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How to accommodate and differentiate lessons in Brightspace

  • 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 (LMS). You can access the entire blog series here, or start from the top with Blog #1.

Principle 7: “Respect diverse talents and ways of learning”

It comes as no surprise that students follow unique paths towards their own learning and mastery. They arrive in the classroom already possessing vastly different skills and abilities, with varied preferences for how they will then learn new skills and abilities; some may do better with theoretical foundations, for example, while others prefer hands-on practice. Brightspace can support teachers in respecting this rich diversity of talents that students bring to the table by ensuring that each student receives 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 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 (ex: students must view a necessary piece of content before the corresponding assessment is released to them), Enrolment Conditions (ex: only students enrolled in a certain group or section will be able to see the item in question), and Completion Conditions (ex: students must complete an assessment before being granted access to the following 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 accommodations and/or Individual Education Plans), while also permitting students to each work at their own pace, unlike date restrictions, which can often hinder the many students who work quicker or slower than the prescribed calendar dates. The use of Release Conditions can also help avoid the risk of potentially overwhelming students. In a face-to-face classroom, students simply encounter class materials as you present it to them, but in an online environment, the sight of 12 weeks of content all at once may provoke anxiety for some. Incorporate Release Conditions to scaffold content instead, so that students only see one or two weeks’ worth when they first log into your class (be sure to let them know that additional content will be released as the class progresses).

Two other tools that rely heavily upon 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 online classroom into a “choose your own adventure” journey, a competitive escape room, or a “whodunnit” mystery by using badges and certificates within the Awards tool to release clues that rely upon student performance and participation in order to crack the proverbial code.

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Finally, Intelligent Agents are an extremely useful tool that can save teachers some time while also preventing students from slipping through the cracks, as they allow you to prepare automated emails that will only be sent if certain conditions are met (or not met). A few typical use cases include reaching out with a check-in message to any students who have not logged into class 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 below X score on an assessment, or sending a reminder to any students who have NOT completed something. Once again, Brightspace can help teachers to recognize and respect students’ diverse ways of learning, in order to meet them where they currently are with a variety of accommodations when necessary.

The Importance of Being Accessible

Accommodating accessibility needs is a crucial priority at D2L that has been baked into the Brightspace platform front and center. A great place that anyone seeking accessibility modifications should always start is by accessing the Account Settings located under their name at the top right of any screen in Brightspace. Here, you will find several explanations surrounding the most 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” then “HTML Document” if you are 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 out by assistive technologies
  • Record a Video Note that will auto-generate closed captions (and a downloadable transcript) in your choice of 14 languages
  • Use the colour picker to select foreground colours that 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, take your content a step further by applying one of our HTML Templates, which can be located under the drop-down menu to the right of the document’s title. These templates are already accessible – from the colour schemes and images selected, to the size and format of the headings chosen – making it even easier for teachers to start using. Simply replace the pre-populated 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!

To learn more about building accessible lessons, check out this blog on how to teach for accessibility.

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