Category: Educational Technology

Hybrid/Online Course Development

Instructional Design

Rigorous instructional design is important for creating successful online and hybrid courses, which often require more intensive planning than face-to-face classes. This is especially true if it’s your first time teaching in this instructional mode.

Graduate Center students may find themselves assigned to teach online or hybrid courses in a number of ways. You may be approached by a department chair and offered the opportunity to teach in these modes, and receive support in developing your course. You may be recruited specifically to teach online/hybrid courses. You may be applying for a position where teaching in such modes is expected of you. Or, you may be told, right before the semester, “oh, by the way, your course is completely online. And it starts tomorrow!”

Spending some time thinking through how to design courses for multiple instructional modes will benefit you no matter how you’re coming at the question of hybrid/online instruction. The primary challenge of these courses is that there are fewer built-in opportunities to gauge student comprehension in-person, so creating an organized and well-structured course is of heightened importance. Once you have a structure in place, it becomes easier to carve out time and opportunities for you and your students to improvise.

The following offer suggestions about how to strengthen course and assignment design to increase the likelihood of a successful, engaging, and rewarding online or hybrid course.

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Building Your Course Around Learning Goals

When you clearly communicate learning goals to students, not only are assessment and course design made easier, but students have a map a heightened sense of what’s expected of them in the course. Backward planning from learning goals can help a faculty member devise the structure for the class, and identify moments within it where different kinds of activities make sense.

Learning goals are more than teaching goals. These guidelines can help create strong learning goals (but also be sure to check with your department to see if there are course-specific goals that you should keep in mind):

  • learning goals should describe actions that students will be able to perform upon completing a course. Therefore, they differ from descriptions of what we intend to teach.  
  • when composing learning goals we should think not just about what we want to cover in the course but also about how we will know that students have learned the things that we want to cover.
  • Vague goals should be reformulated to be as specific as possible.
  • If you are going to assess student learning goals separately, then list them separately.
  • In writing student learning goals, consider using active verbs that make clear when a student demonstrates the ability to do something related to the course.  For a suggested list of verbs see: https://www.baruch.cuny.edu/facultyhandbook/documents/Bloomverbsrevised.pdf (note that the verbs “understand” and “know” are discouraged).

The learning goals you define may be informed by the mode of instruction you intend to use. For example, here is an excerpt of learning goals from an online Introduction to Psychology course. The goals specific to online instruction are italicized.

  • Identify ethical issues in psychology and psychological research.
  • Demonstrate critical thinking about behavior and mental processes.
  • Demonstrate effective written communication using an online forum.
  • Develop time management strategies appropriate for meeting course deadlines.
  • Demonstrate ability to use online tools for completing weekly work, managing self-progress, and taking part in virtual dialog and exchange.

Here is another example, where the goals are categorized:

  • Grammar and Mechanics of Writing: After completing this course, students will be able to observe sentence boundaries, punctuate correctly, vary sentence structures, and employ the conventions of standard English.
  • Hybrid-specific: After completing this course, students will be able to change their writing style when writing in different rhetorical modes and social contexts, including online environments, and take audience and occasion into account when writing.

It can help you to articulate what skills you assume students have already mastered when they enter your class, including technological skills, by defining what a student needs in terms of both access and knowledge in order to successfully complete your class. You can then create a clear plan for how students who do not have those skills can catch up.

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Scaffolding Your Assignments

Often students are confused about what faculty expect of them, and this is true of classes in every mode of instruction. In face-to-face classes, this confusion often becomes readily apparent in the room to mindful instructors, but it can be harder to detect online. Careful assignment design clarifies the expectations and effort you expect of students in your online or hybrid course.

Here are some guidelines for scaffolding assignments that will offer you multiple opportunities to intervene in your students’ knowledge-making process.

  • Construct tasks that give students practice before assessment.
  • Tie low-stakes and high-stakes assignments together to build upon each other in a gradual progression.
  • Consider workflow: ask yourself what assignments from face-to-face classes might be better accomplished online. For hybrid classes, design online assignments that prepare students to take full advantage of the time the class spends meeting in person.
  • Articulate for students the reasons for assignments, the method of assessment, and the grading process.

Maintaining Engagement

Many faculty who teach online or hybrid courses have concerns about maintaining a sufficient level of student engagement throughout the semester. How can these courses be set up to maximize opportunities for engagement?

  • Be mindful of the personality, aesthetics, and usability of the online spaces you deploy in your courses. You want your space to be inviting and functional.
  • Be intentional with the information architecture of your online spaces; consider building a site map before developing your course site to get a bird’s eye view of how the content flows together, and work to eliminate wasted clicks that take students further away from the content or spaces with which they should be interacting.
  • Build your course site in a way that doesn’t attempt to do too much at once.
  • Clarify what kinds of communication will happen in which spaces, at what times, and with what expectations.
  • Give students multiple, various, and persistent opportunities to express themselves and engage.
  • Maximize opportunities for students to create communities of their own in the online environment. You can do this by helping students create study groups, fostering group work, and encouraging students to find ways to connect with one another between assignments, including in face-to-face contexts.  
  • Repeatedly model examples of the kinds of scholarly and intellectual work you expect from students, through comments on blog or discussion board posts, and by promptly responding to student inquiries.
  • Consider having a consistent deliverable due the same time every week. Predictability helps students establish a routine.
  • Faculty presence in online and hybrid courses nurtures student engagement. Be involved in the online environment by commenting on student work, referencing when you meet face-to-face, or, for fully online courses, finding ways to let students know that you are engaged with their work.

