Accessibility in Mind with Curriculum Design

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #8

As a teacher of composition and rhetoric, I feel as though I already have a special affinity for the concept of universal design for learning. In the composition classroom, we spend a lot of time and energy with unpacking our attitudes and assumptions we have about the things we hear, see, and read; along the same lines, we spend equal amounts of time and energy in developing tools to unpack (i.e. detect and question) attitudes and assumptions held by the writers of texts that we encounter. This is a major piece of my curriculum on analysis. Additionally, as my teaching is aligned from a rhetorical perspective, I’m always urging my students to be conscious and considerate of their audience when they compose something. The only way they can give their audience what their audience needs is to first know who their audience is and what their needs are. It only makes sense that as a teacher I do the very same thing: I must be aware of who my audience is (i.e. my students) so that I can figure out what they need from me. To that end, I completely identify with Lewis & Sullivan (2012) when they assert that when students encounter barriers with the curriculum just as those with disabilities encounter problems accessing a building, it’s not the fault of the student or the disabled but of the curriculum and the building (p. 348-49). Curriculum that fails to acknowledge the diverse needs of its audience is not the audiences’ problem, it’s the curriculum’s problem. As such, curriculum must be revised in order to be more universal for learning.

One thing I have been doing recently to make my class more universal is making sure that every single electronic document I generate meets accessibility standards (as assessed by the Microsoft Word Accessibility Checker)—this insures that all of my documents can be read accurately and efficiently by a variety of eReaders and other assistive technologies. Just as Lewis & Sullivan (2012) suggest, I find that I save quite a bit of time designing those documents with accessibility in mind rather than having to revise old documents where I did not have accessibility in mind (p. 348). I also quite like the way it forces me to think about accessibility and my audience as I generate materials for class consumption.

In my ongoing interests in the conversation of whether or not to incorporate tablets into the classroom and beyond, this chapter helped me realize that tablets have the capability of decreasing the both the learning distance and the social distance between disabled students and non-disabled students. Lewis & Sullivan (2012) suggest that in addition to assistive technologies being expensive and bulky, they can often alienate or distance the user from the rest of the students not using assistive technologies (p. 349). Tablets, on the other hand, are capable of doing the same things that a variety of assistive technologies can do. So not only are they multi-function devices in the sense of having a multiplicity of assistive features: they’re also the same devices that everyone else is using. That being said, I can only conclude that tablets, being a universal technology, would eliminate the problem of “assistive distance.”


References

Lewis, J., & Sullivan, S. (2012). Diversity and Accessibility. In R. Reiser & J. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

The Media Debate is Fresh

The Media Debate is Fresh

Trends in Educational Technology, Journals #6-7

Initially, Richard Clark’s (1994) argument seems to be in line with my own argument regarding Fresno State’s tablet initiative. Clark writes that “media are mere vehicles that deliver instruction but do not influence student achievement any more than the truck that delivers our groceries causes changes in our nutrition” (p. 22). This is exactly what I mean to point out and is at the heart of my critique of DISCOVERe thus far: there’s too much focus on the grocery truck and not the nutrition itself. But the core of this argument is that the wide variety of media carries with it no distinct effects on learning; in other words, regardless of the type of vehicle delivering the groceries, no one type of vehicle alters the groceries in a way that’s different from any other vehicle (p. 22). With the technology and media available during the 1980s when Clark first argued these points, I find myself on board with this, though readily admit having very little literacy in Clark’s work. However, my initial reaction from a 2014-15 perspective is to think about Moore’s Law and the exponential increase of technological power over time. Today, the smart phone in the palm of my hand is exponentially more powerful than the most sophisticated computers from the era of Clark’s original arguments. So in light of the vastly more complicated spectrum of available media and technology (along with new ways to interact with that technology and media), I’m not so sure that we can say that there isn’t a single media that doesn’t have its own unique effects on learning.

The Media Debate has had a weighty impact on my ideas of high technology and its relationship to learning. Though I’m partly finding myself in agreement with Clark—that media is merely a delivery device for instruction—and I find his metaphors of the grocery delivery truck not affecting the nutrition of the food it’s delivering and the form of medication not affecting the healing power of the medicine rather convincing, I believe that metaphor is now past its expiration date (p. 22, 26). Decades after the initial media debate, high technology has become exponentially more powerful—the delivery trucks of 2014 are so vastly different than those of 1994. Clark’s metaphor struggles to keep pace for the simple reason that today’s delivery devices are no longer single-function devices.

This is the new media debate: high technology of the new millennium alters learning experiences altogether. Personal computing devices such as smart phones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers are multi-function devices that are changing the landscape of learning. They search for and find data; they consume data; they manipulate and interpret data; they record and generate new data. These are new trucks whose functions both include and transcend mere delivery of goods. Additionally, as Dempsey & Van Eck (2012) suggest, the Internet highway is an altogether new highway on which these trucks may drive (p. 281-82); as such, the rules of the road have evolved. So when it comes to this business of whether or not we should implement new technology in curriculum, the response cannot be as easy as the “mere-delivery device” arguments of the past. Multi-function devices are more than mere points of access for instructional materials. Thus I share Dempsey & Van Eck’s (2012) view when they claim that “we are not just ‘adding’ technology; we are changing the very nature of the learning experience” (p. 284).


References

Clark, R. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21-29.

Dempsey, J., & Van Eck, R. (2012). E-Learning and Instructional Design. In R. Reiser & J. Dempsey (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and technology (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson.

Trends in Educational Technology, Journal #1

Things Before Definitions

My inner rhetorician keeps telling me that definitions come after things, after experience. We see instances of things, we come to a general sense as to their qualities, then we attempt to abstract a set of common qualities into a definition. In other words, definitions do not come first: things come first. So when it comes to defining “educational technology,” I honestly believe I’ve observed and experienced too few instances of “educational technology” to be able to arrive at a definition. But this isn’t an exercise in futility. This thinking allows me to do something that is crucial to my own pedagogy, and that’s to get learners to take inventory of their knowledges, attitudes, and assumptions about the topic they’re learning. The definition I came up with in class is as follows:

Any technology that has had, presently has, or has the potential to have an effect on literacy events or literacy moments between any permutation of teacher and student subjects, I would consider as technology that is educational technology. What I mean by any permutation of teacher/student subjects is, for example, teacher/teacher, teacher/student, and student/student exchanges, as well as literacy moments or events exchanged between a reader and a text or a reader and herself. This ranges from a pencil or a fountain pen to the printing press to overhead projectors, tablets, and Twitter.

During this activity, I found out that my assumption about “educational technology” primarily concerned instances of educational technologies—that is, specific pieces of technology that can be used for educational purposes. Though my attitude is certainly open to expanding that definition to include the following, my assumptions had not presently accounted for educational technology as a field of study involving theoretical practice—that is, development, design utilization, management, and evaluation of technologies in learning environments (http://www.aect.org/standards/knowledgebase.html).

The only problem on my radar thus far is the phrase I often see come up when talking about education, this business of “increasing student (or teacher) performance.” Technology is “educational technology,” by definition, if it helps to “increase student (or teacher) performance.” As a language lover (and critic), I’m left asking myself the not-so-obvious question of what we even mean by “student performance.” Exactly what constitutes student performance, and how do we quantify student performance? It’s a slippery phrase that I’m quite interested in deconstructing, and I hope this course will help me—in the context of educational technology—do just that.