By Susan Fein, Ecampus instructional designer

If you use slide presentations to deliver information and then provide a digital version of the slides to support learners, this post is for you!

Instructors teaching online or who use a companion LMS or website to accompany in-person classes often upload the slide file to aid students in notetaking. However, you may not be aware that digital files are not automatically accessible to those using assistive technologies, such as screen readers. Following a few simple and easy guidelines will improve accessibility of your materials for all students and demonstrate your thoughtful attention to inclusivity and equity.

Who Benefits from Accessibility?

Everyone, not only those with disabilities, benefit from accessible learning materials. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that there are more than 40 million people in the U.S. with a disability, so odds are good that some of them will be in your courses.

Accessibility practices support all learners, not just those who require them. In 2016, the OSU Ecampus Research Unit conducted a nationwide survey about student use of video closed captions. In that study, 70% of respondents who did not self-identify as having a disability used captions at least some of the time.

I asked OSU’s disability access center how many online students request disability-related accommodations. So far this year, 23.9% of those served by their office are Ecampus students. Last year, nearly 40% of all Ecampus courses had at least one student with an accommodation, and nearly 15% of all online-only students used a disability-related accommodation.

To ensure equity, regardless of who does or does not depend on accessibility support, it is vital to make all learning materials compliant with accessibility standards. When educators intentionally create fully accessible materials, we more equitably serve all online learners.

What Can You Do?

Here are five easy-to-follow tips that elevate your commitment and ability to create accessible materials.

Tip #1. Use a template. Templates are important because basic formatting for accessibility is already built in. By inserting your content into designated sections, you preempt some accessibility issues without any extra effort. For example, when you insert the topic of each slide into the designated title field, the slide structure maintains the correct sequence in which a screen reader encounters the various elements on the slide. If you are concerned about being too constrained or predictable, these designated fields accommodate your creativity! It is okay to reshape, resize, or reposition a field if you do not like its default appearance or location.

Regardless of which end of the design spectrum you lean, always start with a template. If you are not fond of colorful designs or fancy formats, there is a basic, unadorned template you can use. If you are a fan of fun, frivolity, or fabulous, select one of many free template options found online to suit your theme or topic. Check out the different templates Ecampus has developed with college-specific themes. One of them might be a good fit for you.

Tip #2. Enter a unique title on each slide. Each slide in your presentation must have a unique title. This permits a screen reader to navigate easily from one slide to the next. What happens when you have segments of the presentation that require two or more slides to fully deliver the information? No problem! There are various ways to address this.

When several slides focus on a different aspect of the primary topic, use that in the title. For example, you are creating a presentation about Health and Wellness and have multiple slides on the topic of Cooking. You want to introduce the topic, describe meal preparation, and offer ideas for healthy snacks. Since these are three distinct subtopics, a good approach is to label the slides as Cooking: Overview, Cooking: Meal Preparation, and Cooking: Healthy Snacks. Repeating the main topic in the title helps the learner connect each segment but still delineates separate subtopics.

If the subject matter does not neatly break into clear subgroups, it is fine to use a sequential number, such as Cooking Part 1, Cooking Part 2, etc. Since most creators develop a presentation’s content, sequence, and flow thoughtfully and logically, if you take a moment to consider why you grouped together specific ideas, the unique titles will likely emerge.

Tip #3. Follow best practices. If you search online for guidance about how to create effective slide presentations, you will discover that many sources offer similar suggestions. Most of these include recommendations about text (contrast, font size, font style), use of images, page structure, and so on. Use this short list as a helpful reminder of these other accessible-friendly best practices.

  • Text should be easy to read, with good contrast. Black text on a white background is ideal and classic. Be cautious of templates with too subtle contrast. They might not meet accessibility guidance for visually disabled learners. Use 18-point (or larger) sans serif font for readability.
  • Use images judiciously. Pictures convey themes, present an idea, or evoke a mood. However, too many can detract from the message, be confusing, or appear unprofessional. Aim for a “less is more” approach. (Learn more about accessibility for images in the next tip.)
  • Include adequate white space to separate and group content. Bullets are optional. Keep slide structure simple. Use phrases or a few words rather than full sentences. Break up content into multiple slides to avoid crowding.

Tip #4. Create alt-tags for images. A screen reader recognizes the presence of an image but it cannot discern the content. To be accessible, that information is provided as a text description or alt-tag.

If you have images in your slide deck, each must have an alternate text description. The alt-tag describes and explains the content of an image. Usually it is not accessible or helpful to use the file name. And beware of tools that try to divine the content of an image and insert descriptions. These are usually wildly inaccurate and unhelpful.

The majority of images in an effective presentation should be essential to the learner’s experience; the image is required for accurate comprehension of the content. The are images such as charts, graphs, photos, maps, or data. Other images may be optional or decorative; nice to have but not essential to the learning and, if not seen by the student, do not impede the learner’s ability to grasp the material.

For essential images, write a brief (1-3 sentences) text description. No need to include lead-in words like “this is an image of…” Describe the key educational value of that image. What about it is important to the learner? What is the essence of the information you want the learner to know about that chart, graph, or photo?

Screen shot of alt text box for an image from Office 365 PowerPoint
Screen image from Office 365 PowerPoint

Decorative images have two options: enter a description or skip over the image. To skip, enter null text (“ ”) as the alt tag or, if available in your version of PowerPoint, select the “decorative” option. Both choices direct the screen reader to ignore the image. If you prefer to tag a non-essential image, use a simple description, such as “team logo” or “Professor Kumar.”

Understand that writing good alt tags is a challenging skill that takes time and practice to master, so do your best. You may want to confer with the Disability Access Center, an instructional designer, or other faculty support group if you need assistance.

For more information about how to write effective alt tags, refer to these or other resources.

Tip #5. Use meaningful text to format links. Please do not insert a full URL on your slide. Screen readers recognize a URL link and read aloud every individual letter and symbol, often in a monotone mechanical voice, depending on the specific assistive tool. Think about how frustrating, confusing, and unhelpful that is. Instead, format each link using meaningful text, as demonstrated in this post. For example, the two resources linked above use the article’s full title as the meaningful text. Also, avoid the over-used, too generic “Click here for more information,” with the word “here” formatted as the hyperlink. Instead, select text that specifically identifies the URL content, such as “Visit the Disability Access Services web page for more information.”

Accessibility Supports Equity

Demonstrate your commitment to equity! With just a few extra minutes, you can easily meet minimum accessibility standards by following these tips and using the accessibility checker tool built right into PowerPoint!

Reference

Linder, K. (2016). Student uses and perceptions of closed captions and transcripts: Results from a national study. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University Ecampus Research Unit.

In your work as an instructor or instructional designer, what kinds of course design problems have you been trying to solve lately? Perhaps there’s a discussion board assignment that you’d like to make more engaging, or maybe there’s a lab activity that students struggle with.


