Unit 6: Selecting and adopting technology tools
Students and teachers are accessing their online courses on a variety of devices, including desktop computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets, e-book readers, and even televisions. With so many available options, and with more on the horizon, it can be difficult to determine the best way to design and deliver online and blended learning.
Get to know the different delivery options so that you are not surprised should your students complain that they do not have access to course content.
In the following paragraphs, example students give their thoughts on which devices they prefer and how and why they use these devices in online learning.
Apps: Applications that run on smartphones and tablets. An example of an...
Did you know?
When designing and delivering an online course, you need to ensure that...
"I prefer to access my courses and complete my coursework on my laptop computer. I can work anywhere there is a Wi-Fi connection, and I like being able to access all my files in one place. I also like having a full keyboard to work with. I can't type on those little screens!"
"I like using my tablet to access my courses and complete assignments. I prefer not to carry a heavy laptop around, and I have all the apps I need to complete my assignments. Using a stylus to sketch ideas on the tablet means that I don't have to type everything out all the time. All of my LMS/VLE components are accessible on my tablet, and I can connect directly with my teacher using a virtual meeting app!"
"I love that I can access my course on my mobile phone! I can check calendar dates and read through course announcements and email at any time. I still use my laptop computer to complete assignments and focus on learning content, but having access to communication tools is a huge benefit for me."
"A friend of mine showed me how to connect my computer to my television! Now I can access course content on the big screen. This is really helpful when I'm watching course videos and presentations. I recently added a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard to my setup so that I could input content here as well."
If you already teach an online or blended course, how much of your content is accessible on a mobile device? As noted previously in this course, mobile learning can necessitate special consideration.
JISC TechDis guide to the benefits, disadvantages and practicalities of...
Take some time to review your course with a smartphone, tablet, or e-book reader to see the results. In some cases you may not be able to access content. In other cases you will be surprised to see that most of the content delivery works on mobile devices, either within a browser application or a specific LMS/VLE mobile application. More commonly, however, you will find challenges in the areas of interaction and assessment.
The 'Useful links' pod to the right provides an excellent resource to help teachers maximise the benefits, and manage the disadvantages, of using mobile devices for online learning.
YouTube demonstration of Read and Write Gold software: www.youtube...
In the course of your online teaching, you may work with students with disabilities who use special assistive technology tools to help access course materials. Your institution may alert you to the fact that you are working with a student with a specific disability, and who may be using some of these technology tools to assist in their learning.
Knowing the types of technology tools available will help you understand some of the challenges your students may be facing related to the types of content you choose to include in your courses, and the interaction approaches you take.
The following paragraphs will explain more about assistive technology tools and their uses for students with disabilities.
Your institution will have a Disability Service or Learning Technologies...
Students with motor control issues, or limited hand function may use a specialist mouse or keyboard. They may also use an assistive input device in place of the keyboard on their smartphone or tablet.
Students who are blind or have severe visual impairment will use a screen reader or text-to-voice application to interpret the contents of the screen. Screen readers actually process the text on the screen and deliver it via audio. Page content is processed in a linear format and images cannot be read. Students with learning difficulties such as dyslexia, or students with limited physical dexterity may also find screen readers useful.
Students who are blind or have severe visual impairments, or students with learning difficulties or limited motor control, may use voice-to-text applications to compose discussion forum posts, write papers, and even complete exams.
Students with visual impairments may require enhancements to their screen displays, such as larger text, more contrast, and special colour selection if they are colour blind.
Students who have hearing disabilities need to be provided with scripts or closed captioning for all video materials included in their courses. Some video services have closed captioning built in.
Students with visual impairments who are fluent in Braille may opt to have a Braille output device or printer. Braille screens provide content on a device with raised pins which change as the content is updated. Braille printers print out content as embossed Braille characters on paper.
Remember to take time to survey your students to see what devices they are using to access their online courses. Leave room for students to comment on their preferences, and to list any issues they may have had in the past when trying to access their online course materials.
Apps: Applications that run on smartphones and tablets. An example of an app for teaching and learning would be a mobile version of the LMS/VLE.
Assistive device: A technology tool or device that assists users with a disability to hear, see, or interact with content. Examples include screen readers, and voice-to-text applications. An example would be the JAWS screen reader which converts all screen material to audio for students with visual impairments.
Bluetooth: A wireless technology that enables the transmission of data over short distances. Examples include Bluetooth headsets, keyboards, and mice.
Gestures: Some gestures are specific to mobile devices, such as a pinching motion to make images smaller, and a wipe across the screen to move a page.
Location: Many mobile devices have built-in GPS systems which enable location-based services. This allows content to be delivered related to the location of the user. Augmented reality applications use location information to deliver related data.
QR Code: A coded image which can be read by a smartphone or tablet that is automatically decoded with the device it is read on. QR codes can contain links to websites, promotional materials, or contact information.
Smartphone: A mobile phone with computer features that allow it to interact with computerised systems, send emails, and access the internet.
Touchscreen: A touch-sensitive display screen which serves as the interface for working on a smartphone or tablet computer. Many touchscreens include visual keyboards for entering information without having a physical keyboard attached.
Did you know?
When designing and delivering an online course, you need to ensure that your course materials will be accessible. The links below, provided by the international World Wide Web Consortium, provide guidelines on making online content accessible and give an overview of some technology tools which can help to check how accessible your materials are.
Your institution will have a Disability Service or Learning Technologies team which can provide you with further advice and information on accessibility and the assistive technology tools available at your institution.