A Self-enrolled Course on Accessibility: MSU’s Big Easy

Concurrent Session 4

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Accessibility benefits everyone. Join a diverse group of faculty and specialists from Michigan State University to discuss the barriers and challenges surrounding accessibility and Universal Design for Learning.  Explore how a university resource was crafted to empower educators to meet federal standards and create learning opportunities for all.


Dr. Janice Bukovac-Phelps is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Advertising + Public Relations at Michigan State University. In that capacity she teaches the Principles of Advertising course, the first of the core courses in the advertising program. The class services over 500 students each semester, thanks in part to the successful application of new technology. In addition, Dr. Bukovac-Phelps serves as the Internship Director for Advertising and Public Relations. Her responsibilities include guiding students through the process and developing and maintaining relationships with corporate business sponsors. Dr. Bukovac-Phelps research interests are varied, but her work has focused on historical subjects. Article topics ranging from the invective civil war press, to the evolution of sports marketing, have been published in both general consumer and academic publications.
Stephen Thomas is a faculty member and the Associate Director for the Center for Integrative Studies in General Science at Michigan State University. He also serves as the Digital Curriculum Coordinator for the College of Natural Science at MSU. For his bachelor’s degree from Denison University, Stephen majored in Biology and minored in Art. This interest in the science/art intersection continued into graduate school as he freelanced as a biological illustrator while earning his masters and Ph.D. at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in Organismal and Evolutionary Biology and Entomology. Since coming to MSU his research focus has shifted from virulence of fungal pathogens of gypsy moths to visual communication of science in formal and informal settings. Stephen’s interests have broadened to include not just art and science, but also technology and teaching. He has worked on projects such as the use of comics to reduce subject anxiety in non-major science courses, the development of a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) to teach general science, and augmented reality and kiosk games to engage visitors in science museums. One of his more recent projects, Instruct2020, is looking at how to foster community generated visual curriculum for science instruction. His use of technology in teaching has won him multiple awards including three AT&T/MSU Awards for innovative use of technology in online classes, a James D. Hoeschele Endowed Teaching Award for excellence in teaching science to non-science majors, and funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Emilia Marcyk is the Instructional Technology & Information Literacy Librarian at Michigan State University, where she develops instructional content, leads information literacy sessions for the First Year Writing program, and supervises student reference assistants. She received her MS in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and her BA in English from Bryn Mawr College.

Additional Authors

Cathleen McGreal is a Director of Online Learning and Professor of Psychology at Michigan State University. She has won several AT&T Instructional Technology awards for her classes in child development, adolescent development, adult development, and lifespan development across cultures.

Extended Abstract

Accessibility benefits everyone, but engaging educators in conversations about creating accessible content can be challenging. Increasingly educators are called upon by administrators and students to meet unfamiliar standards.  One possible way to address this dilemma  is through a grassroots movement.  Our movement took the form of a diverse group of faculty, academic specialists, librarians and instructional designers from Michigan State University participating in a Faculty Learning Community focused on Universal Design for Learning (UDL). This focus moved our group’s discussion from accessible content, typically rooted in litigation fears, to creating equitable curriculum using a UDL approach.

Over the course of a year, the Faculty Learning Community met, read about, and discussed concepts centered around Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and accessible course design.  In conjunction with MSU IT Services, we then created a professional development resource, a self-enrolled course, that curates materials on accessibility and UDL. To give the course structure, we considered four different perspectives or motivations that might cause faculty to learn more about UDL and accessibility: meeting VISA (Verified Individualized Student Accommodation) requests (immediate accommodation), creating an accessible course from scratch (new course development), revising an existing course (remediation), and understanding the theoretical bases for UDL and accessibility. We recognize that educators may be motivated to learn about accessibility and UDL for a range of reasons; they may need to make an immediate accommodation for a student, or may want to design with accessibility in mind from the beginning. By offering multiple entry points to the content, the course meets a wide range of faculty needs.

With this resource completed, the next steps involve evaluating the course’s efficacy and determining the best way to incorporate it into professional development.  Presenters from Michigan State hope to draw on the broader perspectives of the OLC community to brainstorm our future directions.  We hope that by making our process transparent, others might take advantage of the resource or leap frog our position to better solutions.

This conversation will be structured with three elements: a PechaKucha-style presentation, small group breakout discussions between participants, and conversations with the entire group. The PechaKucha presentations will examine the current accessibility conversation in higher education, and highlight the resource we created to help faculty implement accessibility and UDL strategies in their teaching. The discussion will be centered around questions like:

  • Are there other approaches (besides remediation, accommodation, or new course development) that you have come into contact regarding accessibility issues?  
  • What are the unique accessibility challenges at your institution?
  • Where are accessibility conversations occurring at your institution?  Where is there a lack of interest?  Are there other methods of dissemination that might improve adoption by faculty?
  • What are the major barriers that keep people from participating in accessibility initiatives?  What are methods for reducing those barriers?  
  • What are major incentives that drive people to participate with accessibility initiatives?  What are methods for increasing those incentives?
  • What is the overlap in accessibility and UDL?