According to recent research findings published in the journal Nature, “…people are more likely to consider solutions that add features than solutions that remove them, even when removing features is more efficient” (Meyvis, T. and Yoon, H., 2021). In a course design context, this means we will probably reach for something we can add to our course to fix a problem: a shiny new tool we learned about at a conference, an extra video lecture, or an additional step for that lab activity that students struggle with. We do need to include quality tools and fresh media to our courses, certainly. However, because there is so much to cover in any given course, we should strategically subtract all unnecessary elements. The aforementioned Nature article has brought to my attention that I may be regularly neglecting the powerful design move that subtraction offers. As a result of reflecting on that, I’ve collected a few examples of how instructors and instructional designers can use subtraction in course design.

Subtraction example #1: Remove formal requirements from informal practice activities

Let’s take a look at a discussion board assignment as an example. Sometimes discussion boards are treated more like formal writing opportunities than discussions. For example, do you require students to not only respond to the prompt but also use a formal style of discourse and cite evidence in accordance with APA style guidelines and do so in a certain number of words? We don’t require students to use APA style or converse with a word count in our in-person discussions, so why would we do this in an online course (Darby, 2020)? Consider subtracting those formal writing requirements for discussion boards, and reserve the APA citations and formal requirements for polished writing assignments. That way, online discussions can be a place to practice and informally grapple with new concepts and ideas the way that face-to-face discussions are. Then, after students have a chance to work through topics in an informal way, they will be ready to try more formal tasks on the topic, such as constructing an argument and appropriately citing evidence according to a particular style guide.

Subtraction example #2: Reduce the frequency of office hours

If you hold office hours at a set time each week, and you notice that few students attend, consider doing away with the set weekly “office hours” altogether. Instead, invite students to make an appointment with you at least once during the term, at a time and in a modality that works well for them, or reduce the frequency of office hours to two or three timely sessions (optional attendance) per term, such as before each exam. Take questions in advance so that students too busy to attend can still benefit from the sessions, and post a recording of the session afterward in an announcement. According to Lowenthal, Dunlap, and Snelson (2017), less frequent but more focused office hours increased participation from students. Lastly, consider renaming your new infrequent office hours to something warm and inviting, such as “Coffee Break” or “Consultations” (Darby, 2019), which students may find more welcoming. Building in plans for facilitation and instructor presence in the early stages of course development allows faculty to focus more on teaching while the course is running and less on reactive problem solving.

Subtraction example #3: Dethrone teaching “folklore”

Teaching “folklore,” which John Warner calls the ineffective “practices handed down instructor to instructor” (p. 207, 2020), shows up uninvited, particularly when you have been assigned a course to teach that you had no hand in developing. One example of teaching folklore is the stubborn assumption that serious scholars are gatekeepers for their fields. Evidence of this exclusionary approach may show up in the form of a stern, overly formal, or cold tone in a syllabus. Consider removing verbiage that conveys a cold tone, since we now know that warm-tone syllabi encourage students to reach out to their professors (Gurung and Galardi, 2021). Another example of this is inflexible class “policies” that reflect an individual instructor’s preferences and not university policies. Consider reviewing the policies stated in the syllabus and delete any that are not aligned with actual university policies. Further, the idea that students must achieve a level of eloquence and scholarly sophistication on par with faculty in order to be considered for a grade of “A” on an assignment is another example of this. Evidence of this type of folklore could be found in rubrics with benchmarks that are nearly impossible to achieve. The element that could be subtracted here is not the rubric, but rather the specific language in the rubric that makes it impossible for students to succeed in the assignment. Neuromyths, which are false beliefs about the brain and learning, could also be included in the category of teaching folklore. If you spot neuromyths in a course, remove them. In summary, if you spot one of these ineffective teaching folklore elements in your course, consider removing the “folklore” item.

For this design challenge, try subtracting ineffective design elements before adding new items to solve course design problems. If you are unsure if something should stay or go, ask yourself what purpose this element serves in the course. It should then become clear whether the item belongs or needs adjustment. Even small adjustments can transform learners’ experiences. What have you removed from your course? Share how the process was for you by leaving a comment.

References:

Blum, S. D. (Ed.). (2020). Ungrading : Why rating students undermines learning (and what to do instead). West Virginia University Press.

Darby, Flower. The Secret Weapon of Good Online Teaching: Discussion Forums 6 ways to lead meaningful class discussions in an asynchronous online forum. August 24, 2020.

Darby, Flower, and James M. Lang. Small Teaching Online : Applying Learning Science in Online Classes, John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central, http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/osu/detail.action?docID=5780349.

Created from osu on 2022-01-18 23:50:41.

Gasiewski, J.A., Eagan, M.K., Garcia, G.A. et al. From Gatekeeping to Engagement: A Multicontextual, Mixed Method Study of Student Academic Engagement in Introductory STEM Courses. Res High Educ 53, 229–261 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11162-011-9247-y

Gurung, R. A. R., & Galardi, N. R. (2021). Syllabus Tone, More Than Mental Health Statements, Influence Intentions to Seek Help. Teaching of Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1177/0098628321994632

Lowenthal, P. R., Dunlap, J. C., & Snelson, C. (2017). Live synchronous web meetings in asynchronous online courses: Reconceptualizing virtual office hours. Online Learning , 21 (4). https://doi.org/10

Meyvis, T. & Yoon, H. (2021). Adding is favoured over subtracting in problem solving. Nature.

Shi, T. Debunking Neuromyths and Applications for Online Teaching and Learning: Part 1. February 13, 2019. Ecampus Course Development and Training Blog.

Warner, J. “Wile E. Coyote, the Hero of Ungrading” from Chapter 13 of Ungrading.

clipboard, green apple, notebook, hand writing with pencil, scissors and spool of thread emojis used in module items

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.

Wayfinding

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:

There are 6 module items arrayed one on top of the other in a list. Each item title has a number, a distinct emoji, and a text-based title. The emojis used are a clipboard, green apple, notebook, hand writing with pencil, scissors and spool of thread.

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.

Tone

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.

Emojis appear at the end of each module item in a list of six. Each item title has a different length, so the emojis appear at different distances from the start of each line.

For tips on accessible emoji use, you should read Emojis: Readibility Guidelines and “Do Emojis and Accessibility Work Together?”. If you need to identify an emoji’s official title as read by a screenreader, consult the emoji’s entry in emojipedia.org, which will also show you the varied appearances an emoji takes on different platforms—another consideration you’ll need to have in mind.

Is the Party Over? 🎉

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.

References

Aitchison, Suzanne. “Accessible Images, Icons and Emojis.” Up Your A11y.

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.

Content Design London. “Emojis.” Readability Guidelines.

Finke, Beth. “Emojis and Accessibility: The DOS and Don’ts of Including Emojis in Texts and Emails.” Easterseals Blog.

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.

Mace, Di. “Do Emojis and Accessibility Work Together?” Blueprint – Blog by Tiny.

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.

