by Randy Rebman

Teachers have an vast array of multimedia and hypermedia options that they can integrate into their courses and host on their Canvas sites. However, with the use of these tools there comes issues of user accessibility. Creating content that is not accessible can create an additional learning barrier for our international students. In this post, I’ll share some points to help teachers improve the accessibility of their course content design and delivery by drawing heavily on the resources from Portland Community College (PCC) and web accessibility guidelines.

Defining Accessibility

PCC uses the following definition of accessibility on their page for accessibility instructional support:

“Accessible” means a person with a disability is afforded the opportunity to acquire the same information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as a person without a disability in an equally effective and equally integrated manner, with substantially equivalent ease of use. The person with a disability must be able to obtain the information as fully, equally and independently as a person without a disability.

How to Improve Accessibility?

PCC outlines recommendations below that are recognized as best practices in accessibility as they follow the web accessibility guidelines WCAG 2.0 AA. You can also download the PDF version of PCC’s Web Accessibility guidelines.

  • Use properly formatted headings to structure the page.
  • Format lists as lists.
  • Write meaningful link text.
  • Create tables with column and/or row headers
  • Maintain a proper reading order in documents, web pages and slides.
  • Use sufficient color contrast.
  • Don’t use color alone to convey meaning.
  • Ensure that any action that uses a mouse, can also be completed by keyboard alone.
  • Provide alternative text descriptions for images.
  • Design clear and consistent navigation.
  • Eliminate or limit blinking / flashing content to 3 seconds.
  • Don’t require inaccessible applications be used.
  • Optional materials must include a balance of accessible options.
  • Write math and science equations accessibly.
  • Include the Accommodations Statement in your syllabus and link to accessibility or assistive technology user information for software or web applications that are required in the course.

PCC also offers a number of tutorials for instructors to use in order to improve accessibility of course content. They include tutorials on using Google Docs, Microsoft Office Suite Applications, PDFs, audio and video and more.

Start Small

At first glance accessibility guidelines can seem daunting. My advice to fellow instructors is to start with a specific type of hypermedia or multimedia that you frequently use in your courses. Do you often create PowerPoint Presentations and upload them on Canvas for your students? Then start by reviewing Microsoft’s step-by-step instructions on making your PowerPoint presentations accessible. By making these small changes in our content, we can gradually move toward lessening barriers in our content that we use in our courses and put on our Canvas sites. Improving accessibility will not only improve the learning process for learners, but it also demonstrates that as an instructor and on a program-wide level, you/we are committed to quality in your instructional materials.

Related Links

by Randy Rebman

These sunny days have had me thinking of how I can get my class outside and out of their desks. In my advanced EAP listening/speaking course (051), we are preparing for the first listening quiz. Having taught this course before, I’m aware just how much of a shock the first quiz can be, so I wanted to prepare students for the types of questions they’d encounter and how they’d be expected to respond. In this blog post I’ll explain how I integrated two tech tools to create a more engaging lesson in order to get students prepare for their first quiz.

Prerequisite: Students had listened to a lecture from their textbook, took notes using the Cornell Notes technique and submitted their summary section of Cornell Notes in a Canvas assignment. They were asked to bring the notes to class for this lesson.

Materials/Setup Purpose:

  • A roll of tape: for taping up QR codes outside on structures near classroom building
  • QR Code Generator: for creating QR codes based on similar quiz like questions
  • MS Word Document: for pasting in separate QR Codes once they are created
  • Socrative Account: for asking groups to upload their collective answers
  • Transcript of Lecture that students listened to previously

