Tag Archives: accessibility

Making a Google Sites Portfolio Assessment More Accessible Via Screencast

Technology in education is certainly a two-edged sword. On the one hand, modern technology gives students fantastic opportunities to learn in ways that were previously difficult, expensive, or impossible for teachers to design. Teachers often appreciate new technology tools that allow them to perform many of the complex or tedious tasks of education, like correcting papers and analyzing testing data, more effectively and efficiently. Modern media tools also have the potential to convey instruction–and develop problem-solving skills–much more effectively than the overhead projectors and chalkboards I used when I started my teaching career (Net Industries, 2017, para. 11).

On the other hand, new hardware and software learning tools are being developed and modified at a rapid pace that can overwhelm even the most tech-savvy educators. Often when I show teachers a new tech tool to make their jobs easier, they will ask me how long I think it will take for this tool to be replaced by something even better. My worst fear is that education technology might turn into a sort of Red Queen’s Race, in which teachers, like Alice in Wonderland, must constantly run just to stay in the same place (Carroll, 1871).

I’m currently working on designing my Demo Course Unit, which is a mini-course for teachers who would like to integrate visual media tools into their instruction. I’d like my teachers to build an electronic portfolio as a summative assessment for this Demo Unit, so that they can collect and share several artifacts that represent what they have learned about using modern technology tools in their lesson designs. I have decided that the best way to provide structure to this rather open-ended assessment is to provide my teachers with a template they may use to construct their New Google Sites portfolios (Wise, 2017b). My template will be shared with my teachers in a way that incorporates some variation in representation, which is an important consideration of Universal Design for Learning (CAST, 2015). I will provide my teachers with both a direct link to the template site and a narrated screencast video with subtitles (Wise, 2017a).


Carroll, L. (1871). Through the looking-glass [Project Gutenberg version]. Retrieved from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/12/12-h/12-h.htm

CAST. (2015). About universal design for learning. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html#.WI4edhsrLD4

Net Industries. (2017). Media and learning – definitions and summary of research, do media influence the cost and access to instruction? Retrieved from State University Education Encyclopedia web site: http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/2211/Media-Learning.html

Wise, B. (2017a). How to build your media tools portfolio on New Google Sites [Video file]. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/kGHN2_oklJg

Wise, B. (2017b). Template – media tools. Retrieved from https://sites.google.com/mail.brandman.edu/wise-eduu628-demo-summ-port/


My Journey from Ed-Tech Novice to Expert

According to Herr (2007), one of the most important differences between an expert and a novice is that experts are able to recognize patterns fluently with little or no effort (para. 14). Whereas a novice might be able to mobilize good strategies in order to solve a problem, experts have the ability to take a step back and assess whether or not the problem at hand is truly the most important problem.

Early in my teaching career, I once asked my principal if she could increase my copy budget, because I didn’t have enough funds to duplicate all of the lab instruction booklets I wanted for my science students. Because the principal was an expert, her response to my request was not a simple yes or no answer. Instead, she asked me a series of reflective questions about how my lab program was structured, in order to better judge whether my lab instruction packets were the best use of limited funds. Her motivation may have been, in part, to help me find ways to stay within my copy budget (after all, principals know that money doesn’t grow on trees), but she also did something that only experts can do: She changed the conversation from a relatively minor funding request into a much more valuable reflection on what my students were expected to learn from their labs, and how I expected them to demonstrate that learning.

Fast-forward a couple of decades to the present year, and most of my colleagues regard me as an educational technology expert. One principal I recently worked for even refers to me as a technology guru. I don’t know if I can quite live up to that moniker, but as I reflect on my own learning journey through my current master’s degree program, I see that even experts can learn more. In one of my earliest posts on this blog, I wrote about technology’s potential to expand learning opportunities for students by motivating them to learn (Wise, 2016). While this is true, I didn’t mention another very important advantage of modern instructional technology: its capacity to make learning more accessible for students with different abilities and/or learning styles.

Over the past few months, I’ve learned a lot about assistive technologies and universal design. For many students with special needs, modern technology makes a tremendous difference–not only in their learning, but in their entire lives. One of my colleagues recently showed me several types of software and devices that allow moderately and severely handicapped students to communicate; such technologies, she explained, give students access to language (K. Blevins, personal communication, March 8, 2017). I hadn’t thought about this idea much, mainly because I didn’t need to. As a general-education teacher, I’d only thought about assistive technologies and universal-design philosophy when I needed to adapt my curriculum because a special-needs student was enrolled in my class. Now my perspective has changed: Universal design isn’t just for students with special needs; it can benefit all students.

