Step 5: Guiding Students

Students with disabilities rightfully question why exercises requiring skills and abilities they might not possess are required in some courses. Unless there is a clear rationale and stated purpose for content in an online writing space, all students have difficulty judging “busy work” from meaningful exercises (Conrad & Donaldson, 2004; Garrison & Vaughn, 2008). Yet, attempts to connect writing to technology raise questions about inclusive design.

Consider any visual composition exercise, from the perspective of a blind or vision-impaired student. The valuable assignment of asking students to design websites has been explored by writing scholars (Kalmbach, 2004; D. Selfe, 2004). Immediately, however, a visually-impaired student might feel excluded from such a task, illustrating the important role of the composition instructor as a guide. We should take such assignments as an opportunity to discussion inclusive design theories and how we need to test all media to ensure the greatest number of people receive a message. A disabled student might discover that he or she offers unique perspectives as part of a design team.

Other scholars have examined audio, video, and other multimodal forms of expression (Wysocki et al, 2004). Consider how including these activities affects students with visual, auditory, or other sensory limitations. If any aspects of an activity will exclude students, facilitate discussions on the reasons for that exclusion and what it might represent.

Teaching presence in terms of design and facilitation is necessary to ensure that communities come together in a productive manner. Communities of inquiry do not automatically or quickly move to integration and application phases of inquiry unless that is the objective and a teaching presence creates and maintains cohesion. … Familiarity developed through sustained purposeful discourse creates the cohesion necessary for participants to progress through the phases of inquiry. (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008, p. 44)

We also need to remind students that activities such as peer review and peer editing are not the same online as in traditional settings. We might want to introduce peer exercises with explanations of how collaborating online presents unique challenges.

Despite the common pedagogical (and theoretical) bases that virtual peer review shares with traditional peer review, virtual peer review is fundamentally different in terms of practice. (Breuch, 2005, p. 144)

For students with disabilities, the asynchronous nature of some online first-year composition course might prove to be an advantage. The constraints of time and the pressures of face-to-face communication are reduced, though not eliminated, because technology affords opportunity for equal participation. There are clear pedagogical advantages to the asynchronous model.

One of the beauties of virtual peer review is that there is a degree of technological flexibility in the exercise: it is driven by goals of the writer and reviewer rather than by any particular technology. (Breuch, 2005, p. 145)