When selecting a textbook, there are a number of factors to evaluate. In addition to assessing the textbook for appropriate content, one category that I recommend looking at is how inclusive the textbook is. Here are a few guiding questions to ask when evaluating textbooks for inclusion:
What is the cost of this textbook? Have you looked for open (free) textbooks, perhaps from the Open Textbook Library or considered writing or adapting your own? Affordability is inclusive.
Do the textbook images of people represent diverse cultural heritage and lived experiences?
Are the contributions to the field that are highlighted in the textbook from a diverse range of scholars in the field? If not, is there discussion about why certain voices were historically excluded from the field?
Is the textbook accessible? If there is an e-book, do the images have alt text, for example? Can students with disabilities access all materials in the book?
If the textbook is an e-book, are the concepts presented in multiple ways, such as text, infographic, slide decks, or multimedia elements? Giving students choices in how they explore the course concepts empowers them to use their existing preferences, and helps them develop new strengths and avenues for learning.
What to Do When the Textbook Is Not Ideal
It’s tough to find a textbook that is inclusive and has all of the concepts you are hoping to teach. What can you do when you find a textbook that has the concepts you need but is lacking in inclusive excellence? Here are some simple ideas for addressing this:
Consider giving publisher feedback. Write a brief email to the publisher about your concerns around a lack of representation in the book or whatever it is that you see as missing.
For any text you choose, consider inviting students to write to the publisher if they see areas for improvement, whether that is with cost, bias, or other issues. You could include the contact information for the publisher in your course materials page, inviting students to write in feedback directly to the publisher.
Acknowledge to your students that the textbook isn’t as inclusive as you would like it to be. Share the ways that you are advocating for better quality. You could also invite students to have a bias hunt discussion about the textbook or course materials. Then you could collect that feedback and send it to the publisher.
If the textbook lacks contributions from a diverse range of scholars, consider adding scholarly articles, images, or interviews from diverse professionals in your field to your course learning materials pages, in your LMS course site.
Consider highlighting professional organizations in your field that promote and mentor the professional development of scholars from specific historically underrepresented communities.
Have you had success in this area of evaluating textbooks? Have you found a publisher or textbook that has made gains in this area? If so, please share your resources in the comments.
Memory plays the central role in learning – it is “the mechanism by which our teaching literally changes students’ minds and brains” (Miller, 2014, p. 88). Thus, understanding how memory works is important for both instructional designers and instructors. According to modern theories, memory involves three major processes: encoding (transforming information into memory representations), storage (the maintenance of these representations for a long time), and retrieval (the process of accessing the stored representations when we need them for some goal or task) (Miller, 2014). Let’s briefly review these processes and see how they may inform our course design and instruction.
Encoding – What Is the Role of Attention and Working Memory?
How does encoding happen? We receive information from our senses (visual, auditory, etc.), and then we perform a preconscious analysis to check whether it is important to survival and if it is related to our current goals. If it is, this information is retained and will be further processed and turned into mental representations. Thus, attention is the major process through which information enters our consciousness (MacKay, 1987). Attention is limited, and it is to some extent under voluntary control, but it can be easily disrupted by strong stimuli. Attention is crucial for memory, and without attention we cannot remember much (Miller, 2014).
How attention is directed depends on the way the content is presented and on the nature of the content itself (Richey et al., 2011). If the content is intrinsically motivating for the student, it will catch their attention more readily. But beyond that, the manner we design our instructional materials can influence how learners focus their attention to select and process the information, and in turn on what and how much gets stored in their memory. For example, we can ensure that students are guided to the most relevant content first by making that content more visually salient. Or we can tell an engaging story to focus their attention to the concepts that come next.
Working memory is a concept introduced in the 1970s by Alan Baddeley. This model describes immediate memory as a system of subcomponents, each of them processing specialized information such as sounds and visual-spatial information. This system also performs operations on this information and are managed by a mechanism called the central executive. The central executive combines the information from the various subcomponents, draws on information stored in long-term memory, and integrates new information with the old one (Baddeley, 1986).
Some researchers consider attention and working memory to be the same thing; while not everyone agrees, it is clear that they are highly interconnected and overlapping processes (Cowan, 2011; Engle, 2002). Attention is the process that decides what information stays in working memory and keeps it available for the current task. It is also involved in coordinating the working memory components and allocating resources based on needs and goals (Miller, 2014).
The capacity of each of the working memory components is limited. However, these components are mostly independent: visual information will interfere with other visual information, but not much with another type such as verbal information (Baddeley, 1986). Therefore, the most effective instructional materials will include a combination of media, such as images and text (or better yet, audio narration), rather than just images or just text. Graphic by Cheese360 at English Wikipedia is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Storage – How Fast Do We Forget?
In the late 1800s, Hermann Ebbinghaus conducted his famous series of experiments on the shape of forgetting. The result was the forgetting curve (also called the retention curve), which is a function showing that the majority of forgetting takes place soon after learning, after which less information will be lost (Ebbinghaus, 1885). A recent review of studies on the retention curve concluded that the rate of forgetting may increase up to seven days, and slows down afterwards (Fisher & Radvansky, 2018). This interval is useful to consider when planning instruction. A well-designed course will include sufficient opportunities for practice and retrieval during this time, so as to minimize the forgetting that naturally occurs.
Graphic from MIT OpenCourseWare is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0
Retrieval – How Do We Get It Out of Our Heads and Use It?
While long-term memory is considered unlimited, retrieval (or recall) can be challenging. Its success depends on a few factors. To retrieve memory representations, we use cues—information that serves as a starting point. Since a memory can include different sensory aspects, information with rich sensory associations is usually remembered more easily (Miller, 2014). Visual and spatial cues are particularly powerful: memory athletes perform some mind-blowing feats by using a special technique called “the memory palace”—imagining a familiar building or town and placing all content inside it in visual form (to learn more about this technique, check out this TED talk by science writer Joshua Foer).
