Strategies for Transitioning to Accessible Remote Learning
3Play Media’s second virtual event, ACCESS at Home, focused on providing the necessary tools and knowledge to thrive in a virtual environment. Dawn Hunziker and Barbie Lopez, the IT accessibility team for the University of Arizona, joined us for ACCESS at Home to discuss inclusive remote learning tactics and best practices for accessibility in remote classrooms.
Dawn Hunziker, Senior IT Accessibility Consultant, University of Arizona
Barbie Lopez, Digital Accessibility Consultant, University of Arizona
The Importance of Making Connections
The University of Arizona’s Disability Resource Center (DRC) provides accommodations for students with disabilities, event access opportunities, and IT accessibility services.
Dawn and Barbie’s role is to work to achieve full accessibility of all electronic and information technology and ensure equitable experiences for everyone on campus. They proactively work to make connections and teach the campus about accessibility and demonstrate how to design for accessibility from the start to lessen the need for case-by-case accommodations.
“We look for specific people within departments, groups, different
staff positions throughout our campus where we can build a group of accessibility champions,” Barbie notes. In this way, a small IT accessibility team can effectively spread a consistent message of inclusivity and influence accessibility throughout the campus.
For the University of Arizona’s DRC, garnering close connections with IT Directors, IT services, the Office of Instruction and Assessment, and Arizona Online group have been key to achieving greater accessibility for remote learning.
Transitioning to Remote Learning
In mid-March of 2020, the University of Arizona began planning to move to a remote learning campus. Right away, the Disability Resource Center (DRC) was included as a core member of planning and support, along with members of academic technologies, central IT support, and digital learning groups.
The campus knew they would need to move to remote learning withing days, and the big question was: How could they successfully transfer to a 100% remote campus in such a short time-frame?
In the beginning, instructors were provided with time and resources to transition to remote-only learning. Webinars, live trainings, and Q&A sessions were held frequently to answer questions such as how to set up quality Zoom classes, universal design best practices, and accessibility for remote learning. The goal was to meet the faculty where they were and provide them with the support they needed to switch to a remote classroom successfully.
The DRC played a consistent role in aiding campus in moving to remote classrooms. The team continued close collaboration with the faculty development office and academic technologies team, provided 24/7 support on Slack and Sharewell, and provided basic resources to instructors for accessibility of course content and technologies.
Fall Re-Entry Strategy
As summer came to a close and fall approached, several groups were assigned to focus on successful re-entry into the new semester. What would the fall semester look like with health safety concerns still at the forefront?
The “Teaching and Learning Re-Entry Group” pulled in two staff from DRC (including Dawn), took a collaborative approach, and developed a plan to offer four class modalities for the fall semester:
- In-person (instruction happens in-person with social distancing/masks)
- Flex In-person (Rotating groups attend in-person and remotely)
- Live Online (Fully online, synchronous remote learning, recorded)
- iCOURSE (Standard online course)
Creating Accessible Remote Learning Experiences
The University of Arizona’s determined that the best way to ensure accessible remote classrooms across the board was to break down its accessible remote learning strategy and deliver it in small, actionable, and achievable items to faculty and staff. They referred to this as the “nudge” approach.
With this approach, it was easier to gain buy-in from faculty since they could take on remote accessibility in simple and easy-to-follow steps. Rather than bombarding them with a load of new and overwhelming information, the “nudge” approach encouraged instructors towards creating more accessible courses in small increments. As a result, faculty were more willing to make necessary changes to their online materials, refer to resources, and make an overall more accessible courses.
In conjunction with the “nudge” approach, the Disability Resource Center created and provided simple and easy-to-access remote learning resources for instructors to refer to throughout the semester:
- Inclusive Teaching and Accessibility Strategies
- Accessible Zoom Meeting Best Practices
- Accessible Presentation Techniques
- DRC-Specific COVID-19 Page
The Results – How Did UA’s Remote Learning Approach Pan Out?
The Disability Resource Center’s involvement ensured that accessibility was considered for the entire process of transitioning to remote learning and hybrid classes. The group provided campus with best practices for:
- Classroom technologies such as Zoom
- Accessibility physical layout for hybrid classrooms and outdoor tents
- Inclusive teaching and accessibility strategies for all teaching modalities
- FAQs and webinars to support fall semester changes
These proactive actions from DRC involvement drove results for the University of Arizona, and the team remained heavily involved in strategy execution throughout the semester.
They closely monitored key sites to assure that DRC resources were readily available and directly integrated with university-wide resource hubs and communications. They made it a priority to join inclusive teaching discussions and created a Microsoft Teams channel used to connect instructors and academic support staff. They actively participated in campus-wide meetings for IT continuity and stayed up-to-date on new technologies being implemented for the campus. They provided input on online proctoring changes and processes and encouraged alternative assessment strategies instead of high-stake exams.
Additionally, the DRC provided closed captioning guidance for online courses and meetings and shared an IT Accessibility captioning page reflected new captioning trends for remote learning, such as live and automatic captioning. They also collaborated with UA’s marketing and brand teams for accessible COVID-19 marketing through websites, messages, directives, and apps.
Valuable Lessons Learned
To conclude their presentation, Dawn and Barbie shared their top lessons from the last year:
They acknowledged that making campus connections are a critical step, and building bridges with others allowed them to be influential in remote learning strategies from early on. They realized that starting simple was a powerful way to gain buy-in from faculty, and providing easy, achievable steps for accessible remote learning was more approachable. Finally, they learned not to wait to make decisions for the future and remain flexible in their strategy and plan.
After all, if the year 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that one can never know what the future holds.
What is ACCESS at Home?
ACCESS at Home is a free live virtual event and an online course designed to provide you with the tools necessary to thrive in a virtual environment. You’ll learn from leaders in all industries on how to embrace and create inclusive videos in a remote environment and connect with a virtual community of professionals from all over the world. Sessions cover topics from audio description to streaming media to universal design on a budget.
Missed the event? No worries! Sign up for free to watch ACCESS at Home recordings.
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