Posts Tagged ‘lifelong learning’

CyberLearning and Learning Cyber: Lifelong and Accessibility Experiences

September 19, 2010

Susan L. Gerhart slger123@gmail.com


Alex Finnarn Alex.Finnarn@yc.edu

White paper for NSF CyberLearning Task force


Background: Alex is completing one year service with AmeriCorps Vista as a educational technology specialist for OLLI, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Yavapai College, also working with Northern Arizona SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) in Prescott Arizona. Susan is a semi-retired computer scientist, translating her experiences with vision loss into education and advocacy for web accessibility and adoption of assistive technology. She is a student of philosophy, history, and economics in OLLI, working with Alex and others on a technology task force, and facilitator of courses on social media and technology and society.


    To make cyber learning effective in the 21st century, it needs to be available for all populations and people who possess a desire to learn.
Current technology has not lived up to this promise. The younger generations of learners have embraced technology adequately with the help of adventurous teachers and innate ability; however, the older generations of learners have met cyber learning with adversity. Oftentimes, the systems they desire to use are not streamlined enough for adequate adoption. Finally, learners with classic accessibility issues, like poor vision, are ignored when online learning tools are designed. By reaching out to these disadvantaged populations, the whole of cyber learning will improve.

Experience with Cyber Learning for Lifelong Learners

OLLI is nationally supported by the Osher Foundation operating at over 100 U.S. independent locations. Yavapai College OLLI has over 600 members selecting peer directed courses from over 50 subjects during each six week session for fees of $130 for five class sessions per year. Courses are often structured around 1/2 hour lectures from The Learning Company supplemented by facilitator moderated discussions and materials. Diverse fare includes computer training (keyboard, Windows, Mac, Internet, Office, Photoshop) as well as rock and roll, art, health, memoir writing current events,, etc.


We asked: Where does CyberLearning assist OLLI activities and courses? What benefits might accrue
from a good technology platform?


We began to place course materials online after conducting a user survey in the spring of 2010. 87% of respondents in the survey reported having Internet access at home, and 79% reported checking their email at least once a day. The majority of the membership for OLLI did indeed have access to and used the Internet; however, none of the classes were able to readily incorporate cyber learning into their curriculum. A few classes tried using an online learning system, but interest peaked early and soon faded into disuse. With an able-bodied, intelligent, and Internet-ready membership, why was this OLLI unable to engage in cyber learning?


From strongly worded survey comments, we derived a “social contract” that members would not be forced into technology but rather be offered optional technology enhancements. Without clear cut cost benefits, such as reduced printing, or measurable improved learning objectives, we focused on outreach to home bound members, interaction with similar institutions for broader curricula opportunities, repositories and sharing within courses, and archiving institutional pictures and stories.


Existing platforms generally failed to attract interest and use from facilitators despite tutorials and assistance. The first problem is privacy, quite appropriate for repeated warnings of phishing and identity theft, but a barrier to sharing when members do not want a public web identity (Facebook aside). Streamlined and flexible entry is essential especially when courses occur in rapid cycles of six weeks. Forums for sharing are sparsely used because members are involved in many personal and community activities. They spend time as desired, but not required, on outside reading, Googling, and reflecting. A crucial feature of OLLI classes is the lack of tests or assessments during the course. Once grading and competition are removed from the classroom, many online platforms become bloated with unnecessary features. Furthermore, the incentive of using an online classroom to take a quiz or study for a test disappears, and a student must rely on innate curiosity to visit an online classroom.


While email and search engine savvy, OLLI members are not cognitively familiar with the models of forums, blogs, wikis, or tweet streams, and because of this, we are faced with introducing both new models and complex platforms together. After some experimentation and testing, we settled on using EDU 2.0, a rapidly growing U.K. based company with a reasonable business model and support, for an online classroom. We also partnered with another interesting venture in an Australian-based U3A, University of the 3rd Age, which offers self-paced courses and repositories available for facilitator adaptation at similar lifelong learning institutions. Although the OLLI membership is predominantly White, well-traveled, and professionally diverse, international thinking and contacts can offer many new opportunities for our OLLI, like an international book club.

Meanwhile, OLLI’s monthly newsletter has been adapted to appear on a WordPress blog with future plans for moderated forums. We are also actively using the college’s interactive TV classroom connection to offer distributed courses to our sister OLLI, expanding their course selection in the process. A long term goal we have is to host joint OLLI Internet-based courses that would take advantage of the country’s pool of retired expertise. However, the really tragic goal of reaching homebound elders in a community lacking public transit remains primarily a function of offering shared rides and a reliance on volunteers working within the public library.

