My working from home desk

With the sudden move to working from home we all had to quickly adapt to working in new spaces, both online and physical. We thought we would share how someone in Technology Enhanced Learning has set up their home working space. 

As I only have access to a laptop at home, when the move to working from home was first announced, the first thing I did was race out to buy a wireless mouse and keyboard. Working on a laptop is notoriously bad for your neck and upper back, so with a wireless keyboard I am able to place my screen at eye height (albeit precariously balanced on an old Amazon delivery box!) and have my keyboard lower down at a comfortable height.

I don’t have a dedicated office space so have had to set up camp at our dining table, meaning that I have to pack away everything at the end of each day. However, I do think this helps manage work/life balance when work and life are now temporarily in the same location. Our table is a bar table so it is quite high. I thought that this would be inconvenient and uncomfortable however I have realised that the table is actually the perfect height for a standing desk meaning I can quickly switch between standing and sitting throughout the day.

The only thing I’m longing for now is a comfortable office chair! 

Wherever the TEL team are sitting or standing, we are still here to support University of Sussex staff with the move to online teaching,learning and assessment. There are lots of resources available in the Teaching Online Learning Anywhere site in Canvas and you can email us at tel@sussex.ac.uk 

Posted in Case Study

Canvas quick tip: Muting notifications by module.

Do you have a role on Canvas modules that you are not teaching on a day-to-day basis? If so, you may be receiving more notifications than you want.

It is now possible to mute the notifications you receive from a module. And soon there will be more options for muting just some types of notifications on a module-by-module basis. This is how you do it:

1. Go to the home page of the module that you want to mute.

2. From the panel on the right, select View Course Notifications.

screenshot of panel on home page showing View Course Notifications button

3. Use the toggle button to disable notifications.

screenshot showing toggle button to enable or disable notifications

4. When you return to the home page, the panel will now show the notification icon (bell) crossed through to show that notifications are muted.

screenshot of panel on homer page showing notifications muted

You can turn them back on at any time.

For more detailed instructions see the Canvas guide How do I manage notifications for a single course as an instructor? 

To change the type of notifications that you receive for the modules that you teach on follow this Canvas guide How do I set my Canvas notification preferences as an instructor?

If you have any queries about using Canvas for teaching at Sussex please contact tel@sussex.ac.uk 

Posted in Canvas

Accessibility tips: considering user needs

Students may have a range of different accessibility needs, so it’s important to be aware of these varying needs and some of the key considerations to ensure that all students have access. This can include the teaching materials you produce, how you organise and run seminars / lectures and how you assess your students. Other posts in this series have looked at:

With all user needs the most important point to remember is to talk to your students, they’ll be able to tell you what works for them in terms of improving their access and helping them to learn. 

General tips  

  • Post as much of your learning materials as you can online so students can review and access information at their own pace and record your lectures. 
  • Record teaching activities such as lectures and seminars where appropriate.
  • Provide alternatives for any tasks or assessments you set.
  • Maximize your use of digital resources. These are easier to adapt for accessibility purposes than print resources and far easier to use. Students may have restricted access to print media and digital resources are far easier to share and distribute to students online.
  • Use alternative formats for learning resources and content. Embrace multiple forms of media.
  • Be aware of conceptual barriers to understanding such as describing colour to a student with a visual disability.

Visual

Visual needs will mean a user may have trouble perceiving visual content. Examples include low vision such as having blurry or clouded vision or only being able to see part of their field of vision. It can also include other forms of partial or full blindness.

Students may also have a form of colourblindness, this can cause difficulty in differentiating certain colours or in some cases cause a total inability to see colours.

Considerations

  • Add alternative text for images. This is essential if the student relies on a screen reader to access content.
  • Contrast ratios. Have a high contrast ratio between the background and foreground of any content such as the colour of text on a coloured background.
  • Don’t rely on colour for meaning or differentiation. Use other indicators such as shapes or patterns.
  • Text size. Ensure your text size is large enough to be legible and to stand out against the background
  • Use structured headers. This makes it far easier for a screen reader to navigate pages.
  • Justification of text. Justify text so it’s left aligned and easier to read.