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Creating Accessible Online and Hybrid Classes

In traditional classes, students with physical, psychological, or learning disabilities receive reasonable accommodations. The legal requirement and ethical imperative to create accessible classes holds for all online and hybrid classes.

All faculty must be mindful of and vigilant about questions of accessibility in their courses, which has a significant implications for choices around educational technology. Your campus likely has an office that provides services for students with disabilities (see our Navigating CUNY guide —https://tlc.commons.gc.cuny.edu/navigating-cuny-2/ — for links), but that may or may not have expertise in educational technology and instructional design. This is understandable; ed tech is a rapidly changing field and sometimes it’s impossible to make certain tools completely accessible to every student. For instance, students who are visually impaired may not be able to view videos, and students who have auditory impairment may not be able to listen to audio files. This doesn’t mean that faculty should strike audio and video from their pedagogy. With mindfulness and ethical commitment, faculty members can make sure their courses and assignments are accessible, and that students with special needs get the support that they require in order to participate fully in the course.

The following suggestions, compiled by Kathryn O’Donoghue of Suffolk Community College, offer guidelines for accessible instructional design.

APPLYING UNIVERSAL DESIGN PRINCIPLES

Universal design helps instructors create courses that are accessible for all students through flexible, varied, and thoughtful curriculum development.

Faculty can practice Universal Design principles by:

  • Presenting key information and knowledge in multiple ways
  • Providing students with varied ways to access the information,
  • Creating multiple options for assessment of knowledge, and
  • Maintaining student interest using varied pedagogical methods.

For more on universal design, see: http://www.udlcenter.org/.

CREATING ACCESSIBLE COURSE MATERIALS AND WEBSITES

Assistive technology helps many students with disabilities achieve their educational goals. The following list offers guidelines for creating materials that these technologies recognize.

  • Software applications for visually impaired students can read course materials aloud. However, screen readers cannot recognize PDF files which contain text that is an image.
  • Whenever possible, create course materials in Word, then, if desired, create a PDF from the Word document.
  • When creating documents in Word, use styles in Word to organize materials in a course document hierarchically. For example, apply the style “Heading 1” to first level headings, “Heading 2” to sub-headings, etc. This way, screen readers understand the most important information and convey it to visually impaired users.
  • Use the Navigation Pane under the View tab in Word to review the outline of your document and make sure that the headings organize information in the best way.
  • Use Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana fonts, which are easily recognized by screen magnifying applications for visually-impaired students.
  • Use high contrast colors. For example, instead of bright yellow text on a kelly green background, use white text on a dark green background.
  • Use alt tags to describe images.
  • Word makes it easy to create an alt tag for an image. Right or Ctrl+click on the image, select format image, then type a short descriptive phrase under the “alt text” option.
  • This link —http://www.adobe.com/content/dam/Adobe/en/accessibility/pdfs/accessing-pdf-sr.pdf —  to Adobe Reader’s accessibility guidelines offers more advice on creating accessible PDF files.
  • When adding links in your document or website, rather than writing “click here” offer a description of the link.
  • When using multimedia, offer alternatives for students who might not be able to view or hear the media.
  • When creating videos for class, create a script that you follow so that a transcript can easily accompany the video. If possible, add captions to the video.

Be aware that some software and applications are not easily accessible for students with disabilities. For example:

  • Google Docs, while an excellent collaborative writing tool, is not as accessible as other programs. When using Google Docs, you can follow this tutorial from Michigan State University, to insure your document is as accessible as possible:http://webaccess.msu.edu/Tutorials/google-drive.html
  • Many online course materials from textbook companies and Massive Open Online Courses from well-known providers, while compliant with federal guidelines, may not be readily accessible for students with disabilities.

While faculty cannot anticipate every potential learning alternative for students, creating course materials easily recognized by widely-used software programs for students with disabilities and utilizing universal design principles increases the likelihood that the online and hybrid course will be accessible to all students.

The federal government has published a brochure detailing educational institutions’ responsibilities to their students with disabilities:http://www2.ed.gov/documents/news/section-504.pdf

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The Syllabus

The syllabus lays out the schedule, establishes policy, clarifies expectations between faculty and students, offers assessment criteria, and provides a map for the class. Certain additional details should be included in a syllabus for an online or hybrid class.

  • When and where your hybrid class will meet for its face-to-face sessions.
  • How the online time will be structured.
  • What technologies will be used, and what additional fees or skills these technologies require.
  • What your expectations are for students in terms of participation and technology.
  • Contact information that includes at least one way for students to communicate with you asynchronously and digitally.
  • Guidelines for interacting with peers.
  • Where to find your course’s online space.
  • Detailed assessment criteria.
  • Accessibility statement. Include on your syllabus a statement about reasonable accommodation.
    • For example: “If you have a learning, sensory, or physical reason for special accommodation in this class, contact the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities (insert contact info) and please inform me of the accommodation.”
    • Also consider including on your syllabus the skills and knowledge that you expect students to have mastered in order to succeed in your class.

Minimum Technology Requirements

Students should be told if there are minimum technological requirements necessary to participate in an online or hybrid course. You may even want to email students soon after they have registered for your course to ensure they are aware of the requirements.

Examples of requirements include:

  • A reliable Internet connection.
  • Regular access to a laptop or desktop computer with a current operating system.
  • Working knowledge of how to use word processing software and web browsers.
  • An active college email account that is checked daily
  • A CUNY Portal account.
  • Access to Blackboard.
  • A CUNYFirst account.
  • Off-campus access to the library’s online databases.

Some online or hybrid classes will require students to:

  • Have access to a web camera.
  • Use social networking sites (including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, and social bookmarking sites).
  • Purchase or learn additional applications.

