Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Discussions in MOOCs: Should you have to post to view the discussion?

University of London and Bloomsbury Learning Environment is offering an interesting, 3 weeks course Get Interactive: Practical Teaching with Technology #getinmooc on Coursera platform. I registered on the course and was delighted to see @eileenkennedy01, @BLE1 and @architela leading the course.

I enjoyed the resources on the course and links provided to explore more. However, there is something about this course I am not comfortable with.

The course forums are closed until you make a post. In other words, if you wish to see what discussion happening in the forum you first have to post something to view it. To me this is very strange. If you are joining a conversation, in real life or in a forum, you listen or read what other discussions happening before commenting or giving your viewpoint. But in this course I was expected to give my comments BEFORE I had joined the discussion. 

For example, if this was a nasty conversation (which I am sure it was not) and I didn't want to be part of it, there was no way for me to know before I unlocked the conversion by posting. Basically, I come to a closed door (thanks @eileenkennedy01 for the simile) not knowing what is on the other side but have to open it to know what is on the other side - there is no peep hole. There could be a beautiful garden behind or a pack of hungry wolves!
Closed door
Closed door
Looking at Leave and Wenger's work on community of practice, they use the term Legitimate peripheral participation (LPP) to describe new comers to a particular community of practice initially participating in simple low risk task and taking time to become experienced members. 

The blog post From novice to expert by Prof. Steve Wheeler discuss the theory and how it can be applied in online learning. Below extract is from the blog post. 

"Where some might see lurking (being present but not directly contributing to discussions or online activities) as a form of social loafing or lack of engagement in the learning community, Lave argues that it is legitimate and can lead to fuller participation once knowledge and confidence has been gained." 

I tweeted about this experience and from the replies I received it is seems that expecting a learner to be confident to open the door without letting them have a feel for the conversation is not what the course leaders wanted.  

@Tharindu__: #GetInMOOC what do you think of closed forums until students post to unlock and see others contributions? @eileenkennedy01 @BLE1 @coursera

@eileenkennedy01: Replying to @Tharindu__ @BLE1 @coursera
Good question! Personally I don't like it. Feels like coming up against a big locked door when you were expecting it to slide open. V scary.

@Tharindu__: exactly my thoughts! It puts me off posting altogether. I like @FutureLearn style

@paigecuffe: Replying to @Tharindu__ @eileenkennedy01 and 3 others
Many need to see conversations modeled before they are ready to post. Plus active listening valuable too. Interesting convo - who's locking?

@Tharindu__: yes agree - legitimate peripheral participation

@SarahCrabbe1: Replying to @Tharindu__ @eileenkennedy01 and 2 others
I don't know - would nervous students want to post without knowing the standard and level of others work? #getinmooc

@eileenkennedy01: Posting in the dark doesn't sound very comfortable to me

You are welcome to add your thoughts...

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Proposal accepted for the World Conference on Online Learning

I was delighted to hear from the conference committee of the World Conference on Online Learning that the proposal we put forward, Online, Flipped, Blended Approach to Apprenticeship Education: A case study of UCEM’s Surveying Technician Diploma is accepted to be presented. Well to be honest, the news came way back but it is not always so straight forward to find funding to travel such a long distance to an expensive city. I am so lucky my employer, University College of Estate Management, is kindly sponsoring us.

The proposal was put together by Nick Moore and myself. Nick is the Dean - Teaching and Learning at University College of Estate Management and had been the chief architect of the new apprenticeship programme blue print developed under the new government apprenticeship education scheme.

In this work we have adopted an action research methodology, something new to me, though I have studied it in my PhD research training. Having not previously written an action research piece, I was delighted to see that  ELESIG's #LERMOOC on EMMA had a whole section dedicated for action research.

The World Conference on Online Learning: Teaching in a Digital Age - Re-thinking Teaching & Learning the 27th International Council for Distance Education's biennial conference. This time it is held 16-19 October 2017 in Toronto, Canada. The conference has five tracks:

  • Emerging Pedagogies and Designs for Online Learning
  • Expanding Access, Openness and Flexibility
  • Changing Models of Assessment
  • New Delivery Tools and Resources for Learning
  • Re-designed Institutional Business Model
and our presentation will be under the track "Re-designed Institutional Business Model". 

Since being a PhD student researching educational technology for distance education, I thought this event was the most prestigious conference in the field of distance and online education. I am delighted that I am able to attend the conference and I look forward to learning and networking opportunity that this event will present: making new links and strengthening already existing links.

Image of Toronto

Friday, 2 December 2016

Open Badges to Enhance LinkedIn Profile

At the Online Learning Research Centre, University College of Estate Management (UCEM) we have been experimenting with Open Badges. We piloted our first open badges for the UCEM Conference this year.