Subject matter experts in many fields have embarked on authoring projects with the goal of replacing traditional published texts or customizing content for specific learners’ needs, yet large-scale creation of open textbooks or series designed for language learners has been slower to gain traction (Blyth and Thoms, 2021). Efforts in this area have largely been limited to adapting existing OER materials (5R activities) for specific learning contexts or piecemeal creation of online activities to provide reinforcement of isolated language skills. Part 1 in this series outlines the potential benefits, limitations, and challenges that programs and instructors face when undertaking large-scale authoring projects to address the needs of language learners. The purpose of this second post is to offer guidance for creating open source language texts and present a framework for getting started.

Language Acquisition as an OER Subject Matter

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of creating an OER for language learners, it is worth pointing out how this process differs from open authoring projects for other disciplines. While OER writing projects come with inherent challenges regardless of the field, authoring comprehensive language learning content presents a unique challenge. One reason for this is that language teaching and acquisition involves complex sequencing and scaffolding of skills, language items, and linguistic concepts unique to the field of language acquisition (Howard and Major, 2004). An effective resource must present language items not only in the established order of second language acquisition, but also at the correct level for the learners at hand. The “correct level” is fluid and influenced by many variables (first language interference, motivation, metacognitive skills related to the process of learning a language, fossilization of rules, literacy in the first language, prior knowledge and educational experiences, and so on). While, say, writing a history text also involves expert scaffolding to ensure that content builds on what came before, there are fewer moving parts to align, and presentation and sequencing can and will vary from one subject matter expert author to the next. Effective language learning materials, on the other hand, are more like a house of cards that relies on complex relationships between a variety of aspects of the target language, language input, learning context, and characteristics of the learners themselves. 

Language acquisition occurs when input is just beyond what students understand of a language (known as comprehensible input i + 1), so writing materials that consistently hit the sweet spot for learning is tricky even for the most seasoned language educator. In addition to presenting language in a specific sequence and at the appropriate level, authors must also consider how much new language content is enough at each stage and how to introduce, recycle, and reinforce this language through engaging and original texts as well as audios that present authentic and relevant contexts. All of this new content must then be aligned to learning outcomes related to both language form and function. Learners need not only the nuts and bolts of the language, but pragmatics are equally important—how is the language used in specific contexts and with a variety of interlocutors? What models will convey this information accurately in a way that is accessible at different levels of proficiency? 

Understanding the social aspect of language is as important as the grammar and structure. Language proficiency involves much more than speaking and listening in a new language. All of the linguistic aspects must be delivered via content that also serves as a vehicle for familiarizing learners with the cultural and social contexts where the language is spoken. This should be done in a thematic way, weaving in social justice issues in a timely and relevant manner, sensitive to the complexity of the issues at hand. The author(s) must also be able to write engaging texts that present level-appropriate target grammar, vocabulary, and cultural information in activities that build upon each other or recycle the language previously taught. In addition to being linguistically sound, these original texts and audios must also demonstrate awareness and care for representation, integrating cultural and social justice topics relevant to the diversity of cultures, communities, interests, and social issues of a variety of speakers of the target language. 

Creating language materials that incorporate all of these considerations requires a broad skillset beyond expertise in teaching the subject matter. Significant professional development and exploration may be necessary before embarking on expansive authoring projects for language learning. With careful coordination and planning, and an understanding of the process and support required, language programs, instructors, and learners stand to reap long-term benefits from creative, relevant, inclusive, and dynamic open resources. What follows is a suggested process and a sample framework for undertaking open source textbook production for language learning contexts.

Step 1: Survey of needs, resources, and intended uses

The first step in any authoring project is to identify the needs of a program and determine what kind of text will be used and how. This includes the extent of the textbook use within the department and also as a resource for the broader language learning community. A quality textbook resource can increase student autonomy and interest in language learning generally by providing accessible resources readily available to learners anywhere in the world (Godwin-Jones). At this stage, some questions to ask include: 

  • Who are your learners and what is their motivation for learning a new language? 
  • What kind of textbook needs to be replaced? What gaps do you seek to fill by replacing current text materials? 
  • How will the resource fit into the larger curriculum? 
  • Is the need for a single course text or a cohesive series to cover an entire level or multiple levels? 
  • Who is available to collaborate and what are their areas of expertise? 
  • What resources and support are available for the project?
  • How will time and resources be accounted for? 
  • What is the timeline for implementation?
  • Who will provide expert and outside peer review of the textbook materials? 
  • How will the textbook materials be maintained and updated over time to ensure long-term viability? 

Most language programs involve extensive faculty collaboration. Instructors teach multiple courses across various levels. As such, it is important to promote broad participation in the planning stage to encourage instructor input, address concerns, and determine the scope of the implementation (e.g., across courses, levels). Gathering input on content and soliciting expertise among colleagues increases faculty buy-in and ownership of new materials.

Step 2: Identify the scope of your project

Once the shape of the project has been determined, it is time to outline the specifics of the resource(s) to be created. Determining the scope involves identifying learning outcomes. These are often mandated by the program, but they might also need to be rewritten or revised by the authoring team. Both the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) and the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL) provide guidance on proficiency standards for world languages. Beyond language outcomes, it is also important to identify what the content goals are. This may involve generating a master list of topics, social justice and cultural themes to be addressed, and so on. At this stage, identify subject matter experts and any professional development needs. Who will participate as part of the core authoring team? Who will be responsible for quality control and review? Keep in mind that creating, reviewing, building, piloting, and maintaining comprehensive open language materials requires a significant time commitment, even if the goal is to create a single course text.

See ACTFL World Readiness Standards for Learning Languages

Step 3: Collaborate on a framework scope and sequence

The importance of this stage cannot be understated, particularly when multiple authors and stakeholders are involved. Once the themes, topics, outcomes, and other aspects of the materials have been identified and divided up into learning segments (levels across a series, units of a text, etc.), it is time to write the scope and sequence, which is basically a detailed outline. This outline should clearly show how everything fits together and serves as a framework for authoring materials that weave together language function and form, grammar points, text genres, readings, audios, pronunciation, vocabulary, practice activities, interaction, cultural and social justice themes, topics, etc.—all with attention to a logical progression, order of acquisition, recycling of language items, and student engagement. 


