At the time of writing, much of Australia’s population is in lockdown, and debate rages over the merit and safety of Year 12 students returning to face-to-face lessons. Consequently, much thought is being given to lockdowns and learning. However, there are some practical strategies to help with accessible online learning.
In Sydney, much of the related discussion in the media surrounds the safety of both students and teachers. Teachers at all levels, primary, secondary and tertiary education, are impacted by lockdowns. They have faced many challenges – adapting to classes online, and ensuring students have devices and the skills and software to use them. Other issues are reaching students who are not online, supporting students of essential workers in person whilst also teaching online, to name a few.
The experiences of primary and secondary school students are those that make media headlines. But what of university and other tertiary students? Their career preparation requires specific practical experience to develop required skills. How do lockdowns and learning work for them? And how to ensure equity and access for all students when learning turned ‘remote’?
A recent report by Levey et al. explains that teachers of nursing and other healthcare courses found great challenges in ‘pivoting’ to provide all their courses online. This was especially the case for those that require clinical hours and therefore, required virtual simulation programs to be implemented. The authors reported that due to the rush to post their courses online, educators may inadvertently have excluded some students. This was due to them not giving enough consideration to accessibility. The title of the report is,COVID-19 Pandemic: Universal Design Creates Equitable Access.
The authors discuss Universal Design for Learning as a framework that guides educators to overcome this issue. They reference 20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Online Course, by Burgstahler which includes the following recommendations.
- use clear, consistent layouts and organization schemes to present content; use descriptive wording for hyperlink text (e.g., “UD video” rather than “click here”)
- provide concise text descriptions of the content presented within images;
- use large sans serif fonts on uncluttered pages with plain backgrounds; (d) make it unnecessary for a student to distinguish between colours;
- caption videos and transcribe audio content, and
- use digital tools that are accessible to students with disabilities; and
- provide multiple opportunities for students to learn, such as using a combination of text, video, audio, or image speaking aloud all content presented on slides in synchronous presentations;
- offer multiple ways for students to communicate and collaborate;
- provide multiple ways for students to demonstrate what they have learned, such as using different types of test items, portfolios, presentations, single-topic discussions;
- offer outlines and other scaffolding tools to help students learn. Writing tips include addressing a wide range of language skills (e.g., use plain English, spell out acronyms, define terms, avoid or define jargon), making instructions and expectations clear for activities and discussions, and using examples that are relevant to learners with a wide variety of abilities and interests