Perhaps a more important goal is “Learning Cyber” or learning “by osmosis” and how social networks and cyber learning are changing our information practices. Why would any sane person use Twitter? How does a grandparent respond to pressure to participate in Facebook in order to see pictures, or monitor children, grandchildren, and vice versa? Does Google always provide correct information? What happens when newspapers open articles to potentially unpleasant community commenting? What is RSS? How does one critically check facts and correct chain emails with political misinformation? Facing complex interactions with Social Security websites, how does one upgrade their skills for PDF, forms, and chat help? Who wrote Wikipedia? When can You Tube, BigThink, and TED supplement the History and Discovery cable television channels? What are our real privacy rights regarding Google, Facebook, and online retailers? Institutions like OLLI provide an informal setting for increasing and assessing the skills of individual Cyber Learners. Our technology initiatives may be more effectively directed at exposure and bridging generations in both technological and chronological senses.

Recommendations

For the continuing improvement of a national Cyber Learning movement, we suggest researchers and developers incorporate, sooner rather than later, constituents from learning environments such as OLLI and similar institutions. We also recommend investigating the educational and technological practices of the two international sources we found most attractive, EDU 2.0 and U3A. The above experience should provide insights into and questions about cross generational Cyber Learning, which will benefit the movement as a whole.

Links


  1. The Bernard Osher Foundation Lifelong Learning Institutes


  2. OLLI Yavapai College, Prescott Arizona


  3. The Learning Company DVD Lectures


  4. “University of the Third Age” international movement


  5. U3A Australia, courses at Griffiths University


  6. EDU 2.0 Free U.K. based Learning Site

How Attention to Accessibility Can Improve Cyber learning

Attention to accessibility for persons with disabilities should be an immediate objective for educating *ALL* constituencies who touch any aspect of Cyber learning. Consider “accessibility” as the practices and technology that enable persons with disabilities using “assistive technologies” to participate fully and comfortably in CyberLearning.


Indeed, there is no choice if the Departments of Justice and Educations follow through on their “Dear College President” letter regarding
fairness in applications of emerging technologies in academic environments. “Accessibility” here means that devices and web sites must support assistive technologies commonly available through special education channels and increasingly appearing in mainstream markets: Screen (text-to-speech) readers, alternative input/output devices, networked tablet readers such as Kindle and iPad, and possibly lab instrumentation and pedagogical software.


As we argued regarding senior learners, citizens and markets must be served by people who differ in many aspects of physical and mental activities. Education workplaces and curricula must adapt to concepts of universal design ancultural diversity.
Fortuitously, adapting to accessibility offers a systematic way of expanding and analyzing design tradeoffs that benefit far more than persons with disabilities. Think about curb cuts originally for wheelchairs and now beneficial to baby strollers, bikers, inattentive walkers, and luggage cart users. In web environments, standards: address usability for persons using screen readers, also causing difficulties for many mobile device user;, facilitate interoperability of browsers and other user agents; and help manage costs of do-overs and long term maintenance.

Recommendations


For CyberLearning to reach its potential and broaden participation, attention to accessibility is not only overdue and inevitable but also a chance to refresh underlying technology as a CyberLearning experience in itself.


1. Web standards such as WCAG 2, provide a fledgling “science of accessibility” in the form of definitions, principles, experimental results, and field trials. Standards and theories evolve by employing high quality peer reviews, broad community input, extensive documentation,continuing debate in blogs and on Twitter, and increasing adoption earlier in cycles of HTML adoption. Professor Richard Ladner’s group at U. Washington contributes in depth traditional graduate and capstone education experiences, experiments, and publications, yielding cohorts of researchers also involved in outreach to K-12 students with disabilities. Furthermore, an engineering paradigm is emerging as “progressive enhancement” supported by static analyzers, and free operational tools (NVDA screen reader and VoiceOver on Macs). This science is a rich area for computational thinking.

2 University and professional organization web sites are often exquisitely poor examples of attention to accessibility, attested to by a recent NSF-funded study, ironically locked behind a professional society pay wall. Why are many Cyber learning organization web sites so bad? Accessibility simply is not a requirement, e.g. look up your own organizational accessibility statement. Is there one, is it followed, who is responsible? Ok, so academics don’t have time to learn or enforce accessibility theory or practice. But, is it acceptable to turn away Students who can otherwise function well in society but face extra barriers in STEM? and where will accessibility aware CyberLearning developers come from? Ouch, should organizations such as NSF and MIT promote inaccessible pedagogical tools such as Scratch?


