One of the observations I have made over the years, and particularly over the last decade at McMaster University, is that the LMS has mostly displaced the use of personal websites for teaching. The reasons for this are multifaceted and contextual to individual institutions, however, at McMaster, I have observed that it is most likely related to the course themes of Digital Labour (once in the LMS, it is easier, and less labourious to keep using the LMS and the labour of using the LMS can be offloaded to teaching assistants) and Attention (student preference is to have all learning in one place). However, there are secondary contributing factors, which would fall under Algorithms (enhanced ability to track and observe course activity) and Sustainability (not from an environmental standpoint, but a course sustainability practice). There is also a factor of culturalization – since 2011, LMS use has not been mandaked. The makeup of faculty has skewed younger and with that pre-LMS teaching has faded from institutional memory. In many cases, no one even thinks that teaching outside institutional systems is possible or even desirable.
Checking UDL and Accessibility: A Checklist for Educators.
Most countries have adopted disability legislation that requires legally compliant interventions at the organizational level, including businesses, services, and educators, to accommodate the broadest possible range of human experience (Doyle, 2020). We are proposing a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) checklist tool intended to help adult educators in any context examine learning materials that they develop to address accessibility and neurodivergent users.
This tool will function in a branching decision tree to help educators determine if their learning objects have the affordances they need to accommodate all learners. The decision points will be supported with an explanation of how to employ UDL principles for that criteria and a rationale for why it is essential to support that factor, including some examples of specific (dis)abilities the factor supports.
This tool is designed for educators (designers, teachers, trainers, consultants) who create learning materials (digital or physical) for adult learners.
Setting Adult Learners Up for Success
We aim to enable adult educators to create learning materials that accommodate all facets of UDL, so the educational experience can be inclusive and accommodating to all learners.
One in five people has a neuro-difference, such as dyslexia, ADHD, autism, or anxiety disorders (Doyle, 2020). According to Statistics Canada, in a 2017 study, 14% of Canadians aged 25 to 64 with disabilities reported having at least a university qualification, compared with 27% of those without disabilities (Statistics Canada, 2019). These disabilities included neurodevelopmental condition(s) (NDC), a mental health condition (MHC), or both. These are diagnosed conditions, so the number of undiagnosed people is likely far higher. Those adults with undiagnosed learning (dis)abilities have multiple barriers to learning in place and often must look for accommodations in the workplace or post-secondary education. In fact, 43% of employees with (dis)abilities (and neuro-differences) do not feel comfortable approaching their employer to ask for accommodation (Business Disability Forum, 2020). We want to create a tool that supports educators when creating learning materials for all learners, regardless of ability, and mitigating the need for after-the-fact learning accommodations.
There are increasing resources for UDL principles; however, educators need to learn how to apply them in an organized, straightforward manner to determine whether their learning object/module/course meets UDL guidelines.
“The UDL framework is grounded in three principles:
● Multiple means of representation – using various methods to present information and provide a range of means to support.
● Multiple means of action and expression – providing learners with alternative ways to act skilfully and demonstrate what they know.
● Multiple means of engagement – tapping into learners’ interests by offering choices of content and tools; motivating learners by offering adjustable levels of challenge.” (TEAL Center Staff, n.d.)
Our checklist will help educators accommodate the three UDL principles. Other resources list what UDL considers but do not provide the depth or breadth required for someone to design learning materials with all the principles in mind. Given that UDL is a newer approach, many educators are unfamiliar with its benefits and drawbacks. There is a lack of resources that provide this sort of support and an easy-to-access and use tool that provides guidance and awareness on the full range of learner abilities, particularly those with unrealized and unacknowledged learning disabilities. This tool will be helpful for new instructional designers and educators to acclimate them to UDL principles.
Creating an Interactive Decision Tree
We believe Twine will allow us to create branches for different aspects of UDL, be accessible to all educators and be easy to use. If there is an overlap between resources or rationale, we can link to the same resources without having to create them twice. Twine allows for the inclusion of videos and links to web resources, which allows us to address the multimodal framing of UDL within our design.
Our tool configures its users by determining what can be checked. Our project group selects what is essential from a UDL lens to be incorporated into learning materials, focusing on adults with unacknowledged learning disabilities. We aim to provide educators and designers with an easy-to-use tool that helps all adult learners, regardless of barriers or learning abilities.
UDL Checklist Items
In our tool considerations, we would like to include factors such as:
● What devices might learners be using and what are their technical capabilities?
● Have you considered different (dis)ability needs?
● By making it accessible for one group, are you making it less accessible for others?
● Have you considered inclusivity (language, font style and size, colour palette, etc.)?
● Does the approach have an alternative method of delivery?
● Does it provide appropriate and sufficient cognitive support (organizing clues, background information, scaffolding)?
● Does this approach comply with ACR standards? Are there additional provincial compliance requirements?
