Friday, February 28, 2014

Embedding a Blog into the D2L News Area: Optimal Blog Settings

A question arose about whether it was possible to have a blog in D2L for the instructor to post news, updates, etc. and allow the students to reply. Well, D2L does not have a blogging tool, but it is possible to add a blog to the course home page via an iFrame. Here's what a very simple Google blog looks like within D2L. Keep scrolling to learn about the settings I chose for the blog.

I just kept the default template which is called Simple, but I went into Layout, then Template Designer and reduced the right sidebar to as small as possible and increased the "Entire Blog" area to 1030 px.

I anticipated that instructors would not want to have sharing buttons on their posts, like the screenshot below, so my next task was to figure out how to get rid of those.
Eventually I figured out from the help of a blog post I would credit if I could ever find it again that they need to be removed from the HTML via Template. 

After clicking Edit HTML, I found the area that said "shareButtons" and deleted a bunch of stuff after it. The first try, I deleted too much and got a warning (HTML is not my forte). So I tried again and learned that I needed to keep the end </b:includable> and then it worked. (click on the image below to see it better along with my note) 

This is a cool idea, but we'll see if it presents any funkiness in actual usage! I'll report back if so. 

I will also write an additional post about how to add the iFrame to the Course Home page since this one has gotten rather long. 

Thursday, February 27, 2014

How to Record Audio in PowerPoint 2013 and Publish Using iSpring Free

1. Design your PowerPoint following best practices, such as one concept per slide, the use of graphics/images that back up your point, very limited text on the slide, etc. Here are PowerPoint Design Tips.

2. Important Note: Make sure your PowerPoint is .pptx NOT .ppt or the audio will not save. 

3. Record audio on ONE slide to make sure it works properly. 

3a. Under the SlideShow tab, choose Record Slide Show. You can record from the beginning or from the current slide (you'd have to click on the slide you want to record before doing this). This is a fantastic feature because it is easy to edit slide by slide later, since PPT breaks the audio down into individual slides.

Leave the settings on the next dialog box both checked. Let me know if you want more info on that.

3b. Click Start Recording. It will automatically start recording, so make sure your headset is all ready to go. (You can trim the beginning or end of your audio afterward via the Playback tab when you've clicked on the speaker. Cool, huh?)  Keep your slides short.

A recording short cut menu appears at the top left of your screen. Below is a screenshot with a description of the buttons typed in blue.

X: Click the x on the top right to save your audio and get out of recording mode.
Redo: if you mess up and want to start over click the arrow going back.
Arrow: Click the arrow to go to the next slide.

4. Listen to the slide you just recorded. Click on the speaker icon to listen.

WHY? I have experienced a lot of problems with the correct mic working in PPT 2013. It is often necessary to disable the internal mic and the doc mic on laptops in order for them to use the headset mic. Regardless, I highly recommend recording just one slide and then listening to it and making sure all is well. Recording an entire presentation with horrible or no audio is very frustrating.

5. Record the rest using the slideshow tab as described above.

6. Save it.

7. Publish using the iSpring Free tab. Choose where to save it.

8. It will create a folder with three files in it. Upload just the .swf to D2L as you would upload any other file, like a word document.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Why Universal Design?

I recently wrote a blog post on universal design but I don't think that I made a compelling case for why it is important so I want to elaborate. After the universal design webinar, a faculty member shared that she had a student who was deaf who actually dropped out of the program because she couldn't get the accommodations she needed. There was one general course in particular that included a lot of video that was not captioned. I don't know the details, but providing disability accommodations is a legal requirement. Universities can get sued for not being responsive to the needs of a student with a disability. Since I'm interested in people, I mostly wondered what it was like to be that student. It must have been very disheartening to realize that it was not going to be possible to take these courses. Did he or she totally drop out? Change their vocational plans altogether?

