Curriculum Development and Accessibility in Online Learning for Students with Disabilities
Concurrent Session 9
This panel invites discussion about course development and accessibility for administrators, advocacy groups, and researchers interested in service delivery for students with disabilities as they work online. These panelists represent diverse parts of the country. Two panelists are experts K-12 online learning and two panelists represent higher education.
While online learning has the potential to provide unprecedented opportunities for students with disabilities, efforts to realize those opportunities and new directives from federal agencies have revealed gaps in guidance and support. The purpose of this panel is to invite discussion about course development and accessibility for administrators, advocacy groups, and researchers interested in service delivery for students with disabilities as they work online. These panelists are from diverse parts of the country (Kansas, New Mexico, Michigan, and Florida) and they work in different types of institutions (size, research intensity, and student demographics). Two panelists have expertise in online learning for K-12 students and two panelists have a higher education focus.
Mary Rice, University of New Mexico
An adequate, sustainable force of educators with strong preparation for working with students with disabilities has been difficult to secure in the traditional settings and that shortage exists in the online setting as well. However, whereas course design in the traditional setting is still highly likely to fall to the instructor (teacher), online courses are planned by one set of individuals and then taught by another set of individuals. Since this is the case, both groups (designers and instructors) need to consider the needs of students with disabilities in their work. While there are nascent understandings about instructor work with students with disabilities in K-12 online settings, understandings about course design for diverse learners, including those with disabilities is lacking. It is unfortunate that there is a gap because research on online instructors has found that they lean heavily—sometimes exclusively—on the course curriculum materials and resources provided to them by designers and they have trouble seeing how to deliver individualized instruction to students using those materials. Course designers, by contrast, have reported that they feel their work is to design a reasonably accessible template of curriculum materials for a general population of students and that instructors must be the ones to individualize for students with special needs, even when other personalization features are embedded in the course.
With these understandings, the panelist speak from her expertise in course development activities where she followed of two course design teams, paying particular attention to the ways in which they conceptualized and accounted for both personalization as a manifestation of learner difference and preference and individualization elements necessary to meet federal laws such as Section 508 of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Free and Appropriate Education principle of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). This study was carried out using ethnographic participant/observer techniques and artifact collection and analysis over the course of nearly six months. The panelist will invite participants to rate their perceived severity of the 10 barriers course designers experienced that precluded them from embedding individualization elements for students with disabilities.
Nicola Wayer, Florida State University--Jacksonville
Together, accessibility, cross-platform usability, and copyright issues present challenges to developers of online courses. At the Center for eLearning (CeL) at FSCJ, a team of three instructional designers (IDs), a media designer, and a web developer came together to create the CeL’s Learning Object to build more accessible online courses. The proposed panelist will speak from her work in creating these courses.
Another priority during the web development process was to make the LO usable to students and faculty accessing courses via a mobile device such as a cell phone or tablet computer while still being usable to students using desktop computers with different platforms and varying screen sizes. To accomplish this goal, responsive web design was used. Responsive design ensures that all elements resized themselves based on the display size and orientation using CSS queries. Together, the features of the LO allowed for rapid development of content and the building of a repository of reusable learning objects that can be used college-wide and not just in CeL-developed courses. By bringing together the disciplines of instructional design, media design, and web development, the Center for eLearning created a template for dynamic, accessible faculty-authored RLOs that are device agnostic and usable across platforms. The panelist will valuable for answering highly technical questions about course design in online learning and for discussing the collaborative process in developing a course curriculum that is truly accessible.34
Kathryn Kennedy, Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute
Concerns about supporting students with disabilities in higher education classes provided online have received increased attention as more faculty and administrators wrestle with the issue of providing reasonable instructional accommodations while ensuring that their technology meets guidelines and regulations. The proposed panelist has been actively involved in working with colleges and universities wanting to better prepare their staff and faculty to meet the individualized needs that students with disabilities bring to the online learning environments. He will share his expertise in cross-institutional collaboration as well as program development.
The panelist also speaks from a position where concern for students with disabilities in higher education usually stems from a greater concern about being out of compliance with Section 508, the technological access online requirements, and soon morphs into a discussion about Section 504, the programmatic requirements for educational accommodations. However, in many cases, the technological concerns are so pressing and publicly apparent, that these discussions often take precedence, and frankly, overshadow the need to discuss the issues related to educational adequacy, appropriateness, and effectiveness of the instructional methodologies utilized by instructors.
The intent of interventions is to provide support and awareness activities necessary to begin discussions about ways to effectively meet the learning needs of students with disabilities in online courses through the integration of interventions commonly utilized effectively in K12 face-to-face learning environments. Students with disabilities have some familiarity with these interventions and have often only successfully graduated because of these interventions. The proposed panelist will be prepared to ask and answer questions about various interventions and provide practical and common sense strategies for that faculty, instructional designers, and administrators as they work to support Section 504 programmatic needs of their higher education students in online environments.
Kelsey Ortiz, The University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning