ASU Faculty Innovation 3 features tech-enabled learning experiences

August 19, 2022

Technology offers new ways to improve how we learn, work, and live, and following Arizona State University’s philosophy of expanding opportunities with technology, faculty across the university are integrating tools that enhance learning and teaching.

At ASU, the University Technology Office (UTO) Learning Experiences team assists with the integration of software and other technologies into course design.
Students work on laptops in class.
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“When using technology in the classroom, it’s important to work with teachers to ensure that both teachers and students have the best possible learning experience,” said Alison Hall, director of Learning Experience Design.

At the beginning of the fall 2022 semester, UTO met with ASU faculty to explore how to enhance the learning experience, examples and strategies for using new tools.

Three notable examples – in online community building, improved web accessibility and creative tools – are full of promise for the new semester.

Building communities for ASU teaching assistants

The role of a teaching assistant (known as a TA) is long, these individuals have university experience as both a student and a teacher. As such, TAs work in multiple communities and have a need to communicate effectively and inclusively.

Teams around campus are using Slack to increase community building online. The real-time communication tool stands as ASU’s enterprise-wide, flexible collaboration platform. In the year Faculty and staff have been innovating with this technology since it was introduced to the university in 2019, and Cara Seidman, a clinical assistant professor in the College of Health Solutions, was an early adopter.

“I love exploring new technology, so it started with that, but it also came about out of necessity because I needed instant communication with TAAs in the large online courses I teach,” Seidman said. In those ASU online courses, Seidman can have up to 1,200 students a year, 20 TAs at any given time.

She turned to Slack because, as she explains, “we need to communicate as an organization.” Slack’s place in the workforce also inspired Seidman to offer experience to student TAs.

“Career readiness is about developing skills, and that’s what drives a lot of my decision-making and curriculum,” she said.

Sidman’s Slack workspace for TAs allows them to collaborate on course management. One example is the use of a dedicated channel for grading, where TAs can clarify each other’s presentations and involve the teacher if necessary.

TAs organize their own “mini-communities” with students. Using Slack to create plans and trade information on best practices, students engage in discussions in familiar spaces, such as Canvas, ASU’s learning management system (LMS). “That creates a connection, especially with online students that we don’t meet in person.”

Web accessibility supports learning for all

All ASU students interact regularly with Canvas. And today, a growing and important effort around course design is web accessibility, a comprehensive aspect intended to prevent barriers to Internet access for people of all abilities.

For example, Canvas’s built-in web accessibility checker checks for alt text, which is a text field added to images that are descriptive to screen readers. Additionally, the ability to look for contrast and visibility issues in PDF tagged images and more are part of the functionality. But to enrich and support accessibility goals, a tool called Ally is available for faculty to integrate into Canvas courses.

Ally provides an intuitive dashboard that breaks down accessibility concerns by assigning points on a course’s website, accounting for specific issues. Educators can see all elements of a particular web accessibility concern, such as alt text, that need to be fixed.

Teaching disability courses and using Ally, School of Social Change teacher Terri Hlava has made adjustments to her materials that have a profound impact on those in need.

Hlava ensures that all videos are subtitled and closed captioned and uses headers to support text readers.

“In the spirit of inclusion, that’s what you do,” Hlava said.

Holly Bastines, an instructional designer in the School of Life Sciences, said her team wanted to bring awareness of web accessibility to the students themselves. For example, it is important for students in Canvas courses to create accessible materials themselves.

Incorporating creative toolkits for learning

Educators are finding new ways to accommodate or encourage different learning styles, and the rise of multimedia is offering new learning experiences that reflect the types of content most of today’s students engage with. For this, Adobe Creative Cloud is being used by many teachers and students.

After taking a digital literacy course last semester hosted by the UTO Learning Experience, Carla Murphy and Chelsea Schlesinger, instructors in the School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, continue to find new ways to use Adobe’s suite of tools.

In ENG 205, for example, students are assigned to create a two-part podcast using Adobe Premiere Pro. This “Reading Narrative” assignment has students bring autobiographical experiences to life with other areas of writing such as speaking, writing, reading, speaking, and more. In ENG 102, students have a multimodal choice between visualizing a podcast or a social media campaign, in the latter case designing graphics in Adobe Express.

These projects don’t replace the skills learned through traditional essay assignments, but “support the story for digital literacy,” Schlesinger said. “This literacy narrative will probably be a really useful tool for students with language difficulties.”

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