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Remote Teaching and Learning: Three Learners’ Perspectives on Inclusion

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The following reflections on online inclusive teaching and learning were written by three CTL Undergraduate Pedagogical Consultants as part of the Students as Pedagogical Partners initiative. The three consultants, Nikki Lyons (GS ‘21), Haya Ghandour (SEAS ‘22) and Mae Butler (CC ‘22), represent student voices from across disciplines and the three undergraduate schools.

 

 

Nikki Lyons Nicole Lyons

Adaptability and Support Foster Equity in Learning Environments

Themes: accessibility, classroom climate, clear expectations, supporting learners

Reflection: One of my professors who teaches a large, pre-medical course is currently holding classes via Zoom and recording and posting lectures on Youtube and Canvas to increase access to the course material for all students. Even before the transition to online learning, he shared pre and post-lecture video instructions with the class. By continuing to offer these videos, my professor has helped make the transition to online instruction seamless. 

Furthermore, he has explicitly told us that he understands that the current state of things causes unprecedented challenges for learners. All of our learning objectives have been explicitly adjusted for current learning changes. To encourage us to continue learning to the best of our ability, he has also communicated that students can ask for more time on any assignment, simply asking us to stay in communication with him. On top of that, he sends emails reminding us that we’re in this all together, that he’s thinking of us, and shares pieces of writing that have helped him navigate this time. His clarity, encouragement, and thoughtful communication is extremely helpful. 

My professor was also incredibly understanding and helpful while I dealt with a difficult illness. For instance, when an aspect of the illness negatively impacted me during an exam, he was supportive, asked no personal follow-up questions about the illness, instead let me know my wellness was a priority, he hopes I get well soon and went out of his way to reassure me that didn’t make him think less of me as a student. Often with illnesses, it can be nerve-wracking wondering if a professor will understand the impact on coursework and this can prevent students from asking for help or flexibility when it is needed. His affirmation made all of the difference in the world and helped me maintain confidence throughout the course. 

This class will have a lasting impact on my academic career, both through my learning and the credentials it offers. It was an incredible relief to know that this professor understands that students are human, that life outside of the classroom is unpredictable. In a course with a reputation for “weeding” students out of the discipline, this support is exactly what I need during such a challenging time.

Related principles from the Guide for Inclusive Teaching:

  • Principle 1: Establish and support a class climate that fosters belonging for all students
  • Principle 4: Design all course elements for accessibility

Questions for Reflection:

  • How do you promote conversation and trust with and among students during remote learning experiences? What steps are you taking to be inclusive in your language and guidelines in the digital classroom?
  • It can be challenging for students to ask for learning accommodations due to a variety of barriers, especially in an online classroom. What can you do to make sure students feel supported and acknowledged?
  • Communicating course expectations and assignment instructions during remote learning is its own challenge. How can you integrate student voices into finding a process that works for their specific needs? 

Suggestions from a Learner for Supporting and Connecting with Learners:

  • Be enthusiastic about inclusion. Recognize that you may make mistakes and be open to feedback. The online transition has been a learning experience for everyone. 
  • Inclusion online, like in a face-to-face classroom, looks different for everyone and requires individualized planning and accommodation.
  • Recognize that there are many reasons a student’s situation may be different from your own or others’.
  • Be aware that the transition to remote learning poses new and unexpected barriers to inclusivity and accessibility. Resources that students rely on for learning, such as computers and wifi, may not be accessible to all. Consider what you can adjust in course material and expectations to minimize the impact of these disparities on learning.
  • Create assignments with explicit instructions and language that encourages communication. Let students know exactly what is expected, but also that you are open to  adjusting assignments when issues come up. Communication is key and an important expectation to set for both students and faculty.

Haya Ghandour

Designing Assessments for Inclusive Online Learning

Themes: identity and culture in the classroom, access to materials, inclusive assessments, creativity in adjusting coursework, awareness of personal situations and socio-economic backgrounds, checking assumptions.

Reflection: This semester I’m taking an architecture course. The class involves a lot of hands-on work, from making drawings to building models. As such, the recent move to remote learning has resulted in significant changes in the course of the class. Now, along with using software to design our projects, our professor adapted the final project to engage with students’ current settings.

The assignment asks students to analyze our current domestic settings for the first part of the project, looking at different dynamics present in our individual environments. The professor urged us to think carefully about our own surroundings and was eager to learn more about the unique analyses our settings could provide. 

The final deliverable for the revised assignment gives students the choice of placing their projects in their own domestic settings or in their original project location. To accommodate for the unequal access to traditional materials, the professor encouraged us to build our models with what we can find around our settings. In order to encourage students, the professor framed this challenge as an opportunity to be creative with our use of materials. He asked that students communicate their situations with him so he can best support them and help them find alternatives if they are unable to find things to work with.

The professor had good intentions behind redesigning our final project, yet this did not guarantee that the implemented changes were the most inclusive. One consequence of this assignment is the access it requires to students’ living situations. By asking us to incorporate pictures of our current domestic setting, the project assumes that everyone feels comfortable sharing visuals of their home life with the class, dismissing the impact of factors including geography, class, and more. Such barriers to inclusion could have been reduced through collaboration between the professor and the students, allowing for the students’ diverse backgrounds to be better incorporated into the assignment’s design. 

