Technology offers new ways to improve the way we learn, work, and live, and in keeping with Arizona State University’s philosophy of expanding opportunities with technology, faculty across the university are integrating tools that improve teaching and learning.
At ASU, the Learning Experience Team in the Office of University Technology (UTO) assists with the integration of software and other technologies into course design.
“Working with faculty is essential to truly understand what both faculty and students need to have the best possible learning experience when using technology in the classroom,” said Allison Hall, director of design for the Learning Experience .
With the start of the fall 2022 semester, UTO caught up with ASU faculty to explore how they are improving the learning experience, sharing examples and strategies for leveraging new tools.
Three prominent examples (in the areas of online community building, improved web accessibility, and creative tools) are full of promise for the new semester.
The role of teaching assistant (known as TA) is a long-standing one, with these people having university experience as both a student and a teacher. As such, TAs operate in diverse communities and have a need to communicate effectively and inclusively.
Campus groups are using Slack to increase online community building. The real-time communication tool has become ASU’s flexible, enterprise-level collaboration platform. Faculty and staff have been innovating with this technology since it was introduced to the college in 2019, and Cara Sidman, clinical assistant professor in the College of Health Solutions, was an early adopter.
“I love exploring new technologies, so it started with that, but it also came out of necessity because I needed faster communications with my TAs in the large online courses I teach,” Sidman said. Through these ASU online courses, Sidman can have up to 1,200 students a year, with 20 TAs at any given time.
She turned to Slack because, she said, “we need to communicate as an organization.” Slack’s place in the workforce also inspired Sidman to offer experience there to TA students.
“It’s preparing career-ready skills, and that’s what drives a lot of my decision-making and my resume,” she said.
Sidman notes that Slack’s workspace for TAs allows them to collaborate on course administration. An example is the use of a dedicated grading channel, where TAs can clarify rubric approaches with each other and involve the instructor if necessary.
TAs also orchestrate their own “mini-communities” with students. Using Slack to create plans and market information about best practices, they then take the discussion to spaces students are familiar with, such as Canvas, ASU’s learning management system (LMS). “That also creates a connection, especially for online students where we don’t see each other in person.”
Almost all ASU students interact with Canvas on a regular basis. And today, a growing and important effort around course design is web accessibility, an inclusive aspect that seeks to avoid barriers for people of all abilities to interact with the Internet.
For example, Canvas’s built-in web accessibility checker looks for alt text, which is a text field added to images that will describe them for screen readers. Also, the ability to look for contrast and visibility issues in tagged PDF images and more are part of the functionality. But to enrich and support accessibility goals, a tool called Ally is available for faculty to integrate into Canvas courses.
Ally provides an intuitive dashboard that breaks down accessibility issues by assigning scores to a course webpage, tagging specific issues. Instructors can see all the elements of a specific web accessibility problem, such as alt text, that need to be addressed.
By teaching disability courses and using Ally, School of Social Transformation instructor Terri Hlava has made adjustments to her materials that have a significant impact for those in need.
Hlava ensures that all videos have transcripts and captions, and the text uses headers to support screen readers.
“In the spirit of inclusion, that’s what you do,” Hlava said.
Holly Basteyns, an instructional designer in the School of Life Sciences, said her team also wants to bring web accessibility awareness to the students themselves. For example, it is important for students in Canvas courses to create accessible materials themselves.
Instructors are also finding new ways to accommodate or encourage different learning styles, and the rise of multimedia is providing new learning experiences that reflect the type of content students most engage with. today. To this end, Adobe Creative Cloud is being used by various teachers and students.
After taking a creative digital fluency course hosted by UTO’s Learning Experience last semester, Karla Murphy and Chelsie Schlesinger, co-instructors in the School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, continue to find new ways to leverage the combination of Adobe tools.
In ENG 205, for example, students are tasked with making a two-part podcast using Adobe Premiere Rush. This “literacy narrative” assignment has students bring to life autobiographical experiences with aspects of literacy, such as speaking, writing, reading, rhetoric, and more. In ENG 102, students have a multimodal choice between a podcast or social media campaign visuals, designing graphics in Adobe Express in the latter case.
These projects don’t replace the skills learned through traditional essay assignments, but instead “support the story that’s already there for digital literacy,” Schlesinger said. “This literacy narrative becomes a really useful tool for students with maybe a language barrier.”
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