In the Online Environment, Nothing Is Until It Is
J. Williams

I, as well, felt a bit befuddled by the scope of the accommodation discussion.  There is a lot that needs doing.  I am happy to see that I have many successes, according to the best practices we have been introduced to in the reading, in addition to the improvements I am committed to making.  I do well with making my course easy to navigate and the information easy to consume for many kinds of readers.  I don’t hide information behind a cascade of clicks, I don’t wall it off in ways that might confuse a screen reader, and I label links in descriptive ways.  I need to be better at communicating feedback in multiple modalities.

Reading through the first two articles we have been presented with for this week’s thinking, I was reminded, again, of a topic that came up in our last session of Writing with Machines: In the online classroom, everything must be manufactured.  One way to consider this is in terms of our online persona.  As instructors in a traditional classroom, our persona emits as a function of our presence.  We don’t really have to consciously create it.  We are who we are.  Mannerisms, tone of voice, the way we walk a room, our handwriting — these all communicate something about us.  In the online environment, these cues don’t exist, for the most part.  If we want to have a personality when teaching online (and all of the literature suggests we do), then we have to manufacture it, quite consciously, in addition to teaching, rather than as a byproduct of teaching.  Community was another element that required manufacturing.  Whereas in the classroom there are opportunities for community building that just happen because we all inhabit the same space once or twice a week, in the online environment, neither the space nor the inhabiting exist unless they are manufactured by the instructor.

I find this discussion relevant when considering accommodation, as well.  In the traditional classroom, there are elements of accommodation that are, in essence, automatic, either through institutional support or the ease with which the accommodation can be met in person.  I recall a student I had my first semester as a teacher … er, some number of years ago.  She was, essentially, deaf, though she could make out some sounds.  She stopped me after class one day and told me that she could do without an interpreter if I would make sure to face the class, rather than the white board, when lecturing.  I, at times, like to scribble while I talk.  Turns out she was a top-rate lip reader.  In the span of time it took to have the conversation, the accommodation had been made.  Now, in an online environment, if I post a PowerPoint, for example, with a voice over lecture, I need to manufacture the accommodation by captioning the presentation.  And, when I read through the list of effective practices in this week’s reading, I see that, for the most part, accommodation requires manufacturing, and the manufacturing is largely left to the instructor.

Accessibility is a compelling topic.  We have moral and legal obligations to meet the accessibility needs of our students, and I believe that, as educators, this is something we are committed to doing.  However, the online environment creates both opportunities and perils for students in need of accommodation — and for instructors trying to meet those needs.

Our reading appropriately acknowledges this, and acknowledges the strange situation that most online instructors face when moving from on-the-ground teaching to online: that when they leave the comfort of the classroom, they also leave behind a suite of institutional support for ensuring that students get the accommodations they need.  Such inequities exist across numerous forms of needed accommodation in the online environment, and in most cases sorting them out falls to the instructor, where the same wouldn’t be true in a traditional, on campus teaching assignment.

Why this is, I do not know.

Accessibility and User Friendly Design
Accessibility and User Friendly Design avatar


Where to begin?   It is as if this chapter was written just for me and the struggles I had (have) with my online and Hybrid classes.

First of all, thank you for the great links and resources (I have bookmarked them and plan to refer to them often.

There are several sections of this week’s reading that I feel failry confident I present in a user friendly ( for all of our students) such as: Flexible Methods and Materials, Timely Progress Monitoring, and proactive planning.   I feel like these elements, with trial and error, have settled into an effective format.

However, I find great comfort knowing that the elements of online learning that I still struggle with and constantly stress over, are common in our community. I am a huge fan of Zoom, but it does not allow subtitles, and I am forced to upload to Youtube, which is less than ideal.  I plan to investigate some of the other options until I find a system that works better.

Some changes that I plan to make now:

No folders inside of folders – this makes so much sense; I do not know why I did not identityfy this potential struggle/frustration for our students

Chunk Videos – I will limit my videos (both white board and screen shots) to 20 minutes each with short specific/clear instructions (rather than one long video).  I will indicate more clearly to watch the lesson all the way through and then give detailed/organized request both before and after the video.

Also, Canvas has taught me to break down units by week and present and imbed all necessary items (handouts/videos) within this week, rather than placing all documents in a folder of their own.

