Teaching with Videos

We write about videos with some degree of frequency. And, well, why not? Videos are great ways to introduce yourself or the course, transition to new content or concepts, and address class themes and discussion points. In addition, the right video content can provide an experience beyond the classroom walls or course shell.

Consider this infographic about the impact of video in education, courtesy of the networking / communications / collaboration company Cisco Systems:

Inforgraphic provided by Cisco systems on benefits and prevalence of videos in education

If you’re considering using or creating a video for your course (perhaps as part of a flipped classroom experience or experiment), this list of different styles for integrating video content into your course may help you think about your goals and starting point. In particular, instructor-created video can be much more than a recorded lecture. Note that the last video integration style mentioned might also be read as “Video Engages Interested Others” – meaning community members, colleagues, university administrators, etc.

This is a list of 15 eLearning video tips. Some of them, such as using actors, probably aren’t practical on the individual course level. However, the points about having a transcript available (an important accessibility concern), the optimal length of videos, and establishing the context for your video are all well worth reading. Aimed more at faculty producing their own videos, this list of video tips for faculty is a great pre-recording checklist. I just love condensed tip lists like this: it’s as if someone has already made the mistakes and is now sharing their pearls of wisdom, saving you from mediocre results!

Note that the Koehler Center has some information about recording your own content and uploading it to your Pearson LearningStudio course shell.

Of course, not all videos need to star you or your students. There are several animation options that allow you to upload an image of your own or work with selected sets of avatars. Need a comical take on two molecules joining together? Want to create a funny little animation of two historical or literary characters to start a class discussion? This is a summary of five easy animation tools; these tools are aimed at young students, but that means the learning curve for the new tools should be quite feasible. In the context of creating your own animations, I’d also be remiss not to mention Xtranormal – perhaps the most popular easy web animation tool.

If integrating existing videos is your preference, this list of curated educational internet video sources is a good starting point. In addition, the Koehler Center has collected an extensive list of internet streaming video resources that may be helpful. Last, I just found out about the website Documentary Heaven the other day. The site gathers and embeds documentaries available elsewhere on the internet, serving as a sort of clearinghouse for streaming documentaries.

If you are thinking about working with existing video, this is an intriguing article from the Academic Technology blog at the College of William and Mary about recording your own audio commentary to accompany video resources. Providing your own audio track means that students can stop the video, take notes, rewind, re-watch, and re-listen to your insights as many times as needed. This is a great alternative to the pace of in-class film screenings, with the added bonus of allowing you to use class time for other learning activities. Likewise, you can also ask students to create a commentary of their own for short segments of videos – a great way for them to demonstrate their skills and apply course content.

If you are TCU faculty and have a Pearson LearningStudio course shell, here are the how-to guides for embedding audio and video content in your course shell.

As always, we’d love to hear what video resources you’re using and how you’re using them!

Podcasts as Assignments

Do you have assignments where students create their own podcasts?

If you’re thinking about having students create their own podcasts, this is a very insightful and honest piece about the mistakes one professor made with a podcast assignment. The follow-up to that article is this blog post about getting student feedback on podcasting assignments (note that you could adapt this survey for any type of instructional technology used in your course).

The Koehler center has podcast-related info on our audio resources page.

On  a related note, I think podcasts made by others (either radio professionals, scholars, or community members) make wonderful “reading” assignments. Have you used podcasts in this way in your classes? Are there certain topics or podcast producers that worked well for you? Are there lessons you’ve learned the hard way? Please share in the comments.

Last, if you’ve had to adapt a podcast assignment (either a production- or listening-based one) for accessibility concerns, we’d love to know the accommodations you made.

LibriVox: Free Audiobooks

Are you familiar with LibriVox? This is a website with public domain audiobooks available for downloading. For free. Can’t beat that!

LibriVox represents the work of an army of volunteers: According to their website, “LibriVox volunteers record chapters of books in the public domain and release the audio files back onto the net. Our goal is to make all public domain books available as free audio books.” I’ve heard that the audio / reader quality can vary, but most people seem quite satisfied. The catch is, of course, that LibriVox only has materials that are in the public domain in the United States, generally meaning items published prior to 1923.

If there aren’t worries about particular versions or translations, LibriVox could also be a wonderful alternative for your students, whether they are looking to save money or whether an audio format is simply easier for them to use.

Easier Proofreading

I’d say, “easy proofreading” – but perhaps there’s no such thing?

Here’s a tip about using text-to-speech software to get your device (computer or ereader) to read documents under review aloud. After all, the ear is far better than the eye when it comes to catching clunky sentences (indeed!). Your students could also use this method to review their own drafts – feel free to share this tip!

There’s also a way to add a text-to-speech button to Microsoft Word.

p.s. For iPad users among you, Web Reader HD ($4.99) seems to offer functionality with Microsoft Word; Web Reader – Text to Speech ($1.99) suggests it works with iPhones. A word to the wise: I haven’t tried either, and, of course, you’ll want to read the terms and conditions for each app.

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

How do you know how accessible your content is? Here is a 6-step process that will give you a decent sense of things, courtesy of the good folks at the MIT Assistive Technology Information Center:

  1. Turn off images in your browser (make sure image place holders are turned on)
  2. Turn off support for JavaScript
  3. Try to navigate without a mouse, using only your tab key
  4. Try to change the standard font colors and styles in your browser
  5. Try to increase the font size by using the browser (view > text size > increase)
  6. Turn off support for stylesheets

If you’ve done the above steps and your site still makes sense, then you are on the right path. If you’d like a more extensive checklist, complete with examples, the WebAIM initiaive has one.

Here’s a long list of accessibility evaluation tools. Note that if you are going to be checking multiple web pages, a toolbar plugin is the preferred method. A toolbar plugin will allow you to check password-protected pages and pages with dynamically generated content. Here’s a good website evaluation tool – note that there’s also the option to download a Firefox toolbar and a beta version of a Dreamweaver extension. As you evaluate your content, you may find it helpful to consider the standards for federal websites, which serve as a decent baseline for the rest of us.

What does success look like? Here are two websites that have won awards for their accessibility to people with disabilities: The Rose Project and Bay Area Rapid Transit.

Last, for those individuals wishing to dig deeper, here’s a nice look at current case law and higher education institutions – everything  from service dogs to computerized tests to diagnosing disabilities. The links on the left-hand side of the page also provides a great overview of the ADA as it applies to universities.

(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; the second post covered accessible design principles.)

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.)

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.)