Adventures in Accessibility: Part I

Yes, it’s a pain. Yes, it stifles our creativity. No, it doesn’t make sense to pretend that we can make every online learning artifact accessible to everyone with any type of disability, be it physical, cognitive, emotional, socio-economic, or educational. But we do it anyway. Not because we believe in the dogmatic, administrative, litigation-phobic approaches of universal design, but because it’s cool to do it, when we can.

So I’m taking a closer look at some of my multimedia, to see what can be made more accessible to people with certain types of issues, or, better, to be made more interesting and comprehensible to all students.

The first discovery: YouTube’s captioning is so much better than it used to be! Log in. Upload your video. Wait overnight (or sometimes just a few hours). You can even set the video to private. YouTube will create captions as best it can. Select the cc button, and see the captions in a sidebar. Click edit and edit them. You can set the video to stop running when you type.

Oh, you say you have a transcript? Perfect. Just upload your video and select the option to transcribe instead. Paste in the transcript. YouTube will set up the timings as best it can.

youtubecaptions

Sliders are now available to move the caption around on the clip. You can even see the audio waveform below to help. You can insert caption bits. Then save.

But wait, it gets better. Don’t like YouTube? Want to serve your video elsewhere. Download the captions using the actions menu (.srt format is pretty standard). Then you can upload it somewhere like Vimeo or Dailymotion, which has better video quality and no ads.

Step Back

I find it interesting, as a historian, how many elements related to technology are trying to take a step back.

People who use Facebook, for example, are posting less about themselves, even if they’re still posting a lot.

We are realizing that digital infrastructure is vulnerable and analog backups are needed.

We are rethinking open educational resources and how the term “open” has been applied to education, now that open textbooks are an excuse to reduce funding for public education.

We are considering that the development of artificial intelligence is going to require the creativity of liberal arts majors.

We are revising our ideas about taking notes by typing instead of writing, and recognizing that hand-writing notes has value for learning.

We are discussing the possibility that inhibiting speech to protect people from unpleasantness may constitute cultural infantilism.

For a long time I have objected to “throwing out the baby with the bathwater” when it comes to technology adoptions, for all the reasons we see here: the importance of both personal privacy and free speech in a democracy, the vulnerability of digital artifacts (don’t build anything in an LMS!), the ethical entanglements involved in moneyed ventures related to education, and the value of things from the past that worked (but got fixed anyway).

So let’s be sure to back up (and I don’t just mean our files).

From inside out to outside in

sushi-928894_960_720My adventure moving from Moodle to Canvas begins. And I’m thinking about sushi.

Yes, I often think about sushi (not as much as I think of chocolate, of course). But here there is a connection – inside out vs. outside in.

In Moodle I use the Weekly format, which essentially creates an interactive syllabus on the main page. Each week has links to that week’s work, and the weekly label can be customized with images and embeds (I use Voki). Here’s a sample Moodle week:

moodleweek

So it seemed logical to start in Canvas by using the Modules page. Let’s take a look at the same thing in Canvas Modules:

canvasweek

Oh, that’s lovely. And you can’t add any images. And it’s all the same color, sort of a sickly green.

canvasmenuNow, modules aren’t the only option; it’s just the option that organizes the material like an interactive syllabus, which fits my pedagogy. The other option is to group everything by type: all the discussions, pages, quizzes, etc., which is the default menu, just like Blackboard’s defaults. Yuck.

Want to change the titles of these? You can’t. You can only hide them. And, if you go into one of them (say, a quiz), the breadcrumbs will show even if you’ve hidden the category:

breadcrumbscanvas

 

Ohhhh…kay. Well, I did try. I created a whole bunch of modules, and put them in order. But it was so ugly I couldn’t stand it. And all the lectures, since they’re on my own server, had to have the URL changed so they’d be SSL, otherwise they would not open inside the Canvas frame. And if I wanted an overlay for annotation, like Hypothes.is, that had to be scripted outside Canvas too. After about 7 hours of this, I realized I was doing way too much work.

smoked-salmon-sushi-rollWhat I was doing I call working the LMS “from the inside out”. This is what I’ve done with Moodle. I’ve been using the LMS’s navigation system as the core (in this case, Moodle’s weekly format, the interactive syllabus). When working from the inside out, you put as much as you can inside the system and then link out for whatever you must. This is how most faculty seem to work. It’s the standard sushi roll, wrapped in nori.