Let’s take a language text for English language learners as an illustrative example. If the grammar point for a learning segment is the present perfect tense, what types of contextualized content elicits that structure naturally? Perhaps a short biography representative of one aspect of the culture can serve this purpose. Reading and audio texts might present a person’s life experience so far. This offers an opportunity to consider whose lived experience will be represented via this text. Which vocabulary items are crucial for using the language around this topic? How much vocabulary will be new and how much recycled? Using the present perfect form as an example, we might focus on a number of participial adjectives and the prepositions for/since (She has been interested insince…). Language teachers as subject matter experts should have no trouble identifying these items regardless of the target language—this is how SLA comes into play. They teach this content all the time. The challenge is in putting it all together across units. That is, in addition to the grammar, punctuation, pronunciation, and writing systems (depending on the writing system of the language at hand) authors need to consider how the language builds on what was previously taught, how much is enough to present in each segment, what the cultural and social topics to be woven into authentic texts are, etc. A good scope and sequence defines all of this. For this reason, settling on a solid scope and sequence will require extensive coordination across subject matter experts, departments (in many cases), and in all cases, several rounds of review and revision before any writing begins.

sample scope and sequence template
Fig. 1 presents a sample unit from a scope and sequence created for a text for learners of English (CEFR A1+ level). This structure is applicable regardless of the target language although there may be some differences depending on the characteristics of the language. For example, phonetic languages may require less focus on pronunciation while languages using non-roman script will need to build in instruction on writing systems. View an accessible version of this template.

Step 4: Write and build

Once a final scope and sequence is in place and an authoring team has been identified, it’s time to start creating materials. Some questions to guide this stage include: 

  • Who will write the text and audio scripts? 
  • Who will provide diverse voice talent for audio texts? 
  • Who will record and edit audio? 
  • Where will the content be hosted and who will create it? (If using a tool such as Pressbooks, consider training for materials developers.) 
  • What platforms will be used for any interactive content? (H5P, Quizlet, Playposit, etc.) and who will build these? 
  • Where will the interactive repository be stored? 
  • Who is responsible for acquiring Creative Commons images and maps?
  • How will accessibility be ensured? 
  • What learner analytics will be gathered and how?

Because most of the activities in a learning segment tend to spring from the reading and listening input, it may be helpful to start with writing all of the texts for a level or course before creating the rest of the content. Audio and written texts must expose learners to a wide range of genres and text types (Tomlinson, 2012), so it may be useful to start by generating a list of genres to be covered. The texts, whether they are original or curated from online sources, must be reviewed and revised or adapted to ensure they contain the necessary language at the appropriate level, generate interest, employ the intended tone and voice for the genre, follow identified themes, incorporate social justice and cultural topics, and are accurate (in the case of non-fiction texts). If the content is curated, it needs to be reviewed for copyright and accessibility. 

Throughout the authoring stage, frequent check-ins among authors and reviewers can help to ensure quality, authenticity, inclusivity, and adherence to the determined scope and sequence. 

Step 5: Review and revise

Just as at every other stage of the process, peer reviews and revisions should be coordinated so that there is continuity in the editing process. It is important to enlist the help of internal and external subject matter experts. Assign different review tasks (big picture reviews of content and continuity along with detailed reviews of the language presentation) and provide each with review rubrics or guidelines to streamline feedback. External reviewers outside of the organization can help provide neutral insight. Enlisting the help of those with expertise in social justice topics, regional cultural perspectives, and different varieties of the language can help ensure accuracy, representation, inclusivity, and engagement. Be sure to review feedback as a team to reach an agreement on how to approach revisions to draft materials. 

Here is a sample rubric for reviewing original course materials, but rubrics should be adapted according to the scope and sequence and goals of each project.

Step 6: Implement and iterate 

Finally, it is time to pilot your new OER, but you aren’t done yet! Deliver the content to learners and collect their feedback as well as input from your teaching team. Keep in mind that an OER can be a work in progress, and one advantage of an open textbook is that it can be an evolving resource. Each iteration should involve coordination and input from the team who will be using the materials. Share your new resource widely. A high-quality OER opens the door for resource sharing with a broad community of colleagues, building visibility for the language program and lending credibility among colleagues around the world for the subject matter expert creators (Blyth and Thoms, 2021). 

Step 7: Create a plan for long-term viability: updating materials, quality control, and access

While creating an open source textbook for language learners can be a continually iterative process, once the new materials reach a point of stability and all stakeholders are satisfied with the product, authors or departments need to create a plan for maintaining the materials. Unlike costly textbooks which quickly become outdated, open access resources are easier to update (once the initial investment in time and resources has been made), save students money, and expand access to learners everywhere. The key is to create a plan for longevity so that updates are systematic, incorporate learner and instructor input, and are reviewed for quality control. The beauty of an OER for language learning is that it offers the opportunity to democratize teaching and learning by being responsive to the changing landscape of social justice education, shifting cultural influences, evolving characteristics of language learners, and distinct learning contexts.

References 

American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (ACTFL)

Common European Framework of Reference for Languages – Companion Volume (2020)

Blyth, C. S., & Thoms, J. J. (Eds.). (2021). Open education and second language learning and teaching: The rise of a new knowledge ecology. Multilingual Matters. https://www.multilingual-matters.com/page/detail/?k=9781800411005

Godwin-Jones, Robert. “OER Use in Intermediate Language Instruction: A Case Study.” CALL in a Climate of Change: Adapting to Turbulent Global Conditions – Short Papers from EUROCALL 2017, 2017, pp. 128–134., https://doi.org/10.14705/rpnet.2017.eurocall2017.701. 

Howard, Jocelyn & Major, Jae. (2004). Guidelines for Designing Effective English Language Teaching Materials. 

Tomlinson, B. (2012). Materials development for language learning and teaching. Language Teaching, 45(2), 143–179. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261444811000528

The following is a guest blog post from Andrea De Lei. Andrea completed an Instructional Design internship with OSU Ecampus during Fall 2021.

WHY SELF-CARE IS IMPORTANT FOR COLLEGE STUDENTS

Stress is not a new concept to college students, faculty, or staff. By teaching and incorporating self-care and overall health into your curriculum and design, your students can better manage stress and the host of obligations they may have to balance: full course loads, employment, commitments to their family and friends, internship, and networking opportunities. The Covid-19 pandemic this past two years added additional stressors both in teaching and engaging with students -added isolation and global pandemic stressors. To say these past two years was challenging would be an understatement. One way to get students and ourselves to practice self-care is to incorporate it into our lessons. 

In a 2016 survey of Canadian university students, 

  • 90% of respondents reported feeling overwhelmed by all they had to do, 
  • over 40% reported stress as the number one impact on their academic performance, 
  • 71% wanted more information on stress reduction (Alberta Canada Reference Group, 2016). 

BURNOUT IS NOT NEW

College students are experiencing high rates of anxiety, depression, burnout, and unhealthy coping mechanisms to manage their stress. A study done by Ohio State University showed that in August 2020, student burnout was at 40%. When Ohio State conducted the survey again in April 2021, it was 71%, highlighting the continued struggles of student mental health and the need for higher education to create a holistic approach centered around student health and wellness. Teaching self-care can help instructors prevent student burnout, interact more effectively with students and create a culture more conducive to learning. Teaching and practicing self-care is necessary to balance and prevent burnout (Tan & Castillo, 2014). 