While the adjustment of the project was necessary given the transition to remote learning, it’s important to continuously and purposefully keep in mind who learners are and what identities and backgrounds they bring to the course to practice inclusion. 

Related principles from the Guide for Inclusive Teaching:

  • Principle 1: Establish and support a class climate that fosters belonging for all students
  • Principle 3: Select course content that recognizes diversity and acknowledges barriers to inclusion
  • Principle 5: Reflect on one’s beliefs about teaching (online) to maximize self-awareness and commitment to inclusion

Questions for reflection:

  • What do you need to know about your learners to design inclusive assessments? What assumptions might you make about students? How can you design assessments to respect the differentiated domestic environments that learners are working in?  
  • What aspects of students’ current situations need to be considered when redesigning online assessments? How can modifications to course deliverables be centered on equity and accessibility?  
  • How can you partner with your learners in redesigning assessments? What goals need to be communicated with learners in this discussion?

Suggestions from a Learner on Redesigning Assessments: 

  • Always keep students’ situations and backgrounds in mind while designing assignments and assessments.
  • Encourage students to be communicative about barriers they might face in completing assignments, but also take the initiative to learn more about their situations. Be clear about your intentions for asking, and use this knowledge to make the necessary equitable accommodations for individual learners. 
  • Be flexible with deliverables: take into consideration what materials students have access to and talk to them about how they can still complete assignments using what they have. 
  • Create assignments with explicit instructions and language that encourages communication. State exactly what is expected but note that you are willing to accommodate barriers when they arise.
  • Highlight learning opportunities in adjustments to coursework. From new software to creative ways of using materials, take this chance to emphasize skills and ideas learned whenever possible.

Mae Butler Mae Butler

Using Multimedia Content to Improve Access to Learning

Themes: screen overload, adapting to student needs, accessibility of course materials, designing accessible assignments

Reflection: Since the transition to remote learning, I have been spending a lot of time in front of a screen attending online classes. Moreover, because all of my courses are readings-based, I face the added expectation of reading digital texts for several hours a day. Unfortunately, my screen-reading comprehension is much lower than when I have a physical text in front of me. I have also started to experience eye strain and recurring headaches from extensive screen use.

One of my professors is particularly proactive about identifying barriers that students face during online learning. Recognizing the strain of digital reading, she regularly asks how much of the assigned materials we were able to cover at the beginning of class. This question serves as a starting point for collaborative decisions on how to use class time. For instance, when we conduct passage analysis, my professor reads the passages aloud so that students can take handwritten notes and reduce our time spent looking at the text online. This accommodation also allows us to see other students’ faces during class, increasing the sense of community among learners. 

My professor has also begun sending lists of key concepts and pages from each text for learners struggling with screen overload. This permits students who cannot complete the entire reading to stay involved in class discussions and other assignments. In my experience, this strategy does not deter students who are able from reading the full text. Rather, this adaptation increases access to learning for students facing barriers in their new environments. My professor has also started soliciting student input to develop new assignments. While the class typically evaluates students solely on papers, my professor is now allowing us to demonstrate our learning in unconventional forms, including hand-written reflections, voice memos, and recorded conversations with our classmates or community members. 

The ongoing collaboration between my classmates and professor has created space to accommodate the variety of barriers learners face in their new environments and increased our class’ sense of shared responsibility for finding inclusive solutions to the challenges posed by remote learning.  

Related principles from the Guide for Inclusive Teaching:

  • Principle 2: Set explicit student expectations
  • Principle 4: Design all course elements for accessibility
  • Principle 5: Reflect on one’s beliefs about teaching (online) to maximize self-awareness and commitment to inclusion

Questions for Reflection:

  • How can you be proactive about identifying barriers to inclusion that your learners face instead of waiting for students to voice their concerns? 
  • How can you encourage students to communicate the challenges they are experiencing and identify accommodations? 
  • How can course materials and assignments be designed to support students’ learning and wellbeing? 

Suggestions from a Learner on Making Course Content Accessible:

  • Whenever possible, provide materials in multiple media forms. Consider offering links to audio recordings of the texts. If none are available, consider inviting students to record key passages or doing so yourself.
  • Upload texts as PDFs (not scans from a print version) so that students can use screen readers to listen to materials to reduce the risk of eye strain and other barriers to learning.
  • Ask students how much reading they were able to do at the beginning of every class. If you feel that students are uncomfortable sharing this information directly, consider offering an anonymous survey at the beginning of class to assess students’ preparedness. Use this information to inform assignments moving forward so that students can accomplish what is asked of them.
  • Send students a list of key concepts to read for and/or a shortened selection of readings in case students are not able to complete the entire reading because of screen-related side effects or other barriers they face to studying at home. Students will learn much more by reading key concepts and passages well than by reading an entire text or book with a headache.

Concluding Recommendations

Consider these final suggestions for collaborating with learners to identify and overcome barriers to inclusion in the remote classroom.

  • Remote learning can pose unexpected challenges to inclusivity and accessibility. Be proactive about asking students what barriers to learning they are facing online and in their new learning environment. 
  • Be mindful that there may be many situational barriers impacting students learning remotely and that these issues may look different from your own or others’.
  • Collaborate with learners to identify accommodations and trust that the solutions students propose are in their best interest as learners and people.
  • Implement changes deliberately. Inclusivity does not just happen, it requires conscious choice and purposeful action. 
  • Prioritize student wellbeing, which is central to learning, to support students in reaching course objectives.