Recall is also influenced by how the information was first processed: deep processing (focusing on meaning) will yield superior retrieval performance compared to shallow processing (focusing on superficial features like some key words or the layout of the information). However, equally important is a match between the type of processing that happens during encoding and the one that happens during retrieval (Miller, 2014). For instance, if the final exam contains multiple-choice questions, learners will perform better if they also practiced with multiple-choice questions when they learn the content. Finally, emotions have been shown to boost memory (Kensinger, 2009), and even negative emotions (such as fear or anger) can have a strong effect on recall (Porter & Peace, 2007).
Conclusion – Implications for Instruction
What can we do to maximize our students’ memory potential? Based on these memory characteristics, here are a few strategies that can help:
Make use of graphic design and multimedia learning principles to create attention-grabbing, well-organized instructional materials that include a combination of media.
Include plenty of retrieval practice activities, such as polling during lectures, quizzes, or flashcards. The website Retrieval Practice is a fantastic resource for quick tips, detailed guides, and research. Top things to keep in mind:
Boost retrieval practice through spacing (spreading sessions over time) and interleaving (mixing up related topics during a practice session).
Make sure you plan some sessions for the critical seven-day period after introducing the material.
Consider teaching students the memory palace technique for content that requires heavy memorization.
Support every type of content visually where possible.
Encourage deep processing of the material, for example through reflections, problem-solving, or creative activities.
Ensure that students have opportunities to engage with the material during learning in the same way as they will during the exam.
Try to stimulate emotions in relation to the content. While negative affect can help (for example, recounting a sad story to illustrate a concept), it is probably best to focus on positive emotions through exciting news, inspiring anecdotes, and even more “extrinsic” factors such as humor, uplifting music, or attractive visual design.
Using these strategies will help you create learning experiences where students encode, store, and retrieve information efficiently, allowing them to use it effectively in their lives, studies, and work. Do you have any related experience or tips? If so, share in a comment!
Baddeley, A. D. (1986). Working memory. Oxford University Press.
Cowan, N. (2011). The focus of attention as observed in visual working memory tasks: Making sense of competing claims. Neuropsychologia, 49(6), 1401–1406. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.01.035
Ebbinghaus, H. (1885). Memory: A contribution to experimental psychology.
Engle, R. W. (2002). Working memory capacity as executive attention. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11(1), 19–23. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-8721.00160
Fisher, J. S., & Radvansky, G. A. (2018). Patterns of forgetting. Journal of Memory and Language, 102, 130–141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2018.05.008
Kensinger, E. A. (2009). How emotion affects older adults’ memories for event details. Memory, 17(2), 208–219. https://doi.org/10.1080/09658210802221425
MacKay, D. G. (1987). The organization of perception and action: A theory for language and other cognitive skills. Springer New York. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4612-4754-8
Miller, M. D. (2014). Minds online: Teaching effectively with technology. Harvard University Press.
Porter, S., & Peace, K. A. (2007). The scars of memory. Psychological Science, 18(5), 435–441. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.01918.x
Richey, R., Klein, J. D., & Tracey, M. W. (2011). The instructional design knowledge base: Theory, research, and practice. Routledge.
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, so you’re not liable, but again…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!
In recent years, there has been an increasing focus on how cultural background has a deep impact on overall classroom experience. This is true in the physical classroom, and it is no less true online. Cultural experiences not only affect how students navigate meaning in learning contexts, but these experiences also play a role in motivation and satisfaction in a course.
Various comparative studies in the larger educational context have demonstrated the need for consideration of cultural differences in the delivery and design of instruction in the physical classroom. Likewise, in order to improve learner experience for diverse student groups in the online environment, it is important to examine the unique landscape of the virtual classroom.
Frameworks for understanding various cultures, such as Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions, are frequently relied upon for increasing cultural competence in the workplace or classroom. One particularly relevant type of cultural difference framework is referred to as “High-Context” “Low-Context” (Hall, 1976). In high-context cultures, people rely on nonverbal cues as well relationship building as the backdrop for information exchange (Bai, 2016). In low-context cultures, however, information exchange matters more than relationship building, and nonverbal cues as well as social hierarchy can largely be ignored. Low-context communication is expected to be explicit and highly verbal. Context such as body language and facial expressions are nice in a low-context environment, but they are not a required element of communication and not necessary for receiving the full intended message, as they might be in a high-context culture. Furthermore, expressing personal views in a low-context culture is expected and does not automatically threaten one’s relationships with friends or colleagues who might hold differing opinions.
“In high-context culture, people tend to personalize their disagreement with others. To show one’s disagreement and anger in public is tantamount to admitting loss of control and face, because what is being said is taken personally which may have an influence on interpersonal relationships. Therefore, they will keep their emotions inside or just remain silent to avoid trouble. In this way, they can maintain social harmony and intimate bonds with each other. In the eyes of people from low-context culture, this kind of repression is totally unreasonable. Everyone has their own rights to express opinions, and this explicit criticism has nothing to do with their interpersonal relationships” (p. 22, Bai, 2016).
Because communication norms can be so distinct between cultures, consider their impact on the learning environment. For example, in the physical classroom, communication and meaning rely on multiple forms of interaction. While some communication relies on written language in a face-to-face class, the majority of exchanges are driven by speech. Participants have multiple strategies at their disposal: verbal feedback, social cues, confirmation checks, body language, and even the physical arrangement of the classroom itself. Instructors can have students work in pairs or groups, sit in a circle or rows, and so on. All of these forms of input combined with students’ background knowledge about how various classroom configurations function help students negotiate meaning.