Honestly, this week’s material was a bit overwhelming, and I plan to revisit the sections in more detail.  There is so much important stuff here, I feel like I need to breakdown the readings and re abosorb them


Accessibility and Information Overload
Accessibility and Information Overload avatar

I experienced information overload with this week’s readings. There are so many elements to take into consideration. I am very thankful that technology and free technology keeps advancing because stuff is available now that wasn’t available when I taught online in the past.

I have dealt with a variety of student needs in the face2face classroom. One thing that was really big for me was meeting with Disability Services counselors to discuss what works best for the different needs of my students. This was fabulous because for instance, they explained why certain file types were preferred. From these experiences, I already convert everything to .pdf for my students, even readings from websites, and with Canvas, I am working on using the correct headings options, instead of the general paragraphs. I also switched from a non-cc documentary where 50% was captioned to a cc one; I was a little sad, but it was getting way too dated anyways.

My own learning preferences make me really interested in some of this. I always click away from the main screen when “watching” online videos, including the ones for this course and just listen, or the other side to that is when I watch videos with my computer on mute which is 90% of the time, so it is all about the cc. I also read magazines from back to front, so in general I have a variety of practices that are not intended by the creators of the materials.

When I taught online before, one of my struggles turned out to be an asset. I cannot record improv videos for my classes. It is always disastrous. Some may assume it is a time issue and I go on and on which is a problem I know others struggle with. For me it is the opposite. My mind goes blank without a script. I guess I don’t talk to myself well enough, but I really need an interactive audience to do my natural thing. So for online teaching, I embrace the unnatural and script everything which means I have a transcript for every video. The video service I had to use through my previous college did not do the cc, and I had an international student who requested the video transcripts because it went too fast for him, and lucky for me, I had them all ready to go! With youtube’s cc service now, there is a lot of support for that area.

MiraCosta’s transition to Canvas should hopefully take care of compatibility issue with it being a phone friendly LMS; Blackboard most definitely was not. I am very selective of other supplemental sites that I incorporate into my classes, but How To videos would be appropriate. I recently made a How To video to teach some colleagues how to use google Calendar; it is surprisingly more complicated than it seems, mostly when it is trying to be smarter than us and messes things up. There were lots of them already posted on youtube, but they were way too involved when I just needed some very specific basics. It was super simple to do, 60 sec long, and I actually succeeded with it as improv!

There are some basics to hit like making a site that is compatible with audio and visual needs students my have. Also, having different types of activities that take into account different strengths and learning styles would be a way to plan ahead with course design. But it could also be effective to do some sort of needs assessment the first week of the class. This would involve having students reflect on how they use the internet to get a sense of the varying abilities and practices that we could consider incorporating into the course for that semester.

Here is a resource I recently came across that provides videos, orgs, articles, and books about Inclusive Pedagogy for those who are interested:

Unit 3: Accessibility and Universal Design
Unit 3: Accessibility and Universal Design avatar

After reading through the material assigned this week, I decided that the best way for me to reflect on what I will do to ensure that my online classes are accessible is to make a checklist of sorts to reference if/when I get the opportunity to teach online.


Docs – When I create documents and web pages, I’ve been careful to use standard HTML tags and to use true formatting (lists, columns, and tables). I already convert all of my documents into PDFs, but I will add HTML-like tags so screen readers can effectively translate the material.

Images – One thing I need to check on is my use of ALT tags; I need to revise them with a concise description—I didn’t know I could use up to 100 characters, which is a helpful guideline.

All links should be meaningfully annotated.

I also will take advantage of accessibility checkers.

Videos – When I create videos, I will be sure to provide a text transcript and/or closed captioning using YouTube’s free captioning. I will also be sure to chunk the videos.

Check my docs/sites on mobile phones.


Keep instruction short.

Write in a direct, personal tone.

Be aware of use pronouns to ensure clarity for non-seeing populations.

If sending students to third-party website, be sure it’s accessible or provide alternatives.

When choosing modality and media for my assignments and activities, I will consider the probability of students ability to use and to access the technology.

Learn about which types of services our DSPS offers–Braille, large-print, recorded, or electronic texts, etc.

Create a quick mandatory technology orientation session for students to complete prior to beginning the course. The goal of this orientation will be twofold:  to explain to students the technology to be used in the class and  to solicit info from students about their technology skills and confirm they have access to the required technology.

Offer alternatives to meeting students—phone class, Skype, on-site, etc.

Keep track of students with poor participate and find out why (might be an accessibility  issue.)

