Final Project: Universally Designed Writing Center Practices

All students come to sessions with a variety of differences, and so what tutors do with a student with a disability should be no different from what they do with any other student.”—Kiedaisch & Dinitz, 2007, 50

In many ways, the space of the writing center is already universally designed. Writing centers have historically been known for engaging with alternative pedagogies; supporting students with different and multiple ways of learning and composing; and valuing students as valuable creators of knowledge. If the resources (e.g. funding) is available, writing centers also tend to be spaces that encourage flexible practices with multiple rooms, different furniture arrangements, and mobile furniture. Despite these great advancements in both practices and spaces, we often default to tutoring practices that are framed for students with particular abilities.

The above video is an example of a standard writing center session (Enter the center, sit down, read aloud, discuss). Who does this standard privilege? Who may be excluded from this space or these practices?

The standards for writing centers are F2F (face-to-face) interactions and the read-aloud model. That is, a student enters a writing center with a written text, meets one-on-one with a tutor, and reads their text aloud—stopping every once in a while to comment on particular points in the paper. These two standards assume a number of things about the bodies that enter a writing center. First, the F2F standard assumes that the best environment for students is in physical, face-to-face environments. Some students may have trouble physically getting to a writing center, and—like the students with Asperger Syndrome (AS) that I discussed in Project 1—some students may be uncomfortable with such close, intimate settings. Second, the read-aloud model privileges able-bodied students who hear, speak, can focus for 30- to 60-minute periods of time, and learn best through listening. Students who do not respond to these practices, then, are treated differently. With increasing numbers of students with documented (and undocumented) disabilities, we must recognize inaccessible tutoring practices and universally design new standards that are accessible to wider student populations.

How Can Universal Design Help?

In order to truly support students’ different bodily experiences and embodied writing practices, writing centers must be pedagogically accessible. Enter Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

UDL offers a way to apply the equitable and flexible spatial principles of Universal Design to writing pedagogies. According to CAST, UDL pushes against a “single, one-size-fits-all solution,” advocating instead for approaches that are flexible, multiple, and adjustable. The principles of UDL—multiple means of representation, multiple means of actions and expression, and multiple means of engagement—can help expand our perceptions of students’ learning and composing practices. These principles can also positively affect tutoring practices.

Tutoring Practices Get a UD Makeover

A major step in universally designing tutoring practices is moving away from the standard read-aloud model, which values print texts. Jody Shipka argues for a broader understanding of texts, expanding the definition to include print and digital texts, embodied performances, photographs, videos, physical objects, and repurposed or remediated objects (p. 300). This definition speaks to the multiplicity of UDL and allows for a richer understanding of pedagogical accessibility: if students want to compose essays, collages, videos, or webtexts, these all fit within multimodal pedagogies. Similarly, if students with disabilities are limited to particular modalities—e.g., a blind student who relies on auditory or sensory modes to write or a deaf student who relies more heavily on visual modes—universally designed practices can more easily adapt to these needs, incorporating rather than accommodating or retrofitting them.

Concept Map of a Writing Center Session: Suggestions for how to Universally Design Practices

Concept Map of a Writing Center Session. Suggestions for how to Universally Design Practices: “What are you working on?” vs. “What are you struggling with?”

Expanding our sense of texts allows for a more realistic representation of what students are working on when they come into a writing center. In the graphic above, I included one of the main questions tutors ask students: “What are you working on?” Most often, a student is working on a paper, which requires working at either a table or a computer. Reading aloud a paper is certainly an option, but outlining main ideas or just having a discussion about struggles and strengths can be just as useful. Sometimes, students need help with non-traditional texts, such as presentations, videos, or oral presentations, and the standard read-aloud does not work as well. For these particular projects, reading aloud doesn’t suffice.

Often, talking through a text could be more beneficial than reading it word for word. McKinney (2009) encourages talking—rather than reading—as a way to interact more holistically with all features of a multimodal text (p. 39). This practice is useful for texts that consist of more than just alphabetic text, but it could also benefit students with disabilities. For example, reading a paper aloud for errors may not be as effective when working with deaf students, students with ADHD, or students with pragmatic language impairment (PLI). Students with PLI may struggle with reading and expressing themselves, which can affect listening comprehension (Babcock, 2011 p. 7). By talking about a text, students have more opportunities to engage with the text in ways that reflect overall comprehension and understanding of their particular rhetorical choices.

This is a small but useful adaptation of the read-aloud model. Another way to begin universally designing tutoring practices is to add another question to the initial meeting between tutor and student: “What are you struggling with?” This is often a question that is asked, but it is generally for the tutor to consider while reading the paper. A more universally designed practice encourages tutors to ask students about their writing struggles in order to co-construct the student as a leader in the discussion. It also opens up opportunities for students to decide how they might address that struggle, helping to “provide options for recruiting interest” by optimizing “individual choice and autonomy” (CAST 2011). By determining what students are struggling with—starting the project, focusing, connecting ideas, grammar/spelling, seeing the “big picture,” etc.—both tutors and students can work together to better meet the students’ needs. I call this process developing a “multimodal toolkit.”

Developing a multimodal toolkit involves developing rhetorical strategies that push against fixed communicative interactions and present more opportunities for students. The idea is not to max out all sensory options but to provide flexibility. Konstant (1992) suggests being flexible and using multiple channels: “Try ways of reaching the student through more than one channel at a time. Use combinations of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic techniques—the multisensory approach. Say it and draw it; read text aloud; use color to illustrate things” (p. 7). Konstant (1992) takes an early cue from UDL when she argues that everyone has learning practices that work best for them (p. 6). Similarly, Dunn & Dunn De Mers promote using a “variety of visual, aural, spatial, and kinesthetic approaches to tap into the intellectual chaos that goes into writing.” This means pushing against singular notions of how to interact with both students and texts, and it requires a negotiation between tutor and student. In her work with deaf students, Babcock (2008) suggests explicit dialogue: “Most of all, try to find out what the deaf person needs and wants out of the session, and gear your tutoring toward that” (p. 35). Although most students have more nuanced understandings of their composing processes than we often realize, some students may need a bit more help. If students are unaware of what they want or need, knowing some multimodal practices can be useful.

Both multimodality and UDL ask us to acknowledge that all students have multiple ways of learning and knowing and to be flexible to those different needs. Dunn & Dunn De Mers (2002) suggest flexible practices such as multimodal reading logs, discussions, talking through a draft, and sketching-to-learn. The second graphic is meant to represent some of those multimodal options. For example, if a student is having trouble getting started with their project, the tutor can suggest looking at models of similar projects (e.g. assignment sheets and sample structures of similar genres), organizing the notes the student has on the topic, reading more sources, or writing a letter to a friend explaining the project’s importance. All of these provide ways different from simply reading aloud that can help generate ideas. Similarly, if a student is having difficulty focusing, the tutor can suggest writing in a new mode, setting small deadlines, working on two main goals within the tutoring session and outlining goals that the student can work on later, and getting up and moving around to get re-focused. All of these point to the guidelines outlined by CAST for multiple means of action and expression, providing learners with options for how they navigate particular learning environments.

Universally Designed Writing Center Practices for Students with AS

In project 1, I focused on accessible practices for students with AS because of the highly social and intimate nature of FYC, combined with an increasing number of students with Asperger Syndrome (AS) in postsecondary settings. Like first-year composition (FYC), writing centers are expected to serve diverse student populations, and because of their focus on individualized instruction, they can also be highly social and intimate environments. It is useful to revisit some of the challenges and strengths that students with AS may share in order to gain a better sense of how more universally designed tutoring practices can meet their needs.

Common Challenges that Students with AS Face and UD Tutoring Practices that Address Them

Common Challenges that Students with AS Face: How UD Tutoring Practices Can Begin to Address Them

As seen in the second graphic, students with AS are often challenged by nonverbal communications and following social conventions, which makes peer interactions difficult. Though not something I’ve discussed much with practices, space is a major issue of UD that can affect practices. If there are multiple rooms in a writing center, a tutor can suggest meeting in a quieter section. At the Syracuse University Writing Center (SUWC), there is a small room of cubicles at the center’s entrance that can be used for quieter sessions, which could benefit students with AS, students with ADHD who need help focusing, or any student who may prefer to be in less populated areas. Students also have the option to work in a large open room where there are multiple tables, chairs, and computer stations arranged for tutoring (the videos above show a visual representation of this space). Adreon & Durocher (2007) also list “academic content, organization, time management, and study skills” (p. 274) as issues that students with AS often struggle with. Some UD practices that may support these challenges are providing clearly outlined instructions, setting mini-deadlines within sessions, practicing different writing strategies, and using different modalities to talk about the text.

Also important to mention is the possibility of creating Online Writing Labs (OWLs) or Electronic Writing Centers (EWCs). Though this is not possible for all writing centers, creating online spaces where students can interact with tutors can be beneficial—not only for students with AS who may feel uncomfortable meeting F2F in one-to-one sessions, but for a number of students who may be unable to physically access the center or may just be more comfortable interacting online. The SUWC, for example, offers an EWC where students meet with a tutor through iChat or AIM to discuss a paper. The most important thing to remember with such a solution is its flexibility: students have the option to choose what they are most comfortable with.

Conclusion

As we continue to see advances in technologies, changes in educational practices, and increases in disability diagnoses, writing center practices must be more accessible to students of all abilities. Universally designing tutoring practices can make writing centers more accessible to the diverse student populations that they seek to serve. Providing students with the resources to communicate within different modes, to practice and learn new literacies, and to harness their rhetorical abilities should be the goal of all writing centers. When we adopt universally designed pedagogies that support these resources, we acknowledge two things. First, all students have different abilities and knowledges. Second, all students can benefit from engaging with texts in different ways—visually, aurally, and kinesthetically—and in different contexts. Applying the flexible principles of UDL can make writing centers more pedagogically accessible, allowing us to better prepare students to become effective twenty-first-century communicators.

