Accessibility

Though I still don’t seem able to post in the forum for the Google Power Searching MOOC, I went ahead and spent time catching up on the lessons, completing the activities, and completing the mid-course assessment (so I no longer feel so much like a Bad Person).

The process caused me to reflect on something relevant to our Digifoot12 MOOC. It’s the topic of accessibility. All of the lessons on the Power Searching MOOC are available in  both video and text format, which is handy for a number of reasons, though it takes quite a bit of work to provide.

We’re creating lots of material and activities in the Digifoot12 MOOC. How much of this is accessible to students (or teachers) with disabilities? Which of the tools we’re using are compatible with, say, common screen reader software such as JAWS? How many of the images we’re posting contain alternative text for students who can’t see the image and must listen to a description instead? How many of the web pages we create contain features like skip navigation to aid students who can’t use a mouse, and how many of them are organized to be minimally confusing for students with, say, certain cognitive disabilities?

Mea culpa. I’m not even clear on which of the many tools we’re using are _potentially_ capable of providing these features, and I have certainly not made an effort to find out, or to use those features so far.

The truth is that I have really mixed feelings about this topic. On the one hand, I love new technologies and capabilities, and part of me wants to yell “If we can’t use it at all until _everybody_ can use it, we’ll never get anywhere” (sort of like saying that it’s not OK to have a mountaintop accessible only by a rugged climbing trail unless it can also be accessed by wheelchairs). Another part of me wants to point out that we’re not even trying most of the time, and that making sure these types of features are part of newly developed tools is in some sense like insisting that all new cars have seat belts. I don’t know the answer, but simply not talking about doesn’t work either.

Are we keeping track?

I just checked in on the class “badge tracker”. Two observations:
1. The list of students is still very short (37 people). Does this mean that most of the participants in this MOOC are simply not interested in this aspect of the course (earning a badge)? Or does it mean that the presence of the badge tracker page has rapidly sunk beneath the overall level of traffic in the course and they’ve simply not noticed it or forgotten about it?
2. Nobody has checked off Twitter week yet. I can’t tell if this means that everyone is using lots of time to complete the tasks, or if there is some confusion over the items that must be accomplished to put a check here (or if everybody has simply forgotten about checking off items here). Kim Gill provided a long and interesting lists of activities for this week; Verena’s list in the course newsletter is much shorter, unless the last item is meant to be a required sub-list containing all of Kim’s activities:
Register and login to twitterStart Following People
Tweet Something
Wunderlist Image: http://bit.ly/S1c2Ep

(I’m a little confused about what the “Wunderlist image” bit means. It’s Kim’s sizable list of Twitter activities.) Do we put a check by our name after we’ve accomplished Verena’s list or Kim’s list? I _think_ the correct answer is “Verena’s list”.
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No new Digifoot12 course newsletter in my email today, though I did go back and tweak Student 2.0 Email notification settings yesterday after my epiphany. Perhaps that’s because it’s a weekend; I’ll wait until the work days resume to decide on this one. Since there’s no new newsletter in the shared Google Doc either, I suspect Verena may be taking a well-deserved break.

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Verena suggested that I look in on a particular MOOC for Fall semester: http://virtualschoolmooc.wikispaces.com/howitworks . It’s about becoming familiar with research in K-12 online learning, and looks extremely interesting. I need to dig into it a bit more, but I’m likely to sign up for it. My students are K-12 teachers; I’ll probably also make them aware of that MOOC. Right now I’m trying to figure out how best to integrate participation in that MOOC into the course I teach for Fall. I suspect it will be an optional “challenge” assignment, though after I look into the badge structure a bit more it’s possible that I might contemplate the earning of a certain critical set of badges as a substitute for one of our usual class projects.

I continue to be interested in cross-overs — in this case, the intersection between MOOCS and courses bearing formal academic credit, and in the earlier case the intersection between “open range” Internet/social networking tools and course management systems.

Course newsletter problem solved (duh!)

Traveling, so perhaps less MOOC & blog activity for a bit.

