This webinar was presented by the Online Quality Manager at FIU Online, Jessica Rodriguez, who highlighted the importance of subject matter experts and instructional designers creating accessible online content with strategies that provide the best learning experience for all learners.
Instant Replay: Collaborate to Comply – Supporting Students with Disabilities
In Fall 2020, we had approximately 7000 Disability Resource Center (DRC) registered students and 1500 unique students registered for Online, Hybrid, or Remote Courses. Jessica Rodriguez offers a solution to mitigating the barriers to success by utilizing the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. This entails the design of a course and the learning environment appeals to the largest number of learners and a wide variety of characteristics. Concerning UDL, Rodriguez affirmed that “a disability can be just one of the characteristics that a student could possess. For example, one student could be an excellent reader, primarily a visual learner and deaf”. The UDL framework supports students with disabilities by encouraging three different design principles.
Universal Design Principles
There are 3 Universal Design Principles: Engagement, Representation, and Action & Expression.
Principle 1 – Multiple Means of Engagement
Under Principle 1 – Multiple Means of Engagement, Rodriguez is referring to the different opportunities to create student involvement within a course. The key factor of the engagement principle is to gather factual information to see, hear, and read. For instance, a course can offer multiple ways for students to engage with one another using discussion activities or conducting peer-review assignments. For example, in Figure 1, Rodriguez provided a breakdown of some examples to put the engagement principle into practice.
In short, allowing students the choice to choose their course content is a way of aligning with the principle of engagement. The instructor can provide an optional unit in the course or give the student the freedom to select a topic of their choice to present on.
Finally, the final component of the engagement principle is self-regulation & motivation. For example, this includes rubrics, task lists, and practice assessments. These items should give students enough feedback throughout the semester. This way they can show improvement and have some way of being able to track their progress.
Principle 2 – Multiple Means of Representation
Multiple Means of Representation is the second Universal Design Principle, which embodies the planning and performing of tasks. This stage provides learners various ways to access and engage with course materials. Also, this is where learners can express their ideas. For instance, this can be completed by having the learners conduct research, acquiring new knowledge, and applying that knowledge in an essay format. The learner must be able to present their abilities to actually understand new concepts they learned within their course. To summarize, there are further examples that show how to put representation into practice in Figure 2.
Furthermore, Principle 2 dives deeper into accessibility and the accommodation pieces of the course because it ensures that learners have access to various course materials that are accessible. This is accomplished by providing multiple file-formats for learners, tagging alternative text for images, captioning for multimedia videos, transcripts for audio files, etc.
Supporting Students with Disabilities with Multiple Means of Representation
As a result, it is imperative to know that content received from publishers such as PowerPoints or e-books are typically provided with accessible options. Rodriguez mentioned that instructors should be mindful of making sure that their content is accessible when they are the ones creating their own content.
Also, Rodriguez said, “Remember, simple is best”. Instructors should use easily readable fonts. After that, instructors should use clean and consistent formatting throughout the document. It is recommended that when using Open Educational Resources documents they are accessible to all learners.
Principle 3 – Multiple Means of Expression
The third principle for Universal Design Principle is Multiple Means of Expression. This principle encourages students to demonstrate their learning through various forms. In other words, the main objective is to keep learners engaged and motivated within a course. This principle keeps students challenged or interested in topics through different platforms or options. Consequently, this way they can continue to demonstrate what they know or have learned. In Figure 3, Rodriguez provided more examples of how to put Principle 3 into practice.
Supporting Students with Disabilities with Multiples Means of Expression
Furthermore, incorporating a variety of question types in exams gives learners the opportunity to showcase their understanding of the content. Rodriguez gave the example of a Geography course where students can take an exam and pinpoint hotspots on the screen to select their answers. For example, students can also complete presentations, solo or in groups to demonstrate that they have learned new skills. They can do this by role-playing, debating, or having a class discussion too.
Of course, the instructor plays a crucial role in providing feedback through practice quizzes, rubrics, and office hours. This will give learners the opportunity to improve throughout the semester. Certainly, student choice is imperative too. For example, a student can decide they want to do a presentation instead of writing a 10-page paper. Instead of doing a 50 question final exam, the student might have the opportunity to do a research paper.
Additionally, the instructor can calm down assessment anxiety by providing learners with clear assignment guidelines and expectations. Likewise, they can provide previous student samples and assignment templates to give learners a clear understanding of what is expected.
Accessibility and Policy – The UDL Connection
The Universal Design Principles and accessibility do come full circle in conjunction with policies. Thus, Rodriguez summarized that when students do not face barriers to accessing materials their engagement increases. Firstly, remember to make sure students have access to all the materials by offering alternatives to text, audio, and visual information. Secondly, allow the use of multiple tools and modes for students to communicate their knowledge. This way students are engaging with other students, the content, and can fully communicate their knowledge back to the instructor.
Functional Definition of Accessibility
Moreover, Rodriguez said that the functional definition of accessibility is to provide students the opportunity to (1) acquire the same information, (2) engage in the same interactions, (3) enjoy the same services, as the students without disabilities, with substantially equivalent ease of use.
Rodriguez briefly talked about how instructors do not need to completely revamp their courses to use UDL to their benefit. Therefore, if an instructor is considering improving their course when thinking about diversity to include all different types of learners then they can start implementing UDL principles in small ways.
Firstly, they can start by looking at what is working with the current content, the current instructional materials, and resources. Secondly, they can identify where the opportunities lie in these areas to understand where improvements in the course need to be made. Rodriguez said that the main thing to keep in mind is to be flexible with yourself, with the subject matter, and with your learners.
The Role of Support Teams
Finally, who do you call for help and support? How do I make my course accessible? Am I alone in making my course accessible? Many teams play a crucial role in supporting accessibility at FIU. The Disability Resource Center, FIU Online, the instructor, and the Instructional Designer, all play a crucial role in making sure that a course is accessible. Rodriguez provided a great resource that shows the roles and responsibilities of who is responsible for accessibility for online courses.
- Teaching Online Site | Accessibility
- All In | FIU Lib Guides
- FIU Disability Resource Center
- Canvas Faculty Support Articles
- Universal Design for Learning
- UDL and Accessibility
- UDL Implementation Rubric
- CAST’s UDL Guidelines Site provides detailed description of each guideline and checkpoint and the research that supports them.
Free Open Resources
- CAST’s Professional Learning Free Resources and Tips
- Open Professionals Education Network (OPEN) helps users find openly licensed media elements to use within courses.
- OpenStax – View and share free educational material
To learn more about supporting students with disabilities, you’ll want to watch the webinar recording yourself. Insider has archived this webinar alongside all of the FIU Online Instructor Webinars.
If you have any ideas for future webinar topics, we’d love to hear them. Contact Christina Schettini (firstname.lastname@example.org) to share your ideas for future webinar topics.