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Anticipating Problems

Back-up your work

Just as students can’t always get to campus on time due to events beyond their control, course websites might be unexpectedly unavailable, internet connections might be weak, and computers might crash. When working online, back work up frequently.

  • Save files: When composing blog, social media, or discussion board responses, save them in a word processing file or text file (Text Edit on a Mac or NotePad on Windows).
  • Keep consistent track of student work. Save important assignments to a local drive. This also helps with assessment, targeting struggling students, and maintaining engagement.
  • Keep your files organized in folders by class, and within those folders by units of the class. Your work will quickly pile up, and establishing a system for easily locating materials you’ve produced for your coursework is immensely valuable.
  • Regularly backup your files to an external drive or cloud storage.
  • Encourage student support networks
    • Try to spend some time at the beginning of the semester helping students build networks and contacts among others in the class.
    • Encourage students to exchange contact information with a few classmates who share their schedules. Ideally, these contacts will have the same schedule (for example, if Jane Doe does most of her work after midnight, then she should try to find peers who will be up at this hour, too).

Anticipate Problems and Cut Them Off

While we can’t always divine when problems with the technology will emerge, we can reasonably expect that at some point we’ll run into issues such as server downtime, mistyped URLS, and email confusion.

Try to anticipate when things may go wrong in your online learning environment and circumvent crises before they happen. The following bullet points offer some suggestions for how to do this.

For example, imagine a major assignment is due the Friday before a holiday weekend. If the server of your course site experiences glitches, or dozens of students post their work at the same time, the site may crash, causing anxiety in students and a headache for faculty.

  • Encourage students to submit their work early. You may even consider offering some incentives for doing this, or staggering due dates by group or individual.
  • Have an alternate plan for collecting such assignments in case of tech problems.
  • Give students time to learn new technologies.
  • Pay attention to emails from your campus or web host about scheduled server and site maintenance so that you can work around them.
  • Try to be available online when assignments are due to troubleshoot problems. Encourage students to communicate with you via a forum online about difficulties they encounter. Chances are that other students have experienced the same challenges.

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Identifying Modes of Instruction

CUNY has designated the following codes that define how much online time you can allocate in a class. Students will see these codes in CUNYFirst when they register for classes.

P = In-Person. No course assignments and no required activities delivered online. Note: this designation does not mean that digital tools won’t be required in the course.

This is the default mode of instruction used when no other information is given to CUNYFirst about the course. If you have a significant amount of work delivered online or digitally, or if you plan to augment or replace any class sessions or out of class work with digital or online tools, then you should list your class as Web-Enhanced (“W,” see below)

W = Web-Enhanced. No scheduled class meetings are replaced, but some of the course content and assignments, as well as required or optional activities, are online.

In practice, most courses probably fall under this category, but this needs to be clarified to your department and the registrar so that it can be listed properly in CUNYFirst.

PO = Partially online. Up to 32% of scheduled class meetings are replaced with online activities or virtual meetings. Between twenty minutes to fifteen hours of required online work per semester could replace time spent in the classroom.

H =  Hybrid. Between 33% and 80% of scheduled class meetings are replaced with online activities or virtual meetings. Between twelve to thirty-seven hours of required online work per semester will replace time spent in the classroom.

O = Online. More than 80% but less than 100% of scheduled class meetings are replaced with online activities or virtual meetings. Between twenty-eight to forty-six hours per semester will replace time spent in the classroom.

FO = Fully online. 100% of scheduled class meetings are replaced with online activities or virtual meetings. All of the class work, including exams, is online.

Note that a major difference between O and FO is that in an Online class, the final exam can be given in person, but in a Fully Online class, the exam must be given online.

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Clarifying Modes of Instruction in CUNYFirst

Each academic department is responsible for sending course descriptions, with mode of instruction clarified, to the appropriate dean’s office, which forwards them to the registrar. The registrar then puts the information into CUNYFirst. However, students might not realize what taking an online or hybrid course involves, and they probably do not know what the “modes of instruction” mean or where to look for the codes when they register for courses on CUNYFirst.

Faculty can and should clarify the requirements of their online and hybrid courses by including with the course description on CUNYFirst a brief note that tells students what technology they will be required to use, how much class time will be replaced with online instruction, and how the online format will be different from in-person instruction. Faculty might also include any special software or skills that the course requires.

Example 1: This section is a hybrid course, with 50% of the class happening face-to-face in the classroom and 50% taking place via online learning activities. Questions? Email the instructor.

Example 2: Please note that approximately 33% of this course will consist of online video lectures. You will need a solid internet connection either at home, or take the time to watch the video lectures in the computer labs on campus.

Faculty should be sure to check CUNYFirst after the course has been listed to make sure that the information is correct. If there is a problem, contact the scheduler in the appropriate dean’s office. Faculty may also consider sending registered students an explanatory email well before the start of the semester.

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Ed Tech for n00bs

How to Begin

When selecting technologies to integrate into your classes, you might first ask yourself a series of questions that will help you better understand both your comfort level and goals.

Ask yourself:

  • How comfortable am I with…
    • new tools?
    • fielding technical questions from my students?
    • organizing digital spaces?
  • Do I want to use technology to…
    • push information out to my students?
    • facilitate conversations beyond the classroom?
    • create a record of what’s happened in the course?
    • integrate the open web into my teaching?

Asking these questions of yourself–and answering them honestly–can help guide you to the tools that will most effectively facilitate your teaching and learning goals.

