…and then listen

Figure out why someone believes what they believe. The best way to do this is simply to ask, “Why do you believe that?” and then listen. Don’t tell them why they’re wrong or “parallel talk” and explain what you believe. Figure out their reasons for their belief by asking questions.

Good advice, I think, from Peter Boghossian and James Lindsay, authors of the forthcoming book How to Have Impossible Conversations.

Report: Digital Natives ‘Easily Duped’ by Information Online — THE Journal

A study from Stanford Graduate School of Education researchers found that most middle, high school and college students have trouble discerning news articles from advertisements online.

Source: Report: Digital Natives ‘Easily Duped’ by Information Online — THE Journal

Overwhelming proof? Research shows 3 ways going digital improves student performance – eCampus News

Multiple research studies indicate that students show greater engagement and achievement when they use digital materials available via publishers.

However, please note that the various research studies were all conducted by or for companies peddling digital materials.

Source: Overwhelming proof? Research shows 3 ways going digital improves student performance – eCampus News

We should teach students about the future of technology

Will we ever become technology?It sounds like a science fiction statement, but it’s actually not too far from reality. Humans rely on programmable devices for every aspect of their daily lives. These devices have transformed from stationary, to carried and worn, to physically implantable. There is no end to this progression; innovations keep evolving. With the ongoing focus of technology in education, and the need for schools to keep up with the ever-changing scope of its use in the classroom, it is essential that we provide students with the knowledge of how technology affects, and will affect, society.

Source: What should we teach students about the future of technology? | eSchool News

Why Don’t the Common-Core Standards Include Cursive Writing? – Curriculum Matters – Education Week

In a recent interview, one of the lead writers of the reading standards explained that the decision was about priorities—and that learning to use technology took precedence. But what does the research say?

Reading this article I learned that California included cursive in our adoption of English Language Arts standards—or, more accurately, “Write legibly in cursive or joined italic.”

Joined italic? I taught third grade for a few years in California and this term was new to me.  A bit of googling found this interesting piece, “Handwriting: Methods and Resources.”  Its provenance is vague (someone named Brian Hagerty?) but it passes the prima facie test: it’s interesting and offers lots of resources to pursue.

If I were teaching third grade today, would I have the right as a teacher to choose the method of instruction for my students? Would it be a school-wide decision all we third grade teachers would need to reach?  Would the district dictate? Regardless, in this instance, the common standards are not so common after all.

Source: Why Don’t the Common-Core Standards Include Cursive Writing? – Curriculum Matters – Education Week

OERs and accessibility: uh–oh

I teach online courses for Foothill College. I have not required students to purchase a textbook.  Instead, I have curated a set of open educational resources, all available online, that includes websites, videos, and PDF documents. My challenge now is that beginning with this quarter, I must meet a new standard: “Online education courses, resources and materials must be designed and delivered in such a way that the level of communication and course-taking experience is the same for students with or without disabilities.”

Knowing that I needed to meet that standard, I joined a voluntary webinar that the college offered to help us instructors know how to make our courses accessible.  I listened and learned. Toward the end, I asked this question: “So from what you are saying, the easiest way for an instructor to make a course accessible is to make it all text-based.  No video.  No audio.  No infographics.”  The instructor replied, “Well, I hate to say this, but yes.”

My first reaction was, “Good grief!  We have all these new multimedia tools and resources for learning, but I can’t use them in an online course!”

Once I vented a bit and calmed down, I set myself a challenge, “I’ll try!  Let’s see if I can create an online course that uses open educational resources and will still pass a review by the college’s accessibility staff.

I scoured the Internet and found a great collection of resources to comprise my ‘OER textbook” for the course.  I made sure any video I chose had closed captions.  However, I did not do an accessibility check on every website and PDF I wanted to include. My next step was to submit my course for a review by the college’s accessibility people.

My course failed.  Every one of my modules had problems.  While only one of my videos had inaccurate captions, many of the websites I wanted to use had improperly nested headings, missing Alt-text, and tables without headers.  Almost all my PDF files had issues such as “no tag information” or “tables do not have headers.”  Fixing any of those issues is completely beyond my current level of skill and nothing that a college instructor has been expected to know how to do.  For example, when I emailed the reviewer with a question about how to make the PDFs accessible, the reviewer replied, “Fixing pdfs is no easy feat if you don’t have the source documents.” Of course I don’t have the source documents! I just have the PDF I found online.

Just for kicks, I decided to do an accessibility check of my own.  Using the WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool, I evaluated the “Accessibility and Universal Design” page on the college’s website. Oops!  It has some issues.  Clearly, we all have work to do to reach this goal.

Screen shot of WAVE summary of Foothill College Accessibility and Univeral Design page






Critical Analysis and Information Literacy

In today’s globalized information age, an ever-increasing proportion of misinformation accompanies the burgeoning wealth of new and changing information. As students are bombarded with social and news media that blur lines between fact and opinion, they need guided experiences to build their critical analysis of information validity and value.

Source: Critical Analysis and Information Literacy | Edutopia

And to determine the validity of information is becoming a more and more difficult task!

Is it becoming too hard to fail?

School districts in the Washington area and across the country are adopting grading practices that make it more difficult for students to flunk classes, that give students opportunities to retake exams or turn in late work, and that discourage or prohibit teachers from giving out zeroes.

I encourage the folks in Fairfax County and elsewhere to read Schools Without Failure—a classic text from the 1970’s.

Source: Is it becoming too hard to fail? Schools are shifting toward no-zero grading policies – The Washington Post


Online education courses, resources and materials must be designed and delivered in such a way that the level of communication and course-taking experience is the same for students with or without disabilities.

via Accessibility

I encountered that sentence recently in becoming certified to teach online courses using Canvas, which is the newly adopted learning management system for Foothill College and many other California community colleges. It gave me pause.

What does it mean for the course-taking experience to be the same?

Let’s take multimedia as a case in point. What if I am using videos, podcasts, and the currently popular infographic in my course? I’ve learned that I can meet the legal requirements by providing closed captioning for any videos and transcripts for any audio recordings. An infographic is, at base, an image, so I need to provide ALT-text.  Providing ALT-text for a picture of George Washington or a 2016 BMW X3 is pretty straightforward, though one still must decide how much detail to give (who painted George? what color is the X3?). An Infographic, on the other hand, is meant to convey a story and contains lots of information.  So if I’m going to use an infographic in my course, I’m assuming my ALT-text needs to include any text that is in the image plus an explanation of the story the image is trying to tell. Similar detail would need to be provided for any graph or chart (doesn’t do much good to simply write, “Graph comparing profit and loss 2010-2016).

Now, assuming videos are captioned, transcripts are provided for all audio recordings, and thorough, cogent, and accurate written descriptions are provided for all images that carry course content, will the course-taking experience for students with disabilities be the same as those without disabilities? Personally, I think not.

Ultimately, it seems, if one wants to make the course-taking experience the same for all, then design the course completely text-based. Eliminate videos, recordings, and images. Use well written expository text. If fact, when I posed this as a question to the instructor in a webinar I took on “Making your course accessible,” she replied, with some chagrin, “Well, I suppose so—but not that you’d want to do that.”

Of course I don’t want to do that! I just feel a great sense of irony that we now have so many wonderful multimedia tools and open educational resources available, yet many of them I simply won’t be able to use in my courses and others I may find myself avoiding because, let’s face it, it will take a lot more time to do it right.