Monday, September 26, 2016

Teaching Tip: Using Alternate Text for Images

In higher education, there is an increasing expectation that students are able to access course content online, in the form of PowerPoint presentations, Word documents, and even original material added directly to the Course Management System.  When adding images to digital content, it is important to understand that students who require screen readers may be limited if alternative text (alt text) is not added.  Adding appropriately worded alternative text to an online image greatly improves the accessibility of your course content.   

In Microsoft Office products, alt text can be added by clicking on the Format Picture menu.  Type a phrase or short sentence into the description window.

The Format Picture menu in Word has a box for title and a box for description.  

In D2L, when an image is added using the Insert Image icon, you will be prompted to add Alternative Text.  If the image doesn’t add any additional content, you can click, This image is decorative.
 In D2L the user is prompted to provide alternative text.
Your alt text should describe the relevant content that the picture conveys to a sighted person.  As an example, the alternative text for the screenshot on the left might read, “The Format Picture Menu in Microsoft Word has a window to type in a title and a description.”  It is not necessary to use phrases like, “A picture of…” at the start of your text.  

WebAIM has a great article on alt text, that can clarify the purpose and process, and help you decide on the best phrasing to use in different situations.  

Removing barriers to learning is an important concept to embrace in education.  If you would like to discuss more about Universal Design or share your thoughts over a cup of coffee, contact Meg Elias ( or visit the CTE in TLC Room 324.  If you have more in-depth questions about accessibility for deaf and/or hard-of-hearing students, or blind/visually impaired students, please contact the Center for Student Access at 517-483-1924.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Tips for First Week Online Engagement

by Tim Deines

I’ve been teaching online at LCC for several years now, and I’m finding that there are some simple things I can do at the beginning of each semester to increase the chances, theoretically at least, that students will have a successful term. For you veteran teachers, some of what follows may seem obvious. In any case, it can’t hurt to reflect on how we invite our students into our classrooms in an online context.

Hopefully, it goes without saying that your syllabus should be up and ready to go. We are required to put them on Concourse now, but it might be a good idea to also have it available to students in Word form for easy printing, etc. I also separate out my reading and assignment schedule from the section syllabus so that students have easier access to those tasks and dates.

In addition to nuts-and-bolts tasks like the syllabus, I think it’s really important that teachers personally reach out to students and invite them to participate fully in the class. Online contexts can be intimidating places, too, and it is the teacher’s responsibility to create a hospitable environment for students.

I do this in two ways at the start of the semester. The first is by posting a simple greeting with the ‘News’ function in D2L, but then also pasting that greeting into a class email. This happens the morning of the first day of class.

The second thing I like to do is set up an ‘Introductions’ forum and require students to introduce themselves to the class. I introduce myself first, talk about my interests, etc. My experience is that students will do this. Those that do not, I send out a gentle email to make sure they want to be in the class and understand my expectation that they actively participate in the course. I often hear back from these students assuring me that indeed they are interested in the course and to please not drop them!

It’s important to not assume that students are automatically going to jump into our courses and wholeheartedly embrace them. Some may need a bit of cajoling, kindly reminders, perhaps even a personal email. In my view, this all falls under the job description of good, caring teaching. Education is an invitation to discovery, and we should be always thinking about ways to welcome students through that door.

If you have suggestions for first-week online activities, future blog posts, or if you would like to share anything else, email Tim Deines (, or stop by the Center for Teaching Excellence, TLC 324.

Friday, September 2, 2016

First Day Confessions

by Meg Elias

At the start of every semester, I plan the perfect first day experience for my students.  I’m organized, ready to rock, agenda and class list in hand … seriously, I’m prepared.  So how is it that the first day is never actually perfect? 

Last Thursday’s mess included:

There were TOO MANY white board markers.  I know it’s hard to believe, but there were at least 35 of them, overflowing on the little marker ledge.  There were so many choices that I couldn’t pick a color, and when I finally grabbed a blue one, I knocked five others to the ground.

I wrote the agenda on the board, then turned on the projector …  and the projector was projecting over my agenda.  I had to erase it and move it to the other side while the students watched quietly.

I made a little name tent for myself to model what I wanted them to do, and it kept sliding off the desk.  I had to do on-the-fly origami to get it to stand up.

Going off script, I think I may have implied that getting a 2.0 was not good enough.  (I know, ouch.)

I kept trying to call a student by his last name, even though his first name was clearly written on his little name tent.