However, in the asynchronous online classroom, the majority of communication relies on written language. Instructors typically use tools within the learning management system (LMS) to provide written feedback and grading. Student interactions take place via discussion forums, blogs, structured peer-review assignments, and other text-driven means of communication. While text-based communication has some advantages for English language learners (ELL) in particular (e.g. opportunities for revision and low-stakes rehearsal), written language is open to interpretation and lacks the visual and physical cues of verbal language. This can be tricky for learners from high-context cultures where communication relies heavily on implicit and contextual cues, such as body language and tone of voice. In fact, one study found that learners from these language and cultural backgrounds tend to misinterpret intent or look for hidden meaning in instructor feedback and discussion posts (Hyland, 2013).
All this is to say, which student would be most comfortable in a setting where nearly all non-verbal cues are absent, direct text-based information is exchanged, and disagreement among peers is encouraged? Students from low-context cultures may feel at home in this environment, but students from the high-context cultures may feel they – as well as the instructor – are regularly violating norms and expectations. This is important for faculty to understand because it affects whether students see themselves and others as active participants who contribute in a meaningful way, which has a direct impact on the learning community in the course.
Tips for Cultural Inclusivity
Survey Students. Use a word cloud, survey, or similar to ask students how comfortable they are expressing disagreement with others. Create guidance for participation based on the responses received.
Provide clear guidance and models. Include guidelines for appropriate language for discussions or debates. Make explicit that respectful disagreement or questioning of ideas is encouraged. Consider includingsentence stemsthat model how to express disagreement or varied perspectives using academic language. Use rubrics that clearly identify expectations for both initial posts and peer response.
Be creative with discussion prompts. Assign roles on occasion to build students’ participation confidence by lowering the personal stakes. Other prompt types include problem statements, cases studies, video analysis, or student facilitation of discussions.
Use multiple means of communication. Include weekly overview videos or podcasts to deliver important details about the course verbally in addition to providing the information in written form so that students may benefit from both high-context and low-context forms of communication. Sharing assignment feedback through video or audio comments (e.g., in Canvas Speedgrader) can provide additional physical cues and context for the communication that written feedback alone cannot convey.
Provide flexible options around communication. Invite students to introduce themselves or participate in discussion posts through video, if they would prefer, while also giving them the option not to appear on camera. Allow them to decide how they would like to exchange information in the course.
Be flexible about tools. Provide information about how to record video or other media used in the course, but keep in mind that preferred or available tools will vary in different regions of the world. Allow students the flexibility to determine which tools are best for communication tasks.
Include anonymous peer review tasks. This can relieve students who are concerned about damaging relationships with their peers through negative feedback. Gather anonymous feedback about the course as well. Consider culturally based perspectives on power dynamics between students and teachers.
Provide feedback in multiple formats. Give specific examples of what students did well while also being clear about areas for improvement. Avoid making assumptions about what students will take from the comments. Feedback delivered through multiple means (video, audio, text) can help to avoid miscommunications.
Extend existing inclusive language practice to include cultural considerations. Be mindful about clarity and use of idiomatic speech that may be less transparent for students from a different language background.
Assignments are an integral component of the educational experience to guide the teaching and learning processes. In fact, Dougherty (2012) contends that assignments are instructional events that aim to teach for learning, that is “recipes for instructional events— lessons in the best sense— and their main function is to create a context for teaching new content and skills and practicing learned ones.” (p. 23). Assignments as instructional plans provide students with the opportunities to apply concepts they studied in the class. Further, through assignments, students can demonstrate the skills developed in a unit of content in more concrete ways and aligned to the goals of the course.
In my consultations with instructors I often hear them raise concerns about course assignments. These concerns range from making assignments more practical and relevant, clarifying the purpose and instructions, integrating problem-solving and critical thinking, to including authentic and experiential tasks. In addition, I hear instructors mention that some assignments that students submit are incomplete, offer superficial and unsubstantiated arguments (i.e., written reports), focus on tangential ideas, have been googled, reflect bias, and are simple opinions using non-credible sources. These concerns are very valid and it is important to examine the assignments deeper. What I have noticed is that some assignment descriptions lack a purpose and clarity. In a word, assignments need to be transparent.
Determining the structure of an assignment bears the questions of how can instructors make the assignments learning events that are clear and relevant enough for students? how can students not only demonstrate what they learn, but also use the assignments as catalysts for further intellectual and academic challenges? Let’s take a closer look at transparency.
The first time I heard about transparency in assignment design was at the Wakonse Teaching and Learning conference a few years go. Several sessions and small group activities at the conference showed us that the assignments need to have a clear structure, detailed instructions, and a grading criteria. Obviously! I said to myself at the time. However, the reality is that assignments tend to be reduced to a list of instructions, tasks that students need to complete and submit for a grade. In some cases these instructions vaguely indicate the grading criteria in terms of the format and style (i.e., number of words, font size, spacing).
The underlying framework for transparent assignments is a structure that clearly describes the purpose of the assignment, the instructions or tasks, and the grading criteria (Dougherty, 2012; Winkelmes, 2013; Winkelmes, Bernacki, Butler, Zochowski, Golanics, & Weavil, 2016). Winkelmess and colleagues (2016) draw from three theoretical bases to support the three-stage framework: metacognition, agency, and performance monitoring. Contrastively, Dougherty (2012) draws from instructional strategies informed by backward design and alignment to outcomes to set the assignment structure. In this framework, instructors deliberately design the assignment for high quality learning experience and relevance to students. In their research study, Winkelmess and colleagues (2016) found that students who received transparent assignments showed evidence of greater learning in three areas related to student success: academic confidence, sense of belonging, and mastery of skills.
