BlendKit 2015, Week 1

I am excited to join the BlendKit 2015 community! BlendKit 2015 is an open, online course from the University of Central Florida in designing and developing blended learning programs. I’ve used various distance learning technologies for several years, and now welcome this opportunity to bring identified best practices into the virtual and blended classroom. The readings, assignments and opportunities for discussion are essential resources in this quest.

So without further ado, some thoughts on chapter 1. I loved this description of learning by George Siemens: “By recognizing learning as a messy, nebulous, informal, chaotic process, we need to rethink how we design our instruction” (chapter 1). I can think of powerful learning experiences where things were less controlled, more dynamic, and maybe had some uncertainty mixed with a hint of pressure (as in group forming, norming, storming, and performing). A carefully designed hybrid learning program can also be messy, iterative, flexible, and just as powerful.

I’m familiar with Constructivism, but the idea of networked learning, or “Connectivism”, holds interesting prospects. Web 2.0 learners are a highly networked group, so using this framework seems like a good place to start. Yet how do we measure nebulous learning, or the formation of a learning network?

2015 College Bound Day

I recently had the privilege to speak at the NYS Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped’s “College Bound Day, 2015” held at The Lighthouse, International in New York City. At this annual event, high school juniors and seniors and their families have the opportunity to hear from college students, administrators, and support organizations about the realities of college life and how  best to prepare.  It was a great turn-out. Many thanks to Tommy, Rosa, and Norman for joining us (live and virtually) to speak about your experiences, and the online classes you took through Echoes Instructional Design, Inc. (They’ll have a good future in public speaking!) As always, I am honored to have been a part of this important day.

Before you write your next paper, write an outline

If you read the subject of this post and thought “oh no, an outline! What a waste of time,” you’re probably not alone.
Many times, we just think it is easer to sit in front of our computers and let the words flow. But having an outline can really save a lot of time and frustration when you’re working on your next essay. An outline is a roadmap to your paper. When you’re sitting in front of the computer and you suddenly can’t figure out what to write next, take a look at your outline for a clue.
An article published at the popular Website Lifehacker advises that we remember to create full outlines. We tend to only create outlines based on topics or questions, but as the article suggests, including answers to your questions will make for a more pleasant writing experience.
Say, for example, we are writing an essay about Braille. One question or topic we might discuss is: how do you form the Braille alphabet. Instead of writing that in our outline and moving onto the next topic, we would first describe how the Braille alphabet is formed. That way, the details are al there, waiting to be worked into our paper.
Here’s the link to the Lifehacker article.

Type notes faster with Fleksy

One of the hurdles people often face when starting to use an iPhone or other touch-screen device is dealing with a slower typing speed. Instead of knowing where each individual key is on the keyboard by touch, you need to do  a little more guess work with the iPhone. As someone who tends to write lengthy text messages and comes up with ideas while out and about, this was one of my concerns when using a touch-screen phone.
A bluetooth keyboard can certainly help, but there are times when it’s easier not to carry a separate device or you’ve just forgotten it. Cases with bluetooth keyboards built-in are understandably a bit more bulky than  the iPhone on its own. Enter Fleksy, a new app aimed to help you type faster. Instead of having to find each key   then either lift your finger or split tap as is done with VoiceOver, with Fleksy, just aim a finger at where you think a  key might be. The system will do its best to figure out what you were typing. More often then not, it will be correct. If it isn’t right, simply swipe down to hear a list of suggestions. The team has even improved the entering of punctuation; you don’t have to switch to a new keyboard just to enter  a comma.
The only drawback to this innovative app is that you need to copy the text you’ve written into other apps, as iOS doesn’t allow the keyboard to be used system-wide. In other words, your keyboard is a separate app, and you need to paste the text you’ve written into apps like Safari or Notes. However, Fleksy makes it easy to copy text, and you can set up favorite email addresses and numbers you frequently text right within the app.
The majority of this post was written using Fleksy, and while I had to correct the system’s guesses approximately  15 times, the word I was looking for was usually the first or second suggestion. I find the words that are most difficult to type are short words whose letters are close together on the keyboard. For example: it, is, if.
Next time you have an idea for a paper, or need to write a quick note about a class, Fleksy might just be able to help you get it done a bit more speedily.
Fleksy costs 14.99 in the App store.

Proofread with Your Ears

Whether you’re writing an email to a professor or polishing that dreaded end-of-semester term-paper, proofreading should be an essential step before you finalize your work. Careful proofreading can help you locate grammar problems and give you an overall picture of the clarity and structure of your writing.
When you think of proofreading, you probably think of reading over your writing with a pen in your hand, or painstakingly going through your paper with your computer, or maybe embossing a copy in Braille and reading it line by line. While you should proofread your work carefully in these ways, there’s another way that involves more than reading. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your ears when proofreading your work:
1. Take your piece of writing and read it out loud. Imagine that it’s someone else’s work; that will help you check that it makes sense.
2. If you’re blind and have access to a Braille display, you can read it from there.
3. Focus on the sound of your voice. Are you noticing that you’re not pausing where there should be sentence breaks? Do you have too many pauses in your sentences? Are you hearing the same words used over and over again?
4. If you’re using a screen-reader, let it read your writing in its entirety first. After reviewing your paper as a whole, then go back and correct errors you may have heard along the way, and examine your paper in more detail.
5. Try changing the voice of your screen-reader. Sometimes, hearing text with a new voice will give you fresh perspective.
5. Create a sound-scheme for editing if your screen-reader allows. This can help clarify where you’ve used (or forgotten to use), different type set.
6. If you have a recorder, record yourself reading your work out loud. Play your work back the next day. Sleeping on your writing can give you fresh perspective, as well. After stepping away from your paper for a while, you might realize that your body paragraphs don’t relate very well to each other and your introduction.
7. Ask someone to read your work out loud. In addition to helping you spot errors, hearing your writing read back in someone else’s voice might cause a lightbulb to go off in your head. Perhaps that sentence really belongs in the previous paragraph…
While proofreading takes time, it might just help you make that A on your next paper, or help you express yourself more clearly when you’re writing an important message.