Physical

Physical needs mean a user may have limited physical control and coordination, impaired movement and limitations of sensation. They may need to access digital content using specialized hardware and software. Examples of physical needs are conditions such as Muscular Dystrophy and Rheumatism.

Considerations

  • All content must be accessible without the need of a mouse. This means you should be able to navigate through content using only a keyboard.
  • Use structured headers. This makes it far easier for a screen reader to navigate pages.
  • Avoid tasks or learning with strict time limits as this can put students at a disadvantage. In some assessments it may be possible to give students extra time such as in the case of reasonable adjustments. 

Cognitive

Cognitive needs can encompass a wide range of areas including ADHD,  Dyslexia and memory impairments to name just a few examples. These can all affect how users take in, comprehend and process information. 

Considerations

  • Clearly structure your content with a consistent approach so that students can easily see exactly where to find learning materials.
  • Use multiple forms of media to communicate information.
  • Captioning of video and audio content.  Panopto can be used to automatically add captions, see our blog post for more information
  • Clear and simple sentence structures and descriptions. Avoid using complex language while retaining comprehension.
  • Simple colour use with strong contrast ratios.
  • Avoid using distracting content such as anything that flickers, blinks or flashes.

Auditory 

Auditory needs can range from partial hearing loss which may cause some degrees of hearing loss or may make it hard for students to understand speech against background noise to substantial hearing loss . 

Considerations

  • Transcripts or alternative modes need to be supplied for any resources that are communicated through audio.
  • Captioning for video / audio content. Panopto allows you to apply automatic captions. 
  • Participation in class. Offer some form of backchannel students can use to ask questions and interact. For online teaching this may entail using the chat feature in Zoom for live classes and utilising asynchronous text based tools such as the discussions within Canvas.

Speech

Students may be unable to produce speech to varying degrees. This can include conditions such as muteness, stuttering or dysarthria.

Considerations

  • Means of assessment. If an assessment requires some form of vocal component such as an oral presentation then offer an alternative.
  • Participation in class. Offer some form of backchannel students can use to ask questions and interact that doesn’t require speech. This may entail using the chat feature in Zoom for live classes and utilising asynchronous text based tools such as the discussions within Canvas.

For more help and guidance with digital accessibility please see the TEL digital accessibility toolkit or get in touch with us at tel@sussex.ac.uk 

Posted in Accessibility

Changes coming soon in Canvas

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Canvas_color-1024x241.jpg

In February we told you about some great updates and new features coming to Canvas. As one of these, the enhanced Rich Content Editor (RCE) will soon replace the existing RCE which is used in creating nearly all content in Canvas it seemed a good idea to re-publish this post. Both of the features mentioned below are available for staff to try now and the Rich Content Editor will replace the existing RCE on 20th June 2020. 

Rich Content Editor enhancements

The Rich Content Editor (RCE) is the screen that appears when editing most types of content in Canvas. The updated RCE includes a condensed, more intuitive toolbar and the ability to resize the editing field. When you are editing, the RCE will expand to the full width of the screen, but if your screen is not wide enough to show all the icons you will find the others under the 3 vertical dots menu at the end of the toolbar.

The new RCE moves the Accessibility Checker and HTML edit option to underneath the editing window and adds a word count, keyboard shortcuts and the ability to resize the editing window.

screenshot of icons underneath editing window

Linking to other content

The options to insert links to files, images or other parts of the module which used to be in separate tabs on the right of the screen when editing are now integrated into the RCE toolbar. Options are grouped together under recognisable icons such as these which indicate links, images, media and documents.  

screenshot of add links icons

When you choose to link to content that is already in the module site, a sidebar will appear allowing you to choose what you want to link to. The list will show which items are published, so it is easier to find the right thing. 

screenshot of adding a link

Embedding images

Images can be added via the image menu where you can choose images already in the module or your own Canvas files. If you want to add a new image you can drag and drop a file from your computer, browse your computer, choose an image from Unsplash or add an image with a URL. Unsplash has replaced Flickr as the platform for finding images within Canvas and gives you over 1 million free-to-use images to choose from.  