Offer instructional material in more than one medium.”For example, a photograph or other graphic on the course Web space should be described textually. For another example, critical textual material should be described orally using an audio feature. Similarly, a teacher’s video should be transcribed or closely paraphrased textually to accommodate a deaf student or one with auditory learning disabilities. Students should have a choice about whether to receive an essay response orally (through digital recording) or textually; alternatively, students might receive one essay response orally and the next one textually. If these practices seem onerous, it is helpful to remember that multimodality assists all learners and not just those with special challenges” (from Conference on Composition & Communication, Effective Practice 1.10).

Anti-Rubrics and Purpose Drive Writing (1st week catching up post)
Anti-Rubrics and Purpose Drive Writing (1st week catching up post) avatar

I know rubrics are quite popular for writing assignments. Warnock supports with with his several subtle reassurances that rubrics are easy to move to the online space. I have tried different forms of traditional rubrics but I have not found them helpful to me as a grader. I also don’t find them helpful to students as writers, when students write to rubrics as opposed to identifying a purpose and writing to that.

All that said, I am interested in a different kind of rubric. Maybe a rubric that I wouldn’t necessarily call a rubric. But then, I don’t really know what that looks like. One of my biggest forms of feedback to the entire class through alternating student papers. I have students all look at one or two paragraphs from the same draft and offer one piece of feedback for each paragraph. Using track changes, I go through and comment or cut, paste, add, delete those suggestions on the screen. This gives them elements to think about in their own drafts. Using discussion board followed by some sort of screen capture technology, I think this could be recreated in the online classroom.

Since we go through 4-5 drafts of the paper, I am only committing fully commenting on the next to last draft. We look at one to two paragraphs as a class and then they are tasked with assessing and coming up with a plan for their own revision based on peer responses and much of what their peers are saying comes from the modeling from the different student papers as a class. For me, this is an effective way of managing the amount of grading and feedback in face-to-face classes and would just be one piece of managing it in the online classroom.

Another thing I have really liked in the online classroom was group papers because I could give continuous feedback as they worked because I was only responding to 8-9 papers. This allowed the amount of feedback to go up while keeping it manageable and teaching a group of students individually.

Media Literacy Group Project
Media Literacy Group Project avatar

In addition to group work and peer  groups for various activities, I do a lot of group projects in all of my classes that have included any or all of the following: papers, online essays, videos, and presentations. Since I set up google docs for my students as one collaborative space to support students with very different schedules to meet asynchronously. For collaborative papers, students’ common issue is failure to communicate effectively. My most successful groups are in contact through multiple media at once from texting to DM to email to the google doc. Others find at least a hour when they can all be logged onto the computer working on the project together at the same time in addition to the work they do on it solo. My groups that struggle, do not do either of the above. But lucky for them, they have multiple opportunities to improve their collaboration practices.

One collaborative project I would definitely want to work on adapting to the online class is my media literacy unit. There are 3-4 formal group writing elements connected to it. Here is the gist of the project and its parts:

Step 1: Choose a news site to explore and from which to pick an article to be the focus of the project. I use Vanessa Otero’s chart and methodology for creating it to help students think about how to identify political slants to the representation of news stories. (Note: This is the 4th or 5th version of the chart. She has incorporated feedback a few times; I actually prefer the earlier versions. She didn’t know it would get traction when she originally created it and posted it to social media.)

Students choose one of the sites from the bottom two corners for their main text.

Step #2: Groups write a two page evaluative essay, assessing all the questionable elements of their chosen article.

Step #3: Groups create an annotated bibliography, two entries per group member. The purpose of this is for them to find sources that provide more in depth and even reporting on the same issue as their main article.

Step #4: Groups compose an online essay (images, hyperlinks, videos, etc.) of 1,500 words challenging their main article. As a part of this, they also compose a peer response letter to two other groups to give feedback on their drafts.

Step #5: We compose an introduction as a class that addresses the content of all their online essays and link them.

This online essay puts a lot of pressure on successful group work because it is really a full project, not just one assignment. Students do get a lot out of it both for their own writing and for their ability to assess online sources. We spend most of our class periods in the computer lab while working on this article, which is good for transitioning it to the online classroom, but there is still the big issue of students communicating effectively enough to complete the project.

Collaborative Magazine
Collaborative Magazine avatar

One current collaborative assignment presented to my students is a Zine.   Each group (assigned at the beginning of the semester work together all semester) choose a thesis (based on their social justice essays) to present a visual rhetorical argument.

