Academic Technology: Two Projects Aiding the Quest for Universally Designed Instruction

10 Apr

Today we’re sharing the first of several posts drawn from work shared at the 4 April 2012 Academic Technology Showcase which brought 70-some projects by UMinn faculty, staff and students making use of technology to provoke, further, extend, make possible a range of innovations in  Teaching, Learning, and Research.

Within the Academic Technology Showcase, several members of the University community showed colleagues ways of using technology to drive innovations in teaching and teaching, many increasing access to learning for a broad range of students.  This post highlights two of the projects that incorporate Universal Design for Learning principles.  Universal Design (UD) is defined as

A framework for ensuring that all students have the opportunity to learn by designing curriculum, instruction, and assessment – from the beginning – to be accessible and equitable to the widest possible number of students.

For more on the interplay of UD, course design, classroom examples and resources, see the matrix addressing What Is Universal Course Design.

[Editor’s note: I haven’t quite mastered the process of creating alternative text via the HTML, so descriptions of the three visuals accompanying this entry are noted in two ways – a brief note of their presence is incorporated into the main narrative, and full descriptions corresponding to each image are provided in the closing Resources section.]

Overview

Not only does a Universal Design teaching and learning approach broaden practices impacting the ways students with disabilities engage in deep learning, these practices also create richer learning experiences for the diversity of learners in the classroom.  Universal Design means the focus is not on “accommodating” the student with a disability or the student who speaks English as a second – or third or fourth or accented – language, but on creating more ways into the learning experiences for all students.

We call this junction where “Universal Design” meets “Aligned Course Design” and “Multicultural Teaching and Learning” by this name: Integrated Course Design.  The 5 December 2011 post Teaching Backward – No High Heels Required sets out that process.

We’ll use this encapsulation for our purposes today: to create a universally designed course, instructors need to begin at the end; specifically, noting specifically which learning objectives are essential markers of student mastery of course content and concepts by the end of the course.  From here, we can look at the means by which we asses mastery of these objectives, then we can design the teaching and learning activities that both address the assessment strategy and help students reach those learning objectives.

 1.  The Media Description Project Real-Time Access to Images for Blind & Visually Impaired Students: write up by Tim Kamenar; Disability Services, student services coordinator.

Importantly, one of our challenges as teachers is to select activities and develop assessments that do not exclude – in means, mode and singular form of delivery – the range of learners in the classroom.  For example, we are pretty good at adding content that is visually or audibly engaging, but we are often not too successful at adjusting that content for students who are blind or visually impaired.

Often, visual content is essential and quite honestly the best way to present certain information.  But, blind students do not have in-class real-time access to visual course content such as maps, graphs, videos, and other image-based course components.  Attempting to listen to a verbal description, delivered via a peer sitting next to the student, can be distracting and does limit the student’s involvement in the lecture or course activity.  Furthermore, blind and low vision students may find it necessary to meet with an instructor or Access Assistant outside of class time to review videos, movies, or other visual course components. This lack of real-time access can put the student at a severe disadvantage; the result is reduced access to course content and isolation from peers.

At the recent Technology Showcase, Phil Kragnes (pictured at left; described in Resource 1) and I presented a set of tools that attempts to bridge this gap between real-time visual access and visual course content: the Media Description Project.  This project attempts to replicate the idea of closed-captioning, a now ubiquitous tool that provides a transcript of sound and spoken word on the screen of movies and videos.  The media description project provides a text description for blind or visually impaired students in a similar manner.

In the classroom, a student worker designated as an Access Assistant sits in the rear of the room and types concise, descriptive phrases into an iPad/iPod connected to the University of Minnesota’s wireless network.  These text descriptions are transmitted via a “cloud” application known as Simplenote back through the network to the blind student who is sitting in the classroom.  The blind student holds either an iPod, iPad or a Personal Digital Assistant sized refreshable Braille display.  If the student prefers audio, the device can translate the text to computer-generated speech and, via an earphone, the blind student can get these terse descriptions of visual content in a real-time manner and be fully engaged in the teaching and learning.  The other option is to use the Braille display.  In this instance text sent from the iPad is converted to Braille characters that the student can then read.   The slide below, and described in Resource 2, sets out the Media Description scheme: 

While not perfect, as not everything visual can be easily and quickly described in text, this collection of off-the-shelf tools can add to the learning experience of blind and visually impaired students.  Incorporating these tools will also assist instructors as it enables them to teach with only minor modifications to their delivery (such as when launching a discussion with a think-pair-share or short writing exercise), thereby allowing the visually impaired student to gather and understand the descriptive materials alongside peers who are also beginning to process what they have seen.

Overall, the adaptation of technology tools for highly visual courses also provides instructors an opportunity to learn more about Universal Design and consider ways to retool their courses to include strategies that will engage more learners and minimize the need for modifications after a course is underway.

2.  Podcasting:  Learning on-the-go:  write up by Susan Aase; Disability Services, outreach coordinator.

According to David Arendale, associate professor in the Postsecondary Teaching and Learning department, due to class size increasing in the PsTL Global History and Culture course he teaches, more academic support resources were needed to support students learning and engagement.  To provide this support, Arenadel and his students have created a series of podcasts, audio or video recordings that are

delivered automatically to subscribers’ computer, iPad, or smartphone. “Then and Now,” the course podcast series, provides weekly episodes incorporating a review of class topics, exam preparation, interviews with people with life experiences related to class history events, and music reflective of cultures studied during the course. A key for the podcast is that it was co-produced by the course instructor and the students. Nearly 200 episodes have been produced during the past five years. A diagram to the right, and described in Resource 3 below, captures the primary “roles” of iPad, podcasting, animation and online news sources in light of course assignments and activities.