screenshot of image options

When your image has appeared, you can click on it to see an Options button. This will allow you to edit the alternative text (a text description for students with visual impairments using screen readers and others unable to view images directly), choose whether to embed the image or link to it and choose from some standard sizes or set a custom size. You can also adjust the size by dragging the blue squares in the corners of the image.

screenshot of image with options button and resizing points

Direct share

It is now possible to share content between modules and with colleagues, without using Commons. On Pages, Assignments, Discussions and Quizzes, you will see additional options to ‘send to’ or ‘copy to’ when opening the 3 vertical dots menu.

screenshot of 'send to' and 'copy to' options

‘Send to’ allows you to add the emails of Sussex colleagues with whom you wish to share the item. Any shared item you have received will appear under Shared Content in your account, from where you can preview it and/or import it into one or more of your modules. ‘Copy to’ allows you to copy an item from one of your modules to another.

Some possible uses for his functionality would be sharing a mid-term student feedback survey with colleagues or copying a Page with your contact details and office hours to all your modules.

How can I start using these features?

Direct Share is already enabled on all Sussex modules, and you can enable the RCE Enhancements on your module via Settings and Feature Options. This is a per-module setting so if it is enabled, all editors on the site will see the new RCE.

You can read more about enhancements to the RCE and Direct Share in the Canvas Guides. If you would like any help using any of these new features please contact tel@sussex.ac.uk. You can learn more about making your Canvas sites and digital resources accessible in our Digital Accessibility Toolkit.

Posted in Canvas

Exploring 3D objects for online learning

Early in the Coronavirus lockdown 2020, what seems an age ago now, parents found a new digital toy to amuse their children. Google had released a new feature in their search results where the search terms ‘panda’ or ‘tiger’ would bring the option to display a real creature in your own living room. This augmented reality (AR) was a bit of fun and kept my 4 year old’s attention for two precious minutes, but this same technology has some real world teaching applications. In this post I will explore a couple of tools which can bring objects and experiences to people who might otherwise not be able to access them due to location, cost or risk.

3D models

3D models can really help students to appreciate the shape and detail of an object, and with AR, their scale. 

Over recent years, many institutions, including Cleveland Museum of Art and the Smithsonian, have started to share 3D scans of their collections online and for free via a service called SketchFab. SketchFab now has a massive library of 3D objects which can be embedded in a webpage for students to rotate and view from different angles.

A 3D model of the Smithsonian’s Apollo 11 Command Module on Sketchfab. The image shows links to download the model, embed and share.
A 3D model of the Smithsonian’s Apollo 11 command Module on Sketchfab.

Selecting the embed option under the 3D model on the Sketchfab website will allow you to copy embed code which can then be pasted into a Canvas page. See the Canvas guides for information on how to embed in Canvas.

Please note, SketchFab does not currently support keyboard navigation for rotating viewing models, so some of your students may not be able to access this content and you will need to provide an alternative, such as a text description.

Augmented Reality (AR)

In March 2020 SketchFab announced that all objects were available in USDZ format. This format, created in a collaboration between Apple and Pixar, allows you to view the objects in AR, overlayed on your own location through a mobile device. 

Image shows a hand holding an iPad. on the screen of the iPad a 3D model of an amphora is overlaid on the scene captured by the iPad camera.
Viewing a 3D model of an amphora in AR

For those with iPhones or iPads a link to a USDZ file opens an AR image which you can place in your environment. Try this by finding a model on the Sketchfab website, underneath the model select the download option and choose USDZ format.

You could place an image in a Canvas page and link it to a USDZ file so that those with a mobile device could click and view the AR version of the object. For those without an apple mobile device, clicking the link will simply download the file.

If you have a little more technical know-how you could link to a version that will work on both Android and iOS devices. Please note this code can’t be embedded in Canvas directly, though there are workarounds.