The basics for the assignment is as follows: The group chooses a thesis (such as global warming is caused by man)

Everyone is asked to choose a topic to support the thesis. Each student is responsible for 4 pages (and evaluated on their four pages) to support their topic.

There is a collaborative magazine cover, index, and work cited page

Evidence is chosen to visually support their topic (such as: murals, videos, poems, charts, political cartoons, headlines, et.)

Finally, they present the magazine (visual rhetoric) and what they say about their evidence represents their analysis.

It has become a pretty popular assignment with my students.  They really get into it and work well with each other.   The presentation portion is in person with my hybrid classes, and via Zoom form my fully online students.   I plan to migrate this to my canvas classes for online, traditional, and hybrid. The online version does change the assignment only in that there is not the excitement and party atmosphere that we feel in the traditional classes.

Time, place, and manner.
J. Williams

I definitely want my students to collaborate.  Two reasons, primarily: 1) I see this kind of interaction as a fundamental remedy for the distance in distance education, and 2) it’s also a key component of my on-the-ground courses.


In the spring I often inserted a caution into my discussions of online learning whenever the conversation drifted toward synchronous tasks/learning, and I think that the topic of collaboration certainly knocks on this door.  The text, in part, discusses the topic with this in mind.  And, my first reason above for wanting to integrate collaborative learning into the online environment — drawing down the distance between online learners — would certainly benefit from a little synchronicity.  Yet, I feel like students sign up for online course to take advantage of the flexibility the courses offer, and that contract begins to erode when instructors establish time, day, and place requirements.  I often have students in the military taking my online courses from distant time zones or on submarines, which really limits their ability to participate synchronously.


I like my on-the-ground group assignments.  They rock the course outcomes.  And they definitely need synchronicity — in their current form — to maximize their benefits.  Small groups that can set their own schedule for synchronicity begin to address the issue I mention above, but they, too, make impossible demands on some of my online learners, which is why, in the past 10 years, I have assigned no synchronous work in my online courses.  I have made some on-the-ground group assignments into individual assignments, but I have mostly scrapped the collaborative work that needs synchronicity in favor of other methods.

The collaborative assignment I’d most like to migrate is a group quiz I offer in my on-the-ground English 100 courses.  The quiz is assigned to groups of three to four students and takes a full meeting to complete (1:50) if the students are diligent, know their stuff — and collaborate effectively.  The students are presented with an article to read that articulates a position on an issue of the day, then the quiz requires that they demonstrate competence in critical reading, writing, researching, and MLA Style.

I know that in Canvas you can create quizzes and assign them to particular cohorts of students, so that is not difficult.  However, in class (I just administered one of these today) the students delegate, huddle in pairs or triplets over computer screens then jump to another computer and compare, check each others work, teach each other, separate the pages on the quiz and pass them around, scribble, cross out, use scratch paper, reference multiple web sites — in other words, they collaborate, and they do it in a messy, real-world way that is hard to translate to the online environment.  (I would say this parallels the issue I discussed two weeks ago with translating my written feedback to the online environment.)

To approximate this on-the-ground experience, I think they’d need a live video chat/conference, to be able to see each other’s screens, and to be able to all work off of the same live document (the quiz) — to start.

Oh, and they all need to be able to schedule a time to collaborate.


Group Work in a Digital Class
Group Work in a Digital Class avatar

                As an instructor who builds his class around group work, I am excited for the possibilities that the digital classroom opens. In my F2F class, I always have an activity that allows the students to put the idea we just discussed into action. We always follow these activities up with a discussion about how the idea came through in the activity. While this structure has worked well, I have always thought these group activities would benefit from a slower and longer application of the idea.

 I think the main benefit in transferring these group activities online is time.  For instance, in my class today, I had students work in groups to write a brief speech on any topic they wanted (I urged a light-hearted topic given the sad events of last night). The rules for this assignment were simple: write a professional speech you could deliver to fellow students and sneak in a few logical fallacies. While the groups had an amazing time trying to mask fallacies with professional language and logical support, the discussion and sharing portion of the assignment had to be trimmed due to time constraints. If this activity was translated for an OWC, groups could collaborate on a google doc and in chat; this collaboration technique would also afford agency to those students who often get steamrolled in group conversations. Not only could students spend more time incorporating logical support, but other groups could visit and see how their peers are approaching the activity. The discussion/decompression aspect of the assignment could also be developed and allow more time for students to reflect prior to responding. I imagine all the wonderful conversation that could arise in the class discussion of these speeches, but I also wonder if that hilarity I witnessed in the classroom today would still be there.  With a creative activity like this, it is those rapid-fire conversations students have that make the activity so effective.  If I desynchronize an activity that is supposed to be fun—by my definition of fun—will those funny moments where students wittily respond to and build upon each other disappear? It is difficult for me to know for sure until I actually implement this activity online, but I guess I could always require a synchronous meeting or Zoom for the brainstorming portion.

