This fall and winter I worked with two instructors from very different disciplines to achieve a common goal – making their courses inclusive through a flexible assignment policy. Both courses gave students opportunities to recover without penalty from what would otherwise be a setback – a late, missed, or low-scoring assignment. Flexible assignment policies aren’t new, but instructors are now extending grace to students without the requirement to ask in advance, provide an excuse, or share official documentation, such as a doctor’s note. Our collective pandemic experience has revealed the inequity of having the instructor adjudicate the validity of the excuse, as well as the impracticality of producing documentation on demand. (Can you readily access a doctor when you’re too sick to work? If you could, wouldn’t that take up time and energy you’d rather use to complete the work itself?) Finally, as a third instructor commented to me, simply reading the traumatic narratives that students share voluntarily (let alone requiring these excuses) implicates her in a form of voyeurism. Discomfort aside, students’ entreaties take up time, requiring at least one exchange of emails, and that can fill up the inbox and prove hard to track over the course of the term.
As an elegant fix, the courses I’ve worked on explicitly state in their syllabi and assignments that no reason is required and that permission is granted automatically – eliminating the need for email back and forth and the inequitable requirement for justification. This policy fit the goals of both instructors – one who was interested in student retention in a difficult course, and the other who had implemented a labor-based grading approach to extend greater agency to 100-level, Gen Ed students.
But the instructors still needed a way to track the excused assignments. So what’s clever and new (to me) about these courses is how the instructors and I executed the policy in our LMS – a graded Canvas quiz (in a 0% weighted assignment group so as not to interfere with the final grade) that inquires only about the logistics:
What is the assignment? (Be as specific as possible.)
How are you using this particular opportunity for flexibility (of the three opportunities granted)? (The assignment is late/missing/requires revision.)
When will you turn it in? (This helps me grade it promptly.)
Because the quiz is set to accept just 3 attempts, the instructor doesn’t need to manually tally the number of permissions already granted. And once the student fills out the quiz, safe in the assumption that permission has been secured, they can get down to the business of completing their work, without shame or delay.
One instructor framed these opportunities as “tokens,” like the tokens you spend at Chuck E Cheese — they’re only good when you’re in the establishment, so while it’s great if you finish the term without needing to use them, there’s no particular reason to save them up! “Tokens are my acknowledgment that we all make mistakes, misread instructions, and that life things come up. We falter. Use a token!” (“What are tokens in this class?”, Dr. Jenna Goldsmith). The Canvas quiz was termed a “Token Tracker,” complete with a cartoonish golden coin icon. By week 6 of the term, just short of half the students had availed themselves of it.
I was excited to learn of these instructors’ policies and to help craft their execution in Canvas. If you’d like to try out this inclusive assignment policy, or have an idea for another policy that will be unfamiliar to students, consider how you can use the tools at hand to present the policy as easy and natural — as much a part of our standard operating procedures as the old, inequitable way of doing things. Students will be more likely to benefit that way.
With gratitude to Dr. Jackie Goldman, who first shared the idea of an automated “extension quiz,” and Dr. Jenna Goldman, who adapted the quiz for use in her course.
Bringing Critical Language Awareness to Instructional Texts and to How You Evaluate Student Writing
Instructional designers spend a lot of time working with words – they’re the raw materials that instructors share with us in the development of their online courses – but it’s often unclear what liberties we should take with instructors’ writing, and, on a related note, how we should coach instructors to assess their students’ writing. If inclusivity and equity are central values in course design, how might that be reflected in the seemingly mundane act of copyediting instructional texts or in setting up an instructor’s rubric to include “standard” grammar as a criterion? When the instructional designer copy edits the instructor’s words, or the instructor assesses a student’s writing proficiency, what raciolinguistic dynamics does that enact? Critical Language Awareness gives us the insight that our “language conventions and language practices are invested with power relations and ideological processes” (Wendt and Apugo), so the work we do with instructors’ and students’ words should be understood in the context of those power relations. What follows is a letter addressed to instructors that I hope will spark conversation on these issues, in the hopes that all the participants in the course – those who design, facilitate, and inhabit the spaces created by these texts – can reach their goals while using their own voices.
How would you like me to approach copy edits and other confusions?
Let’s start first with the practical and (seemingly) neutral question of how I handle your instructional texts, as I will read all the course materials you share with me. A common agreement I reach with instructors is to let me correct any obvious typos, misspellings, and punctuation issues, but to require I check with you in all other cases. Sometimes, as a colleague of mine has shared, instructors will ask the instructional designer to leave typos untouched, because they want to model authenticity, vulnerability, and a focus on meaning over surface perfection. This can serve as an invitation to students to let go of the fear and shame associated with making mistakes – so I’d be glad to help you towards this goal, as well, provided your intended meaning is still clear. Keep in mind that Ecampus students have expressed concerns when they notice a pattern of spelling or grammatical errors in a course, citing the typos as evidence of lower-quality, less credible course materials or a lack of instructor presence (McAlvage and Racek). But if you consider the imperfections in your writing to be a feature rather than a bug, you should make that explicit to students; let them know in what ways it’s intended to serve as a model for their own writing or for their overall approach to your course. Typos aside, I will also ask about instructions that you find obvious (and that may be pretty clear to me, too), because I am trying to anticipate all the ways your instructions could be misunderstood by others. So if it seems that I am being a bit obtuse about what something you wrote means, that’s the reason! A related question is on tone – are you open to receiving my feedback in this area? Our instructional design team encourages you to use a welcoming tone; students turn away from instructors when a “punitive” or commanding tone is used in a syllabus by, for example, seeking their support less often (Ishiyama et al. qtd. in Roberts 47). If you agree, I can help you spot those areas that feel less welcoming. For my part, I will strive in my communications with you to adopt a collegial tone, but should you find that is not the case, please let me know.