We offer two badges: one for participants and one for presenters.

UCEM Conference badges - two badge images participant badge and presenter badge
UCEM Conference Badges
These are offered on our VLE, Moodle but the badges are fully compatible with Open Standards and can be saved in Mozilla Backpack.

We have created a short guide on open badges and how they can be added to online profiles for badge receivers.

This YouTube Video "How to add Open Badges to your LinkedIn Profile" is an excellent guide that explains how to add badges to LinkedIn profile.

However, when trying to add my open badges to LinkedIn account I found that one could only view badges if they were connected.

So I created another collection and shared it in the 'Contacts' giving a link to my backpack in 'Websites'. This link is publicly viewable.
Image of Websites section in publicly viewable websites link
Open badges added to LinkedIn 

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Web Accessibility #4 - Universal Design

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an attempt to reduce barriers in the learning environment; it goes beyond access. It was inspired by the idea of universal design that applies to physical spaces and products. For example, look at the following two images of two different types of door handles we see everyday: knobs and lever handles. Initially the lever handle had been designed for the people with physical disabilities who had limited ability to grasp a door knob. But today it is widely used because it is also useful for others - for example if you were carrying a large box and could not spare one hand to open the door. So this lever door handle is a product that provides maximum benefit to all types of users.

CC Image: Handle by MoneyBlogNewz
CC Image: THIS CAUGHT by Hernan Pinera
Another such example is this brilliant design of stairs and ramps to provide access to buildings.
CC Image: ramp stairs by Simon Claessen
Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach is more proactive than providing accommodations. If we correctly follow UDL principles we design learning for all learners; so we may not have to provide individual accommodations as the learning content is accessible by all learners.

Principles of Universal Design

  1. Equitable Use
  2. Flexibility in Use
  3. Simple and Intuitive Use
  4. Perceptible Information
  5. Tolerance for Error
  6. Low Physical Effort
  7. Size and Space for Approach and Use

Universal Design Networks 

Universal Design Networks encourage multiple means of representation, engagement and action and expression.  

Affective Network

This is the motivation for learning and it plays a big role in learner's engagement with the learning. Why? what is in it for me? are some of the questions that affective network needs to answer to keep the students engaged. Strategies can be recruiting interest (information that do not get learners attention is inaccessible - can try allowing choice or by personalisation, help make connections to prior knowledge); self-regulation (if learners do not see their progress they will not keep at it - self assess checklists, clear evaluation criteria, feedback); sustaining effort and persistence (short and long term goals, varying challenge levels). 

Strategic Networks

How learners demonstrate mastery or competency of what they have learned is shown in strategic networks. It is the 'how' of learning; how can you express your mastery of learning. Providing them with multiple means of action and expression is a way to support this. Provide choice (allow learners to show what they know in different forms/ways) and support (allow small group discussions, detailed directions, rubric, check list, feedback).

Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.                                                                                   -Albert Einstein-

Recognition Networks

This is about how learners understand information. It relates to presenting information in the course - providing multiple representations of information: auditory, text, visual, demonstrations etc. It is the 'what' of learning. A great example used in #AccessMOOC was giving directions to a driver. If someone told me take north exit I may not get very far. If they related it to a landmark or draw a map it may be easier for me. It would be very good if I had Google maps (voice and map) with me to find my way. It shows that for various learners, in this case person finding their way, different ways of representing information is useful. Supporting means could be provide options for perception (text, audio, visual - ways to customise say change font size, colour); provide options for language mathematical expressions and symbols (glossary, key notations); provide options for comprehension (chunk content with key learning points, ask for previous knowledge and relate).

This blog post is based on what I learnt in #AccessMOOC week 3

Universal Design for Learning: Theory and Practice by Anne Meyer, David H. Rose, and David Gordon is a good read (after creating an account the book is available online for free)

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Web Accessibility #3 - Accessibility and Accommodation

I am working through the MOOC "Accessibility: Designing and Teaching Courses for All Learners" offered by Buffalo State University on the Canvas platform and this is how they have defined "accessibility" and "accommodations" in the course. It took some time for me to understand the difference between these two and hence I am writing this blog with some examples to clarify it. This is the #3 of my accessibility blog posts. Other blog posts so far can be found here.

Some of the examples and quote are from the course "Accessibility: Designing and Teaching Courses for All Learners" I am following at the moment.


