I saw this article just after our class last week, which discussed the affordances and drawbacks of lectures as a presentation medium. Some professors at Marquette University are assigning certain students to use Twitter to document what’s happening during lectures– basically an alternative to our own note-taking and posting process. The article also talks about other ways that universities are taking advantage of Twitter, including to improve and expand communication between professors and students.

Learning About Affective Recognition Through Games

I just ran across this neat site, Do2Learn, that has a bunch of interesting resources for supporting students who have disabilities– really, a bunch of great resources for all teachers. One of the coolest parts of the site is the set of emotion games that can be used to teach students on the autism spectrum to recognize emotion by analyzing facial expressions. Check them out here, here, and here. Also, you can watch a demo video of Faceland, the full-featured software program, below:

UDL Yoga?

I’m a pretty enthusiastic yoga practitioner, and one thing that I love about the practice is its accessibility– yoga has so many entry points, and has always appeared to me to be a meaningful, challenging practice for people at all levels of experience, flexibility, and strength. The philosophy behind yoga highlights self-acceptance and is undergirded by a deep spiritual belief that we are all exactly as we should be– something that UDL aligns with quite nicely!

However, until recently, I had never really thought about the ways that yoga might not actually be accessible to all. Obviously, it’s a physically demanding activity, and instructions in yoga classes are usually delivered verbally. There are lots of people who can’t access traditional yoga classes.

Some yogis are starting to build solutions, and break down the barriers that prevent people from accessing the benefits and challenges of yoga. One example is DeafYoga, a really great organization that trains yoga teachers to use sign language, lights, a fan, and touch to help guide students through the postures. Another approach is adaptive yoga, in which physical therapists modify stretches and postures from yoga to meet the needs of people who are in wheelchairs or who face other physical barriers to traditional yoga. While neither of these examples meets all of the UDL guidelines, I think they’re really wonderful ways to rethink yoga and make it truly accessible to all learners.

On a related note, organizations like Yoga for the Special Child (not crazy about that name, but…) are using yoga to help students with a wide range of special needs, from autism to Down syndrome to hyperactivity. Their work seems really interesting, and I definitely think that yoga is worth exploring as a means of supporting the physical, emotional, and intellectual development of all learners.

The Dominoe Effect: Fun Experiment With Multiple Forms of Expression

While I was working on my VoiceThread Assignment, I ran across this great wiki that focuses on the plethora of digital storytelling tools available on the internet. The creator, Alan Levine, conducted a little exercise in which he told the same simple dog story in 50 different ways, using a variety of tools on the web. This site would be a great resource for people who are interested in digital storytelling, or just looking for fun tools to incorporate into your final projects. I also think it’s a great example of multiple means of expression being used to achieve one goal. Plus, the dog is really adorable. Here are a few examples of what he’s done:

a comic strip!


Assignment 2: Reflections on VoiceThread

I have really loved VoiceThread since first encountering it last semester, in part for its versatility as a tool for expression and communication, and in part because the visual interface creates such a different, less linear, and more community-based feeling then the experience presented by many other traditional online discussion tools. I posted in the Multiple Means of Expression thread, and chose the audio-recording (computer microphone) feature as my expression-form of the day. In terms of my own expression, I found the experience of using Voicethread both enjoyable and frustrating. It was fun and motivating to be able to see my classmates and read their comments, but I had a hard time following the thread of the discussion, and it didn’t feel as conversational as I might like. I really liked having the option of being able to choose my mode of expression, and found that I was able to express myself differently through speech than I might in text.

From a personal and classroom perspective, I think that Voicethread has some major affordances with regard to action and expression, and presents some substantial challenges and questions as well. I have a lot to say about this, so I’ve color-coded my ideas in this post to make it more easily scannable. In terms of physical response, I love the fact that the video, text, and voice options are flexible, so that a student who is unable or not inclined to speak can write his or her response using the keyboard, and vice versa. However, I’m curious about navigation–I still had to use my mouse/touchpad to click through, and don’t see any keyboard shortcuts to assist in navigation.

The real strength of Voicethread relates to UDL principle 5.1, “Options in the Media for Communication.” The options Voicethread offers are pretty comprehensive, and I can imagine people using the features in really creative ways— for example, a student might actually put on a little performance with the video option, or could express him/herself in American Sign Language.

Voicethread is a really versatile tool, so I think that it definitely can be used creatively to provide options for composition, problem-solving, practice, and performance. However, the tool itself– like any tool– is only effective when it’s used skillfully. In this case, we had some terrific prompts to get us started, but I’m curious about the kind of facilitation/ scaffolding that might be needed to help some learners along the way. One feature I really like is that the user has the opportunity to preview an audio comment before it is posted to the public, which could be really helpful in providing practice to students who are emerging language learners, and in supporting metacognition and revision.

I wonder about executive function– this is an area in which the forms of expression do seem to be qualitatively different, and seem to require different kinds of plans. I chose to express myself verbally, and while I was tempted to write down my thoughts before I spoke, I felt like that might be sort of against the spirit of the assignment, so I picked a key idea and improvised as I recorded my thoughts. However, in several courses this semester, we have discussed the difference in thinking processes between written text and spoken language– written text tends to be more reflective and formal, while spoken language is more improvisational, social, and spontaneous (see Garrison and Anderson, E-Learning in the 21st Century, pp 25-26). If we’re assessing students on their planning and organizational skills in communication, I’m not sure if we can fairly compare written and spoken language– they aren’t necessarily comparable.