Of course, one of the consequences of being labeled an expert is that people turn to me for advice and answers to their trickiest problems. I hope that, over the course of the next several months, I may gain a deep understanding of universal design, so that I may provide useful services to not only my special-education colleagues, but for general-ed teachers as well. If I can manage to pull that off, then perhaps I may be one step closer to becoming a legitimate expert.


Herr, N. (2007). How experts differ from novices. Retrieved from The Sourcebook for Teaching Science web site: http://www.csun.edu/science/ref/reasoning/how-students-learn/2.html

Wise, B. (2016). Three ways electronic learning will be important to the classroom of the future [Web log comment]. Retrieved from https://bwisetech.wordpress.com/2016/10/30/three-ways-electronic-learning-will-be-important-to-the-classroom-of-the-future/

Universal Design for Learning (UDL): It’s About the Students.

At our live meeting last week, my partner mainly affirmed the modifications I had made to my AP Chemistry lab design project. My partner didn’t have many suggestions for improving the paper itself, so I focused mainly on improving my report’s structure and clarity, rather than adding any new ideas. If I could revise my paper a second time, I would add a few words about accessibility, especially after what we have learned in our class over the past week. After all, accessibility isn’t just a good idea; it’s the law! According to Section 504, for example, students with disabilities must be given opportunities to achieve the same results and benefits as students without disabilities (Smith, 2017). Of the several modifications I proposed for my lesson, two were particularly relevant to the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) philosophy.

First, I decided to allow, rather than prohibit, my students to use the internet to research possible experimental designs prior to writing their own procedure. The original lesson, which was given to me by a College Board AP Summer Institute trainer, contained this prohibition mainly as a guard against plagiarism. I wrote in my paper about how this modification would parallel the changing role of the teacher in the 21st century classroom, from the sage-on-the-stage to the guide-on-the-side. My original paper did not mention how this modification would increase variation of student engagement, which is one of the three primary elements of the UDL Guidelines (CAST, 2015). If I could revise my paper a second time, I would add a section describing how students with disabilities and/or sensory impairments might deepen their involvement in the project if given the opportunity to find relevant online video clips, visual aides, blog posts, especially if I took the time to locate, vet, and share a few of these resources with my students. The original assignment had absolutely no support for this. I must admit that any disabled student in my AP Chemistry course in the past would be likely to take a passive role while his or her lab partners would do most of the thinking, discussing, and decision-making about how to design the group’s experiment.

Second, I decided to change the post-lab assessment to incorporate peer editing and feedback via electronic comments. Again, this change in the assignment reflected an evolution in the teaching role, because I wanted to open up the revision process, so that the teacher was not the only person providing feedback to the learner. But I’m afraid I missed the mark in regards to UDL again here, because I was only imagining students providing typed commentary feedback to one another. The third UDL guideline, variation of action and expression, emphasizes the value of allowing students to express their knowledge in different ways (CAST, 2015). One refinement I might add to this feedback function would be to provide feedback in the form of audio clips. I recently learned about a web-based tool, Kaizena, which allows students and teachers to leave audio feedback, which opens the door for disabled and/or impaired students to communicate more effectively about their writing (Carey, 2015). In a fully online classroom, this sort of interactive peer reflection could also be facilitated via online hangout, similar to our live meeting earlier this week. I suspect that allowing audio comments, whether asynchronous or synchronous, would be helpful to all students, not just those with disabilities or impairments. This is perhaps the true genius of the UDL guidelines; inclusive design, after all, isn’t just a way to address compliance for specific disabilities, but rather a way to increase accessibility for all people (CAST, 2011). In the end, we educators should remember that good lesson design isn’t just about the teacher. It’s also about the student.


Carey, J. (2015). Leave voice comments in Google Docs with Kaizena [Web log comment]. EdTechTeacher. Retrieved from http://edtechteacher.org/kaizena-jen-carey/

CAST. (2011). UDL at a glance [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.udlcenter.org/resource_library/videos/udlcenter/udl 

CAST. (2015). About universal design for learning. Retrieved from http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html#.WI4edhsrLD4

Smith, T. E. C. (2017). Section 504, the ADA, and public schools. LD Online: The Educators’ Guide to Learning Disabilities and ADHD. Retrieved from http://www.ldonline.org/article/6108/