Designing transparent assignments involve creating a clear and coherent architecture. Through this structure students can think deeper about the concepts studied, focus their attention on particular topics, make connections to real-world contexts, and see the relevance for their future lives and goals (Dougherty, 2012). In doing so, instructors need to create a harmonious structure that clearly explains why students need to do an assignment, what is the assignment about, how to do the assignment, and how they will be graded on it.
When I presented this architecture to one instructor, he replied “you are asking me to tell students the answer! Why would I need to hand-hold students in this way when I want them to be problem-solvers and critical thinkers?” While this comment is valid, and also paralyzed me for a few seconds, I engaged the instructor in discussing what the assignments need to be clear. For instance, we talked about how students will know what to do, why students should care about completing the assignment (besides the grade), and how students will meet the expectations if they don’t know the purpose and the way to complete it. In addition, I said “you want students to be problem-solvers of the content and topics, not problem-solvers of the assignment design.”
A transparent assignment should have the following three basic components: purpose, task, and grading criteria.
The starting point in an assignment is to be able to answer the question of why? Why will students learn from this assignment? Why will students need to complete this assignment? Why is this assignment important in students’ learning? Stating the purpose of the assignment serves a two-fold objective. First, it gives the instructor a frame of reference for creating an activity that is relevant and meaningful to students, and that connects to the learning outcomes. Second, the purpose of the assignment gives students a focus and a sense of direction.
Winkelmes (2013) suggests establishing the purpose in terms of the skills students will practice and the knowledge they will gain. In addition, the purpose can also be determined by contextualizing the learning outcomes in practical ways within the activity.
You can call it tasks, details, instructions, steps, or other. In this structure, the instructor describes what students need to do, what resources they can use, and the expectations of the assignments. Having a clear set of instructions makes the assignment more rigorous and helps students produce more high-quality work.
Providing the criteria of how the assignment will be graded will also give students a sense of clarity and direction. Clear expectations through a rubric or grading guidelines helps students adhere to the outcomes of the assignment. Winkelmes (2013) suggests including several examples of real-world problems so students can see how the application of knowledge and skills will look like.
A transparent assignment should have a well-structured framework or an architecture of steps. Transparency in assignments is a mindset, a way of thinking, the vision that students are given clear and relevant learning events that allow them to demonstrate their learning, and foster their engagement. Transparent assignments can be designed as stand-alone pieces or as a multi-stage assignment. Multi-stage assignments can build on cognitive complexity, include multiple skills, and extend learning to outside the class. In our next blog, I will look at how to design multi-stage assignments.
Dougherty, E. (2012). Assignments matter: Making the connections that help students meet standards. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Winkelmes, M. 2013. “Transparency in Learning and Teaching: Faculty and Students Benefit Directly from a Shared Focus on Learning and Teaching Processes.” NEA Higher Education Advocate, 30(1), 6-9.
Winkelmes, M. A., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J., & Weavil, K. H. (2016). A teaching intervention that increases underserved college students’ success. Peer Review, 18(1/2), 31-36.
In 1989, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a lawyer and scholar of Critical Race Theory (CRT), coined the term intersectionality to describe the multiple and layered oppressions experienced by African American women. Over time, this term has been used to describe many aspects of social identity, particularly focusing on race, gender, and class oppression. Intersectionality allows us to consider the impact of multiple oppressions on individuals and groups. For example, asking what it means to be poor in the United States is different from asking what it means to bea poor, Black, woman in the United States, which is different from asking what it means to be a poor, Black, disabled woman in the Southern United States.
Intersectionality matters because, if we don’t recognize and support our most marginalized citizens, they will continue to fall through the cracks. In colleges and universities, this means that our most marginalized students may need additional support to perform to their full potential. Addressing one source of oppression may not provide enough support to students who are working to overcome multiple sources of oppression.
Disability in Higher Ed
Disability is an obstacle for many college students. Consider these statistics:
19% of undergraduate students report having a disability.
28% of American Indian/Alaska Native students reported a disability.
21% of White students reported having a disability (rounded to nearest percent).
17% of the students with disabilities are Black. (National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], 2019).
When considering disability–or any other identity–we need to consider how other characteristics might compound the marginalization of students with disabilities. Let’s consider how race intersects with disability.
While the percentage of Black people with disabilities in higher education is lower than the percentage of White people with disabilities in higher education, in the general population, the reverse is true. According to Courtney-Long, E.A., Romano, S.D., Carroll, D.D. et al. (2017), 1 in 4 Black people have a disability, while 1 in 5 White people have a disability. This means that more white people with disabilities are accessing and progressing through higher education.
It is also important to recognize that the actual percentages of students with disabilities is higher as many students choose not to disclose their disabilities to their institutions. According to one study, “9% of students who identified as disabled did not disclose this information to their college or university” (Taylor & Shallish, 2019, p. 10).
There are clearly opportunity and equity issues that disproportionately impact students of color with disabilities in higher education.
Yet, when we work to create learning environments that are inclusive of students with disabilities, we often neglect to address intersecting sources of oppression. For example, accessibility requirements do not consider how disability intersects with other oppressions, such as class or race.
Universal Design for Learning
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an approach that is commonly cited as a way to meet the needs of all learners. UDL includes a framework with three general principles (multiple means of engagement, multiple means of representation, and multiple means of action and expression) each of which includes multiple guidelines and checkpoints for actual practice (CAST.org, n.d.). The goal of UDL is to increase access and usability for the greatest number of people possible. A UDL approach is structured and practical and, despite the critiques included here, is lauded for its utility by course designers and teachers alike.