Course objectives include

increasing engagement with the learning process through direct involvement with producing and sharing new information related to the course;

stimulating learning through use of emerging technology-based learning venues;

building a sense of community by involving students in teaching one another;

empowering students to become co-producers of the learning process and the outcomes;

and increasing measurable student outcomes, such as lower rates of course withdrawal and higher final course grades.

Arendale notes that “Universal Learning Design provided the guiding educational theory for using this pedagogical approach to make course content accessible through alternative formats and for all students in a class.”  Analysis of data has suggested positive correlation of student listening of podcast episodes with higher measures of academic achievement.

The “iPads and Podcasting:  Learning On-the-Go” project makes use of the following interactive social media technologies (with uses noted in parenthesis):

  • iPad (paper textbook eliminated, students use to complete readings, audio and video files, and create a group visual history project through an ePub for their iPad);
  • Podcasting (audio or video recordings delivered automatically to a subscriber through their computer, iPod, or smartphone);
  • Animoto (instructor uses online music video software to create reviews of critical slides from the PowerPoint presentations for exam review);
  • Xtranormal (instructor uses the online animation software to create short dialogues among historical characters to illustrate major concepts reviews in the course);
  • Twitter (instructor alerts students to relevant news stories related to class topics);
  • iPad TV Apps (free apps permit watching during class TV news stories);
  • Wiki Web Page ( students create an exam review web site before major exams); and
  • UMConnect (use for online interactive study review sessions before major exams).

The “digital footprints” of the course allow students multiple routes of access to course materials – some they can use in real-time, some during the long spans of time outside of class, some in creating course assignments, and some in converting course materials into formats adapted to their study needs – all deepening and personalizing student modes of learning toward that shared end of meeting course learning goals through engagement and with grades reflecting the level of learning achieved.  To learn more about Arendale’s approach to teaching and learning via podcasts, visit his blog: Access at the Crossroads, and / or review the handout “iPad and Podcasting: Learning-On-The-Go,” which he provided to showcase visitors.

Resources

Image 1.  Photo of Phil Kragenes amidst technology tools used for the Media Description Project taken during the Academic Technology Showcase on 4 April 2012.

Image 2. This Media Description Project slide sets out four images linked to text-based descriptions of the four-part process that transforms a collection of off-the-shelf tools into image descriptions can add be used to enhance the learning experience of blind and visually impaired students.

Part 1 of this process is conveyed via the image of an iPad as a backdrop for this description:  An in-class Access Assistant uses an iPad with external keyboard to ender description of visual course content.

Part 2 is illustrated by a cloud image with the text referencing the “Two-way real-time communication process [that is made possible] via the Simple Note cloud application.

Part 3 references the conversion of typed textual descriptions to audio via the Voice Over application, which the student is able to hear in very nearly real-time via the earbuds of an iPad or iPod.  Below the iPod image, the next notes that “The student can send notes back to the Access Assistant using the touch-screen keyboard on the iPad.”

Part 4 provides reference to a second way in which the student can receive descriptive information: a palm-sized Braille display and keyboard, which is picture in this quadrant of the slide.  The text notes that they Braille keyboard connects to the iPad or iPod via Bluetooth technology, ad that the student “can use the Braille keyboard to transmit text back to the Access Assistant.”

Image 3.   This graphic, from the handout accompanying “Podcasting: Learning on the Go” depicts a circle divided into four quadrants with a circle of arrows at the center to indicate the interactive nature of the four parts, which bear these labels: iPad, Podcasting, Twitter and Online News Services, and Animoto and Xtranormal.  Descriptions to suggest teaching and learning applications are attached to each quadrant, and noted below

iPad:  Create media projects read assigned ePubs, create final ePub project.

Podcasting: Listening to course media assignments and exam reviews.

Twitter and Online News Services: Breaking world news thru web links to articles and international TV news on the iPad.

Animoto and Xtranormal: Make history music videos and dialogues among historical characters.

5 Responses to “Academic Technology: Two Projects Aiding the Quest for Universally Designed Instruction”

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  1. Academic Technology: Two Projects Aiding the Quest for Universally Designed Instruction | UDL - Universal Design for Learning | Scoop.it - 11 April 2012

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  2. Academic Technology: Two Projects Aiding the Quest for Universally Designed Instruction | IPAD, un nuevo concepto socio-educativo! | Scoop.it - 12 April 2012

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  4. Academic Technology: Two Projects Aiding the Quest for Universally Designed Instruction | UDL & ICT in education | Scoop.it - 4 May 2012

    […] background-position: 50% 0px ; background-color:#222222; background-repeat : no-repeat; } uminntilt.wordpress.com – Today, 11:41 […]

  5. Academic Technology: Two Projects Aiding the Quest for Universally Designed Instruction | Universal Design for Learning and Curriculum | Scoop.it - 2 December 2012

    […] "Today we’re sharing the first of several posts drawn from work shared at the 4 April 2012 Academic Technology Showcase, which brought 70-some projects by UMinn faculty, staff and students making use of technology to provoke, further, extend, make possible a range of innovations in Teaching, Learning, and Research."   Two projects that incorporate UDL principles are showcased here.  Universal design means "creating more ways into the learning experiences for all students".  Take a closer look at these to projects:   "1. The Media Description Project – Real-Time Access to Images for Blind & Visually Impaired Students: write up by Tim Kamenar; Disability Services, student services coordinator.   2. Podcasting: Learning on-the-go: write up by Susan Aase; Disability Services, outreach coordinator.   Course objectives include > increasing engagement with the learning process through direct involvement with producing and sharing new information related to the course; > stimulating learning through use of emerging technology-based learning venues; > building a sense of community by involving students in teaching one another; > empowering students to become co-producers of the learning process and the outcomes; > and increasing measurable student outcomes, such as lower rates of course withdrawal and higher final course grades."  […]

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