Collaborate with educators to design accessible and active digital learning environments that accommodate learner variability

In the September 2021 post, Online Teaching & Learning in Higher Education & Beyond: Pitfalls & Opportunities for Access & Equity, I discuss ways in which virtual learning environments have the potential to greatly increase equitable access for students, even as they present their own unique challenges, especially when it comes to ensuring that all students have internet access and the devices they need.  In this post, several concrete examples are provided to instructors in support of designing an accessible & equitable virtual learning experience which accommodates learner variability:

  1. Design a course with three assumptions in mind:  1) The student may have limited bandwidth, data, or internet access with which to participate in the course 2) The student may be much less familiar with the technology being used than the instructor, and 3) They may not have access to tech equipment like cameras, printers, and scanners 
  2. Make frequent contact and learn about student accessibility needs. Consider the use of postal mail, landline phone calls, chat check-ins, and asynchronous video messages as appropriate. 
  3. Consider how to incorporate a students’ informal learning and life experiences into course assignments and objectives; in other words, lean in to student learning that occurs offline.
  4. Use free resources and tools profusely. OER Commons is just one example of a public digital library of open educational resources. Bear in mind, however, that where assignments are concerned, internet access may bar frequent usage, even if the tool is free.  
  5. Utilize pre-recorded lectures and transcripts for students unable to join synchronous video conferences 
  6. Use audio recordings as educational resources (e.g. podcasts), as well as for instructor-student communication.  Audio recordings often result in fewer tech issues and use less bandwidth; they mitigate the need for a camera along with possible feelings of intrusion or shyness that cameras can bring. 
  7. Use alternative forms of assessment which may include portfolios, open book examinations, or discussion forums. 

Another source of supporting evidence for this standard is the post Culturally Responsive Teaching in Digital Learning Environments from July 2021.  Simply put, Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) in an online environment will place a student’s voice and experience in the center of the learning process in order to validate and empower the student as an individual learner.  This post provides excellent suggestions for incorporating CRT strategies in an online learning context.

Finally, in a workshop created for higher education instructors tackling the theory and practice of resilient pedagogy, I was able to create online learning resources from an accessibility mindset for learners in need of accommodations. For example, special attention was paid to providing the transcription ahead of time for the pre-recorded virtual presentation, as well as adding closed captions. These are practices which should be commonplace when supporting a diverse range of learner abilities and preferences.

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