UDL, however, does not meet the needs of all learners, particularly our most marginalized learners. Let me repeat: UDL does not meet the needs of our most marginalized learners, as much as we would like to believe it does. Let me highlight a few of the reasons for this.
As Dolmage (2017) explains in the book Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education, UDL’s emphasis on universality is problematic because universality is connected to normativity. (p. 134). Dolmage (2017) states that UDL has gained recognition by appealing to the majority, but in doing so “the needs of the majority once again trump the needs of those who have been traditionally excluded—people with disabilities” (p. 135). UDL is viewed as a framework for addressing the needs of disabled students, but its actual emphasis is on meeting the needs of the majority.
With its emphasis on “multiple means” UDL aims to include multiple learner identities and preferences; however, it “overlooks the importance of feedback from its own users” (Dolmage, 2017, p. 126). In this way, UDL ignores the individual circumstances of actual students.
By focusing on the “means,” over the students themselves, UDL is not an intersectional approach to design and teaching. Defining what a Universal Design looks like without considering the particularized realities of actual students results in the continued marginalization and erasure of students who are not in the majority.
UDL has popularized educational practices that serve many students, but in doing so, it has effectively erased the needs of some of the most marginalized students–those with disabilities. Those students with disabilities who are also part of other oppressed groups are increasingly at a disadvantage.
There’s no doubt that UDL is an incredibly useful tool and makes our course designs better, but we must not fail to recognize that UDL is not a panacea. UDL should be one of many tools we use to meet the needs of students, but let’s not forget that we need a truly intersectional approach to design and teaching. Without this, we, unwittingly or not, are contributing to the marginalization and erasure of our most disadvantaged students.
Courtney-Long, E.A., Romano, S.D., Carroll, D.D. et al. (2017). Socioeconomic Factors at the Intersection of Race and Ethnicity Influencing Health Risks for People with Disabilities. J. Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, 4, 213–222. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40615-016-0220-5
Dolmage, J. (2017). Universal Design. In Academic Ableism: Disability and Higher Education (pp. 115-152). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Retrieved June 8, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvr33d50.7
Taylor, A. & Shallish, L. (2019). The logic of bio-meritocracy in the promotion of higher education equity, Disability & Society, DOI: 10.1080/09687599.2019.1613962
Audio is a term we all understand on some level. Commonly we think of audio as the transmission, reception, or reproduction of sound. Audible sound is what we hear. So, when we consider audio as an element of course design we are thinking about how sound can be used to communicate or support learning in an online course environment. Integrating audio in course delivery can be quite powerful if done well.
Perhaps the most common method of using sound in an asynchronous online course is via narrated lecture. The narrated lecture is typically a voice over a slide presentation or screencast. It can be an essential tool of instruction if designed effectively.
Another way the voice of an instructor can be incorporated into a course is via audio feedback on student assignments. These are short audio recordings that have been found to help build a sense of instructor presence in an online course.
Highly focused use of audio is also utilized in subjects where audio is, in essence, the topic at hand. Here we are considering language, music, and media arts courses as examples.
Other valued voices are often brought into the online learning experience via guest interviews in either audio or video format. Not to be left out, the voices of students are increasingly present in online course via tools such as VoiceThread and university provided video portals such as Kaltura Media Space. And with tools such as Zoom recording audio interviews and voice overs is easier than ever. With the availability of media platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo, Amazon Prime, Audible, and Apple Music and Podcasts the ability to bring external audio resources into the online experience seems almost limitless.
Audio is also used as a supporting resource for text-based content in online courses. In this case screen readers may typically provide the audio support. When using audio as a primary learning resource it is necessary to provide text-based transcripts as accessibility options. A fuller description of making audio accessible can be found at the W3C website.
The examples listed above are common ways we integrate audio elements into online learning. Are there other perhaps different ways we might consider? In the next few paragraphs we will explore a few ideas of how we might use audio in specialized ways in course design.
Specialized Audio Use
Orientation & Review Audio
Audio is a great tool to use when smaller segments of media should be used to orient students to a part of an online course. Think about short, more ephemeral, voice messages that can be easily produced and updated from term to term as the course changes. These audio segments need not be highly produced but should be of good quality. This type of audio segment reconnects students with the instructor via voice.
Listen to the orientation audio sample below that was used in an online course: RE 270 – Outdoor Recreation Resources, Behavior and Values | Module III Orientation by Dr. Craig Rademacher; Northern Michigan University c. 2012. (00:02:56). [download orientation audio transcript from Temi.com]
Similar short segments of audio may be used to review sections of content. The review audio may be produced by instructors or students. These audio reviews may be used in preparation for an exam, major project, or collaborations within the course. The goal of such reviews may vary but certainly one goal would be to re-focus the listener to the task at hand while providing timely tips or learning objectives.
One of the things you may have noticed about the audio clip above is the integration of music to the orientation message. Purposeful music selections can support the emotional feel of a course or module being introduced. Music can also serve as an audio cue, or audio branding, for a course. So, selecting audio stingers, or music introductions, can highlight that a particular message or topic is coming or reinforce an emotional tone if carefully planned.
The primary benefit of using audio for orientation and review is that audio is less production intensive making it a quick way to provide feedback. Audio is also fairly easy to edit with a free cross-platform audio tool such as Audacity.
The oral traditions of learning go back centuries. Prior to print, learning was interwoven in spoken traditions, legends, and cultural stories. Today story remains a potent vehicle for learning. As you might imagine audio is a great vehicle for story.
An example of this is an Oregon State University political science course titled Governing after the Zombie Apocalypse which was designed and taught by Dr. Rorie Solberg. The story that underpins this course is that a natural disaster has caused the breakdown of the U.S. government. In response citizens must create a new government including a bill of rights and constitution. Students become the citizens creating that new government taking into account marginal populations such as the surviving zombies which are called “blues”due to their virus-caused color.