Sketchfab is not the only solution for embedding 3D models into web pages. Alternatives include Mozilla’s Aframe.io and Google Poly.

Virtual reality (VR) tours

If you can’t get somewhere in person, Google Street View is a well known tool that may jump to mind as a way of exploring an area. Using Google Tour Creator you can take pictures from Google Street View along with your own 360 footage and create a tour, adding points of interest, overlaying images and narration.

In 2019 the Art History department at the University of Sussex visited Rome and as part of that trip they captured 360 images of several sites. Now that travel to Rome is limited, that content can be used to replace at least some of the experience of being there.

Again with virtual tour software, accessibility can be an issue so do speak with your students to ensure they can view any resources you create and be ready to provide alternatives where they can’t.

Alternative tools for VR tours include ThingLink, H5P and Paneek.

These were just a couple of examples of how you can provide virtual experiences of remote objects and places. If you are currently using or interested in VR technologies for teaching at the University of Sussex we’d love to hear about it. Contact tel@sussex.ac.uk to get in touch or to find out more.

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Posted in AR/VR/360, Learning Technologies, Uncategorized

Accessibility tips: Digital accessibility tools

When teaching and learning is happening online the accessibility of digital materials and activities is more important than ever. This post is part of a series of Accessibility Tips to help you make your digital materials accessible. There are more great tips in our Digital Accessibility Toolkit. Previous posts in this series look at:

This post focuses on the list of tools in the Digital Accessibility Toolkit which can be used by students with specific learning differences. Many of the listed tools would be useful to anyone and the majority have free versions. You can filter the list to find the right tools for your needs, based on the device(s) you want to use and the cost. A more exhaustive list of tools is available on the DnA (diversity and ability) website. 

screenshot of the filters showing Platform, Purpose and Cost.

Organisation and planning

You can help keep your work on track and reduce your stress levels by using a to-do app such as Trello for organising tasks and mind mapping software like Mindview for notes, planning and more. You can read more about these two digital tools in our post ‘The organisational tools I rely on’. Trello has a free version that would be enough for most users and the university provides Mindview to all staff and students. 

Reading

Students and staff will spend considerable amounts of time reading, and there are some great tools to help. To modify your screen’s display to reduce eye-strain, try F.lux which will adjust the display colour temperature according to location and time of day. Students and staff at Sussex can also use Sensus Access to automatically convert documents into a range of alternate media.You can read more about this in our post Alternative formats made easy with SensusAccess.

Writing

Microsoft and Google both allow you to speak your writing. Office 365, which is provided free to all staff and students at Sussex, lets you dictate into Word, OneNote, and PowerPoint. Google Docs allows users to create text using voice commands with a free Google account. 

Tools you have to pay for

There are other tools that are not free, but which are very useful for a range of needs. Some funding is available for paid-for tools through the Disabled Student Allowance (DSA).  

Claroread can read any on-screen text out loud to help students to read, write, study, and sit exams, while the Read & Write Chrome extension offers a range of support tools to help users gain confidence with reading, writing, studying and research. For note-taking and writing Audio Notetaker (Sonoscent), and Dragon (Dictate) are worth looking at.

Students can get more advice and guidance on selecting and using assistive and accessible learning technologies from the Sussex Regional Access Centre and staff wanting advice on making their teaching materials accessible can contact tel@sussex.ac.uk.

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Posted in Accessibility, Uncategorized

Padlet maps and timelines

Screenshot of the Map and Timeline options when creating a Padlet.

Padlet has been a popular tool for staff and students at Sussex for some time, which is why we have a Padlet Backpack licence and a range of guides and case studies on our website.

As teaching and learning have moved online this tool is being used even more. One of the main reasons people like Padlet is its versatility – with a blank digital wall the possibilities are endless, but two recent additions to the range of possible formats let you extend the ways that you can use Padlet.

Maps 

The new Maps format, with a range of different styles to choose from gives you a map of the world on which you can pin posts, containing any of the usual range of Padlet content including text, files, images, weblinks, video, audio and drawings. You can zoom in and out so this can focus on the whole world or just one town! 

