Jessie Male–Making Online Instruction Accessible: A Student-Generated List

Rapid Response Pedagogy ResourcesAs many universities are creating contingency plans in the face of COVID-19, Assay is collecting lesson plans and best practices to help our colleagues make the shift from face-to-face to online teaching as the need arises. While this compiling of resources is in response to COVID-19, there are many reasons why face-to-face classes might need to move online on short notice––hurricanes, tornadoes, flooding, etc. These resources might be more broadly useful in online teaching, but we are currently working to support our colleagues who might be working to rethink their pedagogy and methods on very short notice.


As of Monday, March 9th, the university where I teach was still open. I knew this could change at any moment. I went into my Disability Memoir class prepared with a prompt and without expectations to cover the required readings.

I asked students to take out the syllabus. I gave them 10 minutes to review goals, requirements and upcoming expectations. Then I asked them to turn to the institution’s LMS platform and review the various tabs. For many, they clicked through them for the very first time. As a 15 person face-to-face class, group work and discussions occurred over 75 minutes and within a contained space. Other than weekly readings and a discussion board for sharing outside sources, the LMS platform was rarely utilized.

I asked the students to converge into groups of five and discuss the following question:

How might we develop an online version of our course that meets our individual needs and the needs of our classroom community?

The breadth of their suggestions didn’t surprise me (my students are amazing!) but I was surprised by how many sources I was unfamiliar with or never thought to utilize. It’s important to remember that your online class is not going to be a replication of your face-to-face class. That would be impossible. But also…hear me out here…consider what is now POSSIBLE through this new platform.

Here are a few of their ideas—full credit going to the students in my undergraduate Disability Memoir class:

The Classroom

  • Zoom is an excellent resource for synchronous engagement. There’s a whiteboard function and a share screen for PPTs. This service is great for 1:1 and group meetings as well. (In my opinion, moving forward, any institution with free access to Zoom should prioritize training).
  • For asynchronous teaching, instructors can create videos and send them to students. When I’ve previously taught online classes, I’ve made 5-8 minute mini videos focusing on key concepts and themes. I’ve shared them via Carmen, which I find to be a fairly intuitive platform.
  • You can make a Facebook group for your class and then they can chat with each other/the instructor through the messenger app. The group chat function can work as well. (As the instructor, I would make a separate Facebook account for this method.)
  • The class can make a group chat over phone. This could be an excellent resource for questions of an immediate nature. Again, this is much more manageable in a small class and I remind students to “only provide contact information you are comfortable sharing.”

Reconstructing Office Hours and Instructor Interactions

  • Students should be required to “meet” with their instructor 1:1 to have a conversation about the final. (This is only possible because of the small class size, and for a larger class I’d meet with small groups.)
  • Provide specific times for when you will be available for student meetings, or will definitively be checking email. I’ve used Google chat as well to “meet” with students.

Constructing Discussions

  • Use prompts to facilitate discussion. Every LMS I know has a discussion board section. You can post a prompt/class and have students post and reply to each other. Maintain a schedule for when prompts are posted/due. Posts can include a critical question to generate conversation.
  • Or you can assign one discussion board post/student, so it’s like having a discussion leader. That student is then responsible for facilitating discussion with their classmates (with instructor input, of course).

Student Interactions w/ Google Docs

  • GOOGLE DOCS is our friend! One student suggested one doc/class, and then students can go in and add notes and pose questions. This can happen over real time or over a contained period. (Note: Real time can get a bit overwhelming depending on class size, and can impact screen-reader accessibility. I tend to use Google Docs as an asynchronous method).
  • Another student suggested assigning a section of the reading to each student (we are engaging with full-length memoirs) and have that student write a response and pose questions tied to that particular section. Maintain all of this in one Google doc designated to that book.

Peer Review

  • I teach writing classes so there’s mandatory peer review. In fact, I’m adding peer review for an introductory portion of a scaffolded assignment so students can work with each other THROUGHOUT the assignment as opposed to just reviewing a draft of the final.

Library and Other Resources

  • Check if college libraries will be open & what resources students will have access to while classes are moved online. See if there is a LibGuide for your subject. THANK YOU COLLEGE LIBRARIANS. Even if libraries aren’t open, a quick list of resources for research could be useful.
  • “Look for sources near you, like your local public library.”
  • Be flexible. We can’t assume all students will be able to access the material at the same time. There’s childcare, different time zones, medical appointments. Archive anything that happens synchronously.

Accessibility

  • Include as many pet images as possible. (Ok—this is my suggestion.)
  • Speaking of images—ensure all of your materials are accessible to students with various learning styles and needs. Here’s an article where I discuss this.
  • Consider these five “A” tenets that inform my approach to online teaching: Access, Anticipation, Accommodation, Adaptation, and Agency.

These suggestions, originally shared as a thread on Twitter, are part of a much larger conversation happening between experienced and new online instructors. Hashtags like #CovidCampus and #onlinelearning are useful for those seeking resources. In addition, many universities are posting specific guides for faculty.

Final thought—online education is only possible through collaboration. This national rapid pedagogical shift would be exponentially more difficult without the experience of librarians, technological support staff and administrators, and the many, many student employees who are providing services while navigating their own coursework. It is a difficult time to be an educator, but we’re coming together to work interdependently, and I am grateful to be part of this.


Jessie Male is a nonfiction writer and PhD candidate at The Ohio State University, though she resides in Brooklyn with her husband and rescue dog. She has an MFA in memoir from Hunter College and an MA in English from Ohio State. Her research focuses on disability representation in contemporary memoir and her teaching is heavily influenced by Disability Studies pedagogy. Jessie’s creative writing appears in Guernica, Bustle, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, BOMB Magazine, and other print and online publications. Her scholarly and interdisciplinary work appears in Palaver JournalConstellations, and in Assay 6.1. Jessie is a 2011 Edward Albee fellow, which supported work on her memoir Mirror Pain. She is teaches Disability Memoir as a face-to-face class at NYU Gallatin, and Introduction to Disability Studies as an online class for Ohio State.

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