Real Life Stories
A Different Sense of Moodle
I've been teaching psychology at Dawson College for 20 years and have also taught at Concordia. I've had a pretty typical teaching career and received fairly good reviews from my students. I haven't let the fact that I'm blind interfere with my job as a teacher.
The screen reader JAWS (source : Freedom Scientific)
Prior to the age of computers and the internet, I used standard techniques of lecturing and showed videos on VHS, but as the computer has taken over classrooms, I use more multi-media devices and, of course computers. As well, certain software has made my life easier in terms of dealing with students.
One essential piece of software for my work is something called a screen reader which helps me to navigate the Windows environment. There are actually three or four competing software packages for this task, but the one I use is called JAWS by Freedom Scientific, which is designed to help blind people use the graphical environment of Windows and to use the various software packages such as Microsoft Office, different browsers on the Internet and so on. I've installed JAWS in all the classroom computers that I use.
Once I'm on the computer, JAWS allows me to interact with software. Sometimes, I make my own PowerPoints. I know what I want to say, so I can type into the slides and sometimes I import data from Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Word that I have already prepared. Some presentations are supplied by the publishers of textbooks that I use, but I do have to modify them; I cannot always use the slides as they are given to me.
One thing I use in all of my courses is one of Dawson's course management software programs called Moodle. I put up my class notes and assignment instructions on Moodle. Once students have submitted their assignments, I grade them on Moodle so I can give immediate feedback. I also do online testing with Moodle. I book a lab where my students do their tests on the computer. Multiple choice items are graded instantly as the students submit the tests. The essays and all the written answers are graded manually, and the screen reader really makes my job easier.
You don't have to actually prepare questions within Moodle which is an involved process. A software called Respondus will take your Word file and convert it into a Moodle test almost instantaneously. Unfortunately Respondus is not very user friendly for somebody who uses a screen reader. The programming is incompatible, so I prepare my exams and send them to Rafael Scapin (Dawson's IT Rep), and he almost instantly puts them up on Moodle.
What I also like about Moodle is that it keeps track of all your grades. You don't have to enter in each student's grades separately. Once you've graded an assignment, it's there – part of the database. Once assignments and tests have been graded and it's time to post the final grades, all I have to do is paste pieces of information from Moodle into our Omnivox system, and the deed is done.
YouTube videos are truly a remarkable resource. First of all, my challenge in teaching is to find videos that are short – anywhere from 1 to 10 minutes. I don't believe in showing long videos; to me that's a replacement for teaching. But, 1 to 10 minute videos are really great, and YouTube has a selection of wonderful sources, many put up by university professors, sometimes by students. I select them and show them in class in conjunction with the topics that I'm covering. So YouTube has really become an important source in my teaching. There are other kinds of videos as well. Ted.com has an excellent selection of lectures, but they tend to be long so you have to show them in parts.
I obtain my textbooks from publishers electronically. They supply PDF files to me. They don't do this because it is the right thing to do but because they have to comply with a US law called the "Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990". Canada has nothing like it, but blind people do benefit from this regulation as the publishers have joint operations in both countries.
I find that the amount of time that I put into preparing my lectures and activities, preparing assignments, grading assignments and all my other activities is quite huge with or without technology. There are even activities such as classroom discussions that I see as more challenging in a virtual environment such as the online forum. To conclude, although technology has made the task of teaching easier for me, I see it as merely a useful teaching resource. The choice of what to use and how to use it in my classroom has become a part of the teacher's craft.