Technology Access

Everyday brings new challenges. Today I was invited to participate on a panel that was to address A.D.A. Issues and Requirements in distance education. The issue was web accessibility and our responsibilities as educators. The panel was to react to a PBS sponsored video focusing mostly on Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. I was aware of the requirements. I write about the requirements. I know that much of my online content is not in compliance with these requirements for equitable accessibility.

The various positions presented did cause me to think about some of the issues. It seems to me that:
a) growing enthusiasm for online multimedia and interactivity increase the difficulties of meeting 508 guidelines. When delivering text information was the norm, meeting present guidelines would have been fairly easy. Now, I feel some obligation to increase interactivity through form-based experiences, offer video, etc. In some cases, I am not certain how I would make the resources I offer compliant (e.g., certain things I do with javascript and form processing). In other cases, I kind of know what I should do, but find the time to implement far more than I can offer (e.g., text captioning of video).
b) I think Internet visibility is forcing compliance considerations when older delivery systems did not receive the same attention. A colleague at the meeting was involved in developing online graduate training for practicing engineers. The goal was to deliver remotely what campus-based graduate students were experiencing in the classroom. The concern was how to caption video materials. Out of curiosity, I asked how they had served remote students before. The reply was that they had taped classes and sent videotapes to off-campus students. The lack of captioning for the tapes had not been considered an issue.

If you are interested in the issues and possible solutions you might consider the following resources:

WebAim
WebAim 508 Checklist

By the way, those who argue for designing for accessibility do have a great deal to offer all web developers. I have been attempting to learn how to use the Quicktime text track to trigger web page presentations. One of the best tutorials I have located was provided by Aim because the technique can be used to coordinate video with the presentation of text.

Out of curiosity, I wondered if this blog was compliant. I ran it through Bobby – an online resource that will evaluate any URL you care to submit. I was told that this blog was not compliant because I had failed to “Provide alternative text for all images.” I actually knew this was the case, but I just wanted to make sure. I happen to know how to include an alt text label if I were to enter the HTML to present an image by hand. However, I use the automatic link tool provided by Blogger and this tool does not include a way to add “alt text.”

I also find that the techniques I attempt to teach educators produce resources that are not compliant. For example, I encourage educators who want to experiment with web pages to use Microsoft Word to create a a word processor document and then save the document as HTML. This approach is easy to implement and meets the needs of many educators. If the educators decide to include an image, the image is not accompanied by an “alt text label” when converted to HTML.
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nProviding alternative text labels for images is probably not even one of the most important issues that must be addressed, but it does make a good example.

So – this issue troubles me. I wish I could say that I see simple solutions.

Does a technology course need a book?

Cindy and I end up working together on many committees. People seem to think we should agree on most things and seem a little surprised when we get into “discussions.” When Cindy is in “discussion mode” she talks louder. I tend to take a more logical approach, but friends claim I wave my arms about more than usual.

One of the issues we discuss is the need for a book in the “Technology for Teachers” course. Since I am more of the writer in our partnership, my position is predictable. Cindy feels projects and the web are a sufficient combination. I argue for students experiencing multiple perspectives (the instructor’s and the author’s) and for the structure that a book provides.

We do agree that a book is not sufficient to convey what students need to know about technology, but could probably agree on some type of hybrid of web resources and a book.

An issue that does bother me about using a book to teach about technology is the speed with which the field moves relative to the time it takes to prepare, distribute and cycle through an edition of a book. I happen to be preparing a page for the web site summarizing some of the recent books/studies evaluating the connection between technology and educational reform (e.g., Cuban). The last book I comment on is Schofield and Davidson’s Bringing the Internet to School. This is a 2002 copyright and has been very positively reviewed. I agree that it is very well written and does provide some great insights into how the social context of schools influence how things do or do not change.

One of the major considerations in the book is the possibility that technology will encourage educational reform. The book studies a large school district as it reacts to a large grant making available resources for Internet activities. When I noticed that the study ran from 1993 to 1998, I began to consider some of the conclusions more carefully. Opportunities that are now fairly commonplace — high speed access in classrooms, carts of computers with wireless access that can be wheeled into individual classrooms, quality search engines, firewalls and content screening, student to computer ratio — would possibly result in very different experiences than those described by the authors. Some of the most basic findings in this 2002 publication may no longer be relevant in many districts. How would a student reading this book differentiate the conclusions that have some permanence from those that were resource related and are no longer valid? Talk about critical thinking and information literacy.

My point – any book addressing technology needs a linked and frequently updated web site.

Sound for Multimedia

Students like to use music with their multimedia projects. We all use music as a means of expression and it seems reasonable to use music to add to the message of our projects. It is very easy to get carried away and forget that music is protected by copyright. You can use short segments of music in off-line projects, but really nothing is allowed for material you might put online.

If you happen to have a .Mac account, there is a nice solution. Apple makes a large number of “free play” MP3s available. I would call this “mood music.” Not mood music as in elevator music, but music generated to reflect different feelings or situations. The music is provided in different lengths – 15 seconds, 60 seconds, etc. Segments like this are perfect for backing iMovie clips.

.Mac accounts have been controversial. Apple had an initial online service available for free, but then added features and expected participants to pay $100 per year (actually you were probably able to get the first year for $50 if you got in immediately). I won’t defend the pricing, but some fee or some fee for the “nice features” is warranted.