Yesterday I blogged that “we” had ceased receiving the daily course newsletter a few days ago. I remain in awe of Verena’s ability and willingness to monitor so much of what goes on in this very dispersed MOOC; she picked up on that and replied (via blog comment), indicating that she had not ceased sending them, noting that if I was failing to get them some others probably were as well. She provided a link to a Google Doc (https://docs.google.com/document/d/1o7fI3E_H-SId48MNJSAtiSX1ph9yCxl8tadKDFr94ag/edit?pli=1) with the contents of all newsletters to date and talked about putting a link to that up on the course home wiki.

I woke up this morning and smacked the side of my head. The course newsletter emails are Student 2.0 email updates. A few days ago I turned all of those off after my intro to Netvibes, in an effort to better control the overwhelming flow of information from this course. Now, all I need to do is go back into the Student 2.0 email settings and figure out which one of those turns the course newsletter mailings back on without turning everything else back on. 

So much for assuming that my own personal experience merits the use of “we”!

Thought for course design: If I’m going to to use a course newsletter auto-distributed via email in this way, it might be worth noting to students during the “course intro” stage how to turn it on and off. I’m guessing that some participants might not even be aware that it’s there in this case, since they may have reflexively turned off all Student 2.0 email updates at the beginning based on prior experience with other email deluges. (I’m a big fan of giving my students checklists at the beginning of a course to be sure that they have taken care of various course access details, such as knowing how to turn off popup blockers in their browsers and being able to download and read PDF files.)

Recordings, Twitter, and Lessons in Online State of Mind

We’ve ceased receiving the daily course newsletter for Digifoot12 in email (the last one was four days ago). I wonder if Verena simply got overloaded, or if the responsibility switches to this week’s leader ( Kim Gill ), or if something else accounts for it? I checked my spam filter, and it’s not getting caught there. Perhaps Verena felt that things were underway and it simply wasn’t needed at this point.

Yesterday I was able to go back and listen to Tuesday night’s Blackboard Collaborate session with Kim Gill. It’s great to have the recordings available, though it took me a little while to get comfortable with the Collaborate recording interface (among other things, the chat window must be scrolled manually in recorded mode, unlike in live mode). The main problem with recording a lecture is that it saves no time; it took me just as long to listen to the session yesterday afternoon as it would have on Tuesday. On my iPod there are speed settings for podcasts (make them talk faster, or more slowly) — I wish I could do that with the Collaborate recording.

I had to miss last night’s Tweetchat, though once again I’ll go  back and review the content. I’m feeling comfortable in this area so am not too concerned. The activities for this week on learning about Twitter show good variety; Kim has obviously done this before and she’s provided good leads. I really like the way she has used Tagxedo (note to self– learn how to use Tagxedo) to illustrate quite a few of her materials. I’m especially intrigued by the assignment to explore various ways of looking at your own Twitter stats, since it provides a meta-level that I find very helpful in thinking about my own PLN. The only assignment I plan to avoid is the “follow at least 100 people” one… I _do_ follow people (26, I think, at last count) but I’m very choosy. I’m trying to keep the amount of new input I receive through Twitter to a manageable level — it’s only one part of my PLN.

I’m still unable to post in any of the forums for the Google Power Searching MOOC. It’s instructive for me to reflect on my reaction here… yesterday I blew another hour or so trying to troubleshoot the problem, and finally found a place in the forum where others had (somehow) managed to post that they were unable to post in the forums. Google had responded that there had been a glitch, apologized, and noted “it’s fixed now”. Even though it’s _not_ fixed now for me (I’ve tried again from multiple browsers on two different computers in different locations), that leads me to believe that the problem may not be with me.

So, how did I react to having this problem as part of my online experience? This whole glitch threw me totally off-stride in that MOOC. Even though (I think) it’s possible to successfully complete the whole class without once posting in a forum, I’m way behind in the course and instead of keeping up with the things I _can_ do (which are well presented and entirely manageable) I’ve obsessed over this one detail and blown every spare minute I’ve had thrashing away at the forum posting question. Three lessons for me, I think:

1. As a student, pay attention to time management. Don’t let small things eat my time and energy; prioritize thoughtfully and keep an eye on the schedule.

2. As a teacher, be on the lookout for students who may fall prey to this. Now that I think about it, I’ve seen this phenomenon in my own online classes and haven’t understood it. A student will have trouble viewing one brief online video, and will stall out and fail to complete an entire section due to the abstinence of that one tiny non-critical item. I now have a better understanding of what their emotional experience is likely to be.