Now that we’ve thought through some of the practical questions on how I’ll work with your words, I’d like to ask you to reflect more broadly on your relationship to your writing and language use. How did you learn to write in your field, and what experience would you like your students to have with your use of language in your course? What do you expect of your students’ writing, and is it something that your outcomes assess? As you think over your responses to these questions, let me share a bit about my relationship to language and writing and how it affects my work.
Who are you to correct me?
My father used to tell a joke about a guy touring a college campus who stops to ask a student, “Where’s the library at?” and is told in response, “You should never end a sentence with a preposition.” He then rephrases his question, “Where’s the library at, [ jerk ] ?” My father taught writing, after earning his PhD in English literature, and later wrote books, so I grew up believing a command of “good” written English was my genetic inheritance. But now I can see that my mastery of a particular language standard has mostly to do with my immersion in a socioeconomic group whose language practices are privileged through white supremacy. So while the joke shows that correcting other’s language can open you up to counterattack – Who are you to correct me? What makes you right and me wrong? – many will not be empowered to answer back. Nor does this language privilege typically operate on the level of overt interpersonal confrontation, as in the joke – it’s usually invisible – “a product or effect of assessment systems and structures, our [standard operating procedures] in classrooms and other places where language is judged, despite anyone’s intentions, that produce political, cultural, linguistic, and economic dominance for White people” (Inoue 7). Enforcing language standards is an oppressive practice, a way to gatekeep who can succeed and who cannot, and in the case of the joke, who is subject to judgment for the simple act of asking directions to the library.
The joke also gives us the insight that language standards are a self-replicating system of oppression, as each student who is coached to evaluate language in this way internalizes the standards and is then given license to impose them on others. As a result of my own immersion in and sense of “ownership” over standard English (Whiteness as Property), I brought into my instructional design practice a certain unexamined confidence about my ability to critique and correct others’ writing. I wanted to help instructors present instructional texts that were clearer, more succinct, error-free – more like the way I wanted the writing to sound than the way the instructor had written it. I had to stop and ask myself whether that was doing instructors a service or not. For example, in the case that a course shell was designated for a single instructor (and should rightfully showcase their voice), a colleague felt the edited text misrepresented the instructor to their students – there would be a disconnect between the “corrected” writing in the static course shell versus the writing that would appear once the term got underway. My corrections were also potentially an erasure of the instructor’s identity and the imposition of a certain language standard that wasn’t desired.
Where do you see yourself, if at all, in my approaches to correcting others’ writing? And what role would you play in the linguistic power struggle set up by my father’s joke? Are you the guy who asks for directions, the college student who corrects him, a bystander, or perhaps a mediator of some sort? I hope these anecdotes have helped you to reflect on your own positionality and how that shapes your approach to your students’ writing, and, specifically, to its evaluation.
How will you evaluate and respond to your students’ writing?
Before you answer, tell me, does your course devote time to teaching students to write according to a particular standard? Are there specific lectures, learning materials, or learning activities that scaffold how to write in this way? No? Putting aside the issue of how you’ll assess students’ writing given the raciolinguistic considerations, we generally don’t assess students’ skills in areas that aren’t part of the course itself, and we are compelled to align our assessments to show mastery of the stated outcomes of the course (What is alignment within a Quality Matters framework?). If written expression doesn’t appear in your outcomes, should you penalize students when surface features of their writing don’t match your understanding of what is standard?
Another consideration when you assess students’ writing is your own mastery of academic and dominant language standards. Respectfully, I have observed quite a few assignments in which the very instructions exhorting students to polish their writing and produce grammatical, error-free texts themselves contain spelling and grammar errors. I have even seen a grading rubric that spelled grammar as “grammer”! So, I would invite you to think about your own writing and whether you feel comfortable determining your students’ mastery of these language standards. If you do find your approach reflects a perfect or nearly perfect achievement of standard writing, how did you come about that position, and is it legitimate to wield your knowledge of dominant language practices in the way you are planning?
Who is served by your attention to students’ writing, and who is disadvantaged?
You might very well respond that college students and professionals need to write using the dominant standard as a practical necessity, since they will be judged if they do not, and their life prospects will be impacted (in much the way you and your course may be judged if students find a pattern of typos or grammatical idiosyncrasies). This may be true, but we must acknowledge how it puts “the onus on language-minoritized students to mimic the white speaking subject.” Where would you like to focus your attention? On compelling your students to meet a standard, when achievement of that standard will not wholly shield them from discrimination, or on compelling yourself to “imagine and enact alternative, more inclusive realities” (Flores and Rosa 155, 168)?