There is no “correct” answer to the question of how much digital technology you should use in your classes. Classes with few digital tools can of course be effective, as can those that integrate many tools, and this holds true across the disciplines. The key is to integrate digital tools into your teaching intentionally and purposefully. In order to do this, you need to develop a clear sense of what role you want the tools to play in your course. You then need to match that sense to an understanding of the affordances of different technologies.  

Let’s consider an introductory history or philosophy course. You’ll likely be asking your students to (a) do a significant amount of reading and perhaps some limited research, (b) write short informal papers and longer, higher stakes papers, (c) participate in class discussions, (d) attend lectures, and (e) take assessments such as quizzes or exams. It’s possible to integrate digital technology in each of these instructional moments in ways that can enhance the experience of your course for both you and your students.  

  1. digital tools can help you easily distribute reading materials and other artifacts to your students, while facilitating the storing and organizing of those materials for revisitation and reuse during or across semester, or across classes. Delivering materials via the web can also facilitate the easy integration of both open access and primary source materials into reading your students do.
  2. having students do their classroom writing in a networked, digital space (such as a blog) can foster the integration of assignments that force them to imagine a range of audiences (as opposed to the unidirectional focus of papers that are handed in just to you), can facilitate the integration of multi and mixed-media compositional strategies, and can build an archive of your class’s reflections that prove useful as students are reviewing for exams or composing longer pieces of writing, and will help you assess what’s worked and what hasn’t over the course of a semester.
  3. networked digital spaces provide students who are reticent to participate in in-class discussions a potentially more controlled environment for engaging with their classmates, course materials, and you. Such reticence to participate in the moment can result from a number of cultural, emotional, intellectual, social, and psychological factors. Digital spaces for informal participation can thus foster a more inclusive learning environment.    
  4. many faculty members have lectures that they offer time and time again throughout their teaching careers. You might consider recording these, refining them, and then distributing them as viewing or listening assignments for students to review before coming to class, where they can take advantage of proximity to one another and synthesize your lecture with other class materials. Over time, you might build up an archive of these lectures, which could prove to a valuable teaching resource for you and your colleagues.
  5. if you’ve integrated digital spaces into your course, it will likely be easier for students to review course materials from weeks prior and to find and follow arguments and discussion threads. It’s also possible and increasingly simple to integrate quiz and test tools into course’s digital spaces either that you create yourself or that are provided and facilitated by a publisher.          

Each of the examples above assumes that you’ve chosen to use what’s commonly called a “Learning Management System” (at CUNY, this is most likely Blackboard), or that you are building your own web space to accompany your course, using a tool such as WordPress. The idea behind these approaches is that you’re creating a central space to handle web-based communication with your students.

Within each instructional moment, it’s also possible to integrate any number of additional digital tools, as your goals require. For instance, you might have your students use Zotero to organize their research in various databases; or annotate websites using Hypothes.is; or build maps using Google Maps or Carto; or connect and compose on Twitter or Slack; or build exhibits using Omeka or Prezi; or launch their own WordPress sites, which can then be integrated into your course’s main web site.

The opportunities to integrate digital tools are quite vast for a college instructor, and can be overwhelming for someone who’s just beginning to explore these approaches to teaching. Whether and how you do choose and combine tools depends entirely on the intersection between your course goals, your comfort with technology, and the level of uncertainty you’re willing to tolerate in an assignment or a class.

If you go into an assignment confident that even if it doesn’t go exactly as you hoped or planned you’ll still be able to get something useful from it, you’ll develop the benefit of experience and be able to build and refine your design in subsequent semesters. If you’re uncertain about your readiness, a wise approach is to choose and craft a small experiment that you can learn from and build. Look into the support services that you have on the campus where you’re teaching for help crafting assignments, selecting and supporting technology, and reflecting upon the process as you go. You can also feel free to use the Teaching and Learning Center as a resource for these assignments.

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What you can assume about your students’ prior knowledge and connectivity

Just because your students may look to be seamlessly integrated with their mobile devices, have mastered SnapChat filters, and know 743 Pokestops in Queens doesn’t mean that they have a critical understanding of digital technology and how it impacts our lives. CUNY students may have irregular access to the web, may be able to access the web only via devices that have data caps, or may be relying entirely on services provided by the school for access to technology. This guide intends to help those who read it make more informed choices about the tools they deploy in their classes with the intention that that critical sensibility about using digital tools will then get passed onto students.

Many students are quite comfortable using technology, but have little experience reflecting upon their choices in doing so. At CUNY, you can also be quite certain that you will have at least a few older students in your class who have far less experience engaging with consumer technology than entering students, and who need extra guidance and may be uncomfortable asking for it. Your choices and instructional design should take both of these common personas into account.     

When teaching with digital tools, it’s useful to be sure that you provide your students with at least two sets of explanatory contexts. The first is documentation for the specific tools or tools they’ll be using, including information for where more individualized support can be found. Most often the bulk of this information is provided within the tool itself via a Help section or linked resources, but sometimes it makes sense to customize that documentation for the particular use within your course. Second, you may want to provide your students with an overview of the educational technology ecology of your course. What tools are you using, why did you select them and for what purpose, how are they connected, and how do they serve the goals of the course? Helping students engage with these larger contextual questions will help nurture in them a critical awareness of digital technology, and a metacognitive approach to their own learning.  

We’d urge you to resist approaches that assume students are “digital natives” and thus that they’ll easily figure things out. This approach obfuscates much about the nature and quality of the way we and our students engage with technology. College students should be developing a critical sensibility about every idea they engage with in their studies, and digital technology should be included on that list. Given the prevalence of digital tools in our lives and their swift rates of change, it can be argued that a critical awareness of digital technology should be at the top of the list of goals of a university’s general education curriculum. That process begins with the choices faculty members make in their courses, and the ways they present those choices to their students.       

