Hybrid Semester: Tips for Accessible Teaching & Learning


General Principles 

  1. The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s Policy on Accessible Education for Students with Disabilities is the authoritative source for information on accessibility and the duty to accommodate.
    1. It is better to create an inclusive/accessible environment than to accommodate after the fact.
    2. Both universities as corporate entities and individual course instructors are considered “educational service providers” with a duty to accommodate under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
    3. An appropriate accommodation is one that provides the student with an equitable opportunity to participate in the academic environment. 
    4. Students with disabilities must be assessed based on the degree to which they have successfully achieved learning outcomes rather than their ability to navigate the format of the assessment.
    5. Essential academic requirements are those that are indispensable, or where modification would result in fundamentally changing the very nature of the course or academic program. They must be reflected in the course outline.
  2. Academic accommodation based on a disability is a shared responsibility between the student, Student Accessibility Services (SAS), the instructor, and other academic decision-makers.
  3. Unexpected changes in the format of course delivery are highly disruptive to accessibility and accommodations. Make every effort to avoid surprises. Make your contingency plans known and ensure there is a clear indication of how students will know the plan has been invoked.

Course Outlines

  1. When available, students with disabilities and SAS staff use the information in course outlines to make decisions about course selection and to help guide the accommodation process. Please ensure the information is complete.
  2. Provide clear learning outcomes – if you are looking for help on improving them, contact the Office of Teaching & Learning.
  3. Please use the standard language about accessibility on the Provost’s website (course outline checklist). 
  4. For all tests and exams please specify the date, starting time, duration and format. Accommodations are dependent on all of these things.
    1. Avoid high stakes assessments at the end of the semester that are worth a large proportion of the final mark. These scenarios often test students’ performance under pressure rather than assessing what they have learned.

Classroom Issues (Face to Face)

  1. Offer regular reminders of classroom distancing protocols. Consider an overhead/slide as students are arriving and leaving. Try to avoid centering out individuals in front of the group when they are not following the rules – one on one conversations are better.
  2. Face masks disrupt communication for many different types of disabilities. Please speak slowly, carefully annunciate your words, and regularly pause to breathe.
  3. Some disabilities make it difficult to read social cues and follow social norms, particularly when there are new protocols. Exercise patience and compassion for those who are having difficulty.
  4. When fielding questions from the class, always restate the question before answering it.
  5. If there is a Sign Language Interpreter in your classroom, they will still need to stand at the front of the room. They may wear a face shield instead of a mask as facial expressions are an important part of interpreting. Always speak directly to the student rather than the interpreter.
  6. Some students may have an educational assistant or helper in the classroom. These individuals may have modified distancing protocols to perform their functions.
  7. If the classroom is equipped with a microphone, please use it. There will be many new barriers for students with hearing impairments, so additional care is required. Watch for information at the end of the summer about microphones and disinfecting procedures.
  8. Volunteers who normally assist students with disabilities that affect mobility and dexterity may not be available in the fall. As a result, you may be asked to assist a student with getting into the classroom (e.g. opening the door) and ensuring the accessible furniture is available.

Remote Learning

  1. Synchronous academic activities improve interactivity, which is good for active learning and providing structure for students who need it. Provide a back-up for students who are ill so that they can catch up on important course content. Consider resources for accessible remote teaching and learning provided by Open Learning & Educational Support.
  2. Offer captioning and transcripts for video when possible. Be prepared: if requested as an accommodation, captioning must be provided.
    1. If you are producing asynchronous videos, working from a script is helpful. You can then share the script if requested for accessibility reasons.
    2. Microsoft Teams has a captioning tool built in (students can turn it on or off as needed).
    3. YouTube has some helpful captioning tools.
    4. Consider the university’s web accessibility guide for multimedia.
    5. Remember that artificial intelligence captioning often does not meet the 99% accuracy threshold, so be prepared for the possibility of being asked for more robust captioning as an accommodation. 
    6. When producing asynchronous videos, factor in time to setup captioning and transcripts.  
  3. In an ordinary semester, regularly scheduled classes help to provide structure, which is critical for some students with disabilities. For remote course delivery, consider ways to reinforce routine on-going engagement with the course while maintaining some flexibility for individuals with diverse abilities and demands on their time.
  4. If you are using third-party software (i.e.something other than CourseLink), you must ensure it meets accessibility standards. Please see the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. We currently adhere to the AA standard.
  5. Prolonged periods of computer use frequently increase symptoms for students with concussions, migraines, eye disorders, as well as neck and back pain. Be prepared for requests for extensions on deadlines for individuals who can only work for a limited amount of time each day.

Online Exams 

  1. Watch for an email from SAS at the beginning of the semester for information about time-based test and exam accommodations.  
    1. In general, you can request a list of SAS-registered students who have time-based accommodations by emailing sasexams@uoguelph.ca. 
    2. These lists will automatically be made available to instructors who are listed on WebAdvisor for exams scheduled by the Office of Registrarial Services. 
    3. Students register with SAS on a rolling basis, so it is best to work from a list that is generated 5 to 7 days before the assessment.
  2. Avoid timed assessments in the first three weeks of the semester as it takes time to renew and update students’ accommodations. If this cannot be avoided, please use universal design (see below).
  3. If you are emailing students using an SAS list, it is important to put the addresses in the BCC field (not “to” or “CC”) to protect privacy. 
  4. Notify the students in your class about your plans for providing test and exam accommodations. Some instructors post a general notice on CourseLink, others email the students privately.
  5. Design the exam to ensure students have the option of skipping a question and coming back to it later.
  6. Break longer exams (e.g. more than 60 minutes) into two or more discrete sections where students can take a break after finalizing/submitting each section. 
  7. When designing the exam, do not disable the spell check tool unless one of the course learning outcomes relates to spelling. If you must disable it, ensure students are aware of this well in advance.
  8. Some accommodations are incompatible with online exams. If the SAS Exam Centre is open, be prepared that some students may use this service. 
    1. Due to distancing requirements, there will be limited capacity in the exam centre so alternate scheduling may be required.
    2. Students are not ordinarily permitted to write online exams in the SAS Exam Centre unless there is no other way of meeting their accommodation needs.
    3. When a student is going to be using the exam centre, a copy of the exam questions and instructions will be required by the SAS Exam Centre staff at least three days in advance.