Rather than positioning yourself as the students’ judge, you might instead be their supporter, connecting them to resources like a writing center that will help them produce more polished writing. You can promote these services in your syllabus, announcements, or, for example, directly alongside an assignment’s grading criteria:
Your final draft should show evidence of having been edited and revised for clarity and organization. Reach out to the Writing Center for an appointment if you would like their feedback on global aspects of your writing or would like coaching on specific areas of grammar and punctuation. If you are a multilingual writer, the center offers Multilingual Support.
Keep in mind that, depending on the approach of the writing center, your students may end up being coached to conform their writing to the dominant standard. If you’ve decided to forgo judging students’ writing on the basis of its surface conformity to these standards, you might make it clear through a rubric which outcome-related knowledge and skills you will instead evaluate for evidence of learning. I acknowledge this is hard work to do, hard work to let go of language standards you may have invested a great deal of time in mastering, and which feel important to your discipline. But it is possible, as I’ve seen in the approach taken by OSU’s gateway English Composition course, WR 121, in which students achieve outcomes related very specifically to writing, while the focus of evaluation is primarily on the time and labor invested in their writing process, rather than on the perfection of their final product.
Turning back towards the work I do with your course, I am challenged by the same raciolinguistic considerations, so, to conclude, I would like to remind both you and me that writing and proofing services are something I can provide – but it’s not required that you make use of them in your course development. In the same way that you probably shouldn’t assess students’ writing if it’s not a part of the stated course learning outcomes, I also shouldn’t attempt to shape the writing and language in your course without your express permission, because this is not a part of my unit’s guiding standards for course design, the Ecampus Essentials and Exemplaries. And, because more broadly, when we focus on the ideal of a standard English, we perpetuate racial hierarchies. You are entitled to your own voice, form of expression, and approaches toward writing (and you might consider how your students have this right, as well).
Thanks for reading this! I hope this has given you an opportunity to reflect critically on some of the language practices that so many of us in higher ed engage in. I look forward to hearing your reactions and coming up with an approach that meets your pedagogical goals while also being concordant with your values.
I have raised considerations in this post about how, and if at all, you should assess your students’ writing, without doing much to ideate alternatives, so I’d like to share a few resources. To learn more about how you can create an equitable environment for culturally and linguistically diverse students, read my colleague Nadia Jaramillo’s post, Dimensions for Culturally Responsive Learning Design. For a compelling take on alternatives to grading writing based on a white supremacist standard, which informs the approach of WR 121, read Asao Inoue’s book Labor-Based Grading Contracts. For a quicker read, I also recommend you review the three main approaches to grading the writing of multilingual writers – each with unique benefits and drawbacks – which might help you to clarify your current practice and to be more intentional in the future. Finally, if you, like me, are working to undo many of the lessons you’ve learned and absorbed about dominant writing practices, you might also be interested to read about a related concept – how perfectionism, seemingly a race-neutral value that drives the pursuit of excellence, is instead a feature of white supremacy.
What should you know about emojis if you plan to use them in your online courses? Not being an extremely online person and not, perhaps, of the right generation, I came to emojis later than others and felt uncertain using them. What did these symbols communicate to others, and how would it reflect on me if I used them in my work with instructors and students? Without research-based answers to these questions, I nonetheless began using emojis in online course designs for the purpose of visual wayfinding and for fostering a friendly, playful tone. After several terms of using emojis in this way, I wondered whether they were accomplishing my goals. Now I’d like to share the background on emojis I’ve researched—and wish I had had earlier—so that you can avoid any missteps.
Using emojis in the Canvas Modules menu (which doesn’t otherwise permit any modification of its visual design) has been one way to increase the salience of certain items or to lend them a certain skeuomorphism. With ‘at-a-glance’ speed—faster than reading text—students can quickly identify their intended navigational path once they’ve grasped the symbolism of each emoji. I use these symbols consistently for assignments of the same type across weekly modules. Here’s how the emojis looked in a graphic design course, which itself featured a lesson on semiotics and the way icons, indexes, and symbols operate as visual shorthand:
All the emojis chosen for this course reference the domain of school or making—a scissors represents creative assignments, a spool of thread winks at the idea of “threads” in a discussion. The usage of emojis, along with other design choices related to page layout and color scheme, was a way to model the design skills being taught. Students could thus experience how thoughtful design influenced their interactions with a digital product, in this case, a college course.