Finally, it’s extremely important to have a realistic and informed sense of the digital access that your students will have as you run your course. Maura Smale of New York City College of Technology and Mariana Regalado of Brooklyn College have done important research at CUNY on commuter students’ use of technology — http://er.educause.edu/articles/2014/9/commuter-students-using-technology. This is a swiftly-evolving area that requires ongoing consideration by faculty members. Their work shows that many students do much of their computing on mobile devices; faculty are encouraged to assess a tool’s mobile-readiness when they are evaluating tools and platforms to integration into their courses. You should also assume that your students may not be connected to the web 24 hours a day, and be prepared to make accommodations for those students whose connectivity is more intermittent. Always be prepared to adjust an assignment or an expectation to the reality of your students’ lives. 

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Questions to ask yourself about a Digital Tool

How, then, do you develop an understanding of digital technology that allows you to make the choices and engage in the pedagogical practices outlined above. Doing so requires more than a sense of a tool’s productive or communicative affordances, though those questions are important. A critical engagement with educational technology also requires thought about the political and ethical implications of our choices and our instructional design, and a willingness to articulate why we’ve made the decisions we’ve made.

Below are some questions you can ask yourself about ed tech tools to better assess how they connect with your pedagogical values.      

Privacy

How does the tool approach its users’ privacy? Assuming it’s web-based, does it require users to display their name or other identifying information such as an email address? Does it allow users to do their work in the tool under an alias? Does it afford users control over who sees their content and activity, or does it require all work to be done on the open web? If a mobile application, does it depend upon location services in order to function? Does it require access to other applications to unlock its full functionality, and if so, might a user’s privacy be undermined?

Most social tools will contain a privacy statement in their documentation, but you may have to dig into the “Terms of Use” statement for a tool to be able to fully answer these questions. You’ll find that tools you use, ranging from Blackboard to Twitter to WordPress to publishers tools, have different approaches to these questions, and some may be more in line with your values than others. Though our preference is for tools that give end users total control over their privacy, there may be use cases where this is not possible. In those instances, it is the instructor’s ethical responsibility to make sure that students understand the privacy implications of their use of a tool. If students are uncomfortable with what an application asks of them, you should be prepared to offer them another method to complete the assignment.  

You may hear reference to “FERPA” in discussions about teaching and advising students. FERPA stands for the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. For an overview of how FERPA impacts the deployment of educational technology tools, see this resource from the US Department of Education — http://tech.ed.gov/privacy/.

If you try a new tool, you may have a colleague or an administrator ask you if it is “FERPA-Compliant,” and you’ll want to have an answer to this question that shows you’ve thought through the privacy implications of the tool you’ve selected and have a strong pedagogical argument for its deployment. A good rule of thumb is to select tools that require little-to-no personally-identifying information for their use beyond an email address. Even if a tool does require additional information, that doesn’t necessarily mean it violates FERPA. As long as students are made aware of what a tool captures and displays about them and they have the ability to opt out, your use will be FERPA-compliant. 

Finally, never post student grades to a public or non-secured environment, which is a clear violation of FERPA. Many faculty members maintain grades in the gradebook on Blackboard, even if they use other tools for more dynamic activities in their classes.   

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User Data

When assessing a tool’s functionality, consider how it approaches the question of user-produced content and data. Who owns content produced through a tool? What rights to user-created content does the company that supports or hosts the tool claim? If a student wants to remove, revise, remix, or otherwise make changes to the content after they’ve produced it, are they able to do so? Can students easily take their work with them after the semester has completed?

Selecting tools that empower users to own what they’ve created can signal to your students that faculty see the knowledge and work that they are producing during the course of their studies as valuable and as connected to work that moves beyond the boundaries of a single assignment or class. The Domain of One’s Own project at the University of Mary Washington — http://umw.domains/ — takes this idea a step further by giving students their own web domains, and then offering curricula that empower students to build their digital and scholarly identities completely within spaces that they own and control.

A project like Domain of One’s Own requires resources, support, and community that you may not have access to on the campus where you are teaching. Nevertheless, the principles of such a project can be applied to both how you assess and select a tool, and then how you nurture your students’ understandings of its utility.

Aesthetics

The material conditions of our classrooms impact how we move through them, and also how we teach within them. A classroom with auditorium seating and chairs bolted to the floor will foster certain approaches to class organization and discussion while inhibiting others.

Similarly, the aesthetics of virtual learning spaces can have an impact on how we teach through them and on how students experience our course. One of the most used arguments against Blackboard and other LMSs is that spaces within them tend to all look and operate in very similar ways with designs that lag significantly behind current web standards. Even with the customization these applications offer, students regularly find such spaces unexciting, a feeling which transfers to the work they do within the space.

The aesthetics of a digital tool also impact its usability. When one launches a Blackboard site it is usually pre-loaded with a set of buttons that correspond to what the engineers at Blackboard believe are the tool’s most used features. These buttons have both an aesthetic impact on the page, in that they occupy space and draw the eye, while also impacting usability by suggesting to instructors how they should teach and learn in the space.

When assessing a tool, and especially a central space to house and foster communication for your course, pay attention to the aesthetic affordances of the platform in which you’re working. At minimum, make some design choices that place special emphasis on how you want your students to use the space and experience the course.

