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Blog 7: Brightspace can help you accommodate and differentiate your teaching

  • 5 Min Read

Today, we conclude our exploration of how Chickering and Gamson’s seven principles of good pedagogical practice can be achieved and supported through use of the Brightspace learning management system. You can access the entire blog series here.

Principle 7: Respect diverse talents and ways of learning

It comes as no surprise that all students follow unique paths toward their own learning and skills mastery. They arrive in the classroom already possessing vastly different skills and abilities, with varied preferences for how they’ll learn new skills and abilities; some may do better with theoretical foundations, for example, while others prefer hands-on practice. Brightspace can support faculty in respecting the rich diversity of talents students bring to the table through tools that enable each student to receive a customized learning experience online. As Chickering and Gamson write, “Students need the opportunity to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them. Then they can be pushed to learning in new ways that do not come so easily.”

Custom learning paths
Let’s begin by taking a look at the notion of release conditions in Brightspace. A release condition provides you with the freedom to hide materials (content, assignments, discussions, quizzes, announcements, and more) until a student has completed (or not completed) a certain action in the system. What might this look like in practice? Three common examples can be categorized as follows: viewing conditions (e.g., students must view a necessary piece of content before the corresponding assessment is released to them), enrollment conditions (e.g., only students enrolled in a certain group or section will be able to see the item in question), and completion conditions (e.g., students must complete an assessment before being granted access to the next unit’s content).

Release conditions serve quite an important purpose in Brightspace. They allow us to build unique learning paths for students of varying abilities (or those who may require accommodation and/or individual education plans) while also permitting each student to work at his/her own pace, unlike date restrictions, which can often hinder the many students who work more quickly or more slowly than within the prescribed calendar dates. The use of release conditions can also help avoid the risk of overwhelming students. In a face-to-face classroom, students simply encounter course content as you present it to them, but in an online environment, the sight of 12 weeks of content all at once may provoke anxiety in some. Instead, incorporate release conditions to scaffold content so that students see only one or two weeks’ worth of work when they first log in to your course (but be sure to let them know that additional content will be released as the course progresses).

Two other tools that rely heavily on the use of release conditions are awards and intelligent agents. The Awards tool is a fun and engaging way to share positive encouragement, promote healthy competition, or even gamify the learning experience. Turn your course into a “choose your own adventure” journey, a competitive escape room, or a whodunit mystery by using badges and certificates within the Awards tool to release clues that rely upon student performance and participation to crack the proverbial code.

Finally, intelligent agents are extremely useful and can save faculty time while also preventing students from slipping through the cracks, as they allow you to prepare automated emails that will be sent only if certain conditions are or are not met. A few typical use cases include reaching out with a check-in message to any students who haven’t logged in to the course in X number of days (this is also often used by stakeholders to track attendance), providing additional support and resources to any students who received a score below X on an assessment, or sending a reminder to any students who have NOT completed something. Once again, Brightspace can help faculty recognize and respect students’ diverse ways of learning in order to meet them where they currently are and provide a variety of accommodations when necessary.

The importance of being accessible
Accommodating accessibility needs is a crucial priority at D2L that’s been baked into the Brightspace platform. Anyone seeking accessibility modifications should always start by accessing “Account Settings,” located under the student’s name at the top right of any screen in Brightspace. Here you’ll find several explanations of the optimal settings to choose for certain situations, such as the use of assistive technology (screen readers, screen magnifiers, voice software).

In addition, instead of creating new content offline, choose to build accessible materials directly in the Content area by selecting “Create a File” under “Upload/Create” (or “Create New” and then “HTML Document” if you’re using the new content experience). You will be presented with the extensive HTML editor, which offers the following functionalities:

  • Add images that prompt you to include the alternative text that will be read aloud by assistive technologies
  • Record video-based feedback that will automatically generate closed captions (and a downloadable transcript) in your choice of 14 languages
  • Use the color picker to select foreground colors to align with the WCAG 2.1 standards (contrast ratio, accessible ratio)
  • Click on our built-in Accessibility Checker to look for any outstanding issues, and view suggested steps for resolution

Moreover, you can take your content a step further by applying one of our HTML templates, which are located under the drop-down menu to the right of the document’s title. These templates—from the color schemes and images selected to the size and format of the headings chosen—are already accessible, making it even easier for faculty to start using them. Simply replace the prepopulated text with your own! Using these document templates provides a consistent look and feel for all students while also remaining aesthetically pleasing.

We know that no two people work or learn in the same way or at the same rhythm. Let Brightspace support you in the journey to differentiating your teaching!

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