3. As a course designer, build in fail-safes to double-check and confirm that my course infrastructure is working before I rely on it. In this case, that would have meant providing an alternative way to report initial problems with the forum that did not require an ability to post in the forum — and probably an initial activity that required forum posting just to confirm that each student could make it work before they had to use it for an assignment. Kind of like a microphone check before a concert.

[That last one, especially, is not an issue in Digifoot12. Lord knows we have _lots_ of communication channels!]

Student time management, and sources of help

One side effect of trying out my first MOOC and then doubling down for a second simultaneously is that I’m finding myself standing in my students’ shoes. Not only am I confronting the need to learn new knowledge and skills, but time management rears its head… I still haven’t made it back to review the live Digifoot12 session from Tuesday. That’s not to say that I’m not learning Digifoot12 content, since the various information channels continue to flow in (Email updates and the links I follow from those, and Twitter is now much more varied and active with the #Digifoot12 hashtag), but I’m aware of feeling really behind by virtue of not “knowing what we did” on Tuesday, yet.

New blogging point: I inadvertently created double notification yesterday with this blog. I responded to a comment (hooray for comments!) and when asked agreed that I would like to be notified via email about comments to this blog. This was redundant. I’m _already_ notified as the blog owner. (Duh.)

Verena’s blog post at http://minidigitalfootprint.wordpress.com/ for July 10 (Can I read everything?) is hugely helpful to me in understanding some of the structure (and design decisions) underlying the development of this MOOC. I notice she gives me a shout-out; much appreciated!

Being in the Google Power Searching MOOC at the same time as Digifoot12 is going to cause me to mix observations in this blog, because they run together in my mind. I don’t feel too badly about that, because (at least to me) the ideas are relevant to the larger PLN/MOOC context.

I’ve discovered that there _is_ a way to send feedback to the course creators (of the Google Power Searching MOOC) at  https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/powersearching-with-google-forum [and that others besides myself objected to some of the “right” answers in that early quiz] .However, this brings to light a new problem: I’m not familiar with Google Groups, and I’m having trouble figuring out how to do this, as well as how to post other material to share with my classmates in that MOOC.

Running over the bits in my mind: I’m signed up for Google’s “Power Searching with Google” MOOC. I’m receiving the course emails and participating in the course activities. I have a Google account and regularly use many Google products, so if I’m not registered for this Google Group I must at least be eligible.

However, I’m not familiar with Google Groups — and one of the activities asks that I post information to the class forum. I can follow the link to the forum. I can read other people’s posts from the class. I can’t for the life of me figure out how to post, though – as near as I can tell, I’m not a member of this particular group. I would swear that I have clicked on everything and pulled down every menu available to me.

OK — I’m trying to heed the advice in the forum home page that says “Make sure to join the group in order to post questions or reply to other posts.”. Sounds good to me. How do I join? I can’t find a “join” link anywhere. When I read up on Google Groups and try to find this group through searching Google Groups (in an effort to use the “join” link there), no such group is found in the search.

I’d ask for help in the class forum — but then, I’d have to be a member of the group in order to post there, wouldn’t I?

Aaaaaargh.

What’s useful about this? It reaffirms that absolute need to be sure that help with the course infrastructure is available in the early stages of a course. In the case of my teaching, I use exhaustive “handouts” on how to use the system coupled with the ability to email or telephone a live human. I’m not sure that a large MOOC could really manage the live human part…. but in this case, they could certainly do with some “how to check to be sure you’re a member of _this_ group” and “how to join _this_ group” handouts or web pages, since the generic “how to join Google groups” info is proving inadequate in this case. I do realize the answer is probably right under my nose — but I’m not dumb, and I’m obviously missing it. I feel for my students on this one.

[One of my colleagues was recently having trouble with her home Internet connection. Whenever she was finally able to reach tech support on the phone, they persisted in telling her to go to the company web page to begin the troubleshooting process –whereupon she kept having to point out to them that if she could get on the web in the first place there would be no need for her to contact them for help, since the problem was the absence of a working net connection.  This issue with not being able to post on the class forum to ask for help feels a lot like that.]