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Digital Opportunities on Campus

When selecting a tool for your course, you might think about the other ed tech opportunities your students will have on campus. If you teach on a campus that has an active WordPress publishing platform–such as Baruch College, Queens College, City Tech, the Macaulay Honors College–there’ll be a greater chance that your students are familiar with how the platform works. This opens up the possibility that you might incorporate into your instructional design. Maybe you have students build their own spaces. Maybe you build a combined space with a colleague in your department or another. Maybe you are more ambitious in the third party tools you integrate into your course because the platform offers you enhanced support for such integration.

If your campus doesn’t have much of a culture of experimentation around educational technology, then you may want to be more conservative with your choices, and build in additional time for troubleshooting issues your students may experience using digital tools for your class.

Regardless of the existing breadth of depth of experience on your campus, it would be helpful for your students to discuss why you’ve chosen the tools you have, and to explore with them the digital ecology of the campus. Doing so will help your students not only better meet the expectations you have for their use of technology, but will also foster the kinds of metacognitive reflection on its use that can potentially lengthen and deepen the impact of your choices.

Accessibility

All faculty must be mindful of and vigilant about questions of accessibility in their courses, which has a significant implications for choices around educational technology. Your campus likely has an office that provides services for students with disabilities (see our Navigating CUNY guide — https://tlc.commons.gc.cuny.edu/navigating-cuny-2/ — for links), but that may or may not have expertise in educational technology and instructional design. This is understandable; ed tech is a rapidly changing field and sometimes it’s impossible to make certain tools completely accessible to every student. For instance, students who are visually impaired may not be able to view videos, and students who have auditory impairment may not be able to listen to audio files. This doesn’t mean that faculty should strike audio and video from their pedagogy. With mindfulness and ethical commitment, faculty members can make sure their courses and assignments are accessible, and that students with special needs get the support that they require in order to participate fully in the course.  

The following suggestions, compiled by Kathryn O’Donoghue of Suffolk Community College, offer guidelines for accessible instructional design.  

Applying Universal Design Principles

Universal design helps instructors create courses that are accessible for all students through flexible, varied, and thoughtful curriculum development.

Faculty can practice Universal Design principles by:

  • Presenting key information and knowledge in multiple ways
  • Providing students with varied ways to access the information,
  • Creating multiple options for assessment of knowledge, and
  • Maintaining student interest using varied pedagogical methods.

For more on universal design, see: http://www.udlcenter.org/.

Creating Accessible Course Materials and Websites

Assistive technology helps many students with disabilities achieve their educational goals. The following list offers guidelines for creating materials that these technologies recognize.

  • Software applications for visually impaired students can read course materials aloud. However, screen readers cannot recognize PDF files which contain text that is an image.
  • Whenever possible, create course materials in Word, then, if desired, create a PDF from the Word document.
  • When creating documents in Word, use styles in Word to organize materials in a course document hierarchically. For example, apply the style “Heading 1” to first level headings, “Heading 2” to sub-headings, etc. This way, screen readers understand the most important information and convey it to visually impaired users.
  • Use the Navigation Pane under the View tab in Word to review the outline of your document and make sure that the headings organize information in the best way.
  • Use Arial, Helvetica, or Verdana fonts, which are easily recognized by screen magnifying applications for visually-impaired students.
  • Use high contrast colors. For example, instead of bright yellow text on a kelly green background, use white text on a dark green background.
  • Use alt tags to describe images.
  • Word makes it easy to create an alt tag for an image. Right or Ctrl+click on the image, select format image, then type a short descriptive phrase under the “alt text” option.
  • This link — http://www.adobe.com/content/dam/Adobe/en/accessibility/pdfs/accessing-pdf-sr.pdf —  to Adobe Reader’s accessibility guidelines offers more advice on creating accessible PDF files.
  • When adding links in your document or website, rather than writing “click here” offer a description of the link.
  • When using multimedia, offer alternatives for students who might not be able to view or hear the media.
  • When creating videos for class, create a script that you follow so that a transcript can easily accompany the video. If possible, add captions to the video.

Be aware that some software and applications are not easily accessible for students with disabilities. For example:

  • Google Docs, while an excellent collaborative writing tool, is not as accessible as other programs. When using Google Docs, you can follow this tutorial from Michigan State University, to insure your document is as accessible as possible: http://webaccess.msu.edu/Tutorials/google-drive.html
  • Many online course materials from textbook companies and Massive Open Online Courses from well-known providers, while compliant with federal guidelines, may not be readily accessible for students with disabilities.

While faculty cannot anticipate every potential learning alternative for students, creating course materials easily recognized by widely-used software programs for students with disabilities and utilizing universal design principles increases the likelihood that the online and hybrid course will be accessible to all students.

The federal government has published a brochure detailing educational institutions’ responsibilities to their students with disabilities: http://www2.ed.gov/documents/news/section-504.pdf

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Tools that are likely to be supported

There is a very strong likelihood that the tools below will be officially supported on the CUNY campus where you’re teaching. This means that you’re likely to have a phone number or email address where you’ll be able to get support

Blackboard

Blackboard is CUNY’s learning management system, and a familiar presence in the lives of all CUNY students. It allows for the posting of course materials, the structuring of assignments, and relative ease of communication between participants in a course. Each campus at CUNY offers local support for Blackboard, usually through the Help Desks and/or IT Services. Blackboard’s strengths are its ubiquity — your students will have seen it before — and the automatic creation of your course and enrollment of students therein. Its weaknesses include its aesthetic, its inaccessibility to the open web, and a top down information architecture that makes it challenging for faculty teaching with it to build courses around student-centered pedagogy.

