The Making of Contacting Instructors

Posted by Kian Ravaei

WI+RE’s Contacting Instructors handout is one of our most popular resources. It offers tips for emailing instructors on one side, and tips for meeting instructors in-person on the other. We decided to make a resource on this topic after spending intentional time empathizing with first-year students and reflecting on our own struggles as learners.

Although many learners have benefited from the handout, a handout is just one of many learning pathways that a learner may prefer to take. Other learners might prefer something more interactive, especially in our current era of remote learning. This idea happens to be one of the key items in The WI+RE Way, our manifesto of shared values.

Design multiple pathways for learning.

Learning happens in many formats, from videos and animations to printable handouts and interactive exhibits. When we create something that seems to be helpful in one format, we try to adapt it to work in another.

Keeping this principle in mind, we decided to create an interactive version of the Contacting Instructors handout using H5P. We split the handout into two separate activities — one for email, and one for in-person meetings — in case learners only want to complete one or the other. Both activities employ the H5P Course Presentation content type, which allows us to include text, images, and a variety of interactive questions within a slideshow format.

The text of each tutorial is almost identical to the handout. However, the tips are no longer presented as static text; now, they are presented as interactive questions, requiring the learner to read and process each tip in order to answer the question correctly. This also allows for a more engaging and participatory learning experience.

Comparison of the same section in the handout and interactive activity.

Another motivation for creating an H5P version was to have a more accessible pathway for learning. Although we made the original Contacting Instructor PDF accessible using Adobe Acrobat Pro, there are some fundamental issues with the layout that may make it difficult to navigate for learners using screen readers. Creating the interactive version gave us an opportunity to rethink the layout and organize the tutorial in a more straightforward manner, making it simpler for screen readers to parse through the content.

Sections like this are difficult for screen readers to navigate.

Since we were no longer constrained to fitting all the content on a single 8.5 by 11 inch piece of paper, we added some additional tips. The email activity contains personal tips from individual members of the WI+RE team, in keeping with our core value of “speaking with our own voices.” Both activities contain “an encouraging word from the WI+RE team” which earnestly acknowledges the struggle of imposter syndrome, and encourages learners to be kind to themselves and trust that they belong.

Feel free to let us know your thoughts and feedback on Contacting Instructors by visiting our Contact page! (And don’t worry, we don’t care about your email etiquette.)

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Kian Ravaei

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