BENEFITS OF ADDING SELF-CARE INTO THE CURRICULUM

The past year was filled with unprecedented events; social injustices, global pandemic, and increased stress diminished our prioritization of self-care. Increased isolation and loneliness mixed with online learning have created a void in identifying when someone needs help. Traditional self-care checkpoints are not as prominent for distance online learners as students learning in-person. Instructors can play a crucial role in supporting student mental health and wellbeing by incorporating self-care into their curriculum. 

A visual graphic showing multiple layers within OSU that highlight how OSU at a university, Ecampus, and campus partners prioritizing student health within their mission and values.


Image 1:Wellness Embedded in a Culture of Student Health visual aid created by Andrea De Lei; content cited from Oregon State University (OSU), OSU Ecampus and OSU Student Affairs webpages.

HOW CAN YOU ADD SELF-CARE INTO THE CURRICULUM

Supporting university-wide mental health initiatives is critical to student success and wellbeing. But, how do I add self-care in my online math course? Understanding the values of your university, department, campus culture, and needs of the students can help align these values into the curriculum and add self-care into any online course. A key component is giving students opportunities to plan time to incorporate self-care into their busy and stressful lives.

“Self-care has an experiential component in that it includes reflection and action in conjunction with real-world encounters” (Hroch, 2013, p. 5). Consider one or multiple assignments focused on self-care and wellness. Adding self-care and wellness can look like a wellness self-assessment, engaging in self-care activities and reflecting on that experience, incorporating additional resources into the syllabus or providing a “get out of jail [assignment] card.”

Self-Care and wellness discussion Canvas module example
Image 2: Self-Care and Wellness Discussion Module online Canvas course created by Andrea De Lei, 2021.

O’Brien-Richardson (2019) recommends four self-care strategies to support students: making yourself available, pausing for mental breaks, allowing for moments of self-reflection, and equalizing class participation. Suggested self-care activities for students can include an array of possibilities. From physical, spiritual, emotional, social and many more. Self-care is personal to the individual and looks different for everyone. Some examples include:

  • Physical self-care activities
    • Go on a run
    • Practice yoga
    • Get some sleep
  • Spiritual/Mindfulness self-care activities
    • Read poetry
    • Meditate
    • Take a milk bath
  • Emotional self-care activities
    • Write your feelings down.
    • Cry and laugh
    • Practice self-compassion.
  • Social self-care activities
    • In-person or virtual coffee or lunch with a friends/family
    • Phone or virtual facetime 
    • Join a [insert interest] club
    • Watch a movie or show with friends/family

THERE’S ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

To sum it up, adding self-care and wellness into the online curriculum can help students take time for themselves, destress, self-reflect, and create healthy habits to become better involved and engaged students. Instructors can continue to support students in various ways: self-care assignments, making yourself available, pausing for mental breaks, and allowing for moments of self-reflection.

References

Alberta Canada Reference Group (2016). Executive summary. American college health association. National College Health Assessment.

Hroch, P. (2013). Encountering the “ecopolis” Foucault’s epimeleia heautou and environmental relations. ETopia online initiative of TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies. Retrieved from http://etopia.journals.yorku.ca/index.php/etopia/article/view/36563/33222

O’Brien-Richardson, P. (2019, October 14). 4 Self-care strategies to support students. Harvard Business Publishing Education. https://hbsp.harvard.edu/inspiring-minds/4-self-care-strategies-to-support-students 

Saken, P., & Gerad, D. (2021, July 26). Survey: Anxiety, depression and burnout on the rise as college students prepare to return to campus [Student Mental Health MMR news release]. The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. http://osuwmc.multimedia-newsroom.com/index.php/2021/07/26/survey-anxiety-depression-and-burnout-on-the-rise-as-college-students-prepare-to-return-to-campus/ 

Tan, S. Y., & Castillo, M. (2014). Self-care and beyond: A brief literature review from a Christian perspective. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 33(1), 90-95.

A group of instructional designers at Ecampus participated in a book club reading “Ungrading” (Kohn & Blum, 2020). We learned many creative ways of designing assessments through participation in this book club. If you happen to be searching for ideas on designing or re-designing assessments in your teaching, we would highly recommend this book!

The idea of “Ungrading” may sound radical to many of us. Yet instructors at all types of educational institutions have tried ungrading in many different courses, ranging from humanity courses, to STEM courses, and from primary education to higher education. Starr Sackstein (author of Chapter 4 “Shifting the Grading Mindset” of the book) encourages educators to consider “ways to adjust small things in the classroom that will lead to important growth for students”. And this suggestion of starting small is coherent with what James Lang proposes in his book “Small Teaching” (Lang, 2016) and Thomas Tobin’s +1 strategy for implementing new teaching and learning strategies (Tobin & Behling, 2018). Sackstein provides a table comparing the grades vocabulary that focuses on judgement or criticism, with the non-grade vocabulary focusing on assessing and opportunity for improvement.

In chapter 5, Arthur Chiaravalli proposed a way for teaching without grades: Descriptive Grading Criteria, such as A for outstanding, B for Good, C for Satisfactory and I for Incomplete. Do you remember elementary school report cards that use E for Excellent, S for Satisfactory, and NI for Need Improvement type of categories? I think that is exactly what descriptive grading criteria represent. 

In chapter 7, Christina Katopodis and Cathy Davidson offer a new approach to start a new term/semester by asking students:” What is Success in this class for you? And How can I help you achieve it?” (p. 107) Katopodis and Davidson also remind us the importance of explaining why when you challenge your students to take their own learning seriously and give students opportunities for metacognitive reflections about the learning activities themselves. Katopodis and Davidson also offer a model of contract grading for Twenty-First Century Literacies and a model of collaborative peer evaluation. Students’ grades in the course come from self-and-peer evaluations using detailed evaluation forms. 

In chapter 8, Christopher Riesbeck described his critique-driven learning and assessment design of do-review-redo submission process for his intermediate-level programming course. I have used similar approach in my own teaching before and it works very well for any course with manageable number of students. The advantage for this approach is every one of your students can improve their first submissions based on feedback they receive from the instructor. The disadvantage for this approach is the potentially extended time instructors may spend on providing the feedback and reviewing the submissions and re-submissions. The key to this assessment method is making sure that the workload of providing feedback and reviewing revisions is manageable. In chapter 9, Clarissa Sorensen-Unruh provided her experience of using ungrading in her organic chemistry II course, giving students opportunities to practice evaluating their own work.

And that is only snippets of what I took away from a few chapters from this book. Many resources about ungrading outside the book were shared during our book club meetings, such as two-stage exams, group exams  and public exams. To answer a common question that ungrading practices may fit humanity courses more easily, Cyndie McCarley shared “Grading for Growth” blog written and maintained by two math instructors Robert Talbert and David Clark. To learn about all the creative assessment design methods introduced in this book, read it yourself either through library ebook or get a hard copy and enjoy reading, designing and experimenting! 

References

Kohn, A. and Blum, S. (2020). Ungrading. West Virginia University Press. 

Lang, J. (2016). Small Teaching. Jossey-Bass. 