● Does the mode of assessment consider necessities and fairness (time constraints, presentation method, learner option, authenticity, supporting resources)?
Using Inclusion to Necessitate Usability
This tool is a checklist. One of the limiting factors of checklists is that we will have to determine what is included in the list and how that list is sequenced. Woolgar (1996) would consider this an element of configuring the user. This limitation makes the tool more usable and less overwhelming for practitioners new to UDL principles. Gee (2005) states that we learn best when we understand how things fit into a larger meaningful whole. By reducing the broad scope of UDL to more manageable subtopics, it becomes easier to digest and learn about the benefits of UDL. Chunks have long been proposed as a basic organizational unit for human memory (Laird et al., 1984). Chunking is an essential strategy for learning complex subjects. Laird et al. (1984) demonstrate that a practice mechanism based on chunking can speed up task performance and may be capable of leading to more exciting forms of learning than just simply improving the speed of acquisition.
The output of Twine creates accessible objects delivered on the web. It requires low bandwidth and does not require significant computer processing power to operate, allowing people to access this tool from a desktop or mobile device regardless of location or operating bandwidth.
Determining Usability and Success
Using the usability specifications (as defined by Issa and Isaiah, p. 34) we will examine performance measures such as the responsiveness of the completed site (is there a significant delay from clicking on an item?) and preference measures from a target audience focus group to examine whether this checklist tool improves their understanding of UDL. If time allowed, a longitudinal study could be conducted to see how the covered UDL principles were recalled one year after the user introduced the checklist.
Are Mental Health and Neurodevelopmental Conditions Barriers to Postsecondary Access? (2019, February 19). Retrieved October 9, 2022, from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11f0019m/11f0019m2019005-eng.htm
Business Disability Forum. (2020). The great big workplace adjustment survey: Exploring the experience and outcomes of workplace adjustments in 2019-20. Retrieved October 13, 2022, from https://businessdisabilityforum.org.uk/policy/the-great-big-workplace-adjustments-survey-2019-20/
Doyle, N. (2020). Neurodiversity at work: a biopsychosocial model and the impact on working adults. British Medical Bulletin. 135(1), 108-125. https://doi.org/10.1093/bmb/ldaa021
Gee, J. P. (2005). Learning by design: Good video games as learning machines. E-learning and Digital Media, 2(1), 5-16. https://doi.org/10.2304/elea.2005.2.1.5
Initiative, W. W. A. (n.d.). WCAG 2 Overview. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). Retrieved October 15, 2022, from https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/
Issa, T., & Isaias, P. (2015). Usability and Human Computer Interaction (HCI). Sustainable Design, 19–36. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4471-6753-2_2
Laird, J. E., Rosenbloom, P. S., & Newell, A. (1984, August). Towards Chunking as a General Learning Mechanism. In AAAI (pp. 188-192).
TEAL Center Staff (n.d.). TEAL Center Fact Sheet No. 2: Fact Sheet: Universal Design for Learning. LINCS. Retrieved from https://lincs.ed.gov/state-resources/federal-initiatives/teal/guide/udl
Woolgar, S. (1990, May). Configuring the User: The Case of Usability Trials. The Sociological Review, 38(1_suppl), 58–99. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-954x.1990.tb03349.x
Option I: Content Prioritization
“At a time when state funding for public goods such as universities, schools, libraries, archives, and other important memory institutions is in decline in the US, private corporations are providing products, services and financing on their behalf. With these trade-offs comes an exercising of greater control over the information, which is deeply consequential for those already systematically oppressed…” (Noble, p. 123)
Think and respond to the following questions:
- Explain in your own words what “content prioritization” (Noble, p. 156) means (give some examples) and how (in lay terms) content prioritization algorithms work. With control over the “largest digital repository in the world” (Noble, p. 187), how have Google’s content prioritization algorithms been “consequential for those already systematically oppressed”? How do they impact your professional life? (give specific examples and briefly discuss)
- What are some ways PageRank impacts your personal life? (specific examples and briefly discuss) (How) can you impact PageRank? Explain.
Content prioritization essentially is a resorting algorithm based on a myriad of factors. In Google Search, it is based on things like location data, prior search history, demographic information about your account, and other personalization. While this might seem like a good and useful thing, it does often lead one down a rabbit hole. Google Search, like most sites, wants your attention. The more time you spend with it the better. The more searches, means that they can build a better profile of you and what you want to see. I will come back to that in a moment.
When people started figuring out how to improve their own sites search ranking, they started to manipulate link text to manipulate Google’s algorithm for search ranking. This lead to using potential misleading link text (the early internet history’s version of being Rick-Rolled) to mislead users through a process called Google Bombing. As these became passed around early social media, they also caused Google to rank them higher in priority based on the number of searches being run for the search term. The one that might be memorable was during the second Iraq War, anti-war groups made an effort to link “miserable failure” to the White House’s website. Typically, these Google Bombs were not long-lasting, as you can see from Google Search trends for the phrase “miserable failure”. However, their impact was.
