Untangling Literacies: Accessible Digital Slides and Syllabi in the Graduate Classroom

Untangling Literacies: Accessible Digital Slides and Syllabi in the Graduate Classroom

David R. Jones
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7106-4.ch004
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The graduate classroom combines multiple literacies. Compounded literacies in the classroom tangle meaning, forming a metaphorical staircase, disabling students. Faculty mistakenly perceive students' difficulties as the distinctiveness of graduate education: rigorousness. However, rigor only occurs after accessing content. Attempts to make courses accessible may mistranslate into a heaping up of resources or artifacts. Instead, one artifact requires multiple representations. The following demonstration explores the literacies compounded in two artifacts that recur throughout graduate classrooms: digital slides and syllabi. Transforming these artifacts signals an allegiance to the universal design for learning that students perceive at the inauguration of the course. Furthermore, translating these artifacts facilitates more effective course participation and deeper learning. However, attempts to universalize classroom access must account for student perspective. In this chapter, feedback from course evaluations leads the discussion about revisions and future development needs.
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Stairs Literally

An apt illustration of the social construction of disability centers on the encounter between a wheelchair rider and staircases (see Brabazon, 2015; Hamraie, 2017). The illustration conveys how the interaction between a construction (i.e., stairs) and personal traits (i.e., wheelchair use) fosters disability. A wheelchair’s inability to surmount the stairs, as well as the rider’s alleged inability to do so without the wheelchair, epitomizes the disability. Staircases represent the imposed obstacle that prevents movement.

Exploring the illustration attunes us to perceive other ways human inventions create disability. For example, Dolmage (2017) depicted higher education as a staircase. In this extension of the staircase illustration, Dolmage highlighted policies and practices in particular. The policies that define admission, academic interaction, and individual responsibility to achieve assume the universal nature of certain mental and physical abilities. In assuming those abilities, higher education disadvantages people with impairments, who have abilities other than the ones favored by such policies and practices.

What resides at the top of the staircase depends on the person wielding the illustration. Access, writ large, abides there. The abilities to participate in a meaningful activity, wield rights and privileges, or obtain basic resources reside there as well. Learning occupies the space atop the staircase. Brabazon (2015), for instance, identified staircases on her own campus that stood between the learner and the classroom. In Dolmage’s (2017) analysis, the top of the metaphorical stairs represents prestige—literally “higher” learning. Higher learning, in turn, associates with intellectual exceptionality, ability, or valor. Accomplished higher education lends legitimacy and opportunity to individuals (Brabazon, 2015).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Truncated Dome: A mound-like device that appears on curb cuts or walkways that are level with roadways, approximately an inch or 2.54 cm in diameter and half an inch or 1.27 cm high. They protrude upward from the ground, usually as part of a field of domes, to provide tactile stimulation to pedestrians as a warning of a nearby roadway.

Retrofit: A device or practice added after construction to allow access to those with impairment. This word connotes that disability was considered only in afterthought, thus bearing a potentially negative or derogatory undertone.

Graduate Education: Also known as postbaccalaureate education. In the United States of America, a degree program that commences after the baccalaureate program, usually by those over 21 years of age. The program provides advanced collegiate-level training, most frequently for the purpose of certifying practitioners.

Curb Cut: A design feature that connects sidewalks and road crosswalks, characterized by a dip in elevation from the height of the sidewalk to the level of the roadway.

Mature Student: A student enrolled in higher education; at least five years older than most classmates; and responsible to an employer, household, or other life responsibilities besides the degree program.

Literacy: The act of decoding meaning from an artifact based on social context and values, as well as rules related to the type of artifact.

Accommodation: A modification to the delivery of course content, method of collecting student performance data, or architecture and furnishing of a learning space.

Curricular Design: The process of compiling and organizing materials for a course.

Passing: The deferral or active concealment of one’s impairment from others.

Digital Slide: A concise visual projection of information, usually in a series of several digital slides that constitute a presentation, delivered to an audience and as an accompaniment to the oration.

Syllabus: A document or electronic artifact delivered by university instructors to students as an abridged overview of course information and the policies that constrain student participation.

Caption: A rich textual description of the contents and quality of a visual artifact.

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