Avoiding Audio Assumption

February 25, 2011

During a workshop later today on the topic of “Building Your Course” in Blackboard, I’m going to cover a segment I refer to as “Can You Hear Me Now?”  In this segment we are going to be using the Wimba Voice Authoring tool (which Palomar has been licensing from Wimba for several years, well before they were purchased by Blackboard and rolled into the Collaborate project).  The idea is to leave brief audio annotations in line with the rest of the textual content of a course, both to highlight key points and to aid in correct pronunciation of terms by students.

Now, for those purposes, the Wimba Voice Author tool really does work great.  The most difficult part in using that tool to create content, as I’ve said on many an occasion, is making sure the microphone is plugged in right.

As I was prepping for the workshop a thought struck me uncommonly strongly though.  Using this tool really is making an assumption; specifically the assumption that all the students will be able to hear the recording.

Now, technical barriers are fairly low here.  To play back the audio from a Wimba Voice Author component a computer needs to have Java installed (which is no real problem, as it’s freely available online), and have a sound card and speakers or headphones (which, realistically, isn’t a problem either with any recent make of computer).  The student also needs to be able to hear.

Just as it is important to provide textual (and therefore screen reader readable) descriptions in the alt text box for any images you use, it is important to ensure your material is not exclusively available to those who can listen to it.  Here at Palomar we try to have all video material (when processed by the Academic Technology and Educational Television departments) captioned before it is put online, but that just isn’t practical for an individual instructor’s one-off recorded remarks.

So, although I do heartily encourage use of audio annotation to enhance the materials in a Blackboard course, use it carefully.  Try to avoid an assumption of audio, so that should you find a deaf student enrolled in your class you don’t end up having to scramble to provide equivalents to the sound playback.

Passwords are secret, really!

February 12, 2011

I’m never sure, when selecting a topic to blog about, how basic is “too basic”.  I felt a bit silly mentioning this topic in a training workshop I offered last week, as it is truly one of the fundamental fundamentals.  Then I had a professor (not from the workshop) email me today, who confessed that they had just made this mistake…

When you log into Blackboard, you are prompted for a username and password.  Your username is not going to be something private; at Palomar the faculty just use their first initial and last name in almost every case.  Your password, however, is private.

Do not tell anyone what your password is.

College employees will never ask you for your password.  We don’t need it, have no right to be told it, and it is a violation of the Telecommunications Use policy at Palomar to tell it to someone else.  This moribund on sharing your password includes: in person, on the phone, through email, as part of a support ticket, writing it on a post-it and leaving it stuck to a tech’s keyboard, writing it on the whiteboard before your online class orientation, telling it to the students who want to add your class for them to use until they are officially enrolled, and yelling it across a crowded student-use computer lab for someone on the phone with tech support to relay to the tech.

I truly wish I was making up ANY of those scenarios, but I have seen them all happen.

The negative results I’ve seen from these behaviors range from “someone locked me out of my account”, through “someone wiped out all my email”, right up to “someone bulk deleted all the content, including grades, from all of my Blackboard courses.”  Mind you, that’s not the worst case scenarios, such as someone wrongfully submitting final grades or (if you’re the type to use the same password in multiple places) someone gaining access to financial information.  The ones I listed above are, again, just the ones I have seen happen.

So, I’m not going to bother telling you to change your password regularly, nor am I going to tell you to use an extra-esoteric password with special characters avoiding anything that is in the dictionary.  I will urge you, though, to not give out your password.

Passwords are secret, really!


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