I had also hoped that using emojis would communicate to students that a course was welcoming, approachable, and not all deadly serious. Much research has been done to understand how the set of emojis depicting faces influences the emotional reception of text-based messages, but my course designs have generally used non-face emojis. Research on this set of objects, the meaning and emotional valence of which might be more opaque, also shows that emoji objects communicate positive affect or playfulness, perhaps because they demonstrate that the user has invested care and emotion work in choosing an emoji appropriate for interpersonal exchange (Riordan, 2017). Whether that is appropriate within online learning is less clear; emojis were found to increase students’ perception of how caring an instructor was, but they also led students to perceive the instructor as less competent (Vareberg and Westerman, 2020). And while they might “lighten the mood,” emojis were considered inappropriate in contexts that students considered formal, such as email (Kaye, et al., 2016). Within the domain of commerce, emojis in ads were pleasing to customers when the product was perceived as hedonic rather than utilitarian, suggesting again that context is a critical factor in emoji’s reception. Another consideration to have in mind is the multiplicity of interpretations an emoji might have at the intersection of gender, language, culture, etc. (Bai, Qiyu, et al., 2019), and how that will affect your intended tone.
Considerations with Accessibility
In testing my emojis in Canvas, I relied on ReadSpeaker TextAid; this accessibility tool simply skipped emojis and read only the surrounding text aloud – which was fine, as the critical content I wanted to communicate was in text form, and the emojis were essentially decorative. Unfortunately, after reading a great post on the experience of emojis for individuals with sight impairments who use assistive technology, I discovered that the ReadSpeaker TextAid behavior wasn’t typical. Using screenreaders more commonly used by individuals with sight impairments, I then confirmed that when emojis are encountered, their official names are, indeed, read aloud. This means that my visually clever discussion title was now rendered in speech as ‘2.6 Spool of Thread Discussion,’ lengthening the time it took to get to the useful information and adding irrelevant content. Whereas an emoji can be hidden from assistive technology via html on a Canvas page or assignment, there is no mechanism to do this within the title of a page or assignment. This means that, if an emoji is a must-have, it should be placed at the end of the Canvas item title, where it will be read last and prove less bothersome to learners using screenreaders. For me, however, this creates a jagged, irregular visual appearance when viewed in the Canvas Modules menu, and coming at the end of the title, makes the emojis a less useful navigational shortcut for sighted students.
Unfortunately, with this research in mind, I can no longer sprinkle emojis throughout my Canvas courses like so much happy confetti. Now, I’ll recommend to the instructors I partner with that they use emojis sparingly, for the purposes of communicating the emotional valence of a message (to ‘smooth out the rough edges of digital life,’ as so incisively put by Stark and Crawford, 2015) or to increase salience, but always in accessible ways, and always with a few caveats in mind.
Bai, Qiyu, et al. “A Systematic Review of Emoji: Current Research and Future Perspectives.” Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 10, Frontiers Research Foundation, 2019, pp. 2221–2221, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.02224. Full Text.
Kaye, Linda K., et al. ““Turn That Frown Upside-down”: A Contextual Account of Emoticon Usage on Different Virtual Platforms.” Computers in Human Behavior, vol. 60, Elsevier Ltd, 2016, pp. 463–67, doi:10.1016/j.chb.2016.02.088. Full Text.
Riordan, Monica A. “Emojis as Tools for Emotion Work: Communicating Affect in Text Messages.” Journal of Language and Social Psychology, vol. 36, no. 5, SAGE Publications, 2017, pp. 549–67, doi:10.1177/0261927X17704238. Read via OSU Library.
Stark, Luke, and Kate Crawford. “The Conservatism of Emoji: Work, Affect, and Communication.” Social Media + Society, vol. 1, no. 2, SAGE Publications, 2015, p. 205630511560485, doi:10.1177/2056305115604853. Full Text.
Vareberg, Kyle R., and David Westerman. “To: -) Or to ☺, That Is the Question: a Study of Students’ Initial Impressions of Instructors’ Paralinguistic Cues.” Education and Information Technologies, vol. 25, no. 5, Springer US, 2020, pp. 4501–16, doi:10.1007/s10639-020-10181-9. Read via OSU Library.
A trigger warning in a college course alerts students to the presence of material that may provoke a traumatic response. It might sound something like this:
As a reminder, this week’s reading contains an account of suicide. Please prepare accordingly and employ self‐care throughout the in‐class discussion. One self‐care option is to make use of the Monsour Counseling Center (Sample Syllabus Language, Claremont Colleges CTL).
The usage of trigger warnings has been debated by faculty, administration, students, and researchers, and after spending time reading the arguments and research, I am uncertain whether I would recommend them to an instructor who asked for my advice on the matter. So, rather than advocating for or against trigger warnings, this guide presents several resources for instructors exploring their usage.
Among my instructional design colleagues, trigger warnings have some obvious appeal, perhaps because they dovetail well with the UDL checkpoints that direct us to “facilitate personal coping skills and strategies” and “minimize threats and distractions” in our courses, but their utility is contested. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), in their report “On Trigger Warnings” outlines some of the issues. Trigger warnings might stifle free and open discussion of difficult topics, prejudice students against engaging with instructional materials critically or encourage avoidance, and interfere with academic freedom. However, in “Teaching with Trauma: Trigger Warnings, Feminism, and Disability Pedagogy,” Carter (2019) asserts that the AAUP misunderstands the goal of trigger warnings and who they’re for – they aren’t intended to protect students in general from adverse learning experiences but rather to provide students who experience trauma and anxiety with the means to engage – in other words, trigger warnings are a question of access and accommodation. Indeed, students themselves are requesting trigger warnings or complaining when they’re not used, as found by the National Coalition Against Censorship in its survey of 800 faculty.
