by Michelle Schira Hagerman
In 2009-2010, more than 1.8 million students in public K-12 schools took at least one online course (Queen & Lewis, 2011). That year, 200,000 others enrolled in full-time online schools (Watson, Murin, Vashaw, Gemin & Rapp, 2011), and recent estimates suggest these numbers have continued to rise (iNACOL, 2012). As more states fund virtual schools and, like Michigan, Florida and Alabama, make online learning a graduation requirement (Watson et al., 2011) it is clear that as a community of literacy educators, we must think deeply about the design of online learning experiences for all learners.
The most recent Keeping Pace report (Watson et al., 2011) shows that 97,700 U.S. students who were identified as English Language Learners, eligible for free/reduced lunch, and/or needing special education services took online courses in 2011 (p. 36). Although online learning holds potential to support these children, the report cites enduring concerns about accessibility. “As virtual schooling matures,” the authors caution, “we all have a responsibility to make sure nobody gets left out” (p. 36).
As a community of literacy educators who integrate technologies in our regular classrooms, and as teachers who create both online and hybrid learning experiences, the essential question, of course, is how do we do this? How do we create online learning spaces that support all learners?
The principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) should anchor our approach. Last year, Peggy Coyne began a conversation at TILE-SIG around the potential of UDL as a design heuristic for our technology-supported literacy classrooms. As more of us create online lessons, units and courses, I think it’s important to consider what UDL in the online classroom might look like.
For two years, I have co-taught an online course called CEP 820: Teaching Students Online in the Master’s of Educational Technology program at Michigan State University. It is an online course about online course design for teachers – something of a play within a play – and as students create online course modules during the 16 weeks of the semester, they iteratively revise to integrate UDL principles.
When designing for multiple means of representation, one of three core UDL principles, many of our students integrate screencasts. Using tools such as Screencast-o-Matic, Jing, Camtasia, Screenchomp, and Educreations, they create short video clips for a range of purposes. Many students create an introductory “tour” of their online module that highlights navigational architecture, and essential course resources. On content pages, students often embed illustrations of mathematical problem solving or scaffold literary analysis with short, annotated think-alouds. Importantly, we encourage students to provide a printed transcript of these videos so that the information is accessible via multiple means.
We also emphasize the importance of creating a cognitively supportive learning environment for all students. Designs that are simple, logically organized, consistent in their use of labels and headings, predictable, and linguistically appropriate for their intended audience to allow more people to construct meaning from the online learning spaces we create (e.g., Nielsen, 1999; W3C, 2012). As literacy educators, these ideas align with our understanding of “considerate texts” (e.g., Armbruster, 1984) – words, structures, and ideas must fit together to scaffold understanding so that all readers have access.
Although I’ve only focused on screencasts, scripts, and cognitively “considerate” spaces, CAST.org and UDLCenter.org offer many more ideas and resources for teacher-designers. With our unique understanding of literacies, technologies, and their interactions, and with a focus on the principles of UDL, I am confident that the TILE-SIG community is uniquely positioned to lead in the design of inclusive, accessible online learning for all K-12 students.
For examples of online courses that integrate UDL principles, check out http://www.msuedtechsandbox.com/CEP820/.
See this YouTube video for an example of a screencast:
Armbruster, B. B. (1984). The problem of "inconsiderate text". In G. G. Duffy, L.R. Roehler, J. Mason (Eds.) Comprehension instruction: Perspectives and suggestions (pp. 202-217). New York: Longman.
iNACOL, (2012) Fast facts about online learning. Retrieved from http://www.inacol.org/press/docs/nacol_fast_facts.pdf
Nielsen, J. (1999). Designing web usability: The practice of simplicity. San Francisco, CA: New Riders Publishing.
Queen, B., and Lewis, L. (2011). Distance Education Courses for Public Elementary and Secondary School Students: 2009–10 (NCES 2012-008). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2012008
Watson, J., Murin, A., Vashaw, L., Gemin, B. & Rapp, C. (2011) Keeping pace with K-12 online learning: An annual review of policy and practice. Evergreen Education Group. Retrieved from http://kpk12.com/cms/wp-content/uploads/KeepingPace2011.pdf
W3C (2012). W3C web accessibility initiative: Designing for inclusion. Retrieved from http://www.w3.org/WAI/users/Overview.html
Michelle Schira Hagerman is a doctoral student in Educational Psychology and Educational Technology at Michigan State University.
This article is part of a series from the International Reading Association Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).