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Greg McVerry

So proud of #edu106 students who join us #IndieWeb style and then grow into leaders-Meet Isabel

6 min read

Last time I taught 106: New Literacies: Digital Text and Tools for Lifetime learning I threw out my syllabus. Instead of chugging through a set of modules we divided the class in half.

You spent the first half of the semester learning to learn as we built in the ethos of and adademic blogging and networking. In the seccond half of the semester students had to choose a project to better themselves or the world. I surveyed the class to see what skills they wanted to focus on and this included images, podcasts, and video.

I have never figured out the best workflow for "an intro to video" module in the class. That in itself can be an entire course. Are you mac or PC (iMovie or moview maker), creative cloud accounts for students skyrocketed so Priemer is out.

We stuck to just make a video to teach me something.

This approach allowed students to develop their own goals while building up tech fluency skills. Students did projects on dealing with eating disorders, healthy living guides, political movements and Isabel did a project on menu website accessibility (news flash restuarants you can do better than a pdf or jpg of your menu).

Meet Isabel

Isabel joined us in EDU106 as the first blind student in my class since I had taught middle school. I probably learned more than she did in the class. She was never that "blind girl,"  but a class leader in a course designed to teach students to start writing HTML.

Isabel has a degenerative eye problem that would soon rob her of her vision. Any day during her college years sight would be gone forever.

Isabel never let this new challenge take her down and instead turned to activism for the blind. She recently launched her new website to document her journey or learning to work with a seeing eye dog.

I hope all is well. I’m not sure if you remember me, It’s Isabel  I was in your edu 106 course last semester (fall 2018). I wanted to reach out and thank you. Your class helped me learn how to build my website. Now I created a new one and am going to blog about my experience during guide dog training. If you’d like  to follow it, I will leave the link below. Thanks again! Feel free to subscribe to get emailed notifications when I upload a new post.-Email from Isabel

Different Lessons I Learned

Same Goals and Desire

College students who are blind want the same experience as their sight priviledged peers.

Make no Assumptions

When we started to study digitsl photography students had to post five photos for five days. I offered Isabel a chance to do audio recordings but she really wanted to participate in the photo challenge using her phone.

We practiced some accessibility features and installed the WordPress app for easier uploading.

I found the same to be true across the online blind community. As I was working with Isabel I was reaching out to blind developer community mainly in circles. Four to five core contributors are very active in the community.

They all shared with me blind photgraphy bloggers who simply want the same social media experience as everyone else.

We need to incorporate these two lessons in our teaching. That means not always pointing out when accomodations are made or asking for the "blind perspective" Students who are blind are students. That is the major take away.

Accessibilty isn't the Default

Many of the edtech tools we use in our classroom do not meet basic needs of everyone. Before choosing any software to use in a class run it through a screen reader yourself. Understand the experience.

We used Glitch in class, it doesn't work with screen readers (it was a year ago things maybe different) but not using best accessibility practices is more the norm and not the exception. It is always that thing just a wee bit away in the roadmap.

I myself had to do an acccessibility audit of my own classes. Since I write all my classes in HTML they are better suited for accessibility but I had many missing alt text tags and in a few places I used headings (h1,h2..etc) in a nonhieracrichial manner that makes it hard for screen readers.

Accessibility as default was not in my teaching style as well. I had to think about verbalizing any notes I put on the screen, if I used an infographic or image I had to explain in plain text what was being represented.


Blank Pages Were Better

In my 18 years of teachning people to get online for the firsttime I have always relied on the use of remixable tempaltes. Students feared the tyranny of the blank and clicking "view source" or using now defunct  remix tools from Mozilla is how I learned and teach students to code websites.

Once I learned I could not use Glitch (WordPress mobile and dekstop editors were fine) I asked in the blind community how people learned to code. Many encouraged Isabel and I to start with a blank text editor and then slowly add in new HTML elements.

This provided a better approach and worked for Isabel and I. It might be something other educators want to try.

Best of Luck

I am a little jealous of Isabel getting to work with a Seeing Eye Dog. The bond must be immense. My first dog, Esteban, a Border Collie and I did Agility Training for years. I learned more about teaching than I ever did in my PhD program or Masters programs.

The bond between a working dog and their handler is one of the strongest I have ever discovered.

More impressive is Isabel's activism. She has taken the lesson learned at Southern Connecticut State University and now volunteers at her high school and is a leader in student activism across the state.

I hope I can be like Isabel when I grow up.


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