EMail

Your students will all have email addresses provided by the school. When preparing your course you should think about what policies you will have for email. How frequently will you send/check email? Will you respond to student inquiries within a day? Will you accept assignments via email? Will you require that students note their course and section numbers in the subject line of each email? Being clear about your expectations and setting policies that you then stick to will help make managing your inbox much easier during the course of the semester.  

Smart Classroom Technology

There is a chance that your classroom will be equipped with a web-connected computer and projector, what is commonly referred to as a “smart classroom.” If it is not, you may be able to request that this technology be provided for your class during your meetings. Each CUNY campus has different levels of connectivity, and it’s a smart move to visit your classroom before the start of the semester to see what kind of set-up you have. Your campus’ IT department will be able to provide you with a tutorial and support for any digital technology that is available in your classroom.  

Microsoft Office

All students, faculty, and staff at CUNY have access to the full Microsoft Office suite of software, available through the CUNY eMall — https://cunyportal.cuny.edu/cuny_eMall/docs/software-eMall.html.

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Synchronous/Web Conferencing Tools

Many, though not all, campuses provide office and classroom support for web conferencing tools such as Skype, Adobe Connect, ooVoo, or other similar services. These can be useful for bringing guest speakers into your classroom or connecting with students and faculty on other campuses. Be careful when using them in your class, however, as technical glitches and bandwidth and audio problems can have a negative impact on your experience. Plan and test the tools first, with the assistance of your campus IT staff. 

Clickers

There’s a good chance your campus makes available an audience response system, often known as “clickers.” These tools can effectively introduce a level of interactivity into large classes by allowing students to respond in real-time to questions.   

SPSS

Several campuses make IBM’s Statistical Package for the Social Sciences available to members of their community, which are used across disciplines where researchers and students work with significant amounts of data.

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Tools that are less likely to be fully supported             

If your campus does not officially support a tool, you can still use it in your class… you just can’t rely on support from your campus IT department. See below for tools that are probably not supported, but which a frequently used in classes across CUNY anyway.  

WordPress

If you are interested in using the open web in your courses, or are interested in using a platform that allows you to integrate other tools into a centralized, customizable space with robust privacy controls, you might consider integrating WordPress into your teaching. Developed as a blogging platform, WordPress has evolved to become one of the most widely-used content management systems on the web, and powers more than 25% of the world’s internet sites.

Over the past ten years, several CUNY campuses have been among those worldwide that have adopted WordPress as a publishing platform for their academic communities. These installations look as different as the institutions that they serve: the CUNY Academic Commons, which hosts this site, provides a social academic network to connect faculty, staff, and graduate students across the City University system. Blogs@Baruch provides a space for courses, clubs, organizations, and other co-curricular web publishing. ePortfolios@Macaulay offer WordPress-based portfolios to Macaulay Honors College students and faculty to nurture portfolio thinking and metacognitive reflection that span courses and and careers.

Here’s ten ways to use WordPress sites in your classroom:

Personal Blogging

You can easily launch a site where you’re the sole author and use the space to share course materials with your students, and to invite discussion in your posts’ comments sections.

Group Blog

A blog can serve as a vibrant extension of your classroom that allows students to discuss ideas from class, share resources with one another, and draw in outside participants (if you desire). In a group blog, all students are registered as authors, and share responsibility for building out the content of the site.

An Aggregated Course Blog

If students each have a blog of their own, a faculty member can easily set up a separate blog using that will aggregate all student posts into one centralized space. The benefit of this approach is that each student become responsible for their own space, but members of the class community can also visit a single site to get a sense of what everyone is doing.  

E-Portfolios

Students can easily adapt a WordPress blog for use as an e-Portfolio. They can store all kinds of media in Posts and Pages, and organize navigation however they choose (for instance, the first page on a blog can be a “static” Page, and the navigation bar can be links to kinds of Posts that are categorized as assignments: Research Papers, Poetry, Multimedia Authoring, Senior Seminar, Photographs, etc.

Static Websites

The flexibility of WordPress can be used to create powerful static websites. Faculty can use WordPress as a quick way to create a homepage to publish information about their scholarship, teaching, publications, etc. In the Settings>Reading submenu, you can elect to display a static page rather than blog posts at the front of your blog.

News

Blogging is an easy way of selecting and sharing links from news sites with students, and carving out a unique space for your course to quickly and easily post and discuss current events.

Publications

Blogs reduce some of the technical and resources challenges to creating high-quality online journals, magazines, zines, and numerous other publications. Classes, for example, could create an online journal the present their work to the public.

Multimedia

WordPress makes it easy for users to share personal multimedia, such as audio and video. WordPress’s oEmbed (https://codex.wordpress.org/Embeds) functionality lets users paste a url into a post or a page from various third party media hosting sites, and the content will automatically appear. This makes it easy for faculty and students to post multimedia, and then to author text commenting upon it in close proximity to the original artifact.  

Presentations

WordPress sites can be quite attractive, and you and your students can use them to create presentations that can serve at the same time as a resource for references, ideas, and concepts long after the presentation is over.

There are several more uses for WordPress in academic environments. The Teaching and Learning Center is currently working to find ways to make platforms like WordPress more readily  available across the City University of New York. Once that happens, it will be documented in this space. In the meantime, you might explore launching your own WordPress space (see our friends at Reclaim Hosting https://reclaimhosting.com/ for low-cost, deeply supported web infrastructure aimed at educators).  

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Twitter

Many faculty use Twitter quite effectively in their classes as a source of information and resources for students and as a platform to facilitate communication between students. If you use Twitter in your class, consider creating a class hashtag that students can append to their posts to make them easily findable. Also be sure to think through the privacy implications of asking students to use Twitter in your class, and perhaps consider recommending to them that if they use Twitter in their personal lives, they might create a separate account for use in your course.   