Tobin, T.J. and Behling, K.T. (2018). Reach Everyone, Teach Everyone. West Virginia University Press. 


Banner for Inviting Art into Online Course Design

How it Begins

As an instructional designer one of my most important tasks is to hold an initial meeting  with an instructor, or subject matter expert (SME). During that first opportunity to collaborate on an online course design project the conversation typically focuses on  key course design elements. Commonly we discuss the broad approach to the course, anticipated assignments, narrated lecture needs, assessment, video production and support, the mechanics of the development process and more. Rarely does art come up in the conversation. 

Chasing Images

Now, that may seem obvious why art is not outwardly discussed. However in the first meeting we do address the topic of look and feel for the course, and images for course banners and any special subject matter art that may need to be displayed. So, visual images are addressed as a way of supporting the learning focus for the course. Finding images that are copyright free and support the general course topic are fairly easy to find in the more obvious online image repositories like Unsplash.com, Pixabay.com, and Pexels.com. 

For courses with education, agriculture, forestry, medicine, and other more general themes finding usable images is pretty straight forward. If your institution also owns licensing for GettyImages.com, the largest stock image collection in the world, you have really nice access to images. Even so, sometimes we don’t have access to the right images for the right course.

In those cases I have found myself chasing down images or building visual metaphors using multiple images to create one image that communicates the theme, unique message, or topic of a given course. Scrambling to create images that support a course can be a challenge for instructional designers. We can do it, but it is not ideal.

For those courses where stock images are not helpful there is a need to re-imagine the image sourcing process. Key to this is recognizing two important factors that will influence your new thinking; 1)The need to find images that do not require copyright clearance or purchase and 2) the need to have images that reflect the unique theme required for the course. How might this be done?

Asking the Question

Sometimes the answer to finding the right image for a course is not about the image but the artist who made it. Every college community has dozens of artist who produce many pieces of art. Some might just be what you need for your course. If you found the right artist would you be willing to invite them to contribute their artistic creations to your course? Would you ask an artist to be part of your course design?

That question came up while working with a course instructor, Dr. Mark Edwards, on the development of his sociology course addressing welfare and social services in 2019. In addressing this issue we knew finding stock art for this topic would be difficult and perhaps inappropriate. During our discussion the instructor said he had seen some examples online of street art addressing homelessness that he though might fit the course. I asked him if he would be willing to reach out to the artist and ask him if we could get permission to use his art in the course. Dr. Edwards said yes.

To our surprise and delight the artist responded positively by granting written permission to use photographs of his art in the course (see Figure 1. below). The artist participated knowing the art would be used for this particular course and would be behind a password protected site in Canvas. We also agreed to credit his work and link back to his art source page.

Figure 1. Banner image from SOC 439/539 featuring art from Michael Aaron Williams.

Course Artist-in Residence

Asking an artist to share their work in this way may be a challenging ask on both ends of the question. We did not know what the outcome would be. Some artists vigorously and rightly protect their work. Some correctly want compensation. Some artists see their work differently and are willing to share their creative efforts in the right circumstance or to support the right cause. In this case, I felt it was best for the instructor to make the ask as he could best communicate how the art might dovetail with the outcomes of the course. So, in this sociology course example the ask worked.

In the summer of 2021 I collaborated again with Dr. Edwards. His new course was a graduate course on research methods in the public policy program. At our first meeting he shared that he had already been in discussion with a colleague in Equador who was a chef and artist. The instructor thought about using images from a series of bread baking images from the chef /photographer for the course. The course theme was organized around the analogy of baking bread as a way to explain the art and science of social research methods. We would use the images (see Figure 2. below) to spur and reinforce understanding about what students were learning.

Figure 2. Dropdown content featuring Course AIR photographs and instructor comments.
Figure 2. Dropdown content featuring Course AIR photographs and instructor comments.

With the development of this second course the concept of a course artist-in-residence became intentional. There are a number of benefits and also limits that come along with this approach to image sourcing and use (see Figure 3.).

Figure 3: Benefits and limitations of a Course AIR approach.
Figure 3: Benefits and limitations of a Course AIR approach.

Traditionally artist-in residence (AIR) programs are a way for artists to find a place and unfettered time to extend their creative efforts. There are hundreds of such art programs throughout the country and many can be found listed at the Artist Communities Alliance. A wide variety of artists are served by these program.

The Course AIR described here is quite different from traditional AIR programs. Where an AIR participant might create a piece of art as part of their AIR experience the Course AIR is intentionally sharing artistic creations within a course space to help foster the objectives of the course. Depending upon the level of integration of the art with the course activities the role of the Course AIR may vary from contributor to collaborator.

Final Thoughts

The role of an instructional designer in this process is to first assist the instructor in vetting art appropriate for the course. Secondly, the instructional designer helps shape the application or use of the art in the course then designs course pages to showcase and compliment the artist-course connection.

The Course AIR concept has been a happy accident that holds interesting potential. Art comes in various form and is experienced through various senses. What music, photographs, video, illustrations, or other types of art might be just right for your next online course? 

Would a Course Artis-in-Residence contribute to achieving the course learning outcomes for a course you are developing? If our experience is any type of guide you will never know unless you ask the question and invite art into the online course design.

Recognition

A special thanks to Dr. Mark Edwards for his work on the courses, willingness to make the ask, and support for this post. Thank you also to my colleague Chris Lindberg for his contributions to this post.

At a recent faculty professional development workshop series, I became aware of faculty’s concerns about addressing the learning needs of students from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Students with multilingual and multicultural identities are oftentimes perceived as deficient (Almon, 2014; Flores & Rosa, 2015) and might feel they hold an outsider status (Merryfield, 2000). In my personal experience navigating multiple identities that intersect culture and language, and in my work supporting faculty in their learning design and instructional decisions, I began examining ways in which blended and online learning spaces can offer more welcoming opportunities for students. One of these ways is using a cultural lens and mindset towards inclusive learning design. 

Culturally Responsive Approaches

There have been several culturally responsive approaches to teaching and learning. By and large these approaches advocate for the recognition of students’ cultural backgrounds as critical to their learning success (Gay, 2013; Ladson-Bilings, 1994). In fact, a culturally responsive pedagogy (CRP) aims to promote the integration of students’ culture to support their learning experiences. In blended and online learning, this pedagogy can create an environment that “acknowledges, celebrates, and builds upon the cultural capital that learners and teachers bring to the online classroom” (Woodley, Hernandez, Parra, & Nagash, 2017, p.1). 

For students whose first language is not English, we first should focus on their strengths and not their deficiencies. These students bring their cultural backgrounds, values, experiences, and language diversity with them to the online learning environment. It is important to recognize that culture is central to teaching and learning; therefore, advancing online and blended learning design should be grounded on dimensions for cultural sensitivity where students’ diverse identities, cultures, languages, and backgrounds are seen through an asset-based lens. This means, recognizing the value in the cultural backgrounds, experiences, and languages of students; and embracing these students’ traits as assets. This asset-base approach can be the first step in developing a mindset for designing and teaching in ways that promote social, academic, and emotional learning for these and ALL students. 

