Boo!

Happy Halloween! I’ve rounded up some fun links for you today.
All treats, no tricks – I promise!

1.  A virtual cadaver. This is, well, exactly what you might think. Here’s a concise description:

An interactive anatomy study table that allows students to find out what the inside of a human body looks like without making a single cut. Instead of using a scalpel, students use their finger to make “incisions” in the 3D projection of a human body. The table offers doctors and students an incredibly accurate and detailed image of skeletal and muscle systems . . . . Touchscreen technology allows students to spin, drag, and make incisions in the digital flesh, examining different body parts more closely. In the future, students will be able to take home scans that they looked at during class and view them on their iPad or other mobile devices.

Now that is cool, huh? No price listed, alas. But it could be pretty nifty for patient education and for teams of healthcare providers who could collaborate and demonstrate their particular concerns before, say, the patient is open on the operating table.

2. Six E-Learning Demons to Avoid. Hokey? Yes. Useful? Absolutely. I’d also add something about not Frankensteining your online content by mashing together items with different styles, design themes, clashing fonts, etc.  Of course, none of our wise readers would be guilty of such horrifying behavior!

3. Innovative uses for eLearning tools. Think of that pillowcase that became a candy bag – or, as the author suggests, the screwdriver that protects you from zombies. You’re a pro at re-purposing! You can also creatively use the items in your eLearning toolbox. Don’t let habit or the stated function be your limit. The author mentions how he uses PowerPoint and quiz software (note that you can’t do this sort of slide view with quiz option in LearningStudio) to do things other than to make presentations and give quizzes. What’s your pillowcase / screwdriver – what tool are you successfully using outside of its stated purpose?

Accessibility, Equal Access, and the ADA (part two)

The 2010 revisions of the ADA included a mandate to make websites accessible. If you are using a learning management system (like LearningStudio), it’s tempting to think that the course shell is handling all the accessibility concerns. However, if you’ve uploaded images, video / audio, or directed students to external websites, you may still need to take some additional steps.

Here is a list of best practices. Some of these are more applicable for stand-alone websites, but all are worth reading. The information below is drawn from accessibility information provided by MIT, UC Berkeley, Purdue, and Oregon State.

1.  Label all images. Use the ALT field or fill in the image description as needed. It’s better to leave the ALT tag blank than to enter text that merely repeats the image caption, since a screen reader will read both fields.

2.  Caption all video and audio. If this is not possible, provide a script or a summary.

3.  Create structure. Using headings to add structure to a page is one of the simplest ways to greatly increase the accessibility of your pages for a screen reader user.

4.  Label links properly. Without unique labels, users of screen readers can have trouble distinguishing one link from another. Consider adding a link to skip over navigation menus or lengthy lists of links. Likewise, avoid the use of “click here” and connect the link to something descriptive in the related phrase.  (Guilty as charged! We’ll be changing that ASAP on this blog!)

5.  Improve navigation. Requiring extra clicks or forcing a return to the homepage is clumsy for sighted students; it’s worse for those using adaptive technologies.

6.  Keyboard-friendly shortcuts. You can let users know which keyboard shortcuts they can use by creating a page for your accessibility statement that lists each of these shortcuts and how to use them on a mac or PC. The link to this accessibility page should appear at least on the homepage, but ideally on all pages( i.e. within the global navigation or footer links).

7.  Choose colors and contrast wisely. Use symbols and graphics that will work in a monochromatic environment. To test a page for effective contrast, you can print it on a black and white printer with the background color included. Color vision deficiencies may impact red and green (rendering them invisible) as well as yellow (beige, yellow and orange can be confused with red and green). Never rely on color alone to communicate importance,  sarcasm, or other key meanings – clearly articulate these using text. This is a great contrast checker.

8.  Allow for font resizing. Stylesheets created with pixel measurements (px) cannot be easily resized in some versions of Internet Explorer. To allow for resizing, size your stylesheets using another measurement such as em, pt, or relative sizes. A body font of 95% or 12 points is recomended (this is similar to 12 pixels in size, but percents and ems are resizeable on Internet Explorer).

9.  Avoid tables when you can. Label them correctly when you must use them. Use basic header information for data tables; use elements and summary attributes whenever possible. For visual layout design, the preference is to employ stylesheets and div tags, not tables.

10.  Be careful with PDF files. If possible, offer alternatives accessible through other programs (Word, etc.); offering the information in HTML is ideal. More extensive information on PDFs and accessibility is provided on this page. From the Purdue University web accessibility committee, here are some tips about creating accessible PDF files using Word.

11.  Use Flash and interactive content wisely. Alternate versions of all interactive content and Flash pieces should be provided, if possible. If an alternate version cannot be provided, offer a summary and description.