Final disclaimer: My frustration in this case is not with Digifoot 12. It’s with the Google Power Searching MOOC. But I believe the point is absolutely generalizable.

The fog begins to clear

Email traffic is back up, so I think yesterday’s slow-down was just a temporary aberration. However, I now feel OK about turning off the Student 2.0 email — another member of the class posted on this blog about using Netvibes to organize the class content. I went to take a look at http://www.netvibes.com/datruss#Digifoot12 , and it was a super example of pulling together much of what I’ve been struggling to organize. New goal for self: learn to use Netvibes. This may also be  yet another tip in my ongoing search for how to scale up to a MOOC; something like Netvibes might be a core tool for students as one moves up out of LMS territory. Hmmm…. I wonder if I could embed a Netvibes window in an LMS (I already embed Twitter and RSS feeds in my LMS class). Must find out. [Anyone curious about the embedding bit — see “Infiltrating the Walled Garden” at http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/Journal/files/Walled_Garden.html . )

Obviously, I’m starting to get a bit of traffic on this blog, so I suspect other class members are beginning to navigate the flood of information. I deeply appreciate the comments. Blogs don’t work so well as monologues.

I was unable to attend last night’s live session due to conflicting commitments. That’s the trouble with synchronous activities in an online class, and the reason I seldom include them in my own classes. Made more problematic here by the changing days of the week (first Thursday, then Tuesday). I wonder if the clock time changes later on? In any case, I’m already comfortable with Twitter — this week’s topic — so will scan the recording later and move on.

I’m participating in another MOOC (Google’s Power Searching MOOC, noted elsewhere) and it began yesterday. Wow, is it ever a different approach to MOOC design from this class! Much more centralized and impersonal, which might be necessary for the scale involved (I’m not certain?). What I like: highly organized (can you tell my biases? My OCD is showing.) What I dislike: it’s all one-way flow of information. I already had a quarrel with the answers on one of the self-check quizzes, and so far I’ve found no venue for feeding this back to the course instructors/designers. I also really miss the cross-fertilization among students that we’re seeing here, though in all fairness there _are_ venues built in for cross-fertilization regarding the different searches we’re doing… just not about the course design itself so far as I can tell. In any case, I’m learning a lot from that one as well, and getting some fine resource material for my own class in the process.

Settling down a bit

I’ve received no further comments on this blog after Verena’s initial one. My listing in the Digifoot12 daily newsletter hasn’t generated traffic on this blog, which may be a good thing, though I do like the idea of discussing the pedagogical aspects of MOOCs here.

 I’ve not pulled the plug yet on Student 2.0 email updates, but there has been quite a bit less traffic in the last 24 hours. If this were the typical pace I could keep up, but I’m not sure of the significance of the reduced traffic. I suspect it may pick up again after tonight’s live session in Blackboard Collaborate.

Verena included a link in the daily newsletter for configuring the Student 2.0 email updates. Perhaps I’m not the only one experiencing email update overload — but I didn’t see a “digest” or “RSS feed” option in there, which would be _really_ helpful.

 The daily class newsletter included a survey being taken with Google Docs regarding our Twitter experience. Two thoughts:

1. I didn’t know Google Docs could be used in this way. I like this; must learn how to do it.

2. I’m wishing for some response options in between ” I am fairly active on twitter. I tweet occasionally.” and “I am a Twitter guru. I’ve been an active RTer, sharer of links and posts. I might even have more than one account!” . I use Twitter regularly to share content but don’t view myself as a guru.

learninglrnr has posted a link in the class Digital Artifacts area on MightyBell (https://mightybell.com/spaces/90275d45823cbf27) . “Beginning Detective Work: Case Digital Footprint:I am using Evernote to begin compiling some preliminary Digital Footprint evidence. I set the notebook to public so hopefully you should be able to access it. CSI:#DigiFoot12”

 Hmm. I like the idea, but when I follow “visit link” it takes me to Evernote — where I can log in to my own account but don’t see this notebook. I’ve never made an Evernote notebook public, nor used a public Evernote notebook. Advice, anyone? This is another situation where I don’t know how to tell if the problem lies elsewhere or with my lack of knowledge or skill.