And as Kiedaisch & Dinitz (2007) remind us, employing UD allows writing centers to model multiple, flexible, and pluralistic approaches to learning:

[W]e acquire a new avenue for rethinking and redesigning our writing centers so that they become places where considerations of identity are woven into the fabric of every session, places open to being changed by their constant and varied encounters with diversity, places that are not only examples of but also agents for instituting a pluralistic approach to education. (p. 57)

References

Adreon, D., & Durocher, J. S. (2007). Evaluating the college transition needs of individuals with high-functioning Autism Spectrum Disorders. Intervention in School and Clinic, 42(5), 271-279.

Autism Society. Asperger’s Syndrome. Retrieved from http://www.autism-society.org/about-autism/aspergers-syndrome/

Babcock, R. D. (2011). When something is not quite right: Pragmatic Impairment and compensation in the college writing tutorial. The Writing Lab Newsletter 35(5-6), 6-10.

—. (2008). Tutoring deaf students in the writing center. In C. Lewiecki-Wilson and B. J. Brueggemann (Eds.), Disability and the teaching of writing: A critical sourcebook (28-39). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.

CAST. (2011). The National Center of Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/

Dunn, P. A., & Dunn De Mers, K. (2002). Reversing notions of disability and accommodation: Embracing Universal Design in writing pedagogy and web space. Kairos (7)1. Retrieved from http://kairos.technorhetoric.net/7.1/binder2.html?coverweb/dunn_demers/index.html

Kiedaisch, J., & Dinitz, S. (2007). Changing notions of difference in the writing center: The possibilities of Universal Design. The Writing Center Journal 27(2), 39-59.

Konstant, S. B. (1992). Multi-sensory tutoring for multi-sensory learners. The Writing Lab Newsletter 16(9-10), 6-8.

McKinney, J. G. (2009). New media matters: Tutoring in the late age of print.” The Writing Center Journal 29(2), 28-51.

Shipka, J. (2005). A multimodal task-based framework for composing. College Composition and Communication 57(2), 277-306.

Accessibility in the Classroom

Access should not be viewed as a constraint on architectural design but should be conceived of as a ‘major perceptual orientation to humanity’ (Davies & Lifchez, 1987, 49).

The above quotation comes from Rob Imrie’s article, “Oppression, Disability and Access in the Built Environment,” and it frames this week’s readings on physical barriers. Goldstein, Imrie, Strange, and Wilson and Lewiecki-Wilson all address physical barriers that range from inaccessible campuses and classrooms to disablist environments to limiting perceptions of disability itself. By positioning access as an orientation to humanity rather than a retrofit—a component that is added to an already-built space—the authors articulate a number of ways to make classroom (and other social) spaces more universally designed and accessible for students.

Crippen accessibility cartoon, "Polling": Staircase retrofitted with two planks of wood to create an "accessible ramp."

"Polling" (via crippencartoons.co.uk): A building retrofits a staircase with an "accessible ramp," while the man talking symbolizes a disables attitude toward accommodation.

Elisabeth Goldstein argues for the importance of implementing UD in higher education because of the diverse group of people that access campuses: “a widely diverse group of people (students, faculty, administration, alumni, visitors), with varying ages and physical and sensory abilities, makes up the campus community” (199). Goldstein considers a number of places that would benefit from UD, including building entrances, classrooms, furnishings, and sound and lighting. I am particularly drawn to her discussion of building entrances. She describes a building entrance as “the first impression one has of the site and orients the visitor the spaces within the rest of the facility” (200). If a building entrance is inaccessible to particular bodies, then, those bodies are marked as disabled—as unable to use these naturalized features in the ways they were intended (which, I think most of us agree, were ill-intended). Even if a classroom inside an inaccessible building is inclusive and welcoming, the message received from the building itself—Some bodies were not intended to use this building—can impact how a student engages within the classroom.

Rob Imrie argues that this received message, the idea that some bodies simply are not considered, is indicative of a larger “able-bodied” society (129). Imrie writes, “This has led some commentators to regard the built environment as disablist, that is, projecting ‘able-bodied’ values which legitimize oppressive and discriminatory practices against disabled people purely on the basis that they have physical and/or mental impairments” (129). Inaccessible buildings and classrooms reinforce this disablist environment. When Imrie discussed the able-bodied workforce, I immediately thought of how that translates to the college campus environment. Many campuses still create barriers for students with disabilities because college campuses were originally designed for able-bodied students.

This is where Universal Design can begin to play a role in creating built spaces that are more flexible and more accessible. However, UD cannot necessarily change the disablist attitudes Imrie discusses. UD cannot only influence physical environments: it must also affect attitudes. If a space is redesigned to be more accessible, this change inevitably has to reflect some changes in attitude and thinking, as well, because if a space is redesigned without critical understanding and respect of persons with disabilities, I’m not sure it could successfully be universally designed.