In fact, we are not talking major engineering feats, but rather well structured pages as in good technical communication, a few lines of code that make forms into relational structures and pictures into captioned objects. The principle is general use of POSH (Plain Old Semantic HTML) from straight text HTML preserved through styles and fancy interactions topped off by seconds of automated compliance analysis and minutes of insightful execution of use cases. However, accessibility in pedagogical software definitely requires fundamental adoption of hooks and interfaces provided by system vendors.


Think of this change as one small step in technical communication and one giant leap forward in understanding and improving human learning performance.


3. Practically speaking, curricula can only have accessibility grafted onto courses and tools rather than taught as separate subjects. But creative and active learning can come into play: interviewing local ADA specialists for requirements and projects; turning off displays and browsing with a screen reader; estimating costs of retrofitting for omitted accessibility requirements; analyzing risks of lost markets and litigation; adding features suggested by audio supplement or alternative output and input channels; ethics and accessibility addenda to assignments. People who love game controllers and touch screen mobile devices should dig these exercises.


4. Specific interventions must be attempted starting with faculty awareness and introduction to the science of accessibility and its economic importance as well as social fairness. Suggested activities: accessibility seminars at educator gatherings; forced overhaul of professional and government sites to match .com and other .gov levels; design contests for students to makeover and create new information resource sites to meet the grand universal design challenge; audit of pedagogical tools, including textbooks, for universal learning objectives encompassing accessibility; release of all disability related publications now imprisoned beyond professional society pay walls; increased awareness of accessibility as a job and professional speciality; recognition of assistive tech as part of user interfaces; rubrics for POSH in technical communications. …


On a personal note, many avid learners gain vision rehabilitation facilitated through a vibrant online culture of blogs and podcasts on emotional, social, education, and technical topics. Visit this world yourself: book clubs and interactive demos at AccessibleWorld; product demos by individual users at BlindCoolTech; more demos and discussions at ACBRadio; and now a community of #accessibility and #a11y gurus and users on Twitter. Off the mainstream, but taking full advantage of CyberLearning while casting a wider net to newly disabled individuals offers a testimony to spontaneous online learning.

The Data Literacy Challenge


Finally, while the above complaints and suggestions are largely remedial, one clear challenge is the equal visualization” of information and data. Portfolio pie charts, rainfall tables, stimulus recovery expenditure maps, timelines, … are all essential for citizen participation and difficult for visually impaired people. Difficult, yes, but can alternative and multiple ways of channeling data into brains be accomplished through the adapted and flexible recognition and reasoning processes developed by visually impaired thinkers such as scientists and engineers? Can these new models of information and modes of interaction then benefit people with less analytical background or resistance to data driven reasoning?Designing cyber learning for the temporarily fully enabled may not only limit those currently working with disabilities but fail to build upon the unique experiences of and qualities of disabilities which we all have intermittently and eventually.

Links


  1. Department of Justice A.D.A. letter to college presidents


  2. W3C web standards and accessibility guidelines

  3. “>
    U. Washington assistive technology and accessibility projects (Richard Ladner)

  4. “>
    Book “Universal Design for Web Applications” by Matt May and Wendy Chisholm


  5. White paper on”Grafting Accessibility onto Computer science Education”, “As Your World Changes” blog, Susan L. Gerhart


  6. Inaccessible article on inaccessibility of academic web sites

  7. newly founded Institute on Cultural Diversity, including persons with disabilities

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Disablism: the good, Bad, and Maddening

May 1, 2010


Disablism Day May 1 2010

I’m enjoying Goldfish’s Invitation for Blogging about disablism
day”.

The good about disability

background: print-disabled and legally blind for five years into retirement.

  1. I love technology.And, wow, does disability open your eyes, so to speak, or maybe it’s our ears and brains. For example, I carry my entire rebuilt
    library of over 1000 DAISY books from bookshare.org on a lavaliere booksense along with many GB of podcasts all downloaded via Levelstar Icon Mobile Manager and Docking station. Better reading now than ever in my life, thanks to this technology and the Internet.

  2. I meet many cool people through my disability. The virtual community of #a11y and #accessibility on Twitter are my gurus and heroes, loading up my browser tabs with good articles and forging new links in my mental map of the field. In physical life, I’m the lady with the white cane to ask about
    macular degeneration.