The manipulation of search ranking was seen as a strategy from radical right groups (McSwiney in Devries, Bessant & Watts, 2021, p. 25) to access, recruit and radicalize users. The sheer volume of racist propaganda online is almost pervasive. If one of Google’s search algorithm key ranking criteria is based on volume of links, it is no wonder that racist, biased sites get pushed up the rankings. One of Noble’s arguments throughout the book is that while Google builds the algorithm that pushes certain sites to the top of the pile, they are not responsible for it (Noble, 2018). So, it follows when Google autocompletes a search query with a stereotypical response, that has an impact on the viewer – either reinforcing a negative view or potentially introducing self-doubt and the ranking algorithm every time it is clicked.
In my professional work, I often am searching websites for documentation about educational technology products. I am often working on a work account which has little to no demographic information, never search logged in, with no location technology able to be queried. Essentially, my work account is a bit like a burner account. So typically, no, I do not see any evidence of discrimination, however documentation does have discrimination built into it – the types of archetypes used, the images of people describe more about the company than many think. However, from a search perspective, I do not use Google autocomplete ever, I do not use Google as a sole search provider, I move around (Duck Duck Go and Bing are two suitable competitors), so that there isn’t much to give to one provider.
Back to the popularity contest that is PageRank, and attention. While I do not use Google exclusively, PageRank’s algorithm strategy is pretty pervasive amongst search. It is part of what was taught at Udacity’s big “build a search engine” MOOC (I completed this in 2012?) and is what Yandex and Bing use to scrape the web for links, and to count the number of links that point to a site with a set of keywords. It is a common strategy and would like yield common results – except you do not have the ranking algorithm component, but both ranking and link scraping work hand in hand. The first way that PageRank influences daily life is the reliance on what is popular over what is factual. I have seen this over and over, popular misconceptions – and how tales take over the reality of what happened. Sure, we have context for some of that (in that disadvantaged groups often do not get their stories told at all) but Google’s focus on popularity assumed (when PageRank was developed initially) that people are mostly truthful. Instead, 15 years later, it is less about people and more about how many resources can be deployed to increase site ranking, essentially privileging the wealthy (who are disproportionally white, heterosexual and male) and resourceful.
Well, one way to circumvent PageRank is to Google Bomb it to uselessness. Essentially fill it with obfuscated information. However, that only punishes you – because it makes it less useful to you. One other way to make PageRank be influential is to pay less attention to it and SIFT the sources. Go straight to the source rather than Google Search everything (the number of times I have seen someone search for the website, rather than just type the site address is more than I can count in the last decade). Use other search engines. Avoid giving attention to things that are false. Support platforms that do not combine personal data with search results.
Devries, M., Bessant, J., & Watts, R. (Eds.). (2021). Rise of the far right : Technologies of recruitment and mobilization. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Noble, S. (2018). Algorithms of Oppression : How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. NYU Press.
1. Who were these people, and how did/does each contribute to the development of artificial intelligence? How did/does each think “intelligence” could be identified? (~50 words each)
Alan Turing: In the context of artificial intelligence, Turing is best known for developing Turing’s test – which is a game that a computer and a human answer questions with the interregator trying to determine which is human. While this test of “thinking” is a bit limited especially when you consider a computer could be trained to mimic a human response to questions, it is the first ideas of what kinds of qualifications artificial intelligence might require.
John McCarthy: McCarthy is often listed among the parents of the artificial intelligence field. To me, McCarthy is most important for opening up the philosophical problems of AI (McCarthy and Hayes, 1969) and trying to separate intelligence from humanity, and to start to dissect what people mean by intelligence. McCarthy believed that intelligence was the “computational part of the ability to achieve goals in the world”. (McCarthy 1997, in Sutton, 2020)
Herb Simon: Another founding parent of artificial intelligence, Simon drew from his early research into decision making and brought that rationality and requirements for large data to draw an analysis from to the field of artificial intelligence. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1978 for his work on how people make decisions when they have incomplete information.
Marvin Minsky: Minsky in 1960 wrote about how artificial intelligence needed to address problems from multiple perspectives. He viewed artificial intelligence as a complex problem solving divided into five main processes: search, pattern recognition, learning, planning and induction. Minsky believed that when computers were able to take into account each of those aspects, that computers would be considered intelligent.
Timnit Gebru: Gebru was the co-lead of Google’s ethical AI team and was forced out as the result of a paper that suggested that large language models that train AI were often discriminatory. (Hao, 2020) This paper, and the subsequent social media discussion around ethical AI, has ushered in a new dimension to consider when developing AI tools.
2. How do “machine (programming) languages” differ from human (natural) ones? (~100 words).
Harris (2018) writes that the difference between the two languages are that programming languages are completely described, having their own set of rules, and they do not evolve with their usage on their own. I would add two other aspects in that natural language is used to create programming languages, and programming languages need a compiler. Of course, our own natural languages require interpretation (even when using the same natural language).