Culturally responsive approaches have been mapped out to the three principles of Universal Design for Learning to offer (1) multiple means of engagement, (2) multiple means of representation, and (3) multiple means of action and expression (UDL, n.d.). UDL and CRP can help instructors amplify the opportunities for students from different cultural backgrounds to demonstrate their knowledge when given strategies that incorporate multiple perspectives, experiences, connections to the real world, and choices (Bass & Lawrence-Riddell, 2020; Kieran & Anderson, 2018)  

The connection of UDL and CRP offers consideration to inform instructional design choices. Yet, these considerations appear to be adds-on to the design of the learning experience. How can we expand the UDL and CRP connection to embrace a mindset to move towards an inclusive learning design where the cultural and linguistic traits of students are seen from an asset-based perspective? A few dimensions from research and praxis would get us started to help achieve this goal.

Dimensions for Learning Design

The following dimensions for learning design, that expand the connections between UDL and CRP, should be considered whenever possible in the design of blended or online learning experiences. Following are the six dimensions.

Dimensions of Culturally Responsive Leraning Design
Dimensions for Culturally Responsive Learning Design

  1. Instructor’s reflection
  2. Visual design
  3. Linguistic domain
  4. Content
  5. Interaction
  6. Technology

Identity and Experience

Instructor identity and experience relates to the practice reflection –inner analysis to reveal assumptions about teaching and learning (Jaramillo Cherrez & Jin, 2020). Through these reflections, instructors can identify ways to humanize the learning experience. Instructional designers (IDs) can help instructors engage in a (self) dialogue to explore how the instructor’s identity informs or impacts their teaching and instructional decisions, how they respond to students’ cultural differences and embrace them as strengths, and how instructors could also learn from students.

Design 

The visual design of the course and learning materials can have a profound impact on students’ learning experience (Hedberg & Brown, 2002). For students whose first language is other than English in particular, it is important to be aware that these students may come from different cultures and social groups, and thus, visual representations may have positive or negative consequences to their success in the course. Visuals should be carefully chosen because the variety of images, colors, and symbols may affect the message students receive in the class. When using images from pop culture, it is helpful to add context to give more clarity to the instructional purpose. The visual design also relates to the readability of the content and how it is presented and structured. Asking a colleague or friend to read the instructions and descriptions of assignments can help clarify expectations and requirements for students. Bear in mind that what is clear to one is not always clear to others, especially when using complex sentences and terminology of a discipline. 

Linguistic Variability

Many students might have a first language different from English. Also, keep in mind that different cultures may have different ways of writing, usually influenced by rhetorical and social contexts (Almuhailib, 2019). There may also be linguistic and cognitive differences in the way that students interpret the information given to them. For some cultures, direct descriptions are fine, whereas for others the context is important before addressing a specific perspective. Some cultures may characterize themselves for being more individualistic and others more holistic, and students, including those whose first language is other than English, can find themselves moving along that continuum. In designing culturally responsive blended or online courses, language matters because of the transactional distance characteristic of asynchronous spaces. Many students may already be pressured to demonstrate “good”, “academic”, “professional” English. One way to be aware of linguistic diversity is to be more explicit with instructions. For example, indicate clearly the use of naming conventions, abbreviations, acronyms, and descriptors in activities and assignments.     

Content

The fourth consideration is content. The main suggestion is to try to diversify the curriculum with resources from around the world (e.g., content from scholars from diverse cultures and linguistic backgrounds). Allow students to see themselves represented in the materials. Create activities and assignments that help students explore the concepts in connection to their own backgrounds and communities(e.g., linguistic, cultural) and experiences, and that allow students to move from low to high cognitive tasks (e.g., staged projects). Yet, diversifying the curriculum goes far from bringing into the course content perspectives that are commonly ignored. It involves explicit acknowledgement of the value of the different perspectives and modes of knowledge. 

Interaction

Interaction also can benefit from a culturally responsive mindset in that instructors can vary the modes of interaction by using audio/video communication(e.g., assignment feedback, DB, announcements). It is also important to guide and scaffold group activities with resources such as guidelines, group contracts, teamwork guidelines, group rapport activities, conflict resolution resources). Particularly for teamwork, instructors can build group activities early in the course to promote collaborative learning. For online discussions, instructors could allow students to select the tools that they feel more comfortable with using, bearing in mind that many students from different cultural backgrounds might not be familiar or have experience participating in discussion activities. Another suggestion is to promote student-led discussions to help students move from the individual task to the group task. This will allow to vary the cognitive demands that can foster meaningful knowledge construction and organization while also addressing different audiences, styles of writing and analysis, and communication modes. 

Technology

It is important to recognize that technology is not neutral. Clearly, it is important to select tools and evaluate them for intended and unintended consequences for students, such as the cost, the technical support, the pedagogical affordances, and the availability in other geographic areas. It will be helpful to consider the different levels of technology skills that students may have and plan on developing guidelines and technical resources (e.g., links to providers, manuals, accessibility and privacy policies) that can help students. Additionally, in considering digital tools it is important to review whether the affordances the tools offer are available to all students, in the different browsers and devices (e.g., tablets, smart phones, browsers). In using digital tools, careful attention should be given to the kinds of data that the tools require students and instructors to share. It is important to read carefully the terms of use, data privacy, and the information that is being collected as a way to understand how the users can trust the tools and their procedures for sharing or not with others the data collected. 

These dimensions underscore the need to approach learning design with a mindset that not only acknowledges student multilingual and multicultural identities, but also catalyzes these identities to help students be valued and successful. I consider these dimensions in my instructional design work, and I would like to invite you to consider them next time you design an online or blended learning experience. 

Sources  

Almon, C. (2015). College persistence and engagement in light of a mature English language learner (ELL) student’s voice. Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 39(5), 461-472.

Almuhailib, B. (2019). Analyzing Cross-Cultural Writing Differences using Contrastive Rhetoric: A Critical Review. Advances in Language and Literary Studies, 10(2), 102-106.

Bass, G., & Lawrence-Riddell, M. (2020). Culturally Responsive Teaching and UDL. Faculty Focus. https://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/equality-inclusion-and-diversity/culturally-responsive-teaching-and-udl/

Dougherty, E. (2012). Assignments matter: Making the connections that help students meet standards. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Kieran, L., & Anderson, C. (2019). Connecting universal design for learning with culturally responsive teaching. Education and Urban Society, 51(9), 1202-1216.

Gay, G. (2013). Teaching to and through cultural diversity. Curriculum Inquiry, 43(1), 48-70.

Hedberg, J. G., & Brown, I. (2002). Understanding cross-cultural meaning through visual media. Educational Media International, 39(1), 23-30.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). What we can learn from multicultural education research. Educational Leadership, 51(8), 22-26.