"In education, accessibility is a proactive approach to ensuring that learning experiences are as free from barriers for students as we can make them. Accessibility is giving forethought to how you design your courses. It is applying pedagogical approaches such as universal design for learning principles and technical standards such as section 508 and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0. It helps us meet the requirement that our courses are accessible “out of the box” and reduces the time students may have to wait on us to provide accommodations. Accessibility helps the students achieve independence and provide as equal of an experience as possible for them."
From the material presented in the "Accessibility: Designing and Teaching Courses for All Learners" 


"Accommodations are things we do during instruction to meet a specific and unique need of a student that we can’t do ahead of time. For example, if the learning objective of an online music course requires a student to listen to a classical piece and identify by ear key aspects of that piece, then an accommodation for a student with a hearing impairment would be more appropriate than altering the assignment as it is being designed. However, if an objective required students to visually identify written lyrics, then during design we may ensure that the blind student can access the content by using a screen reader and no accommodations would be needed."
From the material presented in the "Accessibility: Designing and Teaching Courses for All Learners"

accommodations to a course should be reasonable. That is they do not reduce the course standards, do not fundamentally change the nature of the course, or do not pose an undue burden.

Accessibility Tips by Brian Suda available from 


For example, in an online course a student with disabilities including learning difficulties and or mental disorders may request a periodic phone call with the instructor. This does not mean that the instructor need to call/meet with the student daily or weekly as it an undue burden. What is reasonable is biweekly or monthly meeting when this accommodation is approved.

Another example can be approving extended time for quizzes for students with learning difficulties.

What happens if a student requests to do an oral presentation instead of a written report that the course work is asking for? Then the disability services office will have to work with the faculty member to determine whether demonstrating the mastery of course content using the conventions academic writing (referencing, the way of presenting, building up an argument etc) is a learning objective in the course. If so, an oral presentation would not be reasonable hence a different way to accommodate the student's needs would have to be searched for.

In my view, an accommodation is how a course can be adapted or (individualise) to meet a student's disabilities. While accessibility deals with making courses accessible to most students. Something important to note is accommodations are only for the purpose of allowing the student access to the course and not in any form to give the student undue advantage of success in the course.

So why thrive for accessibility why not accommodations as and when required?
Not all of our learners disclose their disabilities. If the student is on an online class for example, you may not know about their disability that becomes a barrier to accessing the course. On the other hand, fixing something that is already created to accommodate accessibility is much harder than designing for it up front. So my advise will be to thrive for accessibility and be prepared for reasonable accommodations to provide individualise support.

Watch this space for my next blog on Accessibility.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Web Accessibility #2 - Assistive Technologies

This is the second post of my web accessibility series of blogs and it is written for a peer review assignment for the "Accessibility: Designing and Teaching Courses for All Learners" MOOC offered by Buffalo State University and Suny Empire State College on Canvas platform.

Assignment required us to  explain why accessibility is important; provide examples of ways in which disability may impact students and their learning; and provide examples of assistive technology and technological barriers.

Why Accessibility?

I have discussed this in my previous blog Web Accessibility #1 that it is the right thing to do.
It is important that we treat everybody equally, differently-abled too are human beings worthy of respect and opportunities just like you and me. If a building does not have a ramp access, this prohibits a wheelchair user accessing that premises. Suppose this was a hospital or a bank it would mean that the wheelchair users will not be able to access these services.
In order to make sure that they are treated equally, governments around the world have enacted laws and regulations that prohibit discrimination due to disability. Should an organization or an individual found to be violating these, (that is - they discriminate against disabled) they will be punished according to the law.

Disability and Access


Disability can be either invisible or visible. Invisible disabilities are mostly due to mental health issues, dyslexia, dyspraxia and others. There are permanent disabilities (lose of a limb) as well as temporary disabilities (due to accident hand in a plaster caste).

Visually impaired or blind learners can have lot of difficulties in accessing visual materials. If for example, the learning materials are not made with accessibility in mind, even the assistive technologies may not be able to support them. For example, if the college VLE does not support tabbing through to the menu, the visually impaired learners will not be able to 'see' the content in the VLE.

Colour blind learners may find it difficult if for example red text is presented in a green background. For example, if the feedback for a quiz is provided as a green star for correct answers and red star for incorrect the feedback will be not meaningful to a colour blind user.

If the font sizes are small or contrast between foreground (text) and background is not sufficiently distinguishable learners who are visually impaired will not be able to use these materials.
So there are different visual impairments that can affect the learner's access to materials.


If closed captions are not provided for podcast or video deaf learners will not be able to access this content. If there are background music playing while the narrator speaks such content will be difficult to be accessed by people hard of hearing. If the videos provided audio descriptions and close captions these will be accessible to blind learners (audio) and deaf learners (captions).


 If for example, there are drag and drop material in the learning content that can only be operated by the use of mouse, blind learners or learners with physical disability will not be able to access these materials.


If the textual content used is of very complex sentence construction, this may not be accessible to learners with dyslexia. 

Therefore there are various disabilities to consider when learning content is produced.

Assistive Technologies

Assistive technologies to me is a term used to refer to technologies that help people with various disabilities to support, improve or maintain their functional capabilities. These can include assistive, adaptive and rehabilitative devices, software or products.