Audio is used creatively in the course by periodically inserting radio broadcasts about odd happenings around the country. Although not the heart of the effort of the course, these audio presentations, really imagined radio newscasts, provide situational tenor and decision points as students go about creating a new government. Listen to a segment of a mock radio broadcast below.
Mock radio broadcast excerpt: Story by Dr. Rorie Solberg. Produced by Oregon State University Ecampus. Voice acting credit: Warren Blyth (00:02:04)
This segment highlights how audio can be used to shape and carry a narrative through an online course. You might imagine how different narrative audio presentations may support history, literature, or science courses.
Soundscapes & Nature Sounds
Experiencing authentic places or environments is believed to be a valuable form of learning. This idea is a driving force behind field-based learning and experiential learning. Audio soundscapes provide access to authentic acoustic environments that can support online learning about the context of an environment. The environment may be urban, rural, or perhaps in a wilderness-like setting. Soundscapes may also be used to create sense of cognitive and emotional world building that can be used in instruction. Soundscapes typically feature a molar perspective of the acoustic environment.
Other, more specific sounds of nature are potentially positive resources for online instruction. Below is a sound sample of the call of a common raven. Listen to the raven’s call.
Audio recorded in the Beaver Basin Wilderness at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in Michigan in 2010 | Craig Rademacher. (00:00:26)
Now imagine how this simple recording may be utilized in a course. It might be used to help identify ravens from crows in an ornithology course. Perhaps this audio clip could be used to help communicate a sense of isolation for listeners studying wilderness values. Or, perhaps it could be used to introduce the poem by Edgar Allen Poe titled The Raven. In each case the audio would be used intentionally to deepen the context or experience of the learner.
Sound quality is an important factor when selecting and using audio in an online course. Audio files need to be of sufficient quality to clearly indicate what you are expecting students to hear. Poor audio, or a confusing sound recording, is experienced as distracting and student will likely tune out. Recording and editing audio does require some knowledge and practice. And there are many places where you can learn to produce audio. LinkedIn Learning offers courses in audio production, podcasting, and even how to select a microphone. So, if you are interested give it a try.
If you are not inclined to produce your own audio content there are resources available where you can find high quality audio for use in courses. Some of these resources are royalty free. Others may require licensing of audio for use.
We have reviewed how audio is commonly used in online courses and how we might think about new ways of integrating audio. As you explore the links to resources below start to think about your next course design. How can you augment the text and video you normally use with audio? How might you leverage voice, narrative, or soundscapes to connect online students to the context, authenticity, and humanity of learning? You might want to experiment with audio at first. Start small. If it works, then you will have truly found a sound idea for online course design.
There are several ways to find audio podcasts to review for inclusion in a course. Apple Podcasts is a dominant resource in this area. Apple streams over 750,000 podcast shows with over 20 million episodes. Google Play Music is another good resource. Podcast feeds can also be found simply by browsing for podcasts online.
Audiobooks are found in many online book seller sites such as Amazon (Audible.com). Additionally some more specific sites such as audiobooks.com also provide resources.
Lately I’ve heard from a number of faculty whose students have expressed stress or overwhelm at the workload in a course. Further, students as well as faculty have had to adjust to a new routine or pace in their lives in recent months. All of this change gives us a chance to examine the workload and pace of a course so that it is manageable for both students and instructors. To that end, I offer three simple things that faculty can do to make their workload more manageable:
Post time estimates for each activity
Consider your own availability
One of the most effective ways to help students understand how much they should plan to do each week in the course is to be explicit and specific about the workload, early in the course. Refer to the credit hour policy to help students understand expectations. At OSU, it is expected that students engage with course materials and activities for 3 hours per week for every credit hour. So for a 3-credit course, students should expect to work about 9 hours each week on reading, studying, assignments, discussion boards, and other activities. This information is generally listed in the syllabus, but it’s nice to highlight this in an announcement early in the course, or perhaps even in an intro video or weekly overview video. Being explicit early in the course sets expectations for everyone, builds trust, and cuts down on negative emotions from students who feel there is too much (or not enough) in a course.
Post time estimates for each activity
One complaint that students occasionally have is that there is an uneven workload from week to week. One way to address this is to post estimated times for each activity for the week. This could appear in a task list on a weekly overview page, for example. This helps in several ways. First, it helps students who struggle to manage their time effectively. If they know that the assignment takes about 2 hours to complete, they can plan for that chunk of time in their week. Moreover, perhaps there are six readings posted in one week, but each reading is only about 5-10 minutes long. Posting this helps students understand that there are a number of short readings this week. That way students don’t assume each reading takes too long and decide to skip some of them. Moreover, being explicit about time estimates helps students know that you are sticking with the credit hour policy as well, which is another way to build trust.
If you find that the tasks you’ve outlined exceed the credit hour policy, let your learning objectives for the course guide your decisions for what to keep and what to cut.
Consider your own availability
Lastly, consider your own availability. Be explicit with students about when you are available so that you can be sure to carve out time to recharge your batteries. For example, if you like to have a bit of time to relax on the weekends, you might have your weekly assignments due on Monday of the following week for each module, rather than Sunday. That way, if students have questions about an assignment that they are wrapping up over the weekend, you still have Monday morning to get back to them instead of scrambling to answer multiple emails on Sunday evening.
In part one of Academic Success, we reviewed why it is important to help students develop time management skills and how to design courses that help students manage time. In this post, we will discuss the why, what and how about teaching students how to learn.