Face to Face + Online, How Hybrid Instruction Compares to Traditional College Classes

Are hybrid classes as good as face to face classes? Research from Ithaka, S  & R Consulting has found that courses that provide  a blend of both face to face and online instruction produce nearly equivalent learning outcomes to the traditional classroom experience.

“The study compared how much students at six public universities learned after taking a prototype introductory statistics course in the fall of 2011 in either a hybrid or a traditional format. The researchers randomly assigned a diverse group of 605 students to either a hybrid group, in which they learned with computer-guided instruction and one hour of face-to-face instruction each week, or a traditional format, usually with three or four hours of face-to-face instruction per week.

The result? “We find that learning outcomes are essentially the same—that students in the hybrid format pay no ‘price’ for this mode of instruction in terms of pass rates, final exam scores, and performance on a standardized assessment of statistical literacy,” the report concluded.”   (from The Chronicle of Higher Education, Wired Campus, 5/22/12, Katie Mangan)

 Bottom Line: Since most colleges and universities appreciate  the lower costs associated with online instruction, you can expect to find more hybrid courses in the future.

The Accessible Textbook Finder

Do you ever find yourself visiting multiple websites to locate an accessible copy of a book you need for your up-coming semester? Well, here’s a site that might make your search a little easier.
The Accessible Textbook Finder allows you to search multiple sources for books simultaneously. You can search by title or ISBN. If you search by ISBN, remember not to use dashes when you type in the number.
The Accessible Textbook Finder Searches Bookshare, the National Library Service, CourseSmart, Access Text Network, Learning Ally, the Alternative Media Access Center and Project Gutenberg.
Don’t forget to check other sources you use that aren’t listed heretofore ending your search.
Link to The Accessible Textbook Finder:

Echoes Instructional Joins the NYS CBVH Summer Pre-College Program

Echoes Instructional Design, Inc. is pleased to join the NYS Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped’s Sumer 2013 Pre- College Program!  In this four week residential program, participants will experience college life first hand as they develop research, writing, technology, and independent living skills.  Echoes Instructional Design’s Developmental Writing Seminar (DWS) has been incorporated into the program to provide challenging academic and technological instruction.

The DWS program uses the framework of a Freshman English class to  introduce writing techniques and new technologies via online learning with real-time discussion.   Our goal is to help students develop fluency with mainstream, accessible tools and applications to facilitate college academics. Our Writing Professors, Technology Specialists, and Distinguished Guests will work closely with participants to challenge, guide, and inspire.

Dates: Saturday July 13, 2013 through Friday, August 9, 2013

Where: Choice of two campuses

  1. LeMoyne College ( in Syracuse, NY, facilitated by Aurora of Central NY
  2. Manhattanville College ( in Purchase, NY, facilitated by Visions of NYC

Who: To be eligible, students must be NYS residents who are legally blind and going into their senior year of high school in the fall of 2013. The program is strongly recommended for students requesting CBVH college sponsorship.

Contact: Your NYS CBVH Counselor

July- New Rules for TV Audio Description

In case you don’t browse the FCC website for accessibility information (as we do), here’s some good news.

Video description is audio-narrated descriptions of a television program’s key visual elements. These descriptions are inserted into natural pauses in the program’s dialogue. Video description makes TV programming more accessible to individuals who are blind or visually impaired. 

 As of July 1, 2012, FCC rules require local TV station affiliates of ABC, CBS, Fox, and NBC located in the top 25 TV markets (NY included) to provide 50 hours per calendar quarter (about 4 hours per week) of video-described prime time and/or children’s programming.

Read more:

Folders: Find Those Freshman Notes Your Senior Year

If you’re preparing for college, you’ve probably heard how important it is to stay organized. From writing down your assignments to time-management, staying organized comes into play in nearly every aspect of college life. And, when you enter the working world, it’s a skill you’ll be glad you have polished well. Here’s just one basic tip that can help you keep track of all of those critical class notes and papers-in-progress–it was very helpful for me.
Once you have your schedule all set, sit down at your computer. Create a folder with the name of the semester. For example, you might have a folder called “Fall 2012.” Then, within each folder, create folders for each of your classes. Remember to make the names of your folders clear and specific. That way, a year later, when you’re studying for that French final, and you want a quick reminder on how to form the negative, you can pull up your notes from Introduction to French as reference.
If you’re taking notes on your laptop in class, remember to save them in the correct folder and with a clear file name for later retrieval. To make your notes even more useful, consider using a service like Dropox for access from just about anywhere. If you’re working on a term project for one of your classes, consider giving that project its own folder. You’ll be able to find it easier, and put all of your research information as well as drafts in progress all in one place.
Most important, come up with an organizational system that works for you, and stick to it. Staying organized can save you a lot of agitation, So next time you’re looking for that paper you started last week, you’ll know exactly where to find it.