I am also intrigued with how peer review will translate into the OWC.  I enjoy having a Q&A before each workshop, and I really enjoy hearing students have an honest “state of affairs” about their work. I know these conversations could be pushed into the digital space, but the synchronous nature of the F2F workshop is so appealing. I love hearing students give meaningful feedback; it feels like validation (they remembered my lecture!), so maybe this concern is more selfish. However, the one thing that I think will improve in this switch is the participation rate. I have noticed that my attendance seems to dip when it comes to workshops in my course. I imagine this is because students procrastinate and bail on class to avoid the guilt (even though I recommend they come regardless), but in the asynchronous online workshop, students could give feedback over the course a few days. This wider window could help those procrastinators catch up, and could facilitate a much higher participation rate. With how ubiquitous technology has become, and with so much of our daily communication happening in a digital space, it will be interesting to see how successful these conversations turn out to be.

Wait…What Are We Supposed To Do?
Wait…What Are We Supposed To Do? avatar



Ah, the joys of group work! It works really well for some, but for others it is a struggle. I suppose that fact will remain whether the groups are onsite or online. Interestingly, those very same students who don’t like working in groups onsite might really thrive when working in groups online. Having had a child with Asperger’s, I can attest to how much more comfortable online group work is for students with Asperger’s than onsite group work. In other words, there will always be some students in their element, and there will be others who feel challenged by group work; either way, they have to do it. For that reason, I appreciated Janette’s point that it is important to promote student “buy-in” before starting group work in any class. I always let students know that in the work world, as in so much in life, we need to work in groups. Most work is done in collaboration, so even if you prefer working on your own (as I did when I was younger), you still have to learn to navigate working in collaboration with others. My hope is that students will ultimately find that it is truly rewarding to work in groups.

Group work is a part of my daily routine in the onsite classroom. While I have not yet taught online, my experiences with being an online student have been that there is significantly less group work, although discussion boards are always central to learning. So, how to make group work meaningful and effective in the online classroom? My guess is that it’s challenging, but challenges can be fun! No doubt a certain amount of trouble-shooting will be needed, but group work is so essential to learning that it is well worth the time and effort invested.

One group project I consistently assign is a group research project/presentation. For example, this semester my class is reading Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, which is about criminal justice. I ask the students to work in groups to research some specific aspect of criminal justice, such as the use of solitary confinement or sentencing juveniles as adults, then create a group presentation for the rest of the class. Students typically make either a power point or a poster for their presentations.

I can see that there are a number of possible “pitfalls” to avoid when translating this assignment to the online environment. As Janette points out, for instance, there is a greater likelihood of personality issues impacting group dynamics since there is an absence of “non-verbal cues.” For this reason, I think it’s essential that the teacher keep close tabs on group communications so that problems brewing can be dealt with before they become serious. I also think Warnock’s advice to have students create clear roles with distinct “job descriptions” is a good way to facilitate positive group dynamics. When expectations and roles are very clearly defined, there are fewer opportunities for personalities to come into conflict. Warnock also suggests having a clear group leader who is asked to give the teacher regular progress updates. This seems like a very good idea, as the teacher can then intervene if, for example, certain students are not participating as needed.

Pitfalls aside, though, I think there are some very cool possibilities with translating this kind of assignment to the online environment. I would need to familiarize myself with the various technologies a little bit so that I could facilitate groups taking advantage of the tools available. Ultimately, though, I can imagine students coming up with some pretty amazing multi-media projects for presenting their topics. They could include video, audio, text, and other visuals. There are loads of online presentation tools, such as “Emaze,” which could work well. I would just need to research which ones are free and easy to use, while also being creative and engaging.

Ultimately, I think the main point is to make sure that we don’t allow the potential pitfalls of online group work to scare us off from it altogether. Challenges are inevitable, but the potential benefits are numerous.