I've been invited to be on an expert panel on accessibility.
The Paul Menton Centre (which deals with student equity accommodations at Carleton) nominated me based on student comments. This is a huge honour for me. I asked them "Why me?".
They responded with the following comments:
"His material is so accessible"
" He is so open for accommodations discussion"
" His material is above and beyond-- organized for accessibility"
" His course outline is transparent & flexible"
This is very generous of them. Of course, as I teach large classes, I have a lot of students with accommodations, so I have had quite a lot of dealings with student advisors from the PMC over the years. Also, with large classes, I have to be organized!
So What Did I Do to Earn This Praise?
I got to thinking about the various strategies that I used to get these accolades, and I did a Twitter thread, which is here:
Now, to be honest with you, I think that most of these things are actually pretty easy, and not time consuming, and could be done routinely. So here are my thoughts, slightly expanded from the rather terse Twitter format.
PowerPoint/Slides/Notes available before class.
Even if it’s posted on the day of the lectures. Many students don’t have printers but do use software to annotate PDFs. Not everyone can take full notes from a lecture; some students prefer to annotate on handouts. Not everyone takes notes in the same way.
Distribute Actual PPTX files
If you are going to produce handouts, why not just distribute your slides? Empower students to change settings/colours/fonts/backgrounds if they need to make it more readable. I do make a point of mentioning Intellectual Property in my first class, and in the course outline. I ask students not to upload my IP to other sites.
Record the Lectures.
We have the technology. Seriously. We do. Many students benefit from replay. Some students like to replay at greater than normal speed. There are lots of ways of doing this. You can record Zoom sessions, for instance. I pre-record my lecture clips using PowerPoint because I do a lot of asynchronous lectures. I've been recording my lectures for a decade now. One of my students, now in their final year, commented that I was the only instructor do do this pre-Covid. The technology was there.
Have Closed Captioning Available
This is the item which is a huge time-sink, if you make videos. YouTube and our own Kaltura media server will make closed captions for you. These are of average quality generally and would benefit from editing. This is where we desperately need institutional support. Nobody has time to go over their lecture a second time and redo the closed captions. It is a waste of instructor time. We need Teaching Assistants with a grasp of the technical vocabulary to be able to do this.
If you are using PowerPoint and other presentation software like Google Slides for in-person sessions, turn on the closed captioning in the slideshow mode. They are really quite good.
For Zoom, enable the closed captioning.
Large, Legible Fonts
Use a san-serif font. I’m using Segoe-UI, having changed from Calibri. My standard size font is 32 points, with 28 points for minor points.
No Background Clutter on the Slides.
Keep it simple. No corporate logo. Do you need the date and time on every slide? I don’t think so. You do need a slide number though, to help with navigation.
If you are writing lecture notes, put headings in, and page numbers to help students move through the document.
Check for Colour-Blindness Legibility
If you have coloured diagrams, and physics has a lot of them, then make sure that they work for the significant proportion of the population with colour-blindness. I use the COBLIS simulator, but there are several alternatives.
Consistent Organization of Files
Organize your files systematically, whether it’s chronological, or grouped by type, or grouped by topic. Have a system. Explain this to the students. Make sure it's obvious where they are. Ask an instructional designer for help.
Discuss Things with Students and their Accommodation Advisors When Necessary
This should be a given, but we’ll restate it. Make sure your course outline/syllabus says it clearly. Recapitulate this in your introductory session. Build trust with the students.
Build in flexibility for absences. Make it clear in the course outline about dropping lowest scores. Make it clear about accommodations for illness. Don't make it onerous for students. Ditch asking for medical notes, it’s a waste of time for the students and the physicians having to write them. If you can, have alternative tasks for grades (group projects, longer papers, video, multimedia projects and the like).
Give Students Time Flexibility
And don't ever take down the notes or lecture recordings after a fixed time. Leave them for review. Let the students work at their own pace, as far as possible. There will be external constraints on this, naturally.
Don't get stuck in the mindset of "I can't do this, because someone will take advantage and cheat". Do the things that will be of positive advantage for the students who need it. Don't let potential cheats control your pedagogy. They'll get found out, sooner or later.
This is the most important point in this whole discussion.
Don't use proctoring software. Ever.
Just no. It ruins trust.
Don't create an adversarial atmosphere in the class.
Your job is to pass as many students as possible, who reach the required standard. Your other job is to make sure that as many as possible get to that standard.
Answer Student Emails
Answer emails from students. I mean, come on! It doesn't have to be immediately. I use a "one working day" standard and tell the students that they can't expect prompt answers at weekends, or out of working hours. I haven't had any complaints about that.
Do as many of these things as you possibly can, and lobby your institution to support you to do more.