What do we know from experimental research about the effects of trigger warnings? Jones et al. (2020) in their article “Helping or Harming? The Effect of Trigger Warnings on Individuals With Trauma Histories” describe how they presented reading passages that either did or did not contain trigger warnings to over 400 non-students who self-reported trauma. The trigger warnings did not reduce anxiety and instead seemed to cause participants to view traumatic life experiences as even more central to their life stories. Because trauma survivors who ascribe more importance to their trauma are at greater risk for PTSD, this research would suggest that trigger warnings are harming the students we most want to help.
Bentley (2017) in her article “Trigger warnings and the student experience” investigates the reactions of about 60 undergraduates taking 2nd and 3rd year courses that included trigger warnings related to the topics of war and terrorism. Notably, students who didn’t self-report a mental health condition actually experienced more anxiety. The 3rd year students, perhaps because they were further along in their degree, were more likely to perceive trigger warnings as an affront to their self-competence as learners. On the other hand, some students found the warnings helped them explore difficult topics more freely, because they were given time to frame their thoughts and feelings within an academic, rather than a reactionary or personal, context. Other students found the warnings useful because, without them, the triggering nature of course topics would not have been immediately obvious.
For instructors looking for practical tips on how, when, and where to employ a trigger warning, the University of Michigan has prepared a comprehensive “Introduction to Content Warnings and Trigger Warnings”. While content featuring sexual assault may be an obvious trigger, this guide lists 20 other potential triggers that instructors might not have considered, such as classism or fat phobia, and for which students might appreciate a warning. The guide also suggests that, since what triggers others can be hard to predict, instructors should consider inviting students to request which specific types of content they’d like to be flagged. Rather than infantilizing students, the guide argues, trigger warnings empower students to prepare to engage with difficult topics, because with the knowledge of potential triggers, students can work with a therapist or schedule more time to engage with materials, thereby making them more responsible for their learning, not less. The guide also details options for implementation, like flagging individual learning materials in the course schedule by triggering topic, or by issuing blanket warnings in the course description for a course that is largely composed of potentially triggering material. This is a must-read for anyone who has decided to implement trigger warnings.
Is it okay to use YouTube videos in your course? What about copyright? I get inquiries like this often. Here I’ll share the most common questions from instructors and the answers I provide.
Q: Should I be concerned about relying on a link to a YouTube video for essential course content? There are quite a few YouTube videos on a topic I cover in my course, and all of them are better than what I could put together on my own, given the constraints on my time and technical expertise.
A: There are several considerations when using YouTube videos:
YouTube videos may be taken down at some later date, and this would be a problem if you are relying on them for essential course content. However, you say there are “quite a few” videos on this topic. If the video you select for the course were taken down, would you be comfortable using a comparable video? A related consideration is, does the YouTube channel that posted the video own the rights to it? Or, have they pirated someone else’s content? We don’t want to share pirated videos with students because this models inappropriate intellectual property practices and because these videos are more likely to be removed by YouTube for copyright violation.
Another consideration is that students have come to your course with the expectation that you will offer a unique educational experience tailored to the context of their university and the degree program they’re enrolled in. When presented with YouTube videos, some students may ask, why am I paying for a course delivered by a professional university instructor if I can get the content for free on YouTube? Students may not be aware of the time and attention that you have put into finding, sequencing, and providing context around external videos. Consider balancing the use of external videos with your own materials so that you are still able to communicate your individual teaching presence.
Q: Am I infringing on copyright in some way by including YouTube videos in my course?
A: By linking to or embedding YouTube videos on your course site, you aren’t infringing on copyright. The YouTube video channel still controls the linked content, not you; you haven’t downloaded or made a copy of the video, nor have you stored it on your own device or the university’s servers. By driving traffic to YouTube’s website, you are actually helping YouTube and the content creator make money and/or get views. You may have heard of programs that allow you to download a YouTube video so you can retain a copy to share with students, just in case it gets taken down. Doing so would very likely infringe on copyright and would be a violation of YouTube’s terms of service. So stick to sharing links or embedding!
Q: How can I determine if a video has been pirated?
A: Take a closer look at the channel that uploaded the video. You can find the channel’s name listed beneath the video title. Do you recognize an institutional entity that would logically be the owner/creator of the video? Or, is the channel title just some person’s nickname? Click on the channel’s hyperlinked name so that you can browse the other videos and playlists the channel offers, as well as any information provided on its About page. If you find a random list of videos that don’t have a common theme, or no description is available on the About page, the channel may have pirated the video you had planned on using.
Q: I understand that linking to a pirated YouTube video isn’t a great thing to model to students, but what if this is the only video on my topic? Can I get in trouble for pointing students to pirated content? And what are the chances that YouTube or the true content owner will succeed in getting this pirated video taken down?