However, I have partly fought this, if only to retain control over my own creations. I’ve always written my lectures on my own HTML pages, so I’ve always linked out to those. And I’ve always had this ideal that I should only use the LMS for the things I can’t do outside it (quizzes, gradebook, forum). I said to a faculty member just yesterday, “don’t build in the system!”. But in actual practice, I’ve designed a great many things inside Moodle. But with Canvas, many of these are lost anyway (my images, Vokis, textual instructions), and the Modules page is so ugly, I’ve decided to change the entire workflow to work “outside in” for Canvas.

Philly_rollOutside-in means that the front door of my class, the main page, what used to be the big first page in Moodle, will be outside Canvas (though I will go all SSL and try to embed it). Then from that HTML page, I will link in to each item I can’t do outside Canvas (quiz, discussion forum, gradebook).

I supposed you could also call this a shift from linking out to linking in. But I’m kind of liking a sushi analogy. An “inside out” roll has the rice on the outside instead of the inside. It’s messier but it tastes better.

 

Canvassed on my own petard

So, the California Community College’s Chancellor’s office, through its Online Education Initiative, is offering the Canvas LMS free to all colleges. There is a catch – if you adopt Canvas this way, your college is not allowed to use any other LMS. It’s a Canvas contract. A Mafia-style, old-fashioned, arm-twisting contract.

Faculty and other “stake holders” have made the decision to recommend Canvas, which surprises me exactly not at all. I spent useless hours on the survey offering my input, very shortly before the report came out justifying the changeover. I had chosen not to be on the committee that decided this (not that I was asked, you understand) because my forehead is already flat from banging it against walls.

alanlmsSo it’s time to learn to use Canvas. Yes, the instructor who wrote about the Insidious Pedagogy of the LMS will now be forced to change to an LMS with fewer features, options and control than the one I’m using. I can hear Alan Levine in the back of my head saying, “But Lisa, you only use the LMS solum pro procuratio“! Yes, I know. However, when you live in the same house a long time, your stuff builds up. You customize things for you. You move the hinge to the other side of the fridge, and cover up that gap in the floorboards with a pretty rug. After awhile you can move through the rooms at night with the lights off.

So I already know one thing – my pedagogy for my primary sources, the one I’ve published about, the main constructivist part of my class, won’t work in Canvas the way it has in Moodle. Like Blackboard (our other wonderful option), Canvas has “rubrics”, but neither lets you rate or grade a full screen of posts at once, as I do with Moodle’s dropdown ratings. Instead, it’s multiple clicks to grade each post.

I have tried every feature in Canvas (and Blackboard) to make sure I can’t do this in a similar way. I am using Moodle ratings rather than grades or rubrics – that’s what makes it simple. They translate automatically into percentage grades. And you can’t use ratings in Canvas or Blackboard like that – neither system allows instructor-only ratings

So up to now, I’ve been grading, with relative ease, about 35 moodleratingsposts per week x 7 classes. I will simply not be able to grade 245 posts one at a time every Thursday in Canvas. They’ll have to put me away.

Similarly, all the writing assignments have been graded on an open forum with drop-down ratings. ->

No can do.