Carney Strange acknowledges the importance of understanding, arguing that instructors need to understand not only students with disabilities but also the larger social and physical conditions of the larger environments they inhabit (20). This is not a passive understanding, though. Strange argues that, through understanding, we can begin to create environments that are safe and inclusive, promote involvement, and offer full membership in the “community of learning” (23). Necessarily, this shifts away from acknowledging the inaccessibility of physical environments, moving toward a broader understanding of the inaccessibility of spaces and policies and practices. Spatial inaccessibility, then, becomes tied up in larger social structures.

Though Strange briefly mentions policy and practice, James Wilson and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson take them up in more detail. They describe disability law as a marker: “[T]he law writes on particular disabled bodies, no two of whom have the same needs, a generalized grid or map labeled ‘disabled student’” (298). Wilson and Lewiecki-Wilson argue that this is a homogenizing attitude, that instructors must do more than what disability and accommodation laws can provide. For them, this seems to come down to flexible pedagogical practices that require instructors to be comfortable discussing difference, to understand the many differences between students with disabilities, and to “be willing to assist each (disabled) student to coconstruct the best individualized learning relationship” (300). That is, supporting students with disabilities in the classroom moves away from legal accommodations to constructing and negotiating a collaborative plan for what that student wants and needs.

Crippen accessibility cartoon, "Homework": Teacher asks blind student to read chalkboard.

"Homework" (via crippencartoons.co.uk): The teacher asks a blind student to read the chalkboard, an example of how accessibility is also pedagogical.

I appreciate this shift in accessibility from the physical to the pedagogical, because, as Wilson and Lewiecki-Wilson argue, instructors often cannot change the physical environments. However, instructors can make their classrooms more accessible through their pedagogies—through adaptation, flexibility, and open discussions of disability. Addressing accessibility as implicated within larger structures—physical environment, social construction, policy, and pedagogy—becomes more critical and holistic. Depending on how much power we have over the physical design of our classrooms, it also becomes more action-oriented because we can address accessibility through the choices we make within our classrooms.

 

 

Goldstein, Elisabeth. “Applications of Universal Design to Higher Education Facilities.” Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice. Ed.  In Sheryl E. Burgstahler and Rebecca C. Cory. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press, 2008. 199-212. Print.

Imrie, Rob. “Oppression, Disability and Access in the Built Environment.” Ed. Tom Shakespeare. The Disability Reader: Social Science Perspectives New York: Cassell, 1998. 129-46. Print.

Strange, Carney. “Creating Environments of Ability.” New Directions for Student Services: Serving Students with Disabilities. Ed. Holley A. Belch.   San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2000. 19-30. Print.

Wilson, James C., and Cynthia Lewiecki-Wilson. “Constructing a Third Space: Disability Studies, the Teaching of English, and Institutional Transformation.” Disability Studies: Enabling the Humanities  Ed. Sharon L. Snyder, Brenda Jo Brueggemann, and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson. New York: MLA, 2002. 296-307. Print.

Collaborative Pedagogies

This week’s readings on higher ed focus on the way different collaborations can create richer pedagogies. These collaborations occur disciplinarily (Knoll), between students and instructors (Knoll and Harrison), among instructors (Bernacchio et al.), and between faculty members and other institutional organizations (Harrison).

In “Feminist Disability Studies Pedagogy,” Kristina Knoll pays particular attention to collaborative disciplinary work, focusing on how Disability Studies and Feminist Studies can inform each other, providing richer and more accessible pedagogies. Though she acknowledges the benefits of Universal Design, Knoll argues (from a feminist standpoint) for foregrounding individual experiences (122). That is, Knoll advocates a pedagogy that uses both accommodation and UD, arguing that both reproduce oppression and privilege when used on their own (124).

“Feminist disability studies theory and pedagogy urge us not only to take into account the many and varied bodily, mental, and psychological differences, but also to consider how race, class, sexuality, religion, nationality, and so on, can intersect with the disability experience” (Knoll 122).

Knoll also looks at the collaborations that occur between instructors and students when promoting a pedagogy that explores accessibility, ableism, sexism, and privilege. She practices what she calls “interdependency,” which demonstrates to students that not only are they dependent on the instructor, but the instructor is also dependent on the students in order to create a learning environment where everyone can succeed (129). Some examples of this are asking students to read materials aloud, placing students in control of particular activities, and asking students to work together to make the class accessible (such as having notetakers). Knoll writes that “when multiple individuals work together to make the environment accessible, it suddenly becomes significantly easier to meet all the various needs in the classroom, including the instructor’s needs” (129). Thus, collaboration not only becomes an integral part of the classroom, it is the driving force for creating an accessible learning environment for everyone involved. I definitely agree with this because if we try to employ UD practices yet don’t create a participatory learning environment, students still don’t have full access to the learning environment.