3. How does “machine (artificial) intelligence” differ from the human version? (~100 words).
If we deem AI intelligence at all, artificial and biological are not comparable. Firstly, artificial intelligence is limited in a myriad of ways that make it overall limited in capacity. Looking at AI art generators – they can function within the programming of the generator. The generator cannot become inspired by another art style. Intelligence is not simply the regurgitation of facts but drawing from different disciplines to develop novel ideas. Secondly, while artificial intelligence operates within parameters with a specific purpose, human intelligence does not. It wanders, it does not simply focus on solving the problem posed to it, but also runs a biological body on top of it.
4. How does “machine learning” differ from human learning? (~100 words)
Machines do not have the ability to assess the motivation for an author to publish something or discriminate against false information. Essentially because humans can be flawed and discriminatory (or outright racist, sexist or biased) and humans make these algorithms that determine how and on what machines learn, it follows that any bias that might exist in a human programmer, or body of data that trains the machine, would introduce those flaws into the machine. However, a human can correct those flaws (or double down on them) whereas the machine would simply use the programming to “learn” the same facts.
5. And for your LAST challenge, a version of the Turing Test: how do YOUR answers to these questions differ from what a machine could generate? (~200 words)
It all depends? Is the AI trained to draw from the same sources I have drawn (and linked) to? If so, then yes. Is AI likely to draw the same parallels that I see with the power structures that serve as guideposts for society and programming as the guiderails for AI? No. It strikes me that elements of my answers, particularly the answers to question 1, would be easy for a search engine (never mind a paragraph writing AI) to replicate. It might have some issue with the personalization that I tried to provide. In fact, it might give a better answer. Less susceptible to my personal interests in what the author wrote, or what they might have said. The answer to question 5, would probably lead to a variety of interpretations? Or maybe the AI would have a way to answer these sorts of self-examination questions? It reminds me of the Voigt-Kampff test from the movie Blade Runner, which is an empathy test designed to foil AI.
Harris, A. (2018, November 1) Human languages vs programming languages. Medium. https://medium.com/@anaharris/human-languages-vs-programming-languages-c89410f13252
Hao, K. (2020, December 4) We read the paper that forced Timnit Gebru out of Google. Here’s what it says. MIT Technology Review. https://www.technologyreview.com/2020/12/04/1013294/google-ai-ethics-research-paper-forced-out-timnit-gebru
McCarthy, J. and Hayes, P. (1969) Some philosophical problems from the standpoint of artificial intelligence. John McCarthy’s Home Page. http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/mcchay69.pdf
Sutton, R.S. (2020) John McCarthy’s definition of intelligence. Journal of Artificial General Intelligence 11(2), 66-67 http://www.incompleteideas.net/papers/Sutton-JAGI-2020.pdf
The Nobel Prize (1978, October 16) The Prize in Economics 1978. The Nobel Prize. https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/economic-sciences/1978/press-release/
1. Formulate a conception of usability (based on the Issa and Isaias (2015) chapter on HCI and Usability). Use what you’ve learned about usability from that chapter—but you are not summarizing or repeating their ideas. Rather, you are setting out the idea of ‘usability’ you have put together from reading that chapter. Do NOT overly rely on quotes. And remember to use proper citation practices. If you are using text that is not your own, quote and cite it, including page numbers.
HCI (Human Computing Interaction) is essentially a translation service, in that it attempts to communicate between a machine and a human the purpose of the machine. Usability is the measurement of the success of that translation. If a piece of software or website is usable, then it is described as intuitive, easy to use, simple. To be usable, a designer must examine the functionality, efficiency, effectiveness of the software and take into consideration the user’s needs, context and satisfaction. (Issa and Isaias, 2015, p. 30) While this article was written only seven years ago, it seems like the authors only consider positive usage of technology and do not consider, or consider deeply, the idea of designing around bad actors. Wiegers contends that you should design around bad actors, and to prevent users from possibly misconstruing the information conveyed – in that usability should factor in not only the positive uses of a system, but also how it can be misused. (Wiegers, 2021)
2. Then, think about what is missing from this conception, from a specifically educational perspective, and on that basis try and patch together a reasonably grounded and defensible conception of educational usability.
While usability is a key concept in designing learning – especially the examination of context, and user/student needs, it is missing two other key components. While Issa and Isaias (2015) suggest that the user factors in HCI include motivation, enjoyment and experience level (p. 28) it does not adequately address cultural factors of the user/student. While culture will contribute to levels of access and equity, these factors are often great indicators of success in an educational context. This framework is very much built on western ways of knowing and draws from behaviourist theories of development. For instance, when the designed system works, the user is rewarded (by receiving information, having the computer complete a task, etc.). There is no real opportunity to design for remediation and it appears to have a very binary approach to solving complex problems.