A: You haven’t pirated the video, but you could be liable for contributory copyright infringement…so this isn’t recommended. Still, you may be surprised to learn that YouTube will often retain pirated content. If the content owner agrees, YouTube monetizes the video with ads and it continues to be hosted on the pirating channel with the revenue going to the true owner (and in some cases a portion to the pirating channel). In 2017 most copyright claims resulted in monetization, so those pirated videos you’re interested in might not be taken down after all. That said, there’s no easy way to know if a pirated video has been monetized and sanctioned by YouTube and the content owner; ads will appear on videos that haven’t been monetized as well as on those that have. Conclusion: you’d be better off finding a video from a legitimate source or creating your own content!
How do you like to provide and receive information? What circumstances allow you to express yourself best? Our students’ learning experiences center on the exchange of information, and since they don’t typically get to design their own courses, we implicitly ask students to adapt to our communicative norms. I’m not a student, and for 40 hours each week, I work with colleagues who speak a shared language of diagrams, file naming conventions, and annotated comments.
But in my everyday interactions with people outside of work, when I enter other professional domains, I am keenly aware of my communicative disadvantage, not unlike what our students sometimes face. Paying attention to these interactions gives me humility and makes me curious about how I can give students the agency to express themselves in the ways that suit them best. Let me share an anecdote from outside the office.
Recently I had to visit the doctor for a routine health issue, and he showed me a diagram of test results while using some terms I wasn’t familiar with. When I left, I thought in frustration, I would have benefited from having been provided a glossary of key terms in advance, and a reading list afterward to learn more about the implications of the diagnosis. Surely this doctor could have tailored the visit better by assessing my introductory level of knowledge on the subject and then by expanding on what I already knew, while filling in on the gaps he’d discovered. That’s the confident critique from the instructional designer in me. But of course, I was at someone else’s office this time, operating outside of my professional identity, and my expertise wasn’t being solicited. And I was pretty uncomfortable. What did this medical professional think of me? I could barely follow along with the conversation! And, more importantly, what had I gained from the (quite expensive) interaction, for which I had just taken time off from work?
Our students are in a similar bind. Time spent in our courses is time they can’t spend with their families or in the workplace – and they’re paying for it! So how can we make students’ experiences more satisfying?
Learners differ in the ways that they can navigate a learning environment and express what they know. For example, individuals with significant movement impairments (e.g., cerebral palsy), those who struggle with strategic and organizational abilities (executive function disorders), those who have language barriers, and so forth approach learning tasks very differently. Some may be able to express themselves well in written text but not speech, and vice versa. It should also be recognized that action and expression require a great deal of strategy, practice, and organization, and this is another area in which learners can differ. In reality, there is not one means of action and expression that will be optimal for all learners; providing options for action and expression is essential.
This UDL principle reminds me to be open to ways of demonstrating and communicating knowledge that are outside my own comfort zone. So, when you create your course’s assessment plan, consider building variety and options into assignments. How will certain activities advantage some students and not others? Consider how can you draw on your students’ funds of knowledge. Like me, who brought along a specific communication toolkit, our students’ backgrounds have prepared them to communicate in unique ways. If your course relies entirely on one type of assessment (all exams, all essays), ask yourself whether the learning outcomes require it. What evidence of learning will be acceptable to prove students’ newly developed skills? What experiences will provide that evidence? For example, you might provide students with opportunities to:
compile their learning artifacts and resources into an E-portfolio
communicate via speech, using tools like VoiceThread to share audiovisual media
complete a series of small, staged assignments that, with ongoing instructor and peer feedback, culminate into a final project
If you’re in need of a few good reads to add to your end-of-summer list, Ecampus Course Development and Training has provided suggestions from our team, along with insights into how these texts have encouraged us to ponder the design of online learning experiences for students and support for our online faculty.
Educated by Tara Westover
This book will get you thinking about some of the many obstacles that our students may face on their journey into higher education. This memoir is about a young woman who leaves her fundamentalist family to pursue an education, eventually earning her Ph.D. from Cambridge, and who has to emerge from deep familial assumptions about education-as-brainwashing to chart her own path. As I’ve listened to this book on my commute to and from work (yes, it’s a great audiobook, too!), it has given me an opportunity to think deeply about what it means for students to come from a family that does not place any value on formal education, and what courage and persistence would be required to leap into academia and then find a way to belong there. – Katherine McAlvage
Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning by James M. Lang
A small change can go a long way. This book is full of examples and quick tips of how small adjustments in a course can lead to significant benefits. These small adjustments particularly help students who come to a course with misconceptions about how to study and learn. View the bibliographic entry (and get eBook access if you’re affiliated with OSU). – Elisabeth McBrien
An Urgency of Teachers by Morris & Stommel
An Urgency of Teachers is really thought-provoking and challenges many of the assumptions and changes in education. It is a wonderful introduction to critical pedagogy, and I return to it over and over for reminders, suggestions, and to help me to continue being a thoughtful and meaningful educator and designer. – Meghan Naxer
What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy by James P. Gee
While this book isn’t primarily intended for a higher ed audience, it helps introduce many of the connections between learning in a video game and learning in a classroom environment and how we can improve teaching by observing and adapting what video games do particularly well. – Meghan Naxer
Best Practices for Teaching with Emerging Technologies by Michelle Pacansky-Brock
The author, Michelle Pacansky-Brock, shared her tips for Humanizing Online Learning as the keynote speaker at Ecampus’ recent Faculty Forum event. Learning online can be an isolating experience, and, for many students, disconnection can contribute to feelings of self-doubt that undermine their success. Pacansky-Brock’s book features several technologies that increase students’ social connectedness. If you want some quick insights, review technologies highlighted by chapter at the book’s companion site. – Deborah Mundorf
We hope these titles give you some fresh perspectives as you finalize your fall courses. Happy reading!