In seventeen years of teaching, I’ve never been able to work that “first day magic” that seems obtainable as I prepare for class.  Yet again, I managed to only achieve some degree of, “Phew, we survived.”  On the positive side, there were a few laughs (mostly at my expense), and almost everyone came back for class on the following Monday.   And that’s just going to have to be good enough.

If you have suggestions for blog posts or if you would like to share your first day confessions, email Meg Elias (, or stop by the Center for Teaching Excellence, TLC 324.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Inside the Teaching Professor - Negotiating Feedback

by Tim Deines

In discussions of evaluation and assessment of writing and other academic work, feedback is held up as a nearly unimpeachable good. Writing teachers, for example, often use marginal and end comments to heavily supplement, if not replace entirely, traditional grammar correction. As long as the feedback is more or less immediate, we often assume, it is preferable to a grading regime that strictly quantifies the final product.

And yet, the translation from feedback to grade can be a difficult one for both student and teacher. As teachers, we’re often not sure if students read and practice the suggestions we make. We might imagine that a valuable exchange of insight and information is happening – especially in online environments – where none actually is. 

From the student point of view, if the student reads feedback, there may be a lack of understanding about how the feedback relates to the grade. Rubrics are one way of confronting this potential disconnect, but that sometimes just introduces one more variable into a messy, vague calculation.

Part of the problem is that today we tend to want to quantify everything that happens in the academy. But everyone knows that writing, for example, is not easily reducible to impersonal, objective numbers. 

In the April edition of “The Teaching Professor,” Cassandra O’Sullivan Sachar discusses all of these issues in a piece called “Making Feedback Matter.” Sachar offers three bits of information that may help writing teachers and others better manage the relationship between feedback and grades

Sachar’s first piece of advice is “separate the grade from the feedback.” The main reason to do this is to remove the stigma of the grade from the writer’s self-perception as a person capable of doing that work. “Many students hold negative perceptions of themselves as writers,” Sachar says. “Removing the threat of bad grades can build confidence and motivate students to complete the assignment” (1). Sachar has found that students respond more positively and productively to feedback when the grade is removed from the assessment criteria. For most of us, this approach cannot be applied to the course as a whole, but there may be wiggle-room inside a course to experiment. 

Sachar also recommends assigning grades “based on student effort and improvement.” The point here is to emphasize writing and thinking processes while placing less weight on the final product, as important as that may be. “I want them to think,” explains Sachar, “not just about the quality of the final product, but the journey to get there.” In this way, feedback is attached to process and product, as opposed to some ideal result students feel may never be attained. 

Finally, Sachar suggests requiring a quick follow-up assignment based on the feedback. This can take any number of forms, and should not be a major undertaking. When students are asked to put the feedback to work in their writing right away, it follows that they will take much more intrinsic interest in the feedback. 

Sachar does us the great service of taking feedback seriously. If we are to rely on such a method in the academy – in writing courses, certainly, but also across the curriculum – it would be a good idea to understand the limits of its effectiveness. 

The Teaching Professor includes summarized articles from various educational publications, as well as original articles from university and college instructors. If you are interested in viewing articles in this and/or other publications, contact Tim Deines at or stop by the CTE, TLC 324. 

Reference: Sachar, Cassandra O. “Making Feedback Matter.” The Teaching Professor 30.4 (2016): 1. Print.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Three Tips for Protecting Students' Privacy

by Meg Elias 

When I was taking college biology in 1989, my professor motivated us by posting our exam grades on the classroom door with first and last names attached. We would rush up to the list of 300 and look for our names, ranked from highest score at the top, to lowest at the bottom. It may have been an effective motivator for some students, but it’s not considered an acceptable practice in 2016. When discussing or distributing graded items in the classroom, instructors should be mindful of students’ privacy. These three tips can help you avoid divulging information about an individual’s grades: 

  1. Place written grades on the second page of an assignment or test. As you pass out graded homework or exams, other students should not be able to see an individual’s grade on the front of the document. Placing the grade on the second page allows the student to choose whether or not to show their score to their classmates. 
  2. Have a pen and paper handy to write down a grade when a student asks during class time. Sometimes a student will approach the teaching station and ask you to look up a grade on Desire2Learn. Instead of stating the score verbally, write it down and hand the paper to the student. You can also jot down your office hours so that the student can follow up after class. Never allow the student to look at the gradebook screen if other students’ grades are visible. 
  3. Rehearse a standard reply to student inquiries that might violate another student’s privacy. If a student makes a comparison between their grade and a peer’s grade, you can reply with, “I cannot discuss any other student’s grades with you, but I would be glad to discuss your score during my office hours.” 
Remember that students have the right to share as much or as little as they wish about their scores, whether they are at the top or the bottom of the class. 