My biggest issue with Voicethread is not in the dimension of action and expression, but has more to do with representation, particularly in the realm of perception. I find the experience of viewing/ reading Voicethreads to be pretty jarring, as user comments switch back and forth between video, audio, and text. There wasn’t an easy way to scan the content of comments if I wasn’t able to mentally connect each user’s image to his or her ideas, which made the conversation difficult to follow and which made it difficult to respond to interesting ideas presented by others. In addition, users can’t choose the form in which we perceive the comments of others, and since the purpose of the tool is not just for students to express themselves but to be able to have online “conversations” with classmates, it misses the mark. If the site incorporated tools like a text-to-speech converter or voice recognition software that converts speech into text formats, it would be much more powerful. In addition, Voicethread creators should be prompted to include long descriptions when uploading images to build a Voicethread.

To summarize, here are some suggestions for improvement:

  • Provide an option for students to upload other forms of media as comments (e.g., more imaginative videos made with a digital camera, not a webcam)
  • Provide exemplars for teachers to help them scaffold effective Voicethread discussions
  • Create keyboard shortcuts to assist in navigation
  • Give users the option of tag their images with a few key words that describe their comments and that stay visible while other users’ comments are playing, to make the structure of the discussion more visible and scannable
  • Add text-to-speech and voice-recognition capabilities to the comments and to the uploaded documents
  • Add prompts to remind creators to include long descriptions in the images they upload

Gender and Asperger’s Syndrome

I ran across this really great post on the Feministing community blog. It’s by a woman with Aspergers Syndrome. She discusses the ways in which males and females experience Asperger’s Syndrome differently, since mainstream cultures tend to expect women to exhibit a much more nuanced set of social skills than they expect from men. The author writes:

“Many times, I have been accused of being “insensitive” “rude” “cold” “heartless” “bitchy” and other unsavory adjectives, because I have difficulty displaying empathy, I dislike being hugged, and I am far from the “nurturing” type. I thought it was simply a part of the emotional baggage of having Asperger Syndrome, but upon questioning my male peers with Asperger Syndrome, I discovered this treatment was unique to me. Men with Asperger Syndrome told me that their behavior, while standoffish and socially awkward, was regarded as the norm for men when dealing with a difficult situation. But I, as a woman, was expected to emotionally plunge myself in with the people who were experiencing the situation, and offer myself as a beacon of comfort and sympathy.”

I think this post is an interesting reminder of the fact that learning differences exist in the context of other kinds of differences, and that they often intersect.

Woman with “Exceptional Memory” Featured In WIRED

This month’s WIRED magazine features an article called “Total Recall: The Woman Who Can’t Forget.” The article focuses on a woman named Jill Price, who has hyperthymestic syndrome , or “exceptional autobiographical memory.” I think this syndrome was also featured in the savant video that we watched earlier in the semester. Basically, Price can remember details from her own lifetime in extreme detail.

The article’s author is a cognitive psychologist, and he’s a little bit of a skeptic with regard to Price’s memory. While he’s impressed by her ability to remember multiple details, he points out that she keeps an extensive journal of each day, and suggests that Price’s journaling is a strong factor in her ability to retain memories.  This page from her journal shows the detail in which Price documents her life:

I wonder about the impact of journaling on people with limited working memory, the other end of the extreme. Could keeping a regular journal support people with low working memory, or perhaps even help them “train” their memories?

Teaching Learners to Individualize Their Own Learning

I really love the principles of UDL as guidelines for designing supportive and accessible educational experiences for students. However, one question that keeps coming up when I discuss these principles with people outside of class is the issue of transferability– for example “If students are used to having everything presented to them visually, how will they cope when they end up in a workplace where that doesn’t happen?”

I don’t think this is a particularly persuasive reason not to use multiple representations, forms of expression, etc., because I don’t think that placing students in a learning environment that’s inaccessible to them is useful for anyone, and I don’t think it has been shown to cultivate adaptability in learning. However, I do think it’s important that we augment UDL designs with metacognitive strategies that allow students to become advocates for themselves, and to adapt environments and work to meet their needs.

For example, I was struck during Todd Rose’s lecture on Monday by the way he built visual self-reminders into his PowerPoint presentation to guide and structure his remarks, taking a proactive action to face the challenges he faces with working memory. I have always struggled with organization– particularly organization of space. During my adult life, I have learned that I really need to consciously create organizational tools for myself– I work best when I have everything in my workspace out in the open, on shelves or bulletin boards, and really try not to use drawers at all (I’m very out-of-sight, out-of-mind). However, none of these simple skills were ever taught to me in school, and I spent years digging around for lost items in dark backpacks and deep desks.

I think that, as educators, we have a responsibility not just to teach our learners about the content, but to teach them about themselves as learners. Why not make the principles of UDL explicit in our teaching and our lesson designs, so that students can take these strategies with them throughout their lives?

Adolescents, Creativity, and Risk

Watching the video about the teen brain (and the relatively undeveloped executive functioning in teens) made me think about teens’ capacity for risk-taking in creative work as well as more self-destructive forms of risk-taking. In general, it seems like many adults today are more risk-averse than we need to be, and that this can hinder innovation. I’m curious about how we can create educational structures that maintain high levels of artistic, intellectual, and emotional risk-taking beyond adolescence while building executive functioning skills that allow people to stay alive long enough to reap the benefits of these risks.