3. Revisit Woolgar’s (challenging but rewarding!) account of “usability gone wrong,” which demonstrates several ways a usability study ended up configuring ‘users,’ thereby undermining the usefulness of usability. Identify and discuss 2 of Woolgar’s examples.
At the crux of Woolgar’s arguments of configuring the user during usability trials it was particularly interesting how he suggested that physical location of user testing is a factor in the results of the testing. Of course, when conducting research, you try to control those variables, and it is very clear (to me) that usability testing is far less rigorous than controlled, double-blind research. However, Woolgar (1990, p. 78) recounts how recalling computer features at Brunel University was different than when in the Stratus offices. If we take this as a common occurrence across users, then how we interact with computers will be different based on physical location. So, it follows that bringing users into a testing area to gather feedback on usability will be different than if the device were provided in their usual operating environment.
A second instance of configuring the users is the selection of who is eligible to participate in user testing (Woolgar, 1990, p. 83) – in this case it is noted that often early adopters, and people who are predisposed to like the product would be ideal testers. However, it is entirely unlikely that these people would provide you a new user’s perspective, or someone who was predisposed to not like computers, or be unfamiliar with computers. In fact, the opposite would likely be the case – users who were familiar and comfortable with computers. It only follows that someone who was familiar with computers would be at least more capable of using them, having a concept of what to do with them.
4. Finally, discuss the two excerpts quoted at the top of this IP, that have been drawn from your readings for this unit, and discuss differences you see in these 2 positions on the uses of usability.
Issa and Isaias (2015) are suggesting that user testing is a feedback mechanism to further improve software and hardware and Woolgar (1990) is suggesting that user testing is a confirmation mechanism – to confirm the assumptions made in designing software and hardware. I see both of these linked to a philosophical debate as to the role of computers in human’s lives – whether humans control computers, or computers determine the actions of humans – and the truth is somewhere in the middle. It is dependent on your role with the computer. Computer programmers control what is possible and what is not within a game, or website. Human users subvert those possibilities through speedruns and other bending of the rules that humans put in place in the first place. Usability in the early days of computing would never have envisioned some of the ways people would have used computers.
Issa, T., & Isaias, P. (2015). Usability and human computer interaction (HCI) In Sustainable Design (pp. 19-35). Springer.
Woolgar, S. (1990). Configuring the user: The case of usability trials. The Sociological Review, 38(1, Suppl.), S58-S99.
Wiegars, K. (2021). Designing around bad actors and dangerous actions. UX Collective. https://uxdesign.cc/designing-around-bad-actors-and-dangerous-actions-8fc7984c510d
The project brief was to find a document and explore how it portrays indigenous and First Nations peoples – and while it might have been easy to pick something historical, where you would judge the historical figure outside of the time, I thought that I would take on something from my lifetime.
The document I chose: People of Native Ancestry, A Resource Guide for the Primary and Junior Divisions (students).
I chose this document for a few reasons. One key reason being that it is a document from my lifetime and I certainly would have experienced the suggestions of this document from 1975 in my early elementary schooling experience (I started kindergarten in 1978). I am curious to understand the thinking of how teachers would have been instructed to teach about indigenous peoples during the time, and how my experience and admittedly limited understanding of the local Six Nations people growing up might have been reflected in this document. I really do not recall any of the lessons, or even if they were delivered.
This document serves two purposes. One, to help teachers understand and teach people with Indigenous ancestry and two, to teach “[a]s all Ontario children grow in their knowledge of native peoples, both native and non-native people will benefit. Tolerance in a multi-cultural society is built upon active participation in the process of learning about cultures other than one’s own.” (p. 8).
In searching the document the following terms were used to describe indigenous people(s):
Specific Nation Mentions:
One strong theme that arose throughout the writing is the othering of indigenous peoples. They were to be recognized as distinct, but the text treats indigenous people as if there was little to no history between indigenous and white people (outside of the foreward by Chief Dan George of the Burrard Indian Reserve, and the Appendix A, which spans 2 and a half pages -with a paragraph of veritable whitewashing of residential schools, which likely some parents might have experienced). How can one attempt to integrate into a “multi-cultural” society without at least a deeper understanding of history, and the injustice of the history which had been happening for (at that time) hundreds of years, is in modern context, unthinkable.
One other theme, and it is probably a key thing to note, this being a government document, it has chosen to use Native rather than any other language. Indian came up as part of a historical quote, or in the context of naming an act of Parliament or group. In fact Native was the most common reference, and when other children were mentioned they were non-Native. The act of constantly comparing, as if non-Native children might not have their own complexities, histories, familial demands, and approaches to learning and authority. There was a subtle, but present, holding up of (ostensibly white male) children as ideal, and Native as other. In many ways, the othering that was done throughout the document, undermines the front-and-centering of indigenous children by acknowledging their indigenousness. It is definitely a subtle thing, but definitely present.