By this time, most public schools and higher education institutions are coming to a close for Spring 2020 teaching. Congratulations on overcoming so many challenges and finishing teaching during COVID-19! As we prepare for summer and/or fall teaching, I would like to invite instructors to consider teaching students how to learn in your next teaching adventure, in order to help students achieve academic success.
Why Teach Students How to Learn?
For teachers, teaching students how to learn enables them to facilitate dramatic improvements in student learning and success (McGuire & McGuire, 2015).
For students, metacognition helps them to become self-aware problem solvers and take control of their own learning, through taking stock of what they already know, what they need to work on, and how best to approach learning new material (The Learning Center at UNC Chapel Hill, n.d.).
Teaching students how to learn also aligns tightly with the neuroscience of how humans learn. Dr. Daniela Kaufer pointed out four key learning principles based on the neuroscience of how people learn: (1). Learning involves changing the brain; (2). Moderate stress is beneficial for learning, while mild and extreme stress are detrimental to learning; (3). Adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise encourage robust learning; and (4). Active learning takes advantage of processes that stimulate multiple connections in the brain and promote memory (Kaufer, 2011).
What to Include in “Teach Students How to Learn”?
Now we have seen why it is important to teach students how to learn from the perspectives of teachers, students and neuroscience, it is time to look into the content of a “Teaching Students How to Learn” training module. Dr. Saundra McGuire suggests getting students’ buy-in as a first step, through early diagnostic assessment which can be used to find out what students already know and what they did not know. Past examples of dramatic increase in assessment performance after receiving “Teaching Students How to Learn” training can also be an effective way to gain students’ buy-in. Secondly, Dr. McGuire suggests teaching students Bloom’s Taxonomy and study cycle to help students self-evaluate what they are learning and where to focus their learning at (the higher levels of learning, such as the applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating). The Study Cycle includes preview, attend, review, study and assess (Cook, Kennedy & McGuire, 2013). Thirdly, Dr. McGuire suggests sharing metacognitive learning strategies with students. The Learning Center at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill lists eleven specific strategies that students can use to enhance their learning: (1) use your syllabus as a roadmap; (2) summon your prior knowledge; (3) think aloud; (4) ask yourself questions; (5) use writing; (6) organize your thoughts using concept maps or graphic organizers; (7) take notes from memory; (8) review your exams using test analyzer tool; (9) pause and ask yourself why you are doing what you are doing and how what you’re doing relates to the course as a whole and to the learning objectives that your professor has set; (10) test yourself; and (11) figure out how you learn and what learning strategies work best for you.
How: Implementing “Teach Students How to Learn” in Online Course Design
There are many ways teachers and instructional designers can build activities and structures in course design to teach students how to learn. The following list is a starting point:
Release answer sheet to homework assignments after submission expires and provide opportunity for students to compare what they did right or wrong and how to get it right if they did it wrong initially, to achieve mastery learning;
Provide opportunities for peer review and instructor feedback and make it possible for students to resubmit edited versions based on feedback received for mastery learning;
Allow multiple attempts for assignments and assessments for mastery learning;
Provide opportunities for students to reflect around midterm what learning strategies they use, whether they are effective or not, and how to adjust for better results in the reminding time of the course.
Provide opportunities for students to reflect near the end of the term on what they learned and how they have learned, and how they might use the learning in their lives. For example, using discussion forum, google form survey, quiz or assignment to collect students’ reflective feedback.
The list can go endless. The point is there are many opportunities for teachers and instructional designers to build elements in course design to teach students how to learn! Feel free to share your ideas or experience of teaching students how to learn with us.
Cook, E., Kennedy, E., and McGuire, S.Y. (2013). Effect of Teaching metacognitive learning strategies on performance in General Chemistry Courses. Journal of Chemical Education, 2013, 90, 961-967.
McGuire, S. Y., and McGuire, S. (2015). Teach Students How to Learn : Strategies You Can Incorporate into Any Course to Improve Student Metacognition, Study Skills, and Motivation. First ed. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus, LLC.
Adolphs, R. (2009). The social brain: neural basis of social knowledge. Annual Review Psychology. 2009; 60: 693-716.
Bransford, John., and National Research Council . Committee on Developments in the Science of Learning. How People Learn : Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Expanded ed. Washington, D.C.: National Academy, 2000. Print.
Doyle, Terry, and Zakrajsek, Todd. The New Science of Learning How to Learn in Harmony with Your Brain. Second ed. Sterling, Virginia: Stylus, LLC, 2019. Web.
Eyler, J. (2018). How humans learn : The science and stories behind effective college teaching(First ed.), Teaching and learning in higher education (West Virginia University Press)). Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.
Kaufer, D. (2011). Neuroscience and How Students Learn. Berkeley Graduate Student Instructor Center’s How Students Learn Series talk in Spring 2011. Retrieved from https://gsi.berkeley.edu/gsi-guide-contents/learning-theory-research/neuroscience/
Perkins, D. N., Goodrich, H. , Tishman, S. & Owen, J. M.(1994). Thinking Connections : Learning to Think and Thinking to Learn. Menlo Park, Calif.: Addison Wesley, 1994. Print.
Schwartz, Daniel L., Tsang, Jessica M., and Blair, Kristen P. The ABCs of How We Learn : 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use Them. First ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton &, 2016. Print. Norton Books in Education.
Südhof, T.C. (2013). Neurotransmitter release: the last millisecond in the life of a synaptic vesicle. Neuron. 2013 Oct 30;80(3):675-90. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.10.022.
I am writing this blog post on Monday morning, June 1st, 2020. Throughout this past weekend across the country, protests erupted following the death of George Floyd who died while pinned down by a Minneapolis police officer. Social media platforms and news outlets are flooded with tweets, videos, blog posts, hashtags, and images describing the chaos, anger, and destruction. (All of this has happened while the country is still reacting to and absorbing the economic, emotional, and physical health impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak).