Facebook

Many faculty also make use of Facebook in their courses. The strongest argument for doing so is that many students are already familiar with Facebook and already spend time with the service, so having coursework there integrates well with their already existing workflows.  However, some faculty resist teaching via Facebook because of its commercial and proprietary ethos. Facebook is, essentially, an advertising company, harnessing user data to target advertisements to them. If you are going to use Facebook, be sure to review its privacy policies with your students, and consider offering students who are uncomfortable with the service an alternative way to participate in your class’s activities.  

Slack

Slack is a cloud-based team collaboration tool that offers persistent chat rooms that are organized by topic, private groups, and direct messaging between users. It’s based on the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) clients that emerged in the late 1980s, but also allows the integration of third party tools or Apps that enhance the core functionality. Slack provides a way other than email or blogs to facilitate one to few, one to many, and one to one communication.

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Google Drive

Google Drive provides a variety of collaborative spaces including Docs, Spreadsheets, Forms, Drawings, and Presentations that can be used for a variety of purposes in your classes. Like Facebook, Google is an advertising company whose functionality is driven by collection of its end users data. Their doing so, however, allows them to provide this powerful service free of charge.

We recommend that anyone considering using Google Drive tools in their courses review Google’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Service (https://www.google.com/intl/en_us/policies/), and determining for themselves whether the benefits of using these tools are worth the risks of relying on a proprietary service for the pursuit of your scholarship and teaching and learning.

Should you choose to use Google Drive, Google Docs provides a powerful interface for collaborative writing that tracks each version of the document, allows you to restrict the ability of users you invite to your document to make edits, and allows for a robust dialogue to emerge in the margins of the text. TLC staff use Google Drive extensively in organizing our workshops, producing our guides, and keeping track of the data generated by our programs.    

Etherpad and Etherpad-like Tools

For a less full-featured (and Google-free) collaborative writing space, you might consider using a tool such as Etherpad (open source http://etherpad.org/) or Piratepad (http://piratepad.net/), or setting up your own or Penflip (freemium — https://www.penflip.com/). Tools like these are powerful spaces for communal note taking and collaborative knowledge building.  

The Internet

You can assume that your campus will provide Internet access to you and your students in your offices, in the library, and, quite possibly, in the classroom where you are teaching. You shouldn’t, however, assume that you’ll be able to access every site you want while on campus. Many campuses place restrictions on web services that consume significant amounts of bandwidth or that open them to liability for the violation of intellectual property laws. Most campuses also experience outages in their Internet access from time to time. All of this is to say: if you plan on accessing web-based services during your class or from campus, be sure to test them beforehand, and, even if they work as desired, be prepared with a backup plan in case service is interrupted.

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Video/Audio

It’s quite common for faculty members to integrate video into their courses in a number of ways. You should be able to quite easily embed videos from video hosting sites such as YouTube and Vimeo into your course sites. Your campus library may also provide access to subscription-based video services, such as Swank Digital Campus, which will allow your students to stream commercial motion pictures. It’s quite common for faculty members who are teaching a film course to require that students sign up for a Netflix account for the duration of the course. Look first for guidance from your campus IT department and library to see what services are officially supported, and if you will be asking students to stream videos, make sure that they know what is expected of them in terms of access to an Internet connection with bandwidth sufficient to meet the needs of the assignment.

Faculty members also commonly ask students to produce video content of their own. Increasingly students have the ability to capture and edit video on their cell phones and post directly to a service like YouTube, but this won’t be true of all students. Many university libraries will loan students video cameras to facilitate such assignments, and most consumer computers (including those available for loans on campuses) come bundled with a basic video editing software (iMovie for Mac, Windows Movie Maker for PCs).

When assigning video projects, be sure that your students have a clear understanding of what’s necessary to produce video, where you expect them to host video (your campus will in all likelihood not provide for hosting and storage of student-produced videos), and the privacy implications of relying on a third-party service such as YouTube. 

Much of what’s above also applies to assignments that make use only of audio. Many students have the capacity to record audio via their phones; the campus may make devices to facilitate this available to those who do not. One can host audio files via YouTube, but you might also explore Soundcloud as a resource for hosting audio files or podcasts.   

Mapping Tools

Faculty who are interested in integrating mapping projects into their courses may find help in the library (always consult the librarians!), and may find that their campus provides access to a Geographic Information System such as ArcGIS. For those on campuses where there is no support for GIS programs, Google Maps provides an easy-to-use, free alternative that allows students to build exhibits on top of the Google Maps infrastructure. For indidivuals looking for more customizability in their maps, Carto (https://carto.com/) also provides signficiant mapping functionality at the free level for end users.  

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Educational Technology

Educational Technology

CUNY faculty deploy a range of educational technologies in their courses. Some of this technology is supported by the campus where the faculty member is teaching. Some of it is supported by the University. And some faculty members find and integrate technologies into their courses that are not explicitly supported by CUNY.

This section is organized around three separate constituencies.  The first is those who are new to teaching and who want to learn about the possibilities that educational technology affords in the classroom. The second audience includes more experienced teachers who are moving into the world of online or hybrid instruction, or who are eager to explore the growing field of educational technology. The third audience includes experienced educational technologists who wants to add techniques and tools to their repertoire or join or launch software development projects at CUNY and beyond. 

beginner-ed-tech

Ed Tech for n00bs

intermediate-ed-tech

Hybrid/Online Course Development

ed-tech-r&d-soon

Ed Tech Research and Development