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).

Unit 2: Collaboration and Group Work Online
Unit 2: Collaboration and Group Work Online avatar

Last week, we finished a group assignment in my f2f classes that I think might migrate nicely to the online classroom.

The assignment asks students to think critically about web sources and has two parts: a larger group component and a partner presentation.

The first task is completed in even numbered groups of 4 or 6 students. Students first must define “information counterfeits” such as propaganda, misinformation, disinformation, fake news, and alternative facts. Students then are to find an example (either a general example or a specific item from a web site) of each. 

The first term they must define is information, which is sneakingly challenging. Last week a group identified statements such as “My flip-flops are black” and “Your hair is blond’ as information, and their discussion about how they might verify these statements led to more and more questions about how we verify facts—how do we agree on primary sources and where do we have consensus of basic facts?  In f2f classes, this activity generates much engagement and laughter and (hopefully) critical discussion.

The final part of this first component asks students to define the terms gullible, skeptical, and cynical. They then write a brief paragraph answering the following question: Using these terms, describe how careful consumers of information should approach what they see, hear, and read.

This activity culminates in a large group discussion in which I ask questions about how students normally seek out information. Where do you usually go? (A: Google, Yahoo, social media sites.) How do you know you can trust the information—that is, how do you know the information you’re consuming is not propaganda or disinformation? (A: never really thought too much about it, unless it’s obviously a spoof.)

This discussion leads nicely into an introduction of the partner presentation part of the assignment. The goal of this component is to simulate “real life” research. Students partner off and choose a topic to research. Topics are important: I let them choose anything . . . as long as it is one with competing viewpoints. The assignment asks students to find one trustworthy source and one untrustworthy source. A secondary objective if to find “gray area” web sources—ones that are not obviously trustworthy (like academic papers) or obviously untrustworthy (like a page with dancing gifs).

The presentation portion of the assignment is low key: the pair tells us what topic they are researching and then silently previews each of their sources—in no particular order—by slowing scrolling through the page. The class has to vote on which is the trustworthy source and which is the untrustworthy. After we’ve voted, the pair explains which is which, outlining at least five reasons why they found the source trustworthy or not. There are a few “rules”: no .edu, .gov, no sources found via the databases, and no Wikipedia sources.

In f2f classes, the first part of the assignment is completed using Google Docs and the second via the Discussions in Canvas.

I can imagine migrating this activity into an online classroom. I think it already features some of the key points from Janette’s video.

1) Student “buy-in
I think it has “buy-in.” The subtext of the activity (i.e. not being duped by stuff on the internet) offers buy-in, and students love the idea of researching anything they want and of finding tricky web sites.
2) Clear expectations
I’ve finessed this assignment for a few semesters, modifying it make sure it more accurately reflects “real life” scenarios, making the expectations realistic (I originally had students find three sources for each—too much!) and specific. I’m sure I can be more clear, though. If there is only one thing I’ve learned from teaching, I can never be clear enough!!

In the online classroom, I would want to try the presentations as a synchronous meeting. I first thought it would fine asynchronouslywith students recording and uploading their presentations for us to view (with a pause for voting)–but I’m leaning against this idea because is seems like mere delivery of information. I want the discussion that happens during the presentations, which I think might be more valuable than the actual presentations. I would love feedback from experienced online teachers, though. It seems like online students might resist synchronous meetings.
3) Baby steps
I think this assignment is a good example of the baby steps that Janette discusses. Just one tiny part of an essay—quality sources- ha!

Unit 1: Feedback and Assessment
Unit 1: Feedback and Assessment avatar

This is such a big question, curry!  Feedback happens everywhere!! My current primary tools for providing instructive feedback are rubrics and the Suggesting feature in Google Docs, but this post will focus only on rubrics since Google docs seems pretty straight-forward to me. I do offer other types of feedback on low-stakes writing—reading responses and reflection activities, for example—but my intent in this feedback is to be encouraging, supportive, or just to let the students know that I am reading every word they write 🙂 . I think this type of feedback might fall into what Warnock refers to as response–when he distinguishes between response and grading. When/if I am able to teach online, I imagine that I will heavily use Canvas’s recording feature in addition to these tools–both to improve the variety of feedback students receive and to help personalize the online environment.

I saved samples of papers I’ve graded over the years. These are the papers that never got returned because students dropped the class or because they disappeared at somepoint during the semester. Writing this blog post, I became curious about how my comments have changed, so I reread my comments on some of these essays. I was struck by how much of my marginalia (Y E S ! I’ve always wanted to use that word in earnest!), focused on the specific assignment in my early years of teaching. Over the past dozen years, though, I see a shift, and my comments are largely about specific skills. I attribute this shift to when I started to hone my rubrics.

My philosophy with rubrics is that they are teaching tools. I believe students should learn from them not about not only their performance on the specific task but also how to improve specific writing skills. I break the rubric down into critical thinking, structure, evidence, sentences, grammar, vocabulary, and documentation. Here’s what my current English 100 rubric looks like for argumentative essays (I have a different rubric for a rhetorical analysis essay assignment and for our new lens essay assignment): http://www.writingteachertools.com/english-100-grading-rubric/

All this might be (actually, I’m sure it is) a long way to get to my focus of this post: optimizing the rubric tool in Canvas to improve not only my feedback but also students’ understanding of my feedback in onsight classes and (hopefully) in online classes.

I remember during our fall certification sequence somebody sharing research about how infrequently students actually read our comments—not much 🙁 —and have thought about why this might be ever since. One reason might be that students don’t understand what we mean by the comments. For example, if the comment is that the paragraph lacks development or focus or unity or coherence, I can imagine some of my students not knowing what the heck I am talking about—despite the fact that I feel like I’ve explained these concepts—in overwrought detail—a zillion times.

So . . . here’s my idea for using the rubrics tool in Canvas. I’m considering using them to maximize both peer- and self-evaluations at various drafting stages in order to reinforce student understanding of basic compositional concepts and/or their understanding of specific critical thinking skills. In f2f classes, I’ve been doing versions of the types of evaluations I’m imagining, but with pen and paper and perhaps with not as much clarity of instruction or accountability as might be possible with Canvas. My intent is that these peer- and self-evaluations promote deeper understanding of what sometimes seem to be amorphous concepts like development and unity.

One of the resources I found in curry’s annotated bibliography discussed various types of rubrics in Canvas: Single Point, Analytic, Primary Trait, Holistic (here’s a direct link to the PPT, if you want to check it out:


I mocked up a few of these rubrics to concretize how I might use each of these rubric types.

Single Point – Use to improve thesis
Analytic – Use to improve Level One Unity* 
Primary Trait – Use to improve Level Two Unity*
Holistic – My final grading rubric

(No mock-up here!  I ran out of time!)

*These are teaching tools I created to help explain the concept of unity to students. You can check them out here and here.

Canvas Questions:  To implement these evaluations, I’m guessing that I create an Assignment that requires peer reviews and then attach the corresponding rubric. Does anyone know if this right, or am I missing something?

Also, does Canvas have a way for the instructor to grade a student’s comments on a peer review? I tell students that I consider peer reviews as a type of test, an open-book, OK-to-ask-me-questions-during-type-of-test, for which they receive grades based on the quality of their comments and demonstration of understanding the assignment requirements. I know where I can see the student’s peer comments, but I couldn’t figure out if I can grade that student’s comments.