These are actually universal design principles that will improve everyone’s experience in the online environment: your students with disabilities will benefit, but so will the rest of the class—and you may notice a difference, too, when you need to quickly locate a key piece of information and can move smoothly and quickly through your own content!

(This is part of a series of posts on this topic. The first post offered an introductory look at disabilities in the higher education context; future posts will cover assessing the accessibility of your content, and additional access resources.)

Collaboration

David Pogue, over at the New York Times, has written all about how using dropbox helped him and his staff with his latest manuscript. Note that, in this context, we are not talking about the LearningStudio tool, but the free stand-alone program/website that syncs your files via a folder on each computer you (or your collaborators) use. You can also sync with iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, and Android. Imagine taking the most current version of your work with you, wherever you go!

Pogue also points out that dropbox makes a pretty decent file back-up system, absent any other collaborators in the picture. Of course, I’ve never been one to have nightmares about lost data, but, you know, if I were that sort of person, this would probably be something useful. And Macworld has written about 62(!) different things you can do with dropbox. It seems like you just might be able to bend time and space to make your life easier.

For our friends in the sciences, check out this story on a new NSF program aimed at making ” it easier and faster to access and share large and complex data sets”. Nothing usable yet, but a research consortium is looking into the issue.

Also, if you would like to try out being part of larger project, need a little break from your own work, or have ever dreamed of being an astronaut, here’s your opportunity to help NASA astronauts train underwater.

Accessibility, Equal Access, and the ADA (part one)

Just to get us started, check out these simulations that let you experience the web as a person with a visual disability would: blindness and colorblindness.

If a simulation isn’t your thing, you can check out the Web Accessibility Initiative’s draft paper on How People with Disabilities Use the Web.

Or you can read this wrap-up on how instructors should respond when a student has a speech impairment.

You can also take a quick glance at an article reviewing the accessibility of different college and university websites:

And here’s a table ranking schools on their ease of accessibility to blind students.

Wow, huh?

So, all of this invites the following question: How do you make sure your online resources / your online course meets the needs of all your students?

One of the most common questions we get regards how to give a student extra time on an online exam. For LearningStudio users, we’ve posted a little tutorial.

But going beyond exams, what should one do? For whom? And how?

According to the MIT Assistive Technology Center, here are some different groups of individuals whose needs merit consideration:

1.  Visual disabilities: Difficulty accessing unlabeled graphics, icons, buttons, multimedia. Info may be lost in poorly marked up tables, forms and frames. May use keyboard navigation rather than a mouse. Use screen enlargement, screen readers or Braille displays. Problems with font sizes, color contrast or other display problems.

2.  Hearing disabilities: Need captioning for audio and video.

3.  Physical disabilities: May need to substitute mouse use with keyboard, voice input, or other input methods.

4.  Cognitive disabilities: Need consistent navigation structure. Overly complex presentation can be a problem. Flickering or strobing designs can be a problem.

As an aside, if the moment presents itself, you can direct your students to We Connect Now, an organization founded in 2008 focused higher education and employment access for college students with disabilities.

(This is part of a series of posts on this topic. Future posts will cover design tips, assessing the accessibility of your content, and additional access resources.)

How Web Video Powers Global Innovation

Check out this TED talk on the way in which crowds, online sharing, and curiosity / ambition are promoting progress (in everything from dance to unicycle riding to scientific publications!).

How are you using web videos in your course? How would you like to use them?

Web round-up

Here’s a smattering of interesting and useful items I found on blogs this morning:

1.  Finding Google Images with the appropriate use licenses, so that you can use them in your course without any copyright complications. (I actually know one professor who will only use pictures he has personally taken. On that note, I’m almost ready to teach that course on the Great Barrier Reef, I just need some funding to go get my images!)

2. Taking remote desktop access to the next level: easily control a computer from not just another computer, but also a mobile phone or tablet. The University of Notre Dame’s Kaneb Center discusses easy-to-use apps from Splashtop. Note that not all of the apps are Windows-accessible, but some are.

3.  Time Magazine is starting a new column on “the latest research and the most penetrating insights into how learning works”. We’ll have to wait and see if what they have to say is broadly applicable to higher education. But, just for starters, here’s a pithy insight from the introductory column:
How we learn shapes what we know and what we can do. Our knowledge and our abilities are largely determined not by our IQ or some other fixed measure of intelligence, but by the effectiveness of our learning process ….

4.  The Teaching Professor Blog reflects on the advantages and disadvantages of the points system (versus letter grades and percentages). The blog post is a review of work by Augsburg College Professor of Sociology Diane Pike. Her presidential address on this topic to the Midwest Sociological Society was subsequently published in Sociology Quarterly.