I have a student transcriptionist who is making a dent in the large pile of instructor videos that need transcripts. A big area that I think we can improve at UWEC is providing captioned versions of Hollywood movies that we stream (streaming is ok'd by our copyright office because they are in a password protected server). In the past, the answer to captioning was to provide the DVD to the student so he/she could watch the captioned version individually. I think we need to do better, especially for online courses. Online students are often not on campus so they may not be able to run over to McIntyre Library to check it out or stop by the instructor's office to pick it up. Also, what if it is checked out of the library? What if the instructor had purchased it and can't find it? This can put the student behind in his or her coursework, singles out the student as being different, causes the student to put in more effort than other students to obtain the same content, and gives the message that accessibility is not an important consideration.

Captions Help Others Too

The key with universal design is that these design strategies (captioning, in particular) help many people such as...
  • Students who may be hard of hearing but do not officially identify as having a disability; think about non-traditional, returning students in particular. 
  • Students who have not disclosed their disability, hoping it will not be a problem. Stigma is still an issue. There are definitely more students with disabilities on campus than those registered with the SSD office. 
  • International students who are good at comprehending written text but struggle with understanding native speakers of English. 
  • Anyone watching videos in which the speakers have strong accents. I use captions frequently when actors have accents to help me understand better and I do not have a hearing disability. Also, I recently met with a professor who was reluctant to create videos because of her accent, but when I said we could caption them she felt much better about it. 
  • Anyone in a situation where it is not possible/awkward to turn the audio on or up loud enough: sleeping roommate and no ear buds, in a computer lab with no speakers, on a bus, etc. I often use captions when I'm watching shows while exercising because I can't turn it up loud enough to cover the noise of the elliptical machine. 

What About a Transcript? 

Transcripts are often a good option: they can be helpful students are studying for exams after having watched the video, offer a different modality for students who prefer reading over listening/watching, and provide access to students who have slow internet or who have to pay for their data usage. However, DVD movies almost always need to be captioned because a transcript by itself is probably not going to be very meaningful.


Another universal design strategy is to provide options for students to meet course outcomes; does a student need to write a paper or could they respond with audio or video? The example that quickly came to mind here is my husband (who does not have a disability) has always been a strongly auditory person. Throughout college, I helped him with his papers, not because he didn't know the content but because he struggled with writing. For an English course, writing is important, but is it always necessary for biology? Could he provide an audio file instead with the required information? On the other hand, I would choose a written assignment over other modalities if given the choice.

An additional option is to provide just an audio file for a video, so that students could download it and listen while driving, for instance. Of course, the audio would have to stand alone from the visual aspects which may involve more words to describe visuals, or simply may not work well depending on the content. This also could be an accommodation for someone who is blind or who has low vision.

Making the Case for Universal Design

Sometimes it's difficult for me to stand up for these strategies because "real life" is usually not very accessible. For instance, we don't have every classroom session captioned or interpreted into sign language. We don't even have microphones in most classrooms. Many instructors say "well I've never had a student with a hearing disability, so don't bother with transcribing my videos." I've begun saying "you haven't had any students with hearing disabilities that you know of." It is important to note that students with disabilities may emanate more toward online courses in the hopes that their disability requires less accommodation in this modality. In this regard, I believe it's especially important to focus on universal design for online learning and ideally for hybrid courses since it can be a natural step to move to online or back to hybrid once instructional materials are created.

My hope is that eventually it isn't even necessary for most students with disabilities to disclose because courses are created using universal design strategies and that these strategies help students who do not have disabilities succeed as well.  

Monday, February 17, 2014

Universal Design for Online Learning

Last week I viewed the webinar "Using Universal Design to Support All Online Students" offered by Dr. Tom Tobin via Magna Online Seminars (more info here). I did my Ed.S thesis on the topic of online course accessibility, so it was more of a good reminder than new information but still a valuable use of time to reinforce we are on the right track if nothing else. Here is a synopsis of what I got out of the webinar.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is basically a way to design a course that helps all people learn. A key aspect of this is to provide options and choices to students as much as possible, while still accomplishing course objectives. UDL reduces the need for individual accommodations later. This is important, because putting some accommodations into place such as captioning can be very time consuming and can put students with disabilities behind in their course work.

