Teaching Soft Skills Course Recap

Erin Paul-Schuetter took a course on soft skills, and she’s shared a summary of her experience below. What are some ways you might be able to incorporate these ideas – critical thinking, communication, self-motivated learning and teamwork – in your own courses? Thanks, Erin, for sharing what you learned!

Summary of Soft Skills Course

This past fall I took Matthew Hora’s online course, Teaching Soft Skills in College Courses Certificate. My motivation for enrolling in the DCS course was both intrinsic and extrinsic; as an educator hoping to stay current with the needs of 21st century students, I wanted to learn ways to incorporate these skills into the Spanish language and literature courses I teach for Independent Learning. I believed that doing this would, in turn, help me be prepared for upcoming course revisions by incorporating the skills that many employers are asking for today. This course helped me reach those goals and exceeded them in many respects as well. What follows is a brief summary of the course from my perspective as a student and a testimonial of my experience. I hope this will prompt you to think a bit more about where these skills can fit into your classes.

As the course summary states (you can find it  here), this online certificate provides research, theory and frameworks to introduce each of the four “soft” skills: critical thinking, communication, self-motivated learning and teamwork. The readings, video lectures and web resources helped establish a base of knowledge that could be used to provide a rationale for why a particular skill is practiced in the course. Furthermore, the practical suggestions given in the course materials could easily be incorporated into a classroom activity, syllabus, or lesson plan. I can’t stress the practical nature of the course enough; we were encouraged to take what we had learned from the assigned texts and course lectures and videos and apply it to the curricular artifact we had chosen to revise to incorporate at least one or more of the soft skills.

For the final project I chose to revise the syllabus for an existing Spanish literature survey course I teach online. I wanted to overhaul the course objectives so that my students would see the practical and real-world skills they could develop and hone within the context of studying Spanish literature, even if this is a course they take as a degree requirement. In the end I came up with a set of course objectives that focus in on the skills employers are searching for in today’s global economy: critical thinking, communication, and self-motivated learning. (Teamwork was something I had to leave out since my course is asynchronous with students having six months to complete the requirements at their own pace.) In the process I came up with some activities to practice these skills that I intend to use in this class and others: mini check-ins scattered throughout the course that give students the space to monitor their progress and think about how they can actively work toward achieving their personal learning goals (self-motivated learning), a step-by-step guide to identifying the reliability of an online or print source (critical thinking), and practice revising one’s work in a foreign language (communication).

Regardless of the discipline, the practical knowledge gained from this course can help reinvigorate any course with a focus on 21st century skills.  

Student Submissions in Canvas and Speedgrader

Greetings, IL Instructors! We hope teaching in Canvas goes well. Something that was recently discovered regarding student assignment submission and Speedgrader: if students use the “textbox” to submit their assignment instead of uploading a document file, we will not be able to grade the assignment with Speedgrader.

You might wish to indicate in your New Student Welcome E-mails that assignments must be saved as documents and then uploaded. If Speedgrader isn’t working, then have the student resubmit the assignment as a document upload.

Much thanks to Jen for discovering this! And please let us know if you have questions or make similar discoveries with Canvas!

Book Review: Copyright Ninja: Rise of the Ninja

Copyright can be a dry subject, but author Thomas Tobin and a team of artists have created a comic book that explains – with clear language, striking visuals, and fun – some do’s and don’ts of copyright law within academia. At 14 pages, it’s a quick read, and there’s a handy one-page summary for someone wondering whether or not they can use copyrighted material in their class. A few takeaways:

Copyright law doesn’t prohibit linking to copyrighted material (for example, something posted to YouTube). However, for ethical reasons, we should avoid linking to online material that we think might have broken copyright law.

Many owners of content give permission for others to copy, share, or recreate their content. See if there’s a Creative Commons license agreement, or something similar, to check if you can copy it.

Fair Use is a legal defense that, while not concrete, offers some guidelines:
Purpose: Are you copying something for teaching or research, or for monetary gain?
Amount: Are you including a sample or the entirety of a work?
Nature of the work: Factual information is generally more shareable than creative works.
Economic impact: If you include this content in your course, will the copyright owner potentially lose income?

If you still aren’t sure, you might even be able to contact the copyright owner and ask him or her for permission to copy their work for your course.

Web Accessibility Course Recap Part 2

I recently shared an overview of a course I recently completed: Introduction to Web Accessibility. The course focused on Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and it’s four main principles: Perceivable, Operable, Understandable, and Robust. This post will focus on Perceivable and Operable.

Perceivable relates to how users can sense or grasp the material that is being presented. For web content to be accessible, it must be able to be perceived through more than one sense; if it’s only perceptible by one sense (for example, sight), it’s inaccessible to someone with disabilities in that sense.

Vision impairments present probably the greatest challenge for web accessibility, and screen readers can help blind and low-vision users access the internet. To experience internet browsing with a screen reader, you can try out a free Chrome browser screen reader here:

You can help make online materials more perceivable by avoiding small font sizes, making sure there is sufficient visual contrast between text and background imagery, including alternate text with images (the screen reader reads to the user the alternate text to convey the picture), including captions for videos, and presenting material in a clear, easy to navigate order.

You can test color contrasts at this link:

You can use this site to create captions for videos:

Operable focuses on usability. Some users are physically unable to use both a keyboard and a mouse, but they might be proficient with one or the other. As instructors, we might not have the capabilities or access to design an online environment that isn’t dependent upon a mouse or keyboard, but we can certainly provide input during the course creation process to ensure that it’s usable for as many people as possible.

It’s worth noting that time limits can make the online environment less operable. Some people with disabilities might need more time to perceive, process, or comprehend material; this can also apply to people as they age. Do any of your courses use timed quizzes? As you design your courses, think about time limits. Why might your course need them? Why might your course not need them? Some assessments by their very nature require time limits (for example, tests that measure typing speed), but removing time limits will make your course more operable, and therefore more accessible.

When incorporating visuals or media, avoid flashes, flickers, or other visuals that can trigger seizures or physical reactions; a website isn’t operable if it’s causing physical harm.

Any thoughts on accessibility with your courses, particularly in how to make them perceivable or operable? We’d love to hear your ideas, questions, concerns, etc.