Bernacchio et al. move us toward the collaboration that occurs among instructors, reflecting on their Critical Friends Group processes in order to “model a learning community, develop habits of mind, and make graduate school accessible” (56). That is, in order to brainstorm ways to make their own classrooms more equitable, accessible, and flexible, these five faculty members met in a group to discuss their pedagogies through the combined theoretical lenses of Universal Design for Learning and McIntosh’s Interactive Phase Theory. Though this almost just sounded like a group of faculty members brainstorming in very structured settings, the major takeaway here for me is that these faculty members chose to collaborate outside of school to share and collect a “repertoire of instructional tools, strategies and practices that support equity and access” (65). This is an incredible testimony to the desire of instructors to go “above and beyond” traditional pedagogies and what sounds like a really useful collaboration.  I wonder if something with the same goals as the CFG could be adopted departmentally? My master’s program required a certain number of professional development hours each semester, and many of my peers participated in (less structured) collaborative groups where they discussed pedagogy successes, failures, and potentials to do more.

Lastly, Elizabeth Harrison looks at the collaborative efforts between faculty members and institutional organizations, such as Disability Service Offices, in order to better advocate for Universally Designed Instruction (UDI). To frame this collaboration, Harrison focuses on learner-centered education: “what the student is learning, how the student is learning, the conditions under which the student is learning, whether the student is retaining and applying the learning, and how current learning positions the student for future learning” (Weimer xvi qtd. in Harrison 153). This student-focused learning asks teachers to do more with teaching, which is where the collaboration comes in. UD requires Disability Service Professionals to engage in a collaborative relationship with instructors, consulting them in disability-related issues that allow instructors to better identify and dismantle learning barriers (154). Harrison provides a series of pretty great worksheets that instructors can use to 1) identify their goals, 2) determine their learning objectives, and 3) design assessment activities. By going through these processes, then, instructors can move toward UDI that “support[s] the learning of all their many, different learners” (162). I really enjoyed this worksheets because the framework provided is very rhetorical: It asks instructors to reflect on their goals and motivations, what they value in their pedagogies, and investigate the accessibility of their own classroom spaces and practices.

This set of readings really emphasized the importance of collaboration within a variety of contexts and with a number of different collaborators—all with the intention of creating accessible pedagogies that can better serve our students. The only thing I didn’t see in these readings was attention to the collaborative efforts among students themselves. That is, no one was really focusing on how students could collaborate with each other in order to support each other’s learning processes, though Knoll does mention it briefly in her discussion of “practicing interdependency” (129). In Comp/Rhet, collaborative pedagogies often focus on how students collaborate with each other: to brainstorm, draft, and revise together; to compose/create knowledge, and to supplement each others’ strengths and weaknesses. However, Davidson was fresh in my mind during these readings, and I heard her arguments for 21st-century collaborative pedagogies echoed (quietly) within these readings: “Where they perceive the shortcomings of the individual, I sense opportunity for collaboration” (3) …

 

 

Bernacchio, Charlie, Flynn Ross, Kimberley Robinson Washburn, Jean Whitney, and Diane R. Wood. “Faculty Collaboration to Improve Equity, Access, and Inclusion in Higher Education.” Equity and Excellence in Education 40.1 (2007): 56-66.

Davidson, Cathy N. Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. New York: Viking, 2011. Print.

Harrison, Elizabeth G. “Working with Faculty toward Universally Designed Instruction: The Process of Dynamic Course Design.” Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability 19.2 (2006): 152-62.

Knoll, Kristina R. “Feminist Disability Studies Pedagogy.” Feminist Teacher 19.1 (2008): 122-33.

The Role of “Fairness” in Accessible Assessment Practices

What struck me most about this week’s readings was the language used to describe universally designed assessment. Of course, Rose & Meyer make a very clear argument: “It is true that standardized tests can yield valuable information, especially if one is evaluating trends and information about groups, but as accurate assessments of individual students’ skills, knowledge, and learning, these assessment tools are severely flawed.” And while the other authors don’t seem to argue against accessible assessment practices, they are more cautious, making points about “reasonable accommodation” (Ketterlin-Geller & Johnstone 165), an awareness of “high-tech cheating” (Salend 49), and “fairness.”

Fair Selection cartoon

"Fair Selection" & the Importance of UD Assessment

In “Accommodations and Universal Design: Supporting Access to Assessments in Higher Education,” Ketterlin-Geller & Johnstone make an argument for applying principles of UD to assessment in order to minimize accommodations (thus reducing stigmas and barriers to learning). Before they make that argument, though, they have to lay down some rules.

  1. First, ADA only extends to “reasonable accommodations”—those for classroom practices or environments that “do not place an undue administrative burden or cost on the institution” (165). But what counts as reasonable? And why don’t all accommodations count as reasonable?
  2. Second, the student’s disability must “interfere with at least one major life activity” (165). Yet, even if the student has documentation, reasonable accommodations are not guaranteed. Students must first perform (in fairness, they say “demonstrate”) their disability.
  3. Third, there is an issue of fairness. Ketterlin-Geller & Johnstone note that if students are incorrectly diagnosed, “the fairness of the system is jeopardized because of the inappropriate advantage that accommodations might provide” (165). If all students benefit from an accommodation, then the accommodation provides “an unfair advantage” to those students (165).