This could be great for many different disciplines. Here are some ideas for how you might get your students to use it: 

  • Introductions at the start of a module. Students and staff could each add a post pinned on their home country with a short text, video or audio introduction of themselves and/or their homeland. 
  • Building community by sharing ideas for places to visit in the area around the university. 
  • Mapping events and/or people to show where historical, political or social movements arose and spread. 
  • Sharing media from field trips, pinned to the locations where they were created. 
  • Identifying aspects of geography and/or posting questions about them for others to respond to. 

These are just a few ideas, but anything that can be related to a place could benefit from a Padlet map. You can learn more about maps on the Padlet blog

Here is an example of a Padlet using the Map format. 

Timelines 

If you and your students are more concerned with time than space, then a Padlet using the Timeline format could be for you. This is not as sophisticated as tools that focus only on timelines, such as TikiToki or Sutori, but it is easy to use, versatile and available free for staff and students as part of the Sussex Padlet Backpack licence. 

You can add all the usual types of content that Padlet accepts, including text, files, images, weblinks, video, audio and drawings. Each post is added at a point on the timeline that you choose and others can be added before, after, or between existing posts. You can move posts around so it’s easy to rearrange your timeline as necessary. 

This could be great for many different disciplines. Here are some ideas for how you might get your students to use it: 

  • Creating a timeline of key concepts and/or theorists. 
  • Adding cultural context to historical points. 
  • Describing and discussing the stages of a process, such as an experiment. 
  • Creating a class journal describing and discussing key points across a module. 

These are just a few ideas, but anything that can be related to a point in time, or arranged in a specific sequence could benefit from a Padlet timeline. You can learn more about timelines in the Padlet blog

Here is an example of a Padlet using the Timeline format. 

Accessibility and support 

Not all of the functions in Padlet are fully accessible, though this is something they are working on (see Accessiblity and Padlet). When using Padlet you should consider whether you need to provide alternatives or modify the activity to allow everyone to take part. If you know that students are using screen-reading software to access internet content, or relying on keyboard input to navigate computer resources (i.e. do not use a mouse), you should consider alternate ways to include these students in the planned activity. Care should also be taken that wallpaper and colour schemes used in Padlet do not disadvantage students who are partially-sighted or have a colour vision deficiency. 

The Technology Enhanced Learning team (TEL) are always happy to support staff getting started with Padlet or thinking about how it might be useful for their students’ learning. Contact us at tel@sussex.ac.uk   

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Posted in Learning Technologies

Canvas tips and tricks

Canvas logo

While more teaching and learning is happening remotely, Canvas is increasingly central to engagement with students. As we have been using Canvas for nearly two years now we thought it was a good time to remind you of some features you may not have explored yet and share some of the TEL team’s favourite tips.

Connecting

When students are learning at a distance they can feel isolated and it can feel impersonal, but adding a human touch can help. This could be something as simple as adding a photo to your Canvas profile so that any announcements or discussion posts you make are accompanied by your friendly face. For step-by-step instructions see the Canvas Guide How do I add a profile picture in my user account as an instructor? 

To help you stay connected with your students you will want to check and perhaps update your notification preferences. This will allow you to be alerted when posts are made to Discussions, messages are sent to your Canvas Inbox and more. These settings will apply to all the modules on which you have a role. To review and amend your notification preferences click on Account in the global navigation menu and select Notifications. Here you can choose which notifications to receive, how often and via which communication method. Your Sussex email will already appear in the options, but you can add other emails, mobile phone numbers etc. by going to Account and selecting Settings then +Contact method. For step-by-step instructions see the Canvas Guides: 

Discussions are a good way for you to stay connected with your students and for them to connect with each other without the need to all be online at the same time. You can create Discussions for separate seminar groups by choosing which ‘section(s)’ a Discussion is available to. In the Discussion settings choose the seminar group(s) in the ‘Post to’ box. If you have a Discussion you want to make available to different sections you can duplicate it and change the ‘Post to’ setting for each copy. 

