Making the Web Accessible

This week we are studying accessibility. I had no idea how little I knew.

As I was looking through the resources, I realized that before the college can provide accessible online courses, colleges have to train the designers to make the information accessible in the first place! My background is publishing; I made thousands of pdfs for a MAJOR book publisher and not ONCE was I asked to make it accessible. I didn’t know anything about pdf accessibility! And I can tell you, I know A LOT about pdfs. And guess what? I watched the Adobe video on how to make an accessible pdf and it is easy to do! Not only that, but it is even easier to make the files accessible in the native authoring program, i.e. InDesign. I have put together entire textbooks with InDesign. And guess what? I didn’t know there were accessibility features. I’m saying all of this to make a point. Most things that show up in a web course has to be created elsewhere first. Accessibility is hidden in the files, where the average user doesn’t see them. But these hidden instructions mean something to screen readers.

I think that when someone is designing a poster, or a math book, the person isn’t thinking that one day that material may be on the web. Sometimes we must think of where our product might end before we even begin. Accessibility is one of those times.

I realize I am probably the only person in the class who uses InDesign rather than Word. So I went to the Microsoft website and found this video about how to make Word documents accessible.

Video: Find and fix accessibility issues in Word 2010

Excuse me while I change some of the colors in my web site….

Concept Mapping

A concept map is an information graphic which illustrates concepts and the relationship between the concepts in a hierarchial manner. The concepts are represented within containers and the relationship is expressed by lines connecting the concepts. The lines include a propostion or statement. The proposition is usually a verb.

I think the concept map is very much like an outline, except better, because a concept map makes allowances for cross-links and multiple connections between thoughts and ideas. Concept maps are also better for learning than mind mapping because mind mapping is not structured with different levels of specificity.

Concept maps are often used by teachers to assess the knowledge of the students, before and after the subject matter is taught. The maps are can by used by students not only to brainstorm ideas, but to organize thoughts in succinctly. An added plus is that once the concept map is developed, it is a wonderful tool to use as a study aid.

How to Make a Concept Map

Concept maps can of course be made with pencil and paper, no technology involved. However, one of the nice things about using a computer to produce a concept map is the ability to easily move and rearrange the concepts. Drawing programs like Adobe Illustrator and word processing programs like Microsoft Word can produce concept maps. However, an application developed specifically for creating concept maps might be a better choice as they are simple to learn and use.

Social Presence, Project 2

For the Teaching online courses, project 2, the class is divided into groups, each group is given a subject. The assignment is to create and moderate an online discussion. This week the online discussion was about Social Presence.

The Social Presence group asked three questions of the class, and each student could answer one of them. I chose the third one, which was two-fold. “How can an instructor increase his/her social presence” and, “How can an instructor increase student-to-student interaction outside of instructional activities.” My expanded answer follows.

It is important to note that the social presence of the professor is crucial. A “Regular and timely interaction of faculty with students is one of the key quality indicators of online courses.” Bottcher, J., & Conrad, R. (2010). This needs to be done on a regular basis, especially early on. The teacher/instructor/professor may establish an online presence by posting information about the course before it begins and telling students a little about themselves. (This is usually when the icebreaker begins.) An instructor also may post notes and announcements, have live sessions, or virtual meeting times.

In addition to using the learning management system (blackboard) the teacher can also use other social tools like Twitter. My husband teaches Visual Communications (higher ed) and he often reminds his students about projects by tweeting short messages. In the summer he tweets some of the things he is doing or articles/books he is reading. His students often respond to the tweets.

Although faculty can’t be online all the time, students need to know the professor is there by answering questions in a forum, or participating in a discussion thread. Encouragement, suggestions and ideas also help create social presence for faculty.

Bottcher, J., & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips.(75-80) San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.