Now, Ketterlin-Geller & Johnstone are simply the messengers of accommodation legalese, so I’m not faulting them, but these policies raise a number of questions: What are the implications for students and teachers? What does it mean that students must perform their disabilities in order to receive “reasonable” accommodations? Again, how and why is “reasonable” defined? What do these policies convey in terms of fairness?

My questions continued as I read Salend’s article, “Using Technology to Create and Administer Accessible Tests.” Here, Salend makes the argument for using technology to provide multiple ways for instructors to present test materials and for students to engage with and respond to the test material (41). Generally, I agree with Salend’s argument. I think technology can greatly impact the test-taking experience for all students—in fact, I would argue that digital projects can often stand in for traditional tests (but I’m coming from a non-standardized, non high-stakes perspective).

However, I was thrown off by Salend’s uncited claim of increased accounts of high-tech cheating, defined as “accessing unauthorized information such as notes, Web sites, e-mail, handheld devices, and cell phones” (49). There are two problems I see with this point. First of all, it’s fallacious—just because students have access to technology during tests does not necessitate that they will cheat. Second, if this is a persistent issue, why—instead of creating software and programs that monitor student cheating—aren’t instructors talking with their students about cheating? This comes up so often in writing classes when students plagiarize papers. They don’t take responsibility for plagiarizing because they are accustomed to their instructors taking responsibility by tracking their cheating (often by uploading their papers to Turn It In). Like any new “tool,” instructors should talk openly with students about the ethical uses of new technologies. Without having this discussion, is it “fair” for instructors to discredit technology-based assessment?

While reading these articles, I couldn’t help but think ahead to Cathy Davidson’s approach to assessment. Recently, she has written some great articles that have developed from her book, including “Badges: A Solution to Our Teacher Evaluation Disaster?” in The Washington Post and “Blogs vs. Term Papers” in The New York Times. Davidson sides with Rose & Meyer, claiming that traditional assessment practices are dated, inaccessible, and unfair. We will certainly see this argument developed more in a few weeks, but for now, I think it’s important to think about what constitutes “fair” assessment and remember Rose & Meyer’s final thoughts: “Assessments in our digital age should be dynamic and universally designed.”

 

 

Ketterlin-Geller, Leanne R., and Christopher Johnstone. “Accommodations and Universal Design: Supporting Access to Assessments in Higher Education.”  Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 19.2 (2006): 163-171.

Rose, David H., and Anne Meyer. “Chapter 7: Using UDL to Accurately Assess Student Progress.” Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning.  Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. 2002.

Salend, Spencer.  “Using Technology to Create and Administer Accessible Tests.” Teaching Exceptional Children 41.3 (2009): 40-51.

Technology Lab 3: Online Portfolios

Online surveys could serve some interesting roles in the composition classroom: they could be used to check homework progress or to administer informal, yet anonymous, “quizzes” to initiate discussions about assigned reading. They would be particularly valuable tools for giving students a voice in the classroom—allowing both me and their peers to see what everyone likes about the class, how they would like to see the class progress, what they would like to see changed, etc.

And while I think these are valuable functions, I’m not super attached to online surveys. Inspired by this article about using Google Sites for online portfolios, and recognizing that many comp. programs are portfolio-based, I decided to find out more information about online portfolios.

I’m pretty familiar with online portfolios. I’ve created them for my own professional purposes—which have involved building them in Adobe Dreamweaver. And I have used them to teach, but not often. I’ve had great results with Weebly because it’s easy to use, intuitive, and gives students a fair amount of design freedom without overwhelming them with too many options. I have also seen really great student portfolios made with WordPress and with Google Sites. All of these sites are also ideal places to host a class website—that way, students gain some experience using them (to locate assignments, readings, class policies) before they set up their own sites.

Online portfolios are really valuable in a writing classroom for a number of reasons:

  1. There is a (potentially) larger audience, which means students have more opportunities—and incentive—to spend time thinking about selection, visual rhetoric, and arrangement. This often means gaining a deeper understanding of the course goals—thinking critically, choosing words (and documents) carefully, considering the value of photos and videos, etc.
  2. Students gain practical experience composing and working with digital media, which is certainly valuable for entering the 21st-century workplace. If it’s a really nice portfolio, students could definitely link to it on a résumé.
  3. Online portfolios are often more engaging than print. There is more flexibility with what students can include and how they display that material. This flexibility could extend to providing instructors with a better sense of students’ learning and writing processes.
  4. They present a great opportunity to discuss web content accessibility standards and what factors students should consider when making their websites as accessible as possible.