Announcements are a great way to alert students to new things going on. To maximise the impact of your Announcements you can set your module to show announcements on the home page. For step-by-step instructions see the Canvas Guide How do I show recent announcements in the Course Home Page? You may also want to advise your students to update their own notification preferences (above) so that they are notified about any announcements.

You can also schedule Announcements in advance, so if you want to remind students about a scheduled event on the day you can specify a date  and time when your announcement will be posted. For step-by-step instructions see the Canvas Guide How do I delay posting an announcement until a specific date in a module? 

Staying organised 

In difficult times some basic organisation and structure can be a great help. You can save yourself some time and stress by making a few small changes in Canvas, starting with your Dashboard. To get the sites you use most often where you can easily see them, click and drag any of the module cards on your dashboard to rearrange them. You can remove or add cards to your dashboard by going to Modules, all modules and clicking the stars to select or deselect modules. You can also give the cards ‘nicknames’ which could be useful if you have several with similar names. Only you will see the nickname you choose. For step-by-step instructions see the Canvas Guide How do I view my favorite courses in the Card View Dashboard as an instructor?

An example of a Canvas Dashboard
An example of a Canvas Dashboard

Over the course of a year, your files area of your module site can get a bit cluttered and it can be hard to locate the files you want. It can be a good idea to set up a folder structure to organise your files, perhaps matching your units structure. This way each time you upload a new file you can put it in a location that will be easy to find again. It’s also a good idea to use naming conventions so you can quickly see which version of file you are using and what it is for. For step-by-step instructions see the Canvas Guide How do I move and organize my files as an instructor?

Panopto makes it easy to ensure your recordings get to the right students. When you launch Panopto from the Canvas module, the module you are in is automatically selected as the destination folder for the recording. 

Updating

As you update your Canvas sites there are a few useful tools you may not have used yet. A recent blog post introduced the enhanced Rich Content Editor (RCE) and the new Direct Share function. Both of these are available for staff to try now and the Rich Content Editor will replace the existing RCE in June 2020. You can find lots of step-by-step instructions in the Canvas guides to the New Rich Content Editor.

The Enhanced Rich Content Editor (RCE)
The Enhanced Rich Content Editor (RCE)

One of our favourite features of Canvas is a great safety net when you are updating Pages. Every page has the option to see all the previous versions and revert to one of them if you want to. So if you accidentally delete something important or mess up the layout of a page you can easily restore a previous version. If you are making lots of edits on a page it is therefore a good idea to save often so that you can easily undo any errors without losing too much work. For step-by-step instructions see the Canvas Guide How do I view the history of a page in a course?

If you are copying and pasting into Canvas, then wherever you are using the Rich Content Editor (e.g. Pages, Discussions, Announcements) you can use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+Shift+V (Command + Shift + V on a Mac) to paste text without including any of the formatting of the original text that you copied. This helps you to keep your content neat and legible for students.

The rich content editor (RCE) allows you to embed all sorts of rich media content, including Panopto recordings, YouTube, Twitter and more into Pages. How you do this depends on whether you are using the updated RCE or not. In the old version click the blue down chevron, in the new click the icon that looks like a plug. 

Whatever you are adding to your Canvas module don’t forget to check for accessibility. If you are creating Pages, Discussions, Announcements or anything else that uses the Rich Content Editor you can use the built-in accessibility checker which will look for colour, logical order of heading styles, alt text and tables. It then gives you options to make adjustments as needed. For step-by-step instructions see the Canvas Guide How do I use the Accessibility Checker in the Rich Content Editor as an instructor? and check out the TEL Digital Accessibility toolkit for more great tips on making your content accessible.

You will also want to make sure that any links to external sites or files are working properly and Canvas can help you with that. From the Settings menu item you can access the module link validator which searches module content for invalid or unreachable links and images. It will show you which links on which pages are broken so you can quickly fix them. For step-by-step instructions see the Canvas Guide How do I validate links in a course?

Help and support

If you would like further help you can:

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Posted in Canvas

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We are the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

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