Taking this course was a mistake. Well, for me it was. You might need the information. There were a few moments of learning, but for me, who plans and manages “elearning” (whatever that means) as a daily activity, the course was frustrating as it lacked the nuance of the day-to-day, it placed the institution at the centre of the planning when in reality, in my experience this is not planned at the institutional level – it requires a grassroots approach for many years before the institution codifies and standardizes it. The assignments were almost too focused on institutional needs (and I understand why they went this route with the design) – but in all likelihood, only a few of your graduates are going to be at that institutional level to influence change and by the time they get there, Tony Bates’ book will be horribly out of date and the lessons learned will not apply. I also never really got into a rhythm with this course. I’d literally read the readings on Monday, then think for four or five days, I’ve got to do the discussion…. Some weeks I couldn’t even do that. This course, for whatever reason broke my spirit. I’m not egotistical enough to suggest I know it all, I don’t. I think I never was able to connect the readings to the assignments, and the things that we were to do in the class didn’t ever really gel for me. Some of the gaps in the content were glaring for me as well.
In one assignment there’s an elearning readiness check – which assumes that the institution wants to engage in elearning at all! They can’t be ready if they don’t want to do it…. Then the tools that we could use to “assess” readiness were outdated and almost laughable. There was no mention of diversity, equity, accessibility or privacy in any of the assessment tools. Security was an afterthought. Interoperability, standards… those were not addressed as well. Cost was reduced to a line-item. Those are requirements in 2022, as in not optionals or nice to have, but as an institution you must look at technology and learning through those lens’. For a course to just skip over these issues is a bit disheartening.
Even if the assessment tools didn’t have those present – it’s easy to build that into the course by redesigning it to instead have the student design the readiness tool (which then releases the faculty from the dating of the material and the readings can be updated without requiring re-writes of the assessments) and build common factors through discussion and then design a “rubric” for assessment. Make that your first assignment. The second assignment is to look at implementation plans that are available. Analyze them for how your rubric might apply. This rubric could also be used for an RFP like scenario outside of the curriculum. Then re-write the rubric to address any gaps seen in implementation plans. Show some other rubrics. Critique the rubric as your final piece. Or have a reflective piece. Then you have a student-driven, student-centred course.
Admittedly I coasted through and put little effort into this. So I did the required minimum, slowly faded from discussions (which I hate when they’re so structured and stilted and non-organic). This wasn’t a fault of the course, it’s well designed, and was delivered by a facilitator that seemed to care (I would write truly cared, but I don’t know if that’s true or not). I, as a student, did not care. And for that I am sorry somewhat, because I should’ve been able to find a moment or a spot to hold up as worthwhile, but I couldn’t find that spot. So in some ways I failed this course, not marks-wise, but failed to be a good contributor. I was really disheartened by the lack of modern resources. I was really disappointed that this class, that I was honestly looking forward to at the beginning, was really frustrating for me. I can taste how close this is to a useful class for the modern context, but it just falls short. In a little bit of hindsight, it’s probably just a course that’s been in need of a refresh and probably is due up for a change shortly (fingers crossed!).
Oh, and to top it all off, I reused an APA cover sheet from a previous course, and the first time I copied it I didn’t know how to spell the facilitator’s name, so I gave it shot – as a placeholder – with the intention of correcting it later. I never did. To compound my utter stupidity, I submitted it, not once but twice, because the second time I just reused the same cover sheet and didn’t even bother checking. I did pull it together for the last submission, and sent off a mea culpa letter to the prof just to let them know I’m an idiot.
I started writing this in 2018, and I still struggle with the ideas that I’m trying to express with this idea. Ultimately I’m talking about the power structure in classrooms, or online environments and how those who are uncomfortable with those power structures can do very little with the environments themselves to dilute the power differential.
I’m often troubled by the term engagement. If attention to a thing is the most important commodity in modern capitalism, is engagement worth more than mere attention? We have seen with things like video games that attention is one thing, but engagement is a whole other metric. There’s an emotional component to engagement that isn’t there with mere attention.
And is engagement a coercion strategy? Are we asking students to become invested in something based on the value we think it will add to a student’s learning, even using marks as a lever to get students to do what we want them to do?
I totally remember having that yelled at me. The lie that’s embedded in that line is that it’s missing the obvious – to what? In most cases, the missive should read “Pay attention to me!” No wonder I did so mediocre in school – I don’t really react well to that, and I think most of us don’t react well to that sort of pandering. That sort of coercive effort of attention grabbing never worked well for me. Maybe it’s the belief I hold that “good work gets noticed” and as I’ve gotten older I still think that’s true somewhat. But it might be 20 years later, after it’s made the rounds and the artist has died. Or the author. Or the creator. You see that on YouTube now, with someone putting out a video in early 2009, and it comes up in a search and it’s great. And has 234 views. You have a whole algorithm in the way of finding things organically now, and with no real way to control how you are served content (and that’s probably the google killer – having an adjustable algorithm that feeds you not only what you want but how you want) content creators that are successful aren’t successful because of their content per se, it’s that they know how to manipulate the algorithm to get you to see the content.
