Episode 4- Email and LMS Organizational Strategies
0-0:12 Orthotonics Accessible as Gravity plays and fades out
0:13 Hello and welcome to Accessagogy a podcast about accessibility and pedagogy. I’m your host Ann Gagné and this podcast is recorded on treaty 13 on the traditional land of the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation.
0:28 Welcome to episode four! In this episode we are going focus on some organizational strategies that may support accessibility in your courses. In particular, I will focus on the tools that we use in educational spaces to organize and share information such as learning management systems which I will call LMSs and announcement tools like email.
0:54 Though there are other ways that organization can be thought of in particular in relation to pedagogy, that I will definitely touch on in other episodes of this podcast, I really wanted to turn my attention to emails and learning modules in particular because there seems to be a lot of discussion being had right now about this concept of “attention” and “engagement” and what we can do to support these things without having a real conversation about how ultimately there’s some sort of organizational strategies that are actually paying a part in conversations about attention and information sharing that we should be having.
1:39 So, lets first start with learning management systems or LMSs. Learning management systems depending on the institution that you are in really will help organize the content that you are going to be speaking to in your course. It helps you to find a place to have your files and those kinds of things; it could be a place where conversations happen through discussion boards and so on.
2:09 Learning management systems ultimately are there to help you organize your content, that’s why they exist, right? This is why you know in the early days of LMSs there were also things you know called CMSs which were content management systems. They were really there to help organize your content, and as such, LMSs can be organizational tools, I mean there are a lot of other reasons why we use LMSs, but ultimately, they really are organizational tools.
2:40 So what are some accessible sort of pedagogical strategies that we could use with learning management systems and to keep in mind when we’re teaching? So first, modules right? So the use of modules or weekly chunking of content is really a great way to organize what’s going on in your course.
3:02 So whether you organize your modules in terms of theme or topic or you know what I do in my class which is I organize them in terms of week, so it’s also organized in terms of week and also in terms in terms of theme. The students know that like in Week 2 for example, if they want information on how to write emails, they will go to Module 2 and in Module 2 it says Week 2 Module 2 Emails. They know that is the module and in that module is where all the information that they would need about creating emails and you know other resources in relation to emails.
3:45 Modules in your LMS are also a really great opportunity to use more Universal Design for Learning strategies. And what I mean by that is having a real like sort of understanding of the need for multiple means of representation of information. So if you, you know sticking to my example of emails, if you want the students to understand what makes for a nice professional communication type email, you can give an example of that, like a visual, you could have a video that talks about how to compose a professional email. You could even just have some text right?
4:31 I talk about this because there’s this tendency sometimes to use the module to just kind of be the place where the wall of text lives and having students kind of go through that wall of text. And accessibly, you know in terms of accessibility, that doesn’t necessarily work for a lot of students right? If a student opens a module and they’re greeted by a wall of text, that’s not the best sort of organizational strategy.
5:01 So if you could have an opportunity to have other resources about the content and not just a wall of text or paragraphs of text about the particular thing, it really will help the student find different ways in to your content. So maybe you know, it’s a short podcast like Accessagogy, or maybe it’s you know a video explaining how to do something, right? All of these things can really help reinforce that sort of multiple means of representation in UDL, but also get the most out of the organization that the LMS is actually providing, right? So the LMS can use, be used to house the text, the video, the link to the podcast, the transcripts, those kinds of things.
5:52 But you also need to kind of guide the students to where the material is and the material that they may need. And remind them of where that material is, and the material that they may need at different parts of the semester or the term.
6:09 You can’t expect students to remember from Week 1 where that file that they may need in Week 12 is right? And so there are different ways that you can guide students to that material right, like you might make announcements in class for example, that says a reminder you know the exemplar that you need is in Module 7, let me show you how to get there, and then you kinda show them on the screen how to get there.
6:36 Really guiding the students to the information that they need in that LMS is also super helpful. I know a lot of instructors actually create, you know, one to two minute videos that they post in the module at the beginning of the semester that help show the students where the information is that they need, right, resources in relation to the course, modules for example, outside resources for things that are happening on campus that may be connected to your course or maybe, you know, just in terms of sort of social services and resources that are available on your campus, right?
7:18 Reminding the students where those are and not expecting them to always remember or doing that well it’s in the syllabus sort of line, really will help with that organizational strategies as well.
7:33 And this is where announcements come in. Some instructors do announcements weekly or biweekly, reminding students what’s due, reminding students where things are that they may need. I do this you know every Sunday morning my students know to expect an announcement from me that goes directly into their email about, a reminder about what to do for the week, what they’re expected to read, what module they’re expected to go through, what links they are expected to link, you know click through and those kinds of things.
8:07 Those announcements are really helpful, but there’s a fine balance between announcements being helpful and announcements being like sort of overloaded. So that means that you really need to have a schedule for those announcements, so like mine for example, which is once a week. And that the students come to know when to expect those announcements, so they know that you know Sunday morning, they will get something from me to remind them of what they have to do for Tuesday or whatever.
8:35 Sending them announcements every day, is just too much. And they are already overloaded with emails and announcements and all other kinds of information that they’re getting either from their other classes or the institution. And so really being mindful of when those announcements go out and how you phrase them, how you sort them out, will really help the student to find the information that they need.