Anyway, to find the music, open the software folder, then the extras folders, and you should find a folder labelled “freeplay music.” The music segments are named to reflect the intended mood. In world music, I found “Ayer’s Rock” complete with digeredoo (Uluru as the preference in Australia). Drag what you want to try to your hard drive. To add to an iMovie, all you need to do is “Import” at the play head and the music will be added to its own track.

There are similar approaches. We like a product called SmartSound. You get theme music with SmartSound, but you also have the ability to isolate and rearrange segments from each theme to kind of create your own music.

Kelly School Visit

I wonder if experiencing flash backs is a natural part of the aging process. I have noticed recently that some everyday events will cause my mind to drift back to earlier experiences. Our youngest daughter left for college this fall. As a high school student, she was a gifted two sport athlete. Over the years, Cindy and I spent hundreds of hours driving to her games. People warned us that we would miss this life style when she left. I can’t say that they were right. Cindy and I are very busy people and new experiences seemed to surface immediately to replace the old. I don’t think about high school athletics much any more.

There is one exception. Every time I am on the road now, I remember. There is something about driving on the vacant interstate highways of North Dakota that must free your mind. The images come drifting back … the 3 point jump shots at the buzzer, the trip to the hospital to check out a possible concussion, the game for the trip to the state tournament …

I had the same kind of flash back today while walking through the halls of J. Nelson Kelly elementary school. I was present to observe Darci Santangelo’s class for our PT3 grant. Cindy began her work in Grand Forks as a reading specialist in this school. I used to do research in Darci’s room. This was back in the days when I was programming and evaluating reading games for the Apple 2e.

Kelly elementary has a nice computer lab, but Darci also has several computers in her room. It is vintage equipment — looks like Mac LC2s to me. The students walked in before the school day began, turned the machines on, and started working on one activity or another. It is really nice to see that students demonstrate the kind of interest in learning with technology that those folks who write the books claim they do. 😉

AERA Action Alert

I recently completed updating the references for our book and I found that several web references were no longer available. This is hardly a unique experience when working with web resources. Several of the missing references were resources maintained by the government. Today Cindy showed me a document that was being circulated by AERA (American Educational Research Association) requesting North Dakota members of AERA contact our state senators and congressman to protest the deletion of government hosted educational web resources that may not “reflect the priorities, philosophies, or goals of the present administation.” A general “action alert” from AERA is available online. I looked up the government references I had difficulty with to see if they were still on government sites. They were. I guess it would not bother me that sites linked from whitehouse.gov in one administration not be linked from the whitehouse site in another administration. I would be bothered if such documents were no longer available from government servers.

A technology course for teachers?

When preparing future teachers, when does a specific content area deserve it’s own course?

I think about this some because Cindy and I write “Integrating Technology for Meaningful Learning” – a book intended to help future or practicing teachers use technology in classrooms. We make some assumptions about how the book will be used. Because of the broad approach of the book, the length, and the cost, we assume that using technology in teaching will be the focus or at least a major focus of a course. More and more I am running into programs that feel they can integrate topics on using technology into existing courses and do not need a stand alone course. I am bothered by this and I attempt to sort out what might be a bias related to self interest from what I feel about teacher preparation.

I am for a stand-alone course AND experiences integrated into other courses and apprenticeship experiences. I do not feel teachers are typically adequately prepared based on distributed embedded experiences, but I may have different ideas about what adequately prepared means. I also think my gut feeling about this does not come from my experience with preparing teachers to use technology, but rather from my experiences teaching educational psychology. Many institutions have also dropped required courses in educational psychology. I am mostly concerned about something that might be described as depth of understanding. Depth comes from both the amount of information covered (think of this as options) and the time allowed for reflection. Without options and reflection, future teachers are left with “classroom recipes.” What happens when the classroom situation is not what you anticipated or when the world changes (e.g., a different computer, new software, colleagues who assume things should be done differently)?

We have a core “methods” course in my department (Psychology) called research methods. In this course, students learn the research process and learn to write in the formal way that researchers write. This course does not stand alone, but extends other academic experiences. The formal writing style we attempt to develop builds on more general writing skills students are expected to acquire in composition courses taught in the English department. Psychologists have their own writing style, but we see what we teach as an extension of fundamental skills. We don’t assume responsibility for providing the breadth of experiences students require to be effective writers. The research tasks we provide as “authentic experiences” require the analysis of data by statistical procedures. We review some of the basics of the statistical tests that are appropriate to the specific experiments students happen to experience in a given semester, but we assume that statistical skills have already been developed in a statistics class which in turn requires a backgound in mathematics based on courses taught in the mathematics department. There is not time to thoroughly develop general statistical concepts, to provide research experiences that would require the application of all statistical procedures students should be familiar with, or to teach basic algebra. We do provide students opportunities to apply some of the knowledge and skills that has been developed in other courses.

I am comfortable requiring students to take English Comp, College Algebra and Statistics before they take Research Methods. Is there some different type of relationship between the topics of Educational Psychology or a basic “technology for teachers” course and the skills future teachers develop in methods courses?

These are important issues and probably have a lot to do with priorities. I would certain welcome the opportunity to consider other perspectives.

Syllabus Article

This blog is not intended to spend a great deal of time on the educational potential of blogs. Hopefully, that potential will become apparent as you explore this and other blogs. However, just to speed up the process, I will link to a few helpful articles on how to set up and operate a blog and what you might do once you know the basics of operation. A recent Syllabus article (October, 2002) provides a nice overview, ideas for classroom use, and links.