implement it. I am part of a Faculty Learning Community Teachers in different posesat Fresno State that is working on helping faculty implement those principles in teaching. We are a group of approximately 20 faculty who are using the book Universal Design in Higher Education by Burgstahler and Cory to prepare instruction and/or materials that incorporate UDL principles. I have learned a great deal from that experience and look forward to the opportunity to incorporate UDL into my courses.

Parry’s article highlights a tension that exists between accessibility and innovation. Creating Magnetmaterials and delivering instruction using UDL principles automatically results in increasing the amount of content that is accessible on many dimensions.  However, it takes time and it can sometimes stifle innovation when that approach is adopted for all new things. I wholeheartedly agree with UDL and accessibility principles, yet as someone who likes to push the envelope, I sometimes find that that approach creates barriers to immediately trying a new approach. Conducting pilots help to provide balance but that can create obstacles to more comprehensive implementation.

Sometimes, I just want to dive in when I find something new. That new thing could be a new technology, a new teaching approach, implementation of information from an article about a new theory with which I was not familiar or just something different. I dive in and sometimes I learn what others already knew, but which, for some reason, I needed to learn for myself. I dive in and sometimes IDiving in a no diving area learn something new that I can use and that others also find useful. When I incorporate UDL and accessibility as a habit of mind, though, I must exercise more caution and that can sometimes stifle creativity. So, although I strongly support UDL principles and support implementation of them in my classes, I realize that I must also more carefully consider the options before jumping in. Thus the implementation of UDL has a cost of reducing innovation. Maybe that’s a cost that’s an acceptable one in light of the benefits of UDL.  That’s something to consider.

Making Videos Accessible

In accessibility, universal design for learning, using videos in teaching on December 9, 2010 at 7:34 am

Collaboration can be used in multiple ways to help increase accessibility of educational resources. This fits with concepts of Universal Design for Learning that make educational information as accessible as possible for others.

In the article Making Videos Accessible with Universal Subtitles, George Williams explains how the website Universal Subtitles is encouraging people to collaborate to write subtitles through posting and editing transcripts of posted videos. You can upload a video to ask for subtitling and you can volunteer to subtitle.

I’m going to try something similar in my classes (although students will not be volunteers, but will probably get some sort of credit for it). I’m going to ask students to develop transcripts of narrated PowerPoints and videos that I develop or use for the class. I’ll let you know in a future post how (or whether) that works when I implement it in the Spring 2011 semester.

Does Learning to Read affect Learning to…..

In how people learn, universal design for learning on November 25, 2010 at 11:07 am

In an intriguing blog post titled Wired to Read, that summarizes scientific research relating to the brain function and literacy, Peter Wood notes that the scientific research has revealed intriguing evidence that individuals ability to read comes at the cost of other brain functions. According to Wood, the research, based on a comparison of the brains of individuals who learned to read as children, as adults and not at all,  revealed differences in brain function among them. Wood, an anthropologist, posits that this means that some brain functions are sacrificed so that others can work better.

I’m not a scientist, so I cannot speak directly to the validity of the view, but I can use anecdotes from my own life as examples that confirm Wood’s unconfirmed speculation. I love to read and read a lot. My husband doesn’t. My husband and I both love music.  However, my husband’s musical skill and talent; his ability to hear music and replicate that music with his voice and/or with musical instruments is  far surpasses mine.

My own experience also supports Wood’s hypothesis that other skills may be weaker because of the emphasis on, for example, literacy. I am one of the most unobservant people my husband has ever encountered. We’ll walk or drive somewhere and I will be completely oblivious to something that my husband sees as so obvious. I tell him I’m the typical “absent minded professor” but he is unconvinced-he can’t understand why I can’t see something that is so obvious [to him]. And he says, on occasion, “I don’t understand how you can study law, but you can’t see ….[something that is in front of my face]. I laugh, because I don’t understand it either. Now, though I can tell him that it’s because my brain is wired differently.

What implication does that have for teaching and learning? I don’t know yet; I haven’t thought about it sufficiently. It does confirm that application of  Universal Design for Learning principles is a useful way to develop learning activities.

Accessibility and the Law

In accessibility, innovation in teaching, universal design for learning on November 16, 2010 at 7:12 am

One challenge in creating online programs is making certain that the courses are accessible. According to the Chronicle article ADA Compliance is a “Major Vulnerability” for Online Programs, many institutions have not established institution-wide policies for ensuring that online courses are accessible.

A corollary challenge is in the use of innovative technologies in the classrooms. As noted in the above-mentioned article, Arizona State was successfully challenged for using Kindles because they are not accessible to the visually impaired.

Universal Design for Learning principles can be used to address some (but not all) of those issues. Just as creating lab partnerships among students can help address some accessibility issues, creating study partnerships can help to make learning more accessible. This is because partners can divide work based on their abilities and no one has to be singled out.

In the lab partnership, the two students can decide between themselves who will conduct the experiment (and that might include opening caps, pouring, reporting visual results) and who will report the results of the experiment. If both students conduct the experiment together, both can benefit.

In the study partnership, if Kindles are to be used, it’s possible that the Kindles and laptops could be employed in the classroom, and students could choose which one they wanted to use.  Then the decision could be based on personal preference, as long as the material was identical.

With other innovations, universal design adaptations may be more difficult. I piloted the use of Second Life, a 3D virtual world, in several classes a couple of years ago. All work had to be done in groups of 2 or 3, so students could choose who would actually go onto Second Life and who would write the reports on the legal issues. Although that was not a “perfect” solution, it worked during the pilot.

As much as possible, though, deliberate, institution-wide strategies that employ Universal Design for Learning Principles can help aid making all courses (online and face to face) accessible.

Syllabus Redesign Conference-Day 2

In accessibility, universal design for learning on August 13, 2010 at 4:03 pm

Great attendance at the Syllabus Redesign Conference at Fresno State for Day 2.

Explaining student expectations and information literacy information went well.

Explaining issues of accessibility and making a syllabus accessible was more problematic. The video didn’t work until late and there were a number of questions/debates about the meaning of accessibility. We’re definitely going to have to do a better job informing faculty about the tools of accessibility this year. The low-key approach has resulted in a vocal group of faculty who’ve been mostly unaware of what’s being going on behind the scenes for the last 3-4 years (or more) on accessibility.

We have much more to do to provide more information to more faculty so they’re not so afraid of the idea of providing information in as many formats as possible without overwhelmingly increasing their workloads.