9:02 So most of those announcements actually get done and shared through the LMS from the announcement app or whatever it is on the LMS through to the students’ campus email. And so let me just sort of move to emails which is the second thing I want to talk about in this particular episode. I find that there’s this weird thing that’s going on with emails in higher education and I’m not sure if you are seeing this too, but emails have become one of two things.
9:39 One is that either the emails seem to be written like they should have been text messages. So yes, fine, thanks, sure, you know emails like that and I’m sure you have a ton of those in your inbox.
9:55 Or the complete sort of polar opposite of that, which is emails that kind of read like journal articles, where there’s way too much stuff going on in the email, and it’s like one or two pages of things and the sender has reminded you that all of it is important. And so, you know, they expect you to read through two pages of text and remember every single thing they’ve asked you to remember.
10:22 And so both of those things are not great. So the one liner yes, no, whatever is not great because it just fills your inbox with stuff, when you know that tends to be something that could be a conversation or maybe even using some of the discussion apps that you may have in your institution, like I donno, Teams of whatever, even though I know that Teams has its own accessibility issues as well.
10:53 But those one liners and also the sort of you know two page emails that are happening are both not great. And so it’s really prompting me to talk in this episode about – can we have a conversation about how we write emails now? Cause I think we really need to, right like? So and this is not just from like students writing to instructors, this is like instructors writing to instructors, this is administration writing to instructors, this is everywhere. It’s like it’s not one demographic, it’s like all of the demographics. So let’s talk about email okay?
11:35 So the announcement that you send from your LMS that goes to the email it’s gonna have to have some kind of you know subject line like, remember Week 7 do this. Great! So the same thing has to happen with an email, right? So make sure that the email has a subject line that actually makes sense. I know this seems pretty like straight forward, but honestly, sometimes, the emails that we receive we have no idea what it’s about because you know the subject line is so vague, right?
12:09 So stick to that one topic and make the subject of the email actually reflects it. Okay, so that’s one big thing.
12:17 The other thing is that if you have to talk about more than one thing in the email, it happens, right, maybe you have connected concepts. Maybe the students need to remember that not only is this assignment due in Week 8 but you will have this other assignment that’s due in Week 9 and so this would be a really good time to do a heads up. You know, your outline is due in Week 8, but a heads up in Week 9 we’re going to do peer review. Right? Flagging things that are going to happen, right?
12:46 So if you have more than one thing that you want to talk about in an email or in an announcement, organize it in a way that folk can see that there’s more than one thing going on in that email, right? It’s completely okay to have like sort of headers in your email or bold things, like Week 8 and then you bold it, and there is a couple of bullet points about Week 8. Week 9 and then you bold it and there are a couple of bullet points about Week 9 underneath so that you know, visually when people look at it they can actually see, like, oh, okay so there’s information here about Week 8 and there’s information here about Week 9. As opposed to like you know 2, 3 long paragraphs.
13:34 Chunking information in emails is just as important as chunking information in modules for example. Make it easy for the person to find the thing that you’re asking them to do.
13:46 So to that to dos are really great, right? So ending your email with things like, next steps, or you know, what we need to do next, or if you are planning a meeting suggest times, suggest a place to meet, right? It really will avoid a lot of the back and forth that happens when people are trying to find a time and place to meet. Give a suggestion; hey can you meet at 2 o’clock on Thursday in my office? Person will either say yes or no, but at least you are starting from somewhere right? It avoids that sort of like four email, and you know it’s about three or four emails, that usually happen to kind of solidify a time.
14:34 And you and I both know that with all the other emails that happen in people’s inboxes, having three or four emails that are dedicated to just finding a time to meet, means that sometimes emails are gonna get lost, and you might end up never meeting.
14:53 So to recap, a lot of things to think about in emails, but like three things you may want to focus on. One, having a meaningful subject line. Two, making sure that if you have many topics in your email or a lot of information in your email that you chunk it, use headers, bolding, in a way that makes email visually easier to see and navigate and negotiate. Bullet points those kinds of things. And three, like end, with a to do, right? This is what I need you to do and this is the time frame I am looking at here and you know if you need more time, please let me know, that kind of stuff. Again you are making it more accessible, in terms of like finding that information, but you are also making accessible to the person so that know, okay I can go back to this email and find the information that I need.
15:52 So that’s LMSs and emails, how organizational strategies in both of those instances can actually be super helpful for the students to find the information that you need, for you as an instructor who may be getting you know so many emails from administration, to find the email and the information that you need, and just to kinda help our lives out a little bit right? We get a lot of email, let’s organize our email in a more accessible way. And I’d love to have more conversations about this, this just one of many conversations I am sure that we will have about email.
16:31 So that’s it, that’s episode 4 of Accessagogy with a briefish overview of a few organizational strategies you may keep in mind to help support accessible sharing of information through learning management systems and email.
16:47 Remember that I also want this to be a space where you can ask questions and share concepts that you would like me to discuss as well. And I have already received so many great emails, and thank you so much for that. So if there’s anything that I mentioned here about organizational strategies that you would like me to clarify or more resources that you need, please ask.
17:07 As well if you have ideas or aspects of your pedagogy that you would like me to address in this podcast, please feel free to send me an email at Accessagogy so that’s acc e ss a gogy at gmail dot com. I will try to include as many suggestions as possible in the podcast because ultimately this podcast is for you. So that’s it, that’s episode 4 of Accessagogy, thanks so much for following along and asking how can I make my space more accessible today? Have a great week!