Trends from SITT 2020 | Part 1 of 5: Equity & Accessibility

Lillian Jones, guest blogger for The Wheel, is the author of this series. Lillian is a doctoral student in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, studying Hispanic linguistics and second language acquisition. Her research interests include educational technologies, computer-mediated communication, computer assisted language learning, and pedagogical applications of messaging apps and social media. In her free time, Lillian enjoys traveling, running, playing soccer, practicing yoga, cooking, writing, learning languages, laughing, drinking coffee, and tasting Old World red wines.

This entry is Part 1 of the 2020 Summer Institute on Teaching and Technology five-part blog series, which includes write-ups on (1) Equity & Accessibility, (2) Community & Connection, (3) Video, (4) Multimodal, Multitasking, and (5) Breakout Rooms

Part 1. Equity & Accessibility One of the most prominent recurring themes at this year’s SITT was equity and accessibility in our current remote emergency teaching and learning context. Efforts in both of these areas remove or reduce barriers for students, allowing them to more fully engage in their learning.

Accessibility means that all students, regardless of disability, can use all course materials and tools and participate fully and equitably in the class, perhaps with the use of specialized assistive technology. Both electronic and physical access are important, and can be addressed at the individual level (e.g., using optical character recognition to create text-based versions of all course materials) and at the institutional level (e.g., facilitating access to accommodations for students with an SDC Letter of Accommodation). UC Davis’ Keep Teaching website offers information provided by the Student Disability Center (SDC) about the accessibility of software tools and course materials for students with disabilities during this period of remote teaching. 

The UC Davis Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) defines equity as: “The guarantee of fair treatment, access, opportunity and advancement for all students, faculty and staff, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some groups. The principle of equity acknowledges that there are historically underserved and underrepresented populations and that fairness regarding these unbalanced conditions is needed to assist equality in the provision of effective opportunities to all groups.” UC Davis’ Keep Teaching website offers guidance on structuring courses and using instructional techniques that promote equity during this period of remote teaching. 

The concepts of accessibility and equity are interconnected. For example, in its tip to include a statement about accessibility in course syllabi, the Student Disability Center begins their proposed statement with the following language: “UC Davis is committed to educational equity in the academic setting, and in serving a diverse student body.” In reinforcing the definition of equity, the Office of DEI contrasts their definition with multiple examples of inequity, including the following: “failing to make reasonable accommodations for a student or employee with a disability.” These instances of overlap between the work of promoting accessibility and equity remind us that while they are distinct concepts as defined above, they are also inextricably linked to each other. These concepts also arise in conversations around identity, inclusion, and other related frameworks.

UC Davis had tens of thousands of students enrolled in courses in Spring 2020, and anticipates a student enrollment of approximately 39,600 for fall 2020. This number will mean many individual learner differences and diverse situations, such as physically being in different locations and time zones, as well as potential limitations of technology. And because of the current health crisis and social distancing mandates, we all must consider what it means to provide equitable and accessible learning experiences for every student, including how our teaching and technology practices factor in. 

In the second live event of SITT, Dr. Jeanette Ruiz and Dr. Kem Saichaie jump-started conversations around accessibility and equity with the delivery of their webinar, Strategies for Designing Equitable Online Learning Environments, which provided actionable insights and tools such as the Action Planning Template for Equity, Accessibility, Flexibility, and Transparency. Some of the questions invoked in SITT discussions included the following: As instructors, how can we prepare before the start of fall quarter? Further, what can we do consistently throughout the quarter to continue to address accessibility and equity concerns and support our students? What are some ways we can make our virtual classrooms more accessible and equitable?  

While achieving accessibility and equity in higher education is an ongoing effort beyond the current pandemic and its impact on teaching and learning, discussions were fruitful in asking these hard questions, as well as sharing tangible and immediate ways to begin working towards closing accessibility and equity gaps. Get a head start on making your fall 2020 course a more accessible and equitable experience by checking out the following suggestion and collection of resources:
  • Suggestion: Survey your students. (Anonymously) surveying your students about a variety of topics can prove useful in understanding what they need in order to best inform your course. Ask questions such as “Are there any apps or websites that you have difficulty accessing? If so, please explain which ones and what the difficulties are,” or, “Is there anything else about your experience with remote learning that you would like me to know?” Respond accordingly in as transparent a manner as you feel is appropriate. Surveys are a great idea to begin the quarter (and even to continue throughout the quarter) to stay in tune with any changes that your students might be experiencing. Check out additional Sample Student Survey Questions as part of the compilation of resources on the Keep Teaching page, Create an Inclusive Class Climate Online. As you begin to design your survey, utilize user-friendly and institution-supported platforms like UC Davis Canvas, Qualtrics or Google Forms.
  • Resources: Support your students’ learning and wellbeing. With the goal of removing barriers in mind, UC Davis provides many resources for both students and faculty to help support learning, teaching, and academic success. Students need access and guidance on how to find an array of resources, ranging from wifi hotspots on campus, loaner laptops for students, (UC Davis article, March 2020) and library services (including digital access), to resources for addressing racial trauma, mental wellness, and food insecurity. Students should be able to easily connect and communicate with their classmates, peers, and instructors, and acquire the support needed for an accessible and equitable learning experience. While these will not close all gaps or curb all challenges, providing your students with the knowledge of these opportunities is a good starting place.

*Pro tip - Use Canvas as a go-to place to provide and store resources you would like to share with your class, and enable SensusAccess in your Canvas course to automatically convert files into alternate and accessible formats.

“Educational equity means that each student receives what they need to develop to their full academic and social potential.”  - Dr. Kem Saichaie (presenting with Dr. Jeanette Ruiz)

A special thanks to Larissa Saco and Dr. Margaret Merrill at Academic Technology Services for their contributions to this blog post. 

In the comments below, we invite you to share your thoughts on Equity & Accessibility in the remote learning space. 

Stay tuned next week for Part 2 of this blog series, Community & Connection

Post Event Resources:
  1. Keep Teaching Student Resources
  2. Keep Teaching Faculty Webinars
  3. Center for Educational Effectiveness
  4. Email for consulting and advice on how to implement instructional technologies in your specific UC Davis course. 
  5. Find SITT snippets from Twitter by following @ucdaviswheel and @Lily_Jones20, using the hashtag #UCDavisSITT.

*Remember SITT is an annual event, so make sure you put it on your calendar for next year! Subscribe to The Wheel e-newsletter, or follow @ucdaviswheel to stay up to date on all Academic Technology Service happenings and more.

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