Which brings us back to metrics and measurements. Modern engagement metrics have shifted language such that really it’s attention, and not engagement, that they’re measuring. It literally took close to four years for me to figure out what bothered me about engagement metrics. Now I know it’s not about engaging with someone, it’s about getting them to pay attention to you. It explains a lot about why modern advertising methods are all about “engagement” which is theoretically deeper than “attention” – but the metrics they use (click-throughs, time on page) really don’t speak to engagement, as it does to attention.
Now when I’m talking about engagement in a classroom that’s likely different than engagement in an online environment – but engagement in an online environment is measured using the same methods that are about attention – which is a bit of a passé way to look at engagement in a classroom. Paying attention to a lecture is different than engaging with a lecture – and paying attention to a post in the LMS is different than engaging with a post in the LMS. Engaging is more associated with doing something in an educational context. So in many ways applying the common way of measuring engagement is not going to elicit much useful information in an educational context. Yet I still see people building courses in such a way to try and leverage attention, rather than engagement.
What do you think will engage people better? A well formed discussion question, or a lengthy video with interactive “engagement” in the form of questions? I would think that a well formed discussion question might linger longer in one’s mind.
I began writing a draft of this after the place I worked at as we were decommissioning one of our institution-wide systems and thought about the other side of the process, onboarding systems. Of course, the end of the line is a natural place to do some reflection. I won’t dig too deep into the specifics of each (that would require a beer or two to lubricate the wheels) – but I’ve been parts of teams that introduced (cumulatively) 10 new organization-wide systems over the last two decades, across three education institutions. I’ve also been part of decommissioning upwards of 15 or 16 different organization-wide systems. It’s a skill I’ve developed.
So where to start with tips? Use the vendor. They are still looking to impress you, so make sure you use their implementation process. Make sure you take advantage of every single opportunity to get to know them, how they think. As an administrator on a system, it really helps to understand the assumptions they’ve made to get to the decisions they made about designing the system. Attend their promo webinars, read almost anything you can about the system.
Talk to others who use the system. The vendor will likely give you someone who loves the system and they’re useful, but look at the list on their website of institutions and cold-call. Work your network. Search Twitter. Look for who replies to their tweets/social media and see if they are actually using the system. Yes, it’s detective work, but it’ll likely show you what you’re in for when you actually get the system stood up. This forms an informal community of people you can reach out to when the vendor doesn’t understand your questions, or when you don’t want to ask the vendor.
Get stakeholders involved early. Get Equity and Inclusion involved before you sign anything. Get accessibility and privacy involved before you sign anything. Don’t be a bungler who buys a thing, and then talks to the Privacy Office and Equity. Make it part of your purchasing process (even if it’s not required). Equity and Inclusion has an opinion about tech, especially in light of the millions of whitewashed claims out there about AI and all sorts of stuff. Even more innocuous stuff about language choices – where we can help make things more equitable easily. Having those voices at the table are, in my opinion, crucial.
Plan out you transition and add time to that plan. My rule of thumb is times everything by 1.5. If you can afford to, triple the time. You know it’s not going to go smooth. For a transition – remember you’re doing double work – decommissioning one system while onboarding another – that requires people to do work while you’re occupied.
When we did a system switch, the vendor was in the middle of a major overhaul of the system and we had a month to onboard and get people going. The onboarding and late adoption cost 40 hours overtime (including working on a holiday at 2.5 times pay) and something like 100 lieu hours. It would have been helpful to draw out the five-year plan (even if the contract was three years) and identify over the next five years, who’s doing what. Who’s job is it to be promoting this tool? What’s the communication plan for expressing the value of the tool? Who does that? You don’t have to set metrics to achieve – but you should expect early growth and adoption, then settling. What does that look like? Say you start with 15 courses using a tool, who supports that tool? What happens if they get sick? Leave the institution? Lay all that stuff out in writing. The person that gets sick or leaves might be you. Ambiguity at this point is a death screetch heard across the heavens. It kills buy-in and confidence in the long-term support of the thing. If it’s only a short-term solution, that’s fine, make sure folks know so that they aren’t envisioning a long-term solution on something that is going away next week.
The next time the team negotiating the contract (this time for web conferencing) took all the time and left us a month to implement and switch. We did it, but the money saved was eaten up by overtime and lieu time. I swore I would never do that again. The very next time they gave us less…. and it ended up costing more. So now, I know when contracts are up and I’m asking a year (or more) in advance things like “are we renewing?” Of course, I have bosses that ask me about this sort of stuff now, and I have some influence… but not everyone is so lucky. To that end, sometimes there are things you cannot control. Be honest with your users about where the issue is – even if it’s with you. If you’re within six months of the end of the contract and folks are talking about pulling the plug, make sure you’re getting extra people to manage the transition. I work with bona fide rockstars. As a group we can do pretty much everything in whatever ridiculous timeframe you can do. However, there’s a functional limit. As a lead, I know what our functional limit is, and it’s my job to make sure my bosses are aware of how close we are to functional limits.