So, the list of Canvas shortcomings compared to Moodle continues (please, if you know different, correct me!):

  • The course menu is very difficult to change, with strict limitations.
  • QTI format is required to import quizzes (Moodle had multiple formats – my zillions of quizzes are in Aiken).
  • Quiz questions are worth a minimum of one point each, and all quiz questions must be worth the same points. You cannot have a quiz with 20 questions worth 10 points.
  • Opening another tab for an open book exam is not possible.
  • Video is limited to YouTube unless you upload the whole file.
  • Viewing external pages within the LMS frame is only possible with SSL pages (and sometimes that doesn’t work).
  • Most tools are outside the LMS with vendors who may or may not be there later.
  • There is no capability to make a popup message for students when they log in.
  • There is no shoutbox (I use this as a quick forum on the front page with students).
  • There are no branched lessons, just forced pathways.
  • The only rating is “like”.
  • No Javascript is allowed (for security – theirs, not mine).
  • No iframes are allowed (more security – please remove your shoes before boarding the plane).

The pedagogy will have to shift to accommodate the limitations of the technology. I hate that. And I’ll need a screwdriver for the door on the fridge…

Three myths about history

Students of history come to class with many preconceptions, as evidenced by the popularity of books revealing the lies they were told in K-12 classrooms. Here are three of the most popular, and why they are myths.

1. You can’t change the past

But changing the past is exactly what historians (and journalists and celebrities and movies and politicians) do. The past is not a monolithic, unchangeable set of facts. Everyone has their own past, even when they share experiences. Putting these facts together to support interpretations isn’t just an activity of historians – we all do it in our own lives as part of sense-making. Every reinterpretation of the past changes it.

2. People in the past were less knowledgeable than we are and things were less convenient/hygenic/beautiful than now.pessarysheath

This is called presentism – assuming that what’s in the present represents the best of all possible worlds, the result of millennia of progress. I have an ad from the turn of the 20th century for a “pessary sheath”. Made of rubber, this contraceptive device was 2-in-one. Rolled down it was a condom, and rolled up it was a cervical cap. Washing with soap made it hygenic, cost effective, and reusable. Today I’d need to buy a pack of expensive condoms and get fitted by a doctor for a cap not covered my insurance. Food tasted better before synthetic chemical fertilizer. Medical knowledge from long ago is continually being revived – consider herbal medicines, midwifery, and electricity therapy. Not convinced? Watch the sales of Oscillococcinum when the next flu epidemic hits.

3. History is the story of progress.

Even apart from the idea that not everyone believes in the Judeo-Christian idea of progress, if you study long-term historical trends, you start to notice a pattern of steps forward followed by steps back, then steps forward again. This is true whether you are of a liberal, radical or conservative bent – sometimes things get “better”, but then worse again. Women’s role in society is a great example. More actively public in the 1910s and 1920s, less in the 1930s, more in the 1940s, less in the 1950s, etc. Similarly, with every “advance” there is something lost. To stay on the birth control topic, the advent of the pill made contraception easier, but as hormonal contraception because cheaper and more popular women lost the knowledge of their anatomy, which had been necessary with other methods.

I not only share these perspectives with students, but use them myself. Perhaps that’s what makes me skeptical of new technologies, and attached to some old ones (not out of nostalgia, but because they are more useful).

Embedding Hypothes.is in Canvas

This is one of those posts I’m writing so I don’t forget how to do something.

After testing Hypothes.is for annotations, and realizing that the Redirect Tool in canvas would force an ordinary webpage with annotations to only open in a new tab, I figured out something.

Canvas will only embed secure (SSL) pages (those with an address starting https://). All my web pages are just plain ole http. But it turns out that my host, Lunarpages, can create an SSL page by just using the URL of the server (https://fand.lunarserver.com/username + rest of the URL). So any page I already have can become a secure page by using this URL instead.

So to make this happen automatically, here’s the workflow:

1. Create my own webpage with text and images.

2. Include the hypothes.is code in the HTML of the page

<script async defer src="https://hypothes.is/embed.js"></script>

3. Use the Redirect Tool in Canvas, using the URL of the page, but with the Lunarpages server preface (in this case https://fand.lunarservers.com/~lisahi2/)

redirectapp

4. Voila:

hypothesisincanvas