Merryfield, M. M. (2000). Why aren’t teachers being prepared to teach for diversity, equity, and global interconnectedness? A study of lived experiences in the making of multicultural and global educators. Teaching and Teacher Education, 16(4), 429-443.

Flores, N., & Rosa, J. (2015). Undoing appropriateness: Raciolinguistic ideologies and language diversity in education. Harvard Educational Review, 85(2), 149-171.

Universal Design for Learning (n.d.). The UDL Guidelines [Website]. https://udlguidelines.cast.org/

Woodley, X., Hernandez, C., Parra, J., & Negash, B. (2017). Celebrating difference: Best practices in culturally responsive teaching online. TechTrends, 61(5), 470-478.

 

 

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.

Baddeley and Hitch's multicomponent model of working memory (1974).
Baddeley and Hitch’s multicomponent model of working memory (1974)

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?

Ebbinghaus's forgetting curve (1885) - the graph shows the percentage of words recalled declining sharply after one day and then more slowly
Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve (1885)

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:

  1. Make use of graphic design and multimedia learning principles to create attention-grabbing, well-organized instructional materials that include a combination of media.
  2. 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.
  3. Consider teaching students the memory palace technique for content that requires heavy memorization.
  4. Support every type of content visually where possible.
  5. Encourage deep processing of the material, for example through reflections, problem-solving, or creative activities.
  6. Ensure that students have opportunities to engage with the material during learning in the same way as they will during the exam.
  7. 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!

References

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.

Photo by Sarah Kilian on Unsplash.

This is the paradox of failure in games. It can be stated like this:

  1. We generally avoid failure.
  2. We experience failure when playing games.
  3. We seek out games, although we will experience something that we normally avoid. (Juul, p. 2)

As a continuation from my last blog post considering grades and Self-Determination Theory, I wanted to take a brief side-quest into considering what it means to experience failure. Jesper Juul’s The Art of Failure: An Essay on the Pain of Playing Video Games will provide the main outline and material for this post, while I add what lessons we might learn about feedback and course design in online settings.

Dealing with Failure

Juul outlines how games communicate through feedback using the theory of Learned Helplessness. Specifically, he focuses on Weiner’s attribution theory, which has three dimensions:

  1. Internal vs. External Failure
    1. Internal: The failure is the fault of the player. “I don’t have the skills to defeat this enemy right now.”
    2. External: The failure is the fault of the game. “The camera moved in a way that I couldn’t see or control and resulted in a game over.”
  2. Stable vs. Unstable Failure
    1. Stable: The failure will be consistent. No recognition of experience gained or improvement. “No matter what I do, I can’t get past this challenge.”
    2. Unstable: The failure is temporary. There is a possibility for future success. “I can improve and try again.”
  3. Global vs. Specific Failure
    1. Global: There is a general inability preventing success. “I am not good at playing video games.”
    2. Specific: Poor performance does not reflect on our general abilities or intelligence. “I’m not good at flight simulators, but that doesn’t mean I’m bad at all video games.”

In general, a combination of Internal+Stable+Global failure feedback would contribute most strongly toward a player adopting a learned helplessness mindset. There is a potential parallel here with course design: when a student does not do well on an assessment, what kind of feedback are they receiving? In particular, are they receiving signals that there is no opportunity for improvement (stable failure) and that it shows a general inability at the given task (global failure)? Designing assessments so that setbacks are unstable (offer multiple attempts and a way for students to observe their own improvement over time) and communicating specific skills to improve (make sure feedback pinpoints how a student could improve) would help students bounce back from a “game over” scenario. But what about internal vs. external failure? For Juul, “this marks another return of the paradox of failure: it is only through feeling responsible for failure (which we dislike) that we can feel responsible for escaping failure (which we like)” (p. 54). This importance of internal failure aligns with what we know about metacognition (Berthoff, “Dialectical notebooks and the audit of meaning”) and the numerous benefits of reflection in learning.

Succeeding from Failure

Now that we have an idea on how we deal with failure, let’s consider how we can turn that failure into success! “Games then promise players the possibility of success through three different kinds of fairness or three different paths: skill, chance, and labor” (Juul, p. 74):

  1. Skill: Learning through failure, emphasis on improvement with each attempt. (This is also very motivating by being competence-supportive!)
  2. Chance: We try again to see if we get lucky.
  3. Labor: Incremental progress on small tasks accumulates more abilities and items that persist through time and multiple play sessions. Emphasis here is on incremental growth over time through repetition. (Animal Crossing is a great example.) (This path is also supported by Dweck’s growth mindset.)

Many games reward players for all three of these paths to success. In an online course, allowing flexibility in assignment strategies can help students explore different routes to success. For example, a final project could allow for numerous format types, like a paper, podcast, video tutorial, interactive poster, etc. that students choose strategically based on their own skills and interests. Recognizing improvement will help students with their skills and helping students establish a routine of smaller, simpler tasks that build over an entire course can help them succeed through labor. Chance is an interesting thing to think about in terms of courses, but I like to think of this as it relates to content. Maybe a student “gets lucky” by having a discussion topic align with their final project topic, for example. For the student in that example, that discussion would come easier to them by chance. Diversifying content and assignment types can help different individuals and groups of students feel like they have “lucky” moments in a course.

Reflecting on Failure

Finally, how do games give us the opportunity to reflect on our successes and failures during gameplay? Juul outlines three types of goals that “make failure personal in a different way and integrates a game into our life in its own way” (pp. 86–87):

  1. Completable Goal: Often the result of a linear path and has a definite end.
    1. These can be game- or player-created. (i.e., Game-Driven: Defeat the ghost haunting the castle. Player-Driven: I want to defeat the ghost without using magic.)
  2. Transient Goal: Specific, one-time game sessions with no defined end, but played in rounds. (e.g., winning or losing a single round of Mario Kart.)
  3. Improvement Goal: Completing a personal best score, where a new high score sets a new goal.

For Juul, each of these goal-types have different “existential implications: while working toward a completable goal, we are permanently inscribed with a deficiency, and reaching the goal removes that deficiency, perhaps also removing the desire to play again. On the other hand, we can never make up for failure against a transient goal (since a lost match will always be lost), whereas an improvement goal is a continued process of personal progress” (pp. 86–87). When thinking about your courses, what kinds of goals do you design for? Many courses have single-attempt assignments (transient goal), but what if those were designed to be improvement goals, where students worked toward improving on their previous work in a more iterative way that replaced old scores with new and improved scores (improvement goal)? Are there opportunities for students to create their own challenging completable goals?

I hope this post shines a light on some different ways of thinking about assessment design, feedback types, and making opportunities for students to “fail safely” based on how these designs are achieved in gaming. To sum everything up, “skill, labor, and chance make us feel deficient in different ways when we fail. Transient, improvement, and completable goals distribute our flaws, our failures, and successes in different ways across our lifetimes” (Juul, p. 90).