Lastly, make sure your ebullient supporters are tamped down a bit. Let them know, you love their enthusiasm, but not everyone is on the same page. It can be offputting to have ardent followers of a tech solution be cheerleading in the face of skeptics. All that does is create a divisive atmosphere that doesn’t end up helping anyone.
Gosh, this makes a system that had some good vibes feel look stodgy and old. So much so, I wrote (maybe my first intentional) Twitter thread about it a couple weeks ago.
Basically, my argument is that while I understand the need to rebrand from time to time, I’m going to suggest the IPO and going public aspect of D2L’s recent offerings lead me to believe a couple of things. I don’t have any insider information as most of the handful of people who I knew on the inside of D2L have left in the last few years. The ones that remain have been tight-lipped if they do know, so take this speculation for what it is – pure speculation.
It looks, from my higher education perspective that the LMS market is kind of saturated. Most large and small institutions have one, have had one for years, and are kind of settled. Yes there’s still Blackboard losing clients at a rapid rate, and Canvas and Brightspace picking up users. So it’s not a stagnant market for any reason, but it is, let’s say, mature. This maturity will start to let the LMS folks look for other potential markets for their products – and D2L has been looking at the workforce/corporate for quite a few years. At the last few Fusions I attended (Orlando, Florida (2019?) was the last in-person, and I presented with my colleague Katrina Espanol-Miller in 2020), there was significant highlights from corporate clients. Half a dozen people I met after the discussion l led on data, almost half of them were corporate clients of D2L. In informal chats in the hall, I met at least four or five people who were, you guessed it, corporate clients or prospective clients. That was 2019. I’m sure, three years later, they’ve made more in-roads.
So to say they’re trying to make in-roads with corporate clients is not a high-risk statement.
This re-brand shows that. They’ve gone from a very education feel, to a corporate feel. I did a quick trends search for corporate branding in 2022 and found a decent Forbes article (where if it’s not true, it likely will become fact because of the trust that Forbes engenders): https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2021/12/14/eight-branding-and-design-trends-to-follow-in-2022/ – and the D2L rebrand coincidentally ticks off a lot of these boxes. Retro/Throwback Design? Yes. This looks like Blackboard did in the early 2000’s. Bold but muted colors? Yes, gone is the bold orange, in favour of slate grey and accents of colors. Some of the other trends: online communities and platforms? Yep, that’s built-in with Community and the Product Idea Exchange. Hybrid Events? They’ve been doing webinars since I can remember. In fact I remember them using Adobe Connect way back when… Purpose-Driven Campaigns? I suspect some of the subtleties in the design will be the connections there.
I frankly don’t think this moves the needle, and my outrage is more along the lines of “you’ve taken something decent and made it ugly”. And I should own up to my own preferences, which is that I honestly liked the previous designs, and incremental changes they made. As goofy as the moose is, it seemed like an organic thing that developed from the customer base actually liking it – and the D2L amplified it. That’s good customer relationships. To ditch that is akin to farting in an elevator and getting off at the next floor. Yeah, the stink is temporary, but it’s pretty unpleasant for those who wanted to ride in the elevator.
D2L has a bit of history of unveiling changes – in 2014, they shifted from Learning Environment to Brightspace. I was among the folks who were in person at Fusion, and thought Brightspace? People will shorten it to BS! Thanks D2L, now us folks supporting it will have snarky opportunities. That didn’t come to pass and thankfully they were right in that they could get ahead of it. However, there’s still snarky folks (hey, no, don’t show me that mirror!) that bring it up from time to time. It was one of those things that were fine and didn’t need change – but turned out to be inconsequential in the grand scheme, but still obfuscates what the product does. Much like their current strategy of D2L Brightspace and D2L Wave. What is the difference between the two products? Oh, don’t bother leaving a comment below on what the difference between the two are, I get that Brightspace is aimed at the education sector and Wave is aimed at corporate. The point is though, I shouldn’t have to go look it up (and read the copy) – the name isn’t synonymous with learning environment, or integrated learning platform, or LMS or VLE, and it just creates a barrier to understanding at a glance. I guess that creates “engagement” with a customer?
I do like D2L as a company, and the majority of people at the company I’ve interacted with over the last 13-14 years have been decent, caring and for the most part forthright. Although these signals are a bit concerning – if we start to see prioritization of corporate clients over higher education needs, what does that mean for existing clients in the higher education sector? I don’t want training level tracking in higher ed. I want students to be able to add content easily (as I have asked for YEARS). I want peer review baked into the assignments and groups tool. I want quizzing to allow uploaded files. I suspect that corporate needs don’t reflect those desires. Hopefully D2L can satisfy both needs.