  3. retired and still kicking, my disability + technology background + learning regime have given me a focus for hours a day of accessibility activism as well as outreach. “Turning lemons into lemonade”, they say, but I just call this a lifetime bonus for as long as I can hold it together.

The bad and Other stuff I’m Too Mad To talk about

  1. My very own profession sucks at accessibility and supporting disabilities. As a computer science educator, researcher, developer, and manager I followed the trends of not noticing disabilities, and got some immediate karma. You know where all those unaware developers are coming from? Our very own computer science accreditation and technical programs.

    And even inexcusably worse are
    the leading professional organizations, such as ACM and its decrepit website. Personally, I coughed up $200 for access to a pay wall of articles for my memoirs and on accessibility. A painfully usable digital library interface did not elicit requested help, back channel messages about accessibility problems were ignored, and all I got was a lifetime membership offer and more renewal notices. The ACM motto: “Of course, accessibility is important. But, we don’t know anything about it. Now, please go away”.

  2. If you have or expect a vision problem, don’t move to a place without public transportation! What a difference in my life if only a bus scooted along
    the major crosstown connector street a block from my house! I can take taxis when I don’t have regular driver available, can also ask for rides, but the loss of independence is a daily demoralizer. Worse, when I do get out like a regular pedestrian, drivers enter crosswalks to scare me and I know half the drivers are talking or otherwise not paying attention.

  3. Trying to establish new relationships with fuzzy faces is challenging. At least, it’s easier now that I’m out in the open about vision loss compared with prior years of hiding, but it’s still saddening not to know the details of my lifelong learning classmate features. Like everybody around a table is a talking space suit, I struggle to remember names to connect with voices and body outlines. But, at least I’m really working on people connections, finally.

Social Media for Seniors — Lessons Learned

October 31, 2009

Here are a few things I’ve learned in the past 2 months while working on three projects related to this blog:

  1. “Learning and Sharing on the Social Web”, a lifelong learning course at Yavapai College

  2. “Using Things That Talk”, an assistive technology demonstration session at Yavapai College

  3. 2nd Tuesday AAUW Book Club

General Lessons Learned

  1. Blogs, blogging, and bloggers are still somewhat mystifying, although legitimized by the “Julie and Julia” movie. Some people will readily comment, while most need encouragement. It takes several trips around a blog to understand its structure, find the comment space, and adjust to the theme.

  2. Facebook has driven interest in social media, like “my family wants me to post and view pictures this way, now what?”. While I appreciate the attraction of everybody having a place on the web, similar to the spirit of the recently defunct GeoCities, personally I have several problems with Facebook:
    • I’m turned off by the use of “friend” for every opportunity to snag an email address. This demeans a very important relationship for the sake of advertising placements.
    • The privacy policy is a slipper slope, starting with request for birth date, then more and more info to link up wih “friends”. I do not want to personally segregate people and my personal information, especially when I don’t understand a complex policy.
    • All the interfaces I tried, m.Facebook, lite, and regular were cluttered and sometimes inaccessible with my screen reader

    • As a 30 year veteran of the Internet and early adopter of the Web, I don’t like to see the splitting off and duplication of fan or public sites even if this racks up more interaction.

    So, my Facebook page, says, I hope, that “Susan maintains a blog and an active Twitter stream. Please use these or email”. Uh, and, of course, my vision doesn’t support faces or pictures any more, so I’m outta there.

  3. Many people are perfectly happy with email, specially if they are primarily receivers or have limited interactions. However, anybody on mailing lists with members prone to “reply all” is looking for better solutions, especially if they are coordinators. That’s what drove the AAUW book club above for keeping track of future books, allied information, and questions. I have hopes for, but not yet tried out in a group, the Posterous email-based blogging service
  4. I personally favor using blogs as reference collectors. For example, in the AAUW book club blog are podcasts, articles, and other outlines easily linked in via comments whenever we encounter them. This leaves behind not only a great resource for new members but also for general web browsing. It’s just great to have a place to share a tidbit of information without the fuss of email lists or message replies.
  5. Presenting information in a classroom while visually impaired is easy enough with a helper to run the PC connected to the projector. Since I cannot see much of the projected web page beyond a white on white blur, I just talked away and kept my accompanists on track. However, this got harder when doing the assistive tech demos and the audience members couldn’t all see that well either.

More later when I think of additional or better explanations. By the way, all these activities are lots of fun, engaging me to work hard on my skills, and interact with neat people, whom I thank for the opportunities.