If you have more suggestions or if you would like to discuss teaching tips, email Meg Elias (, or stop by the Center for Teaching Excellence, TLC 324.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Teaching Tip - Branching Scenarios in PowerPoint

by Meg Elias

I was asked recently about creating branching scenarios for online learning, where students make choices and are guided to different screens based on their answers. One fairly simple option is to build the scenario in PowerPoint, publish it in iSpring (available at the CTE), and then share it with students in D2L. The result is an interactive learning activity that can take the form of a role play or even a multiple choice quiz.

Process Outline
Step 1: Create a map of your scenario on paper. Planning is key, here, to save time later. Below is a sample plan for a simple branching presentation: 

Step 2: Create a PowerPoint containing the text from the scenario. In the example above, I would create: 
  • An introductory or title slide 
  • One slide with the scenario and the three answers 
  • One slide with the “Sorry” message 
  • One slide with the “That is correct” message 
  • One slide with the Perfect Policy Award 
Step 3: Add the “branching.” Right click on one of the “Answer” boxes and select Insert Hyperlink. Under the Link to panel, select Place in this Document, and select the slide that has the result that corresponds to that choice. For example, in the “Answer 1” box, create a link to the “Sorry” slide. 

Step 4: Save the presentation and publish it in iSpring as an HTML5 file, and upload it to D2L. Click the presentation below to see the finished product using the methods outlined above. 

CTE Staff are available to help with this process. Email Meg Elias at, or visit our technology room in TLC 324 for assistance.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Teaching Tip - Effective Use of Videos

by Leslie Johnson 

I recently participated in a Webinar led by Zac Woolfitt, a lecturer at Inholland University in The Netherlands, who has researched the effectiveness of using video in higher education. Based on his research, Woolfit made some recommendations that made a great deal of sense to me. 

First, he noted that videos should not be very long—10 minutes at the very most. Woolfitt believes that 3-5 or 5-7 minutes, depending on the topic, is optimal. Take much longer topics and break them up into smaller chunks that will keep students’ attention and allow them to easily digest the main point of each video. 

Woolfit especially promoted what he referred to as the “theory of constructive alignment.” Simply put, develop a clear student learning outcome for each video you make and connect some type of assessment to that video. He suggested that the main point of each video should become a question on an exam or quiz. 

However, he also suggested using other types of classroom assessment techniques to reinforce the content. For instance, instructors can have students teach the main point of an assigned video. In a hybrid or “flipped” classroom, break the students into pairs; assign each student a separate video and have them teach the main concept to their partner. In a purely online class, students can be assigned to summarize the video in a discussion forum. 

Woolfit advocated requiring students to ask a follow-up question about each video they watch. Whether it’s done as part of a discussion forum, through email, or during a face-to-face meeting, students can ask for clarification or more information and receive participation points. 

As far as production goes, Woolfit recommends trying to create most videos in just one take. Have a script prepared so that errors can be kept to a minimum. He also advises instructors to keep post-production editing to a minimum. Just like our face-to-face lectures, content (or how we present it) will probably need to be changed on an ongoing basis, so instructors don’t get a great deal of return on crafting perfect videos every time—and students certainly aren’t expecting videos every time. 

Finally, Woolfit recommends a variety of videos. Sometimes, you might want to do a simple screen capture; at others, you may want to record your PowerPoint slides with you speaking over them. For certain lessons, you may want to actually have yourself filmed presenting a lecture to a live audience. 

At LCC, instructors have several resources to help them produce class videos. Kaltura screen capture is available within Desire2Learn. You can create more complex and fully edit screen captures using iSpring and Camtasia, which are available in the CTE’s technology support room (TLC 324). Media Services also has a Podcasting suite, which allows for better quality sound and video capture. In the Teaching Technology Sandbox, faculty can have a lecture recorded as they deliver it to an actual class. 

Please feel free to stop by the CTE during open hours for assistance using Kaltura, iSpring, or Camtasia. If you are interested in using the Podcasting suite or the Teaching Technology Sandbox for Faculty, contact LCC’s Media Services.