Accessibility: Compromised or Favored with the Mass Procession to Online Teaching?
This presentation will discuss the experience of Wichita State University transitioning to university-wide online teaching through the pandemic times trying to balance the extreme need for technical assistance and the need to make contents accessible for all. The main focus will be to show whether or not accessibility was compromised or favored during the pandemic.
In the last couple of years there was a heavy load on the instructional support teams of higher education institutions due to the unexpected shift to online teaching caused by the global pandemic. Instructional support teams, whose roles include to help faculty and other instructional staff make their course materials be accessible for all learners. With the extreme load easing the transition to online teaching for instructors during the early pandemic times, making contents accessible might seem a luxury. How did institutions bring the balance between the quality/seamlessness of the online course delivery and the need for content accessibility?
The transition at WSU
Like many other universities and colleges, moving over a thousand instructors and several thousands of courses in the middle of the semester was very stressing at Wichita State University. There were instructors with limited to no experience of teaching online, families negatively affected by the pandemic in so many ways, and students . The Instructional design and education technology support team was in charge of leading everyone on board. Prior to this pick transition time, this same team was responsible to make sure all courses are accessible to all learners. This includes creating training videos and web pages about accessibility, or how to remediate inaccessible documents; running open labs where instructors can come to get help with accessibility and other LMS and educational technology questions. It was never possible to address the need in the old traditional way, so the team needed to plan a different approach.
What was done different?
Among the many interventions needed, assigning more time for one-to-one assistance and creating on demand tutorials were the major ones. The list can go long but below is what the team mainly did:
- Extended lab hours
- Additional lab day for graduate teaching assistants
- Created play lists of videos for instructors and students on the use of educational technologies required for online teaching
- Building web pages for a step by step transition to the online environment
- Created a newsletter with important updates
The team went extra miles by working extended hours to do all of this. However, it was not enough. There were areas that were compromised due to the overwhelming demand on technical assistance; making content accessible for all.
How was Accessibility treated as?
Before the pandemic, accessibility was given a lot of attention at Wichita State University. When the mass transition to online teaching happened during the pandemic, however, it became overwhelming to push the strict accessibility expectations on instructors. With the lot of pressure caused by the unexpected transition, somethings were overlooked and compromised. One was for sure accessibility. While there was a little push back to reinforce the accessibility requirements of the university at the beginning of the pandemic, it also created the opportunity to introduce the creation of brand new digital course materials. That was an amazing opportunity for the support team to help instructors create accessible course materials than the old tradition of document remediation. It is know that it is easier to create an accessible document than remediate an inaccessible one. In that respect accessibility can be considered as favored.
This presentation will discuss the main practices of Wichita State University with respect to transitioning to mass online teaching with main emphasis on how accessibility seemed to be compromised but was favored in a very unexpected way.