There are certainly drawbacks to online portfolios, though, ranging from privacy to accessibility:

  1. There are material accessibility issues with using online portfolios. I rarely have access to a technology classroom, and not all of my students can bring laptops to class. If the group isn’t accustomed to the medium (or genre), it helps to be able to work on the portfolios together in a lab. I wouldn’t assign an online portfolio if everyone didn’t have the access to computers in class.
  2. There are privacy and legal issues that must be negotiated. Most websites allow you to choose whether or not your website can be found via search engines, and you can usually set your site to private, sharing the link with whomever needs to view it. 

    I didn’t know about the legal issues with using online portfolios before I went to a Google Sites presentation in my department at the beginning of the year. Students grades are not allowed to be posted outside institutionally-sanctioned spaces (e.g. Blackboard). This means you can’t share a student’s grade through email or through any other web site. Those rules would need to be clear so students knew not to post graded papers to showcase their learning/writing processes.

    Also, it’s important to talk to students about intellectual property, creative commons, fair use, etc. This becomes particularly prominent when students start including photos they find on the web (always use CC images!).

  3. And, keeping UD in mind, online portfolios cannot meet all students’ needs. An online portfolio cannot simply replace print as “better” for all students. No one would force a student with epilepsy triggered by staring at computer screens to create an online portfolio (I would hope). Some students, particularly tactile learners, may be more interested in creating a print portfolio that they can physically arrange. Low-vision or blind students could create online portfolios (assuming the class used an accessible web platform), but the student may prefer a portfolio option that wasn’t so dependent on visual design. And again, some students may not have the technological access to create a fully developed online portfolio.

Generally, I think online portfolios are a great option for a portfolio-based classroom. However, I hadn’t fully fleshed out some of their drawbacks, particularly in terms of privacy, IP, and disability. As with any assignment, an online portfolio should not be a 1:1 replacement of another, possibly more accessible, option that shares the same curricular goals.

These sites provided me with a greater understanding of the benefits, issues, and conversations surrounding online portfolios, both within composition and beyond:

“CCCC Position Statement: Principles and Practices in Electronic Portfolios.” CCCC: Conference on College Composition and Communication. National Council of Teachers of English. 19 Nov. 2007. Web.

“E-Portfolios.” EDUCAUSE: Learning Initiative. EDUCAUSE. 2012. Web.

Steele, Kristen. “What It Takes: Issues in Implementing Electronic Portfolios.” Independent Studies and Capstones. Paper 444. Program in Audiology and Communication Sciences, Washington University School of Medicine. 2009. Web.

  • This is actually a public capstone project for this student’s M.S. in Deaf Education, and she points to a lot of key questions that we should ask ourselves about the benefits and potential drawbacks to using online portfolios.

Technology Lab 2: SMART Boards

I was a little anxious about this week’s technology topic. I’ve never used, or seen anyone use, a SMARTboard. They weren’t popular when I was in high school, and I had never seen anyone use one within a college setting. So I expected to learn a lot from the in-class presentation about their various functions. However, I still had reservations after the presentation. From the examples we covered in class, SMARTboards seemed to only apply to K-12 settings—elementary school in particular.

After some web searching, I found a collection of narratives from college faculty via SMART Technologies and a couple articles from The Chronicle of Higher Ed. In “‘Electronic Whiteboards’ Add Flexibility to Classrooms,” Young highlights the benefits of the “capture” feature. He writes, “The capture feature is a useful service for students, who can get exact copies of what was on the board after class, he says, and it can also help professors save a record of what went on in class so they can review their own teaching.” I could definitely see this as an advantage in a lecture-based classroom when a lot of information is written on the boards. Writing classrooms aren’t lecture-based, though, and I had a difficult time trying to relate different faculty narratives to my own classroom.

The author of “Do We Really Need SMART Boards to Teach Writing Well?” is a bit of a luddite, but I think the question is valid. I certainly believe in the value of technology to teach writing, but I’m not sure what the advantage of SMART Boards vs. another technology is—for example, a tablet PC. In fact, “11 Reasons Why a Tablet PC is Better” provides five reasons why a tablet PC + digital projector works better than a SMART board. Of particular interest are the abilities to transport it easily—to take home or to move from class to class—and to create video podcasts using PC software. For that matter, I think the same benefits could be said of the iPad, particularly with all of the apps you can download.

It wasn’t until I spoke with my partner, who is a community college writing teacher, that I began to see some really clear uses for the SMART board in a college writing context. Here are a few:

  • Interacting with databases. Because comp classes are meant to introduce students to college-level research, it’s crucial that students learn to navigate databases. Bringing up different databases and circling particular buttons/tabs would be helpful.
  • Outlining student papers. You could open a student paper and show students how to do an outline (or a reverse outline!) of that paper in the margins.
  • Identifying topic sentences. Particularly in intro comp courses, and in community college comp courses, it’s important to start with the basics, and any way to spice up a topic sentence lesson would be great.
  • Write sample theses. Thesis statements are so important for teaching good arguments, and it would be nice to have students interact with writing theses as a group.
  • Practicing critical reading. You could bring up different texts and have students identify the parts of the text that they think are most important.