What I most want this morning is the ability to turn to someone I trust with the education, perspective, and insight to help me think about the incredibly complex issues that erupted over the weekend:
While I’m troubled by the looting, vandalism, and destruction of property I have been watching on the news, I am more troubled by the fact that minorities fear their lives when interacting with law enforcement. Where can I read different perspectives on this issue?
What lessons can I teach my children about this moment and how to combat systemic racism?
What authors might I read to understand the experience of being black in America right now? How about the history in our country that led to this moment?
What needs to be done to make this a turning point for our country?
Fostering Information Literacy through Content Curation
The ability to research complex problems from multiple perspectives should be a fundamental goal of education. By guiding students through this process, we can help them become well-informed citizens, better parents, and more empathetic human beings. Developing these skills, however, depends on having access to the most relevant and informative resources.
College instructors, as experts in their fields, are in a unique position to provide learners with vetted collections of content. They can not only point students to resources they might not have discovered on their own, but can also provide context, share their point of view, and point out relationships between found materials. All of this will help make the content more meaningful for learners.
For the past several years, educators have started to recognize the value that they can provide to their students by sharing collections of reliably sourced content around a learning topic.
The keynote speaker at the Oregon State Ecampus Virtual Faculty Forum this year, Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa, spoke about the use of mini-libraries (which she calls “Bundles”) in her courses. Tracey is a neuroscientist and professor with Harvard University Extension School. The Bundles she uses are curated lists of hyperlinked articles, videos, podcasts for each topic that help ensure students are allowed entry points to the same subject from their individual starting point. Tracey uses analytics to see how much time students are spending on the bundles which informs the course and bundle design for future iterations. She also uses them to differentiate homework for cross-listed courses with both graduate and undergraduate students (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2020).
Online students, like most of us, are continuously dealing with information overload. My Google search for “systematic racism” returned 16,800,000 results in 0.34 seconds. How am I supposed to process close to 17 million results, particularly without prior knowledge of thought leaders and reliable sources in this field?
Students face these same research challenges. The time it takes to go through millions of returned search results looking for something useful and relevant. Time that could be better spent on an in-depth review and analysis of instructor vetted materials.
By providing a narrowed list of references instructors are also helping contribute to students’ information literacy. It is possible to model, through the selection and provided context, what makes a particular source credible. Is it the author? The fact that it comes from a peer-reviewed publication? The way an author sites their sources or the citations this particular content has received? Use this opportunity to support student’s development of their own “crap detector.” (Rheingold, 2009)
What is the Process?
There is more to curation than sharing lists of articles and videos. As the curator, an instructor is adding value through the organization and maintenance of the collection along with the context provided to the collected materials. Here’s a suggested process for instructors gathering curated collections of content for learners:
Identify Themes – Find a topic for which you wish to create a collection of materials. Name this collection and add it to your course in a way that is easy to modify.
Select Sources – Consider where you are going to search for content. You may already have several saved resources around the topics you teach. Can you supplement with scholarly journals you read regularly or blogs you follow? Who are the thought leaders in your field? Who do they follow?
Establish Filtering Criteria – What types of materials won’t you include? What is the learning objective that aligns with this particular collection and how should that inform what material you include?
Organize the Content You Have Selected – Should material be accessed in a particular order? Is there guidance you can provide based on the starting point of your learners? Are there natural sub-topics or patterns?
Provide Context – Why did you select a particular piece? Does it contradict the information in other sources? What key questions should learners be able to answer after consuming the content? How does this piece fit into this collection’s larger theme? Are there emerging patterns? How does it fit in a historical context?
Build a Linked List to the Selected Materials and Provide Attribution – Curation, while benefiting from the organization, context, and insight of the curator is only achieved through the sharing of work from others whose efforts should be recognized.
Create Learning Activities Around the Collected Content – Given the learning outcomes associated with this particular topic or theme, what do you want students to do with the information they acquire going through the content? Are they going to discuss it with their peers? Use it as a basis for a position paper or as research for a project? Maybe you want them to create their own curated collections based on this example, or contribute to yours.
Regularly Update Your List – Review your collections for broken links, outdated content, and supplement with new content. Look for other ways to refine your collection around current news events or new research.
Through effective content curation and inclusion of topic-based “mini-libraries” within their courses, instructors can become a guide for their learners. Instructors will expose students to new ideas and help them quickly access information that has already been reviewed for credibility. By doing so, instructors have the opportunity to model – in an academic setting – what we so desperately need in our personal lives as well: how to grapple with difficult issues from multiple perspectives while sharpening our information literacy skills.
Kendi, I. X. (2019, February 12). Anti-Racist Reading List from Ibram X. Kendi—Chicago Public Library. BiblioCommons. https://chipublib.bibliocommons.com/list/share/204842963/1357692923
Obama, B. (2020, June 1). How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change. Medium. https://medium.com/@BarackObama/how-to-make-this-moment-the-turning-point-for-real-change-9fa209806067
Rheingold, H. (2009, June 30). Crap Detection 101. City Brights: Howard Rheingold. https://blog.sfgate.com/rheingold/2009/06/30/crap-detection-101/
Tokuhama-Espinosa, T. (2020, May 5). Faculty Forum 2020—Keynote—Never a Better Time to Be an Educator! Ecampus Faculty Forum Special Virtual Event, Oregon State University Ecampus. https://ecampus.oregonstate.edu/faculty/forum/
Special thanks to OSU Ecampus Assistant Director of Instructional Design Laurie Kirkner for her insightful peer review comments and wording suggestions on this blog post.