In my last post, I described how Ecampus courses use synchronous study sessions to provide listening and speaking practice to students of world languages. Much of the Ecampus language learning experience is entirely asynchronous, however, to provide flexibility for our students. So how exactly do students converse asynchronously? This post will describe the design of asynchronous listening and speaking exercises in 300-level French conversation courses, executed by Ana-Maria M’Enesti, PhD, and facilitated via VoiceThread, a slide show within the LMS that displays course content about which participants comment via text, audio, or video.
VoiceThread was an appealing platform because of the ease with which students can add audio or video comments, more streamlined than the protocol for uploading video to a discussion board, and because of its display of content in sequential slides. When Ana-Maria and I began exploring how to present her asynchronous conversational lessons within VoiceThread, we realized that we could chunk each stage of the activity into these individual slides. This made the cognitive load at each stage manageable, yet provided continuity across the activity, because the slides are contained in a single assignment; students navigate by advancing horizontally from slide to slide. VoiceThread allows each slide to link to external content, so students can maintain their place in the sequence of the assignment while engaging with linked resources in another window. Most importantly, since students encounter all the related learning activities from within a single context, it is clear to them why they are investing time in reading or watching a resource – they anticipate that, at the end of the assignment, they will complete a culminating speaking activity.
For the culminating speaking activity, we used VoiceThread to provide each student with a place to upload his or her initial post as a new, individual slide that occupies the entire horizontal pane. Replies from peers are then appended to each student’s initial slide post. Visually, this is easier to follow than a text-based discussion, with its long, vertical display of posts that uses nesting to establish the hierarchy of threaded replies. Within VoiceThread, as students advance through the slides, they are able to focus their attention on each student’s initial post and the associated peer replies, one at a time.
Now that I’ve discussed how we exploited the mechanics of VoiceThread, I’ll review the learning design. To progressively scaffold students’ conversational skills, Ana-Maria builds each assignment as a series of activities of increasing difficulty. On the first slide, students might be prompted to share opinions or personal experiences of a topic in order to activate prior knowledge of thematic vocabulary and associated grammatical structures. Then, on subsequent slides, students are challenged to read or watch related content that is comprehensible, but a bit beyond their current language competence, the “i+1” level, as Krashen coined it. Afterwards, to ensure they’ve grasped the resource, Ana-Maria typically poses factual comprehension questions and then asks students to re-read or re-watch so that they can grasp any meanings they may have missed on the initial encounter.
Finally, students are asked to speak critically on what they read or watched, express a solution to a problem, or place the topic within their own cultural context, using topic-specific vocabulary and associated grammatical structures that they’ve heard or read from the included resources. The instructor is present throughout, mediating the interaction between student and content, since Ana-Maria narrates each slide, reading the instructions aloud and adding additional context. There is also support for listening comprehension, as the most critical instructions are written on each slide.
For the feedback stage of the assignment, students learn from each other’s responses, listening and providing replies to at least two peers on two different days of the week. This requirement allows conversations to develop between students and provides the third type of interaction, learner-to-learner, so that the activity sequence facilitates all three of the interactions described by Moore (1989): learner to content, learner to instructor, and learner to learner.
As expressed by one of our own students, “I was uncertain how a conversation course online would really work,” but “VoiceThread proved to be a helpful tool.” It allowed us to solve the puzzle of providing asynchronous conversational activities for students, who reported in surveys that it helped:
to “humanize” them to each other, like being “in an actual classroom”
to connect them with their instructor
to provide “access to multiple tasks within one [assignment]”
to improve listening and speaking skills
to make “group projects flow better”
VoiceThread is quite a versatile tool and is being piloted for use with many other disciplines at Ecampus. I’m sure you can imagine other ways to adapt it to your own context and content!
We schedule asynchronous coursework to provide flexibility for online students balancing multiple commitments. But asynchronous interaction is not ideal for achieving some learning outcomes. How can students learn to converse extemporaneously in another language, for example, through entirely asynchronous exchanges? If the outcome we want is the ability to engage in an unplanned spoken exchange between interlocutors engaged in social interaction, we can’t expect to achieve it by structuring learning experiences that are entirely self-paced, independent, and asynchronous. For this reason, many Ecampus world language courses require students to hold synchronous study sessions via videoconference software with other students who serve as conversation partners. This communicative approach to instruction provides for immersive experiences, frequent interaction in the target language, and improvisation.
