Giving every student better access to online learning materials should be a priority for everyone. Studies show that at least 10% of the global population has a disability and over 11 million disabled people live in the UK.
But also, since the pandemic, Coursera say global online learning course enrollments have skyrocketed. Over two years, they’ve grown from 76 million to 189 million. And in response to lockdowns and social distancing, many UK universities launched blended learning solutions to increase levels of access and provide online learning classrooms.
So, with higher expectations around access to online learning, what could Higher Education institutions do to uphold standards for those who need them most?
In this post, we’ll share some tips that could help.
Make Reasonable Adjustments to Online Learning
The Equality Act 2010 states Higher Education institutions must make reasonable adjustments to online learning for any students who have disabilities. And what constitutes a reasonable adjustment will depend on each institution and each student.
Disability Rights UK offers a list of reasonable adjustments. And these adjustments can range from staff acting as role models to empower students with disabilities to the provision of assistive tech for students who are blind or have visual impairments.
Some key points on the list include:
Access to All College and Campus Facilities
Increasing access to online learning classrooms must mean giving every student the chance to access appropriate tools, materials and coursework. Plus, if they’re studying remotely, students must have access to online learning materials.
Using Assistive Technology for Exams
Institutions must make allowances for students with disabilities, who depend on assistive technology, to use the same assistive technology during their exams as they do for their studies.
Allowing Students a Chance to Present Live or via Video Instead of Written Assignments
Successful online learning is all about adaptability. So, it’s important to ensure students have the option to present a video instead of a written assignment, should their disability restrict them from producing work in writing.
Optimise Your VLE or LMS
Virtual Learning Environments (VLE) or Learning Management Systems (LMS) should be where most of your students spend their time. So it’s important to ensure the content they contain is as accessible as possible.
Blackboard, Moodle, Panopto and Echo360 are some of the most popular systems. But whichever one you use, it’s important to make improvements by referring to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.
Some of these include:
Alternative Text or Alt Tags For Images
Some students, particularly those with visual impairments, may struggle to see images on a screen. But when they contain descriptions, students get another way to understand what’s presented to them.
And once they’re added, students can also use audio playback on screen readers which will tell them what the image looks like.
Online content must have a logical and systematic order to it. In practice, that means creating a logical hierarchy for all content that’s easy for students, and the technology they use, to understand. Often, this means applying labels to text headings. For instance, giving titles a value of ‘H1’ and any sub-headings ‘H2’. Then adding ‘H3’ for each subsequent subheading within them.
Offer Closed Captioning to Describe Audio
Closed captioning helps students to turn captions on or off during live streams or recordings. But Caption.Ed’s approach to captioning is different. And that’s because it allows students to customise their captions with different themes for improved readability such as dark, light or sepia mode.
This way, students can adjust captions to meet their specific learning needs and preferences.
Students also have an option with Caption.Ed to make typefaces larger, or smaller, depending on their requirements. And this applies to any live captioned text on any VLE or LMS platform and even other platforms like Zoom or YouTube.
Include Transcripts of Video and Audio
Another critical factor for boosting online learning is to offer all audio and video content with transcriptions. In particular, for students who are deaf or who have hearing loss.
Transcripts allow students to take away copies of their lecture notes and refer to them later. Caption.Ed allows users to generate transcripts using its software and users can even add time stamped notes to their transcripts too.
Students can also download transcriptions of live broadcasts from any platform. And this enables students with hearing difficulties to better absorb information.
What’s more, a 2016 study revealed students used video transcripts as a learning tool at least 85% of the time. So the benefits spread much further than only those with disabilities.
Evaluate Your Systems and Get Feedback
So, how will you know whether your effort to increase access to online learning is working?
The simple answer is to check. And getting feedback from students will help to understand what’s working.
Of course, many institutions will be making reasonable adjustments on a case-by-case basis. But there’s nothing more effective for driving continuous improvement than collecting feedback from users and acting on it.
External evaluations and assessments are also helpful in determining the effectiveness of your systems.
Increased Accessibility to Online Learning = Increased Learning
By addressing the accessibility needs of students, Caption.Ed is transforming online learning. And our technology is boosting accessibility for students with and without disabilities.
Take Mike Lei, for example. Mike arrived at St Andrew’s as a natural sciences international student, but struggled to understand lectures in the way he needed to. However, once he started using Caption.Ed, Mike found it much easier to understand nuances in regional accents and hear his lecturers.
“I’m okay with listening to live lectures, but honestly sometimes I get confused so I would turn up the volume really loud in the effort to follow lectures better. I also have difficulty understanding certain accents. But Caption.Ed helps me get clarification with what is being said.”Mike Lei, Student at University of St Andrews
We were also thrilled to hear from a range of students at Edge Hill University, who all offered valuable feedback on the benefits of Caption.Ed on their learning.
Alex, a Geography and Geology student said:
“The browser app is very useful due to its pure ease of access, once pinned in the top right-hand side of your screen it can be used to caption anything within the browser almost instantly.”Alex Evans, Student at Edge Hill University
Caption.Ed is proud to have a long list of adopters who are increasing accessibility for their students across the UK and Ireland.