Some examples of assistive technologies are:

Screen Reader 

Screen reader is a software that reads out the information on the screen. Screen reader narrates the menu options reading them out aloud to the user. Screen readers are useful to the blind as they can hear the menus being read out aloud to them which helps them navigate. There are many screen reader softwares available. Some of them are proprietary while some others are open source and free to use. The video below from YouTube shows a screen reader being used. I tried ChromeVox and to be frank I found it very frustrating. But for the blind users screen readers provide a valuable service. However, for the screen readers to be useful we have to use accessibility supporting features such as heading styles (rather than bold, large font text), correct tab order, alt text for images etc.

Magnification Software and Equipment

Magnification software and equipment provide visually impaired users access to reading materials and computer screen etc.

Dictation Software

These software converts speech to text (for example Siri on iPhones and iPads). This may be a tool that can be helpful to both people with and without disabilities. If you cannot use a keyboard due to a disability or need faster typing dictation software can be a solution.

Reading Programs

These programs read out aloud documents or text. These can be useful to learners with dyslexia or even students with attention deficit disorders. 

Technological Barriers

Some software programs are easier to use than other but they may work well with some programs but not with others. For example, in the course one interviewee said that her Windows 8.1 built in text to speech program works well with Microsoft Word documents but not with other formats. So she has to copy and paste emails into Microsoft Word for her to be able to 'read' them.

Many screen reader software take a snapshot of the screen and reads it to the user. But now a days we see websites with lot of dynamic content. For example Twitter feeds and Facebook feeds. However, the screen reader user will not see these unless the web programmer had correctly used WAI-ARIA live region to set up the dynamic content.

When using screen reader software one has to tab through the items. However, some materials produced with various softwares may not allow tabbing and in some instances the cursor gets stuck. If the site is not designed with accessibility in mind, there can be items that are not tab accessible. Thus not accessible to the screen readers.

Another issue is with images. Screen reader only reads the alt text that is allocated to that image. But if the web developer (or document creator) has not populated this with a meaningful caption, the screen reader will read the image file's name (for example img_1007_23_1.jpg), which is not useful and can be quite frustrating if all images are read out that way.

Thus it is important to take accessibility into account when creating materials and adhere to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (currently in WCAG 2.0 version) outlined by the W3C.

Watch this space for my next blog on Accessibility.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Web Accessibility #1 - Starting point

Having been the lead facilitator of Begin Programming:Build your first mobile game MOOC we heard from learners that had various difficulties accessing content. Some were due to infrastructural issues (eg. slow internet connectivity) while some others faced physical disabilities (eg. hard of hearing, colour blindness).

In my new role as the Chair of the Online Learning Research Center at the University College of Estate Management I am looking into making our online content more accessible. I am working in a small team looking at guidelines, best practices and adapting our learning content to be more accessible.

At the moment I am doing a course on Canvas Network offered by The Chang School of Continuing Education in Ryerson University. The course is called "Professional Web Accessibility Auditing Made Easy". It is a 4 week intensive course (5-8 hours of commitment per week) from 25th January to 22nd February. I started late as always and was following this along with two parallel classes "Blended Learning - Embedding Practice" and "Teaching with Moodle". 

I have learnt lot of things about accessibility from the "Professional Web Accessibility Auditing Made Easy" course. I am going to do a few posts on Accessibility and I will be using my blog as a reflective tool to reflect on my learning in this course.

The first thing you need to ask is why do you need accessibility?

It will be clear if you watch these videos why we need to provide web accessibility.

Apart from it is the right thing there are many other reasons why organizations should make their web sites accessible. For example, if one is physically challenged in getting to shops, they are more likely to rely on the internet to do their shopping. So if an organization's website is not accessible they are losing customers who are differently-abled. There are laws preventing discrimination on the grounds of disability and not giving access to your services provide via the internet is a form of discrimination! So organizations could be sued under the equality laws.

There are laws in North America that enforce the organizations to comply with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines Level A or better. In Canada there is Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act - the course is offered by a Canadian University in Ontario so they draw examples from this. There is Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act governing the law in the United States.  

In Europe, there are various accessibility laws implemented in different countries. However, the EU parliament had passed a law in 2014 that requires all public service websites and private sector providers offering public services to confirm with WCAG 2.0 Level AA. 

In the UK, currently there is no specific act governing the web accessibility but The Equality Act's section 29(1) requires those who provide services to the public must not discriminate against any person. So effectively if a non accessible website prevents a person from accessing a service on the web it could be counted as discrimination. Section 20 and 29(7) of the Act too makes it an ongoing duty of service providers to make "reasonable adjustments" to accommodate people with disabilities.
So accessibility is important from this point of view too. 

Watch this space for my next blog on Accessibility.