The remainder of this post outlines how to structure this requirement for maximum flexibility and participation. While the focus is on application within world language courses, the general assignment protocol is applicable for facilitating synchronous study sessions in any course in which students would benefit from regular, live interaction.
During the first week, facilitate a sign-up process that matches students based on availability schedules and study habits. Allow the students to choose their own partners and to outline study session guidelines so that both parties feel respected. Provide suggested videoconference software along with alternatives, and encourage students to install and test the software in advance of their planned study sessions.
Once students have identified their study partners, require them to commit to a meeting schedule. Share the approximate dates by which their meetings should occur and give an estimate of how long students will need to meet in order to complete each assignment successfully.
As you plan a synchronous component, be cognizant of the competing demands on your students’ time. Depending on your student population, requiring even a weekly study session may be unrealistic. Also be aware that, like with any independent group activity, you will need to intervene in the case of student attrition, incompatibility, and conflict. For this reason, you might stage new partner matching twice in a term or require study groups of three students each so that no student is left without a partner or is consigned to a bad match for the entire term.
Before each synchronous assignment, prepare students to complete a clear task and then follow up to see how it went. For example, students might design a presentation on an assigned topic or play different sides of a conversation using assigned vocabulary and grammatical structures. If there is a deliverable, like the presentation, you’ll have some evidence of how well the study session went. If the deliverable is intangible, like conversation practice, consider asking students to record and submit a video of their meeting. Part of the assignment might require students to re-watch their conversation and identify several strengths and areas for improvement. This makes the recording beneficial for the student on top of its utility as a monitoring and assessment measure for the instructor. There is a limit, however, to the volume of recorded study sessions you’ll want to watch and grade, so you might also consider appealing to students’ academic honesty to ensure that the study sessions truly take place. For example, assign a periodic 1-question quiz that requires the student to attest to having met with their partner and then leave the study sessions otherwise ungraded.
Benefits and Extension to Assessment
Synchronous student study sessions allow you to capitalize on student-to-student learning. Although the language learners themselves will not be able to provide each other with entirely accurate target language input, nonetheless each partner will offer different skills and resources for resolving conversational challenges. On a practical level, the scheduling of student study sessions is usually more flexible than instructor-to-student meetings, because students can choose from a range of partners with varied schedules at the outset and then renegotiate meeting times as needed. You can then assess conversational skills developed through the study sessions using higher-stakes, synchronous social interactions that require more planning. For example, is the student able to converse synchronously in an oral exam with the instructor? What about speaking with interlocutors in their own community? Can the student talk with others online, outside the confines of the course?
At Ecampus, some instructors facilitate synchronous conversation with native speakers by connecting students to the online service TalkAbroad. The instructor provides TalkAbroad’s trained conversation partners with general instructions and then reviews the resultant conversation recordings on the TalkAbroad platform. Because students pay $10-$15 per conversation, instructors are mindful of the cost. For this reason, a TalkAbroad activity is usually a culminating assignment at the end of an Ecampus language course. The practice students have had in synchronous study sessions earlier in the term prepares them to get the most value out of the TalkAbroad assignment, and it reduces students’ anxiety about speaking with a more fluent interlocutor.
With this assignment protocol in mind, are you ready to try out synchronous student study sessions in your course? Ecampus world language instructors would be glad to discuss it with you further – asynchronously, of course! Synchronous discussion will require a bit more planning. But sometimes, that’s the only way to get the job done.
Many online instructors create video lectures or include existing videos to model new skills and to expose students to new content. But how do you know that your students are engaged?
To make video watching an active learning experience, add Kaltura’s interactive quiz feature to your lectures or to YouTube videos. You can access Kaltura’s simple quiz tools from Canvas’s My Media tab, or provide Ecampus with quiz questions and let us build the quizzes for you.
Add multiple choice questions with 2-4 answers to any point in your video
Accompany the quiz with a pdf viewing guide containing all quiz questions
Graded and ungraded options
Integrated with the Canvas Assignment tool and Gradebook
How would you like students to interact with your videos? Depending on your needs, you can set Kaltura interactive video quizzes to:
Prevent students from advancing the video until they’ve answered each question
Prevent students from changing their answers
Reveal or withhold answers upon quiz submission
In recent Ecampus courses, world languages faculty have embedded Kaltura interactive video questions at different points in videos to achieve different aims. In Second Year Spanish, grammar lectures conclude with questions that test students’ application of the grammar rules discussed earlier. The placement of questions at the end of the video holds students accountable for watching and understanding the entire lecture.
In Introduction to French Literary Studies, interviews with authors are interspersed with questions that confirm students’ listening comprehension of topics directly after each topic is discussed. When students are unable to answer a question, they become aware of gaps in their French language listening skills and can rewatch the segment they misunderstood. Engaging in repeated listening is a critical second language learning strategy that instructors aim to foster in their students (Berne, 1998). Kaltura interactive video quizzes are a simple and fast method that gets the job done.
This tool’s usefulness isn’t limited to world languages faculty. Speak with your instructional designer about how to apply this tool to lectures and videos in your own academic discipline.