I think the accessibility of SMART Boards has its ups and downs. Barring the issues we talked about in class, I think they could be very limiting for low-vision students. Like we saw in class, the image couldn’t get any larger than the projector, and it was fairly difficult to see some of the smaller images on the board. As the Tablet PC article explains, a tablet PC (or an iPad) used with a projector can make the images much, much larger. In terms of increasing accessibility, the interactive nature of SMART boards seems like it would be great for students who learn better with multiple modes and stimuli.

Though I’m not sure I would use a SMART board (nor do I think I am likely to teach in a place that uses them), I do think they would have some interesting benefits if you knew exactly how you wanted to use them. Like any technology, they don’t automatically improve class. If you have a set lesson plan, though, it seems like SMART Boards could provide more options within the classroom.

 

“11 Reasons Why a Tablet PC is Better.” The HP Blog Hub. Hewlett-Packard Development Company. 14 June 2009. Web.

“Customer Stories.” SMART Technologies. SMART Technologies. 2012. Web.

“Do We Really Need SMART Boards to Teach Writing Well?” Two Writing Teachers: Teaching Kids. Catching Minds. 565 Miles Apart. WordPress. 17 June 2010. Web.

Young, Jeffrey R. “‘Electronic Whiteboards’ Add Flexibility to Classrooms.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle of Higher Education. 8 Feb. 2002. Web.

 

Flexible Curricula

“How can we rethink and remake educational systems that will provide more flexibility and educate more students effectively?” (Young & Minitz 501)

This is the most important question that we can ask if we want to create accessible curricula and classroom environments where all students feels comfortable sharing and learning. Young & Minitz argue that instructors should take responsibility for making classrooms, curricula, and teaching practices as accessible as possible (502). The question, then, is how we do that.

Ginsberg & Schulte note that ~10% of U.S. college students have a disability, yet college instructors have the least support and knowledge about how to educate students with disabilities (84).  Through their qualitative survey—which admittedly feels a bit shallow (i.e. They only interviewed faculty from one school, and it’s not entirely clear why they chose that school.)—we see faculty responses that range from “I’m treating the students [with disabilities] differently” to “I do for them ‘what I do for all students’” (88). It seems like the most negative comments come from instructors who support the deficit-model of disability, positioning students with disabilities as “defective” and in need of being fixed (85). So a shift in attitude may be the first step to creating more flexible curricula. Instructors who view students with disabilities from clinical and othering perspectives can’t begin to create accessible classroom environments. Post-secondary instructors need to adopt the social model of disability that locates the problems within our interactions, relationships, and environments.

Adopting a social constructivist model is certainly important, but it doesn’t answer the original question: How do we physically enact accessible practices?

The second step is definitely implementing accessible classroom practices. The answers from Ginsberg & Schulte’s survey give us some ideas:

  • asking students to paraphrase materials to gauge understanding,
  • breaking down content (which Sousa tells us is necessary for comprehension, anyway),
  • giving exams in different formats,
  • meeting with students one on one, and
  • encouraging student collaboration (89).

These options are all fairly interactive, advocate student-centered learning (which makes learning more relevant and comprehensible), and encourage delivering information in multiple modes of communication. If a student has trouble listening to a lecture, try delivering that information visually or as a written supplement. Even better, if I’m trying to explain a complex concept, I have students work together to learn the material and then present it to me. This repositioning gets students involved, positions them as valuable knowledge-makers, and emphasizes their abilities. As Harwood & and Humphry may argue, it highlights what students “can do” rather than highlighting what is “done for them” (379).

For me, the best way to create accessible practices is to focus on multiplicity and flexibility, which are often interrelated. I teach Composition & Rhetoric to undergrads, which always involves a final research project. In terms of multiplicity, I try enacting as many different classroom practices as possible—we brainstorm ideas visually and verbally, do research in the library and in online databases, draft outlines in traditional formats and in mental maps, and share drafts with each other throughout the process. In terms of flexibility, there are always set curricular goals, but I always allow a wide range of media for the final product—e.g. traditional term papers, websites, scrapbooks, formal reports, collections of brief essays, multimedia presentations, etc. Students need the flexibility to learn and compose in whichever ways make them the most comfortable, which will ultimately allow them to do the best work they can.

So, what practices work in your classrooms?

 

 

Ginsberg, Sarah M., and Karen Schulte. “Instructional Accommodations: Impact of Conventional vs. Social Constructivist View of Disability.” Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning 8.2 (2008): 84-91.

Harwood, Valerie, and Nici Humphry. “Taking Exception: Discourses of Exceptionality and the Invocation of the ‘Ideal.’” Disability & the Politics of Education: An International Reader. Eds. Susan L. Gabel and Scot Danforth. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2008. 372-83.

Young, Kathryn, and Emily Mintz. “A Comparison: Difference, Dependency, and Stigmatization in Special Education and Disability Studies.” Disability & the Politics of Education: An International Reader. Eds. Susan L. Gabel and Scot Danforth. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2008. 499-511. Print.