A big difference between universal design and disability accessibility is that universal design strategies help all people, not just those with disabilities. An example I frequently share is that I use captions on TV and movies frequently although I do not have a hearing disability; it helps me understand better primarily when people have accents. In addition, many of the examples provided in this webinar were relevant to mobile devices or for individuals who have slow internet speed.

Dr. Tobin provided five strategies, most of which I agreed with. The first, however, I did not: it was "start with text" meaning read from a script when creating a video. I've found that reading from a script is a skill that most people do not have and it comes out sounding really boring. People learn better from a conversational voice (I know this has been found in research but I can't remember who. I will look it up eventually!). I generally recommend that people have an outline and speak extemporaneously if possible. I think this is ok because I have a student who can create transcripts. However, some people need a script and that's ok!

Another strategy was to "make alternatives." So, stills with text, video, audio, etc. Like in many MOOCs, there could be an option to download the video or watch it online. This is pretty standard.

The next is "let 'em do it their way" which refers to allowing students choice in how to complete assignments - write a paper, make a video, record audio. I have seen rubrics that focus on the content and not the modality so this is do-able. However, sometimes the modality is part of what is being assessed. In the case of business writing, allowing students do to a video or provide audio would miss a key objective of the assignment.

One participant asked later about how to get students to complete activities if they are "optional" which was a good opportunity for the presenter to clarify; this is not about making things optional (i.e., students choose to do them or not) it is about giving options to accomplish the objectives, most commonly in the modality.

The fourth is "go step by step." This means chunk your content into small pieces and help students understand the relationship between the chunks and the progression by scaffolding. I definitely recommend small chunks as well, because it fits better with attention spans too.

The final strategy is to "set content free" - free from file formats and free from the clock, referring to instructional videos that can be watched multiple times, on demand. A common recommendation was to put videos on YouTube for maximum accessibility on different devices, vs giving students a PowerPoint in which case they are required to have Microsoft Office.

At UWEC we are making strides toward universal design. It is a concept that our instructional designers believe in and are going to promote. Our video department is going to provide both a captioned and uncaptioned version of the DVDs streamed for online courses and my student is at least making a dent in captioning instructor-created videos. We are focusing on making pdfs that are screen reader friendly, and are going to explore what other steps we can take within our learning management system to make things as accessible as possible to help all students succeed.
I added another post further explaining the rationale for universal design here.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Avoid "Drag and Drop" Images in Google Blogger

A faculty member called asking why his blog was only showing one post, even though he had set it to show 7 posts at a time. I verified the setting, had no clue, and googled it to find this page which said [essentially] that dragging and dropping images can cause this problem. How random is that! I asked the professor if he had dragged and dropped images and, yes, he did so he removed the post and redid it by inserting the image and it went back to showing 7 posts per page.

Unfortunately Blogger then began misbehaving in other weird ways, so he moved from Firefox to Internet Explorer which resolved that issue but called again later to know why he couldn't get text to wrap around the new images like it had before, which required moving back to Firefox. Oh Blogger!

Monday, February 10, 2014

How to See the Student View of the Gradebook in D2L

I thought that the only way I could see the student view of grades was by impersonating them as an administrator, but it turns out instructors can do this without administrative privileges. Hurray!  It is handy to see what they look like to students, because it is very different than the instructor's view. Here's how.

In the enter grades area, click on the name of a student. Then next to their name you will see a little drop down arrow. Click that and choose Preview.

The resulting window shows you just what it will look like to them.

One other tip I learned recently it that if you use categories in grade items, it is least confusing to students if you use a category for everything, even if there is just one item. The uncategorized items just look just a little bit different by not being indented, whereas categories have a shaded background setting them apart better.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Copying HTML Pages in D2L V 10.1

There are many nice features in the new D2L upgrade but copying HTML pages is not one of them! It used to be very simple and now it is many steps. I created a video today showing how to copy HTML pages.