Teacher Preparation Process

  1. Identify question types on upcoming listening quiz. I scanned through the listening quiz and identified the types of questions by what learning objective seemed to be tested in the test item. I identified the following types of objectives: identify main ideas, identify details, identify structure/topics/subtopics, and apply ideas to a situation/example that you are familiar with.
  2. Create sample questions from the lecture. I printed out the lecture transcript to save time and created my questions from different sections of the listening passage to have broad coverage of the listening passage. This would also favor students who took good notes. I numbered the questions and listed them on a google doc.
  3. Go to and create a new quiz. Create your 6-7 open-ended questions from the sample questions (you’ll use these later). Save your quiz and title it something like QR Code Scavenger Hunt Group Answers.
  4. Create QR Codes. I copied and pasted each question (including the number!) into the QR code generator. Once the numbered question is pasted into the QR Code generator, then you’ll have the option of saving it. I chose to save each one separately as a PNG file. Be sure that you name them base on the question number. For example, Question A/Question 1.  Repeat this process until you have went through all your questions. I recommend 5-8 questions. This could differ depending upon how many objectives you are preparing students to do. I selected 7 because that seemed to give them enough practice to go through 2 main idea & 2 detail questions in addition to the critical thinking and identify structure/topics questions.
  5. Print out QR Codes. Once you’ve labeled your QR code png files, then you need to open up word documents for the number of QR codes you’ve created. Simply paste in each image into the word document. If you want to avoid confusion, label the MS Word Document with the question number as well (I’d do this next time were I to do this activity again).
  6. Create the Scavenger Hunt. In the past I’ve started the scavenger hunt in my classroom by having one QR code hanging up in the classroom, but then it seems students take too long to get outside. So this time I had a few of my students help me tape the codes to the statues that are outside of our International Living Learning Center (ILLC) building while I began getting my class setup for the activity. The key here is to have it close to the classroom, and not too far so that students will be likely to get lost or wander off.
  7. Create the group question sheet. This is just a simple worksheet where you ask the students to write their answers in the blanks (The questions are typically stored in their QR Readers on their phones, so there is no need to write them down). You can find the Question Worksheet that I created here. I had 17 students in my class, so I created 6 groups (6 questions sheets).

Class Preparation/Introduce Activity

  • Write instructions on the white board or on projector/doc cam:
    1. Get into your groups (I grouped them by Marvel Superheroes for this activity)
    2. Collect your Cornell Notes and Summary from previous class
    3. Each group gets a Question Sheet
    4. Each group should have one or more person download a QR Code Reader on their phone
    5. You will use the QR code Reader to find the questions
    6. Use your notes to answer the questions in groups
  • Emphasize that each student needs to have their notes. This is important. Their answers will only be as strong as their collective note-taking abilities are.
  • Tell them to come to class as soon as they are finished and be prepared to share their answers.

Instructor Facilitation TIPS & Process

During QR Code Scavenger Hunt

  • Be sure to help direct students to where they can first start finding the QR codes. Two of the students who helped me set up my QR codes were now in groups, so I instructed them to help any students who might need help finding their QR code questions.
  • I also spend a little time walking around outside making sure that the groups have their notes with them. As an alternative, you can have groups return to the classroom once they’ve collected the questions and finish answering their questions and reviewing their notes in their groups.

Post-Scavenger Hunt/Transition To Socrative Activity

  • Return to the classroom and project the computer and bring up your Socrative account. Select “Launch Quiz.” Make sure that the quiz is individual paced.
  • As students begin to trickle back into the classroom, write the directions on the board.
  • Directions for entering the Socrative Quiz:
    • One student will complete answers for your group
    • Go to Socrative
      • Student Logon
      • Enter your group’s name (My groups were all Marvel characters, so Spiderman, Thor, Hulk, & Daredevil each had their own group)
      • Select Classroom: (This is where you the instructor write your classroom on the board). Mine, for example, is RANDYSCLASS
    • Complete each question with the answers that your group came up with.


  • If some groups finish early, hand out the transcript of the lecture and have them identify the major sections of the lecture. Then identify main ideas for each section.


  • After students have entered their questions, end the quiz and go the results table of Socrative.
  • Go through each question and explain which of the group’s responses would be acceptable on the quiz and which would not and explain why.
  • Download the quiz and post on the Canvas site so the class can review the answers on their own.

Wrap Up/Debrief Questions

Here are a few ideas for how to wrap up/conclude the class. I wouldn’t suggest all of them. You may decide to focus on different questions depending upon your goal.

  • Ask students for a Rose/Thorn for the QR Code Scavenger Hunt
    • Rose: One thing that was positive/good about it/what you took away from this activity
    • Thorn: One negative aspect/difficulty
  • What did students notice about the level of notes that helped them answer the questions?
  • Do you think the level of note-taking you did was good enough for answering the questions? If not, what do you need to change in preparation for the quiz?
  • If your group didn’t answer all the questions, what kept your group from being successful?

