Easy ways to make your course more accessible

There are 3,000 students at USask who have some form of accommodation, so there is an excellent chance that your class has a student with a disability. Ideally, we’d all design courses that are universally accessible and reduce the need for accommodations be using Universal Design for Learning. If you feel like you don’t have time for a rethink right now, you can make simple changes that make it easier for all students, not just your most advantaged students, to have an equitable opportunity to succeed in your course.

Accessible Online Environments

Here are four simple ways to make your online class more accessible for your students:

  1. Record and Share: If your class was synchronous, and mostly direct instruction from you to your students, share a recording of your class. It helps people who were away for health, family and religious reason still access the course materials. It also allows people who need to hear something more than once, like people with slower processing speeds or people who are English Language Learners, the freedom to replay course content if they need to. Panopto is the Usask tool for video recording.
  2. Add captions to your Panopto videos: Creating an instructional video for your class or recording your lecture?  The web version of Panopto allows you to add automatic captions to your videos with one click.  While it isn’t word perfect, it is good enough that students with problems hearing or issues processing sounds report it really helps.  Open the Panopto web editor, and navigate to select automatic captions.
  3. Make your Canvas course printable: Click the ePub setting to allow students to print the content more easily. This will help students who need to take notes carefully or may use specific types of screen readers.
  4. Check your Canvas course for accessibility: Just posting in Canvas is helpful for many students, because they read directions multiple times or change the default language. However, lots of times we build unintentional barrier into our courses by the colours we choose or the images we upload that people with vision impairments can’t read.  Run the Canvas accessibility checker when you make a page, and it will let you know about any barriers you may have added unintentionally. It will also suggest solutions to common problems.

Canvas and Exam/Final Assessment Accommodations

One of the biggest barriers for many students is test taking, which is why Access and Equity Services (AES) provides supports for exam writing. Here are some recommendations for accessible exams:Do:

  • Consider alternatives to final exams. Exams are high stakes and are not the best evidence of learning for many types of learning outcomes. Other forms of assessment accommodate naturally and may be more valid or reliable measures, and different formats might be equally good and require less accommodations. For example, a student registered with AES, who has a visual disability, uses a whiteboard to perform oversized calculations for their statistics class. After the calculations are complete, the student physically moves away from the whiteboard so that the AES scribe, who is working in real time with the student over Zoom, can see the calculations to transcribe them into the program the instructor requires be used for answers. Why not just accept a photo of the whiteboard?
  • You can add different amounts of time for students who require the accommodation of additional time to write an exam. Using new quizzes in Canvas, the change stays for all their exams in your course. You can also view a list of all students you’ve added a variety of accommodations for.
  • Provide multiple tries as appropriate, to reduce anxiety and increase the quality of work you mark.

Don’t

  • Use Canvas settings to limit students going back to look at questions in a test. Returning to previous test questions is a good test taking strategy for all students, and critical for many students who require accommodations. If you are worried about cheating and must have a closed-book timed exam, consider other alternatives like different variables, different questions, and even different exam versions, all of which are supported by Canvas.
  • Use the time-of-activity logs in Canvas or proctoring services alone to determine potential academic misconduct. Monitoring software does not know a student may get up frequently for a medical issue or pause often because of a learning disability. Read more about interpreting Canvas logs.
  • Don’t require students to have cameras on during remote or online exams, as it is not a good way to reliably monitor cheating and it increases exam anxiety. If you plan to monitor students over a webcam connection during exams, provide the “semi-private room” accommodation by setting up break out rooms or allowing students to keep their volume off. Keep in mind student will always be able to tell when you are in the room or not in the room.

 

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