Universal Design (UD) for Quizzes, Tests and Exams

Universal design is about trying to make something accessible for people of all abilities, thus reducing the need for accommodation. 

  1. Ensure your exams assess the learning outcomes in the course outline.
    1. Avoid situations where a student’s grade is shaped by the format of the exam rather than the course content (e.g. performance under pressure).
    2. Explicitly tell students about what they need to learn. Avoid the “hidden curriculum” which gives an advantage to individuals from socially privileged backgrounds.
  2. Provide students with sample questions to help guide their studying.
  3. Offer frequent low-value assessments and count each student’s best X of N quizzes towards their final grade (e.g. 6 of 8, or 8 of 10).
  4. Give students a choice of questions or format (e.g. answer 3 of the following 5 questions).
  5. Plan for a make-up opportunity at least a week after the exam.
  6. Consider a take home exam, rather than one that is completed entirely online.
  7. Consider a well-designed open book exam. The assumption would be that students must have learned the material ahead of time and be able to apply it. Learning the material during the exam would be impractical. The assessment would consider students’ analysis, insight or understanding rather than reproducing/identifying concepts from the readings.
  8. Online proctored assessments can create additional barriers for students including increasing their stress because of inconsistent access to Wi-Fi, appropriate private space for the assessment or challenges related to students writing across various time zones.  Consider non-proctored assessments for your final exam that focuses on the student’s ability to apply or build on their knowledge or to reflect on their learning.
  9. Permit the use of scrap paper.
  10. Time and UD for quizzes and midterms:
    1. This option is not available for final exams scheduled by the Office of Registrarial Services because of the potential for conflicts.
    2. This option is only viable if you have reliable data about how long it usually takes students to complete the assessment (e.g. from previous semesters). If the data indicates that a significant number of individuals use the full amount of time, avoid this approach.
    3. Indicate to students that the amount of time it usually takes to complete the assessment is [x-minutes-or-hours]. To support accessibility for everyone, [z-amount-per-example] will be provided. This reduces the need for disability-related accommodation. SAS students with questions or concerns should speak with their advisor. It is best to include this information on the course outline.
      1. Example 1: Time and a half for everyone (x1.5) is the minimum for UD.
      2. Example 2: Double time (x2.0) is the maximum amount for UD.
    4. If you plan to use this universal design approach, please send an email to sasexams@uoguelph.ca to notify them well in advance. 

Group Work, Presentations & Participation

  1. When group work is an important part of the learning outcomes of a course, it is important to teach students how to do it well.
  2. For group discussion, use a variety of turn-taking approaches to ensure you include a range of communication styles and abilities. Examples include: popcorn style (anyone can jump in), go around the room, maintaining a speaker’s list, check-in for shared understanding, and a “parking lot” for more verbose students.
  3. Engage students in collaboratively developing a set of principles for respectful conversation. This is important for all academic disciplines. Good guidelines include:
    1. Affirming the learning process, including taking risks without being too vulnerable;
    2. Posing ideas, perspectives and questions in a tentative way;
    3. Empowering students to express discomfort (e.g. saying “ouch”);
    4. Ensuring the instructor or TA challenges sentiments that are hurtful;
    5. Acknowledgement that individuals from equity-seeking groups have unique and valuable insight, and it is the responsibility of the group to create a space where it might be safe to share those perspectives.
  4. It is important to remember that learning occurs within an optimal range of difficulty. If a task is too hard, students will feel helpless and disengage, and if it is too easy they will not pay sufficient attention. The level of difficulty regarding group work and participation is tied to social privilege and is particularly diverse across the student population.
    1. Empower students to assess their strengths and opportunities to grow to help guide meaningful learning.
    2. Difficulty should gradually increase over time.
    3. Students should be pointed towards resources if they are experiencing difficulty.
    4. Consider multiple ways of engaging for diverse abilities.
    5. Provide a safe way for students to remove themselves from hurtful group dynamics.
  5. In many academic programs, the expectations regarding group work and presentations grow as students progress through their degrees. Setting aside expectations at introductory levels robs students of the opportunity to develop essential skills for more advanced academic activities. It is therefore (in many cases) better to adapt the activity to make it accessible for students with disabilities rather than setting it aside all together.
    1. Can the student create a video that is presented to the class instead of a live presentation?
    2. Can the student choose to answer a couple of questions, and take the rest away with them so that they can compose a response in due course?  
    3. Can the student present only to the instructor and/or TA?

Important: Tests & Exams

If you use the SAS Exam Centre, please remember that all test and exam bookings must be submitted at least 10 BUSINESS DAYS ahead of when you intend to write.

In addition, the last day any bookings can be received is the first business day in November, March or July as appropriate for the semester.
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