Related Lesson Links:

This winter, I set out to ascertain to what degree my teaching practices match my values. I like to think that I create rapport in my classroom, but I wanted to take a closer look. A study on the relative merits of various reflective observation tools (Fatemipour, 2013) ranked diaries as the most effective, followed be peer observation. I decided to keep a journal throughout the term and to ask a few colleagues (Larry Javorsky, Sandy Riverman, and Amy Nickerson) to observe me.

Before the term began, I decided on the format and content of the journal. Not all journal entries yield equally useful information; in years past, I might just have made notes of activities that happened and whether or not I subjectively deemed them successful, or I might have commented on procedural issues—timing, instructions, etc. This time, I wanted a bit of a deeper focus, going beyond what Insuasty and Zambrano Castillo (2010) label “how-to” questions. I brainstormed several values statements related to rapport, relationships, and participation. To keep the project doable and measurable, I limited myself to 10 yes/no statements, four based on students’ observed behavior and six on my own behavior. After class, I ticked “Yes” or “No” and wrote a few (usually brief) follow-up comments. The prompts were:  Continue reading

Publishing online course content to Canvas has almost become a necessity for us as teachers. We need to make our content accessible to learners and cut down in printing costs. But how effectively do we design our courses? Are they readily accessible to our students?

In the following blog post, “Seven Deadly Sins of Online Course Design,” DePaul University instructional designer Adam Sanford outlines some of the biggest mistakes that teachers make when designing content online. He then recommends how these pitfalls can be avoided.

I know that I have sometimes made the mistake of what he calls digital hoarding, where I overshare by providing a number of assignment related materials with too little context. This was a good reminder that more is not necessarily better when it comes to providing students with resources. And by providing a short description of a resource (perhaps in parenthesis) students will be able find the resources they need to complete a task more efficiently, which is much better than dumping a big heap of uncurated links and files on a page in Canvas.

In my experience, digital hoarding comes about because students are not meeting the expectations for a specific task or assignment. For instance, in one class I found that, as students were struggling with their reading response assignments, I continually uploaded more materials online in an attempt to help them. The problem wasn’t a lack of materials, though. Rather, it was that the assignment and grading criteria needed to be completely revised to provide more clarity. I simply needed a few quality materials, not a large quantity of them.

Which of Sanford’s 7 sins of course design seem especially salient for you? Where do you think you can make improvements in course design?

Related Links:

In this blog post are two articles shared by by INTO OSU’s Chinese Language & Culture Advisor, Alice Wang. We are including both the links to the articles and her commentary on the take aways for teachers.

The first NY Times article, “Chinese, Studying in America, and Struggling,”  highlights some of the struggles that international students from China have while studying in America. As much of our student population is from China, this cultural perspective is vitally important for teachers to consider. Below are Alice’s comments.

Alice Wang: While some international students are struggling at American universities, instructors are being challenged to teach and help them. To achieve success, students must do their part, and equally important, instructors and professors need to understand the difficulties their students face in order to adjust their teaching to encourage and offer support to international students.

In the second article, “Yale’s Most Popular Class Ever: Happiness,” the author describes how a popular class at Yale addresses stress and anxiety by focusing on positive psychology and behavioral change.

Alice Wang: While Yale is offering a course on happiness, I’m thinking it may be meaningful and helpful if our instructors integrate guidance on “how to be happy” into their teaching or as an occasional reminder in class to promote students’ well-being.

As Oregon State University pushes towards more hybrid and online courses, it becomes important for us as teachers to find ways to become familiar with and to implement the technological tools that our students will be using in their future classrooms. This requires us to carefully consider the differences between the online environment and the face-to-face one as well as principles of effective teaching required in the online environment. The following article from the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology (2008) highlights some of these differences and outlines 9 principles for excellent in web-based teaching.

An absolutely riveting online course: Nine principles for excellence in web-based teaching

What are some of your experiences with online course instruction and course development? What principles mentioned in the article seem especially salient to your experiences and understanding of web-based teaching? Feel free to add your comments below.