COVID-19 and the Role of Educational Technology and Instructional Design in Supporting Diversity and Inclusion

As senior core instructor in Educational Technology (ET) and Instructional Design (ID), I was inspired to reflect on the current crisis caused by the COVID- 19 virus as it relates to our work at ACE. In our courses, we stress hands-on work and creating assignments that allow all students to participate equally. When designing materials for students, faculty at ACE are aware of issues of accessibility and provide learning material (e.g., multimedia assets) in formats that can be accessed easily by students with disabilities.

COVID-19 has turned our world inside-out. Since mid- March, teachers world-wide have been working tirelessly to move traditional classes to online platforms. The adjustment affects students differentially; for example, students who require and receive classroom accommodations related to problems with hearing must now receive similar accommodation when studying online.  Clearly, responsiveness to diversity and inclusion are of the essence, and we have to adapt swiftly and accordingly.

While many teachers who are not familiar with  teaching on an online learning platform are scrambling to come up with ways to assure their students can meet learning objectives and requirements dictated by the standards which we are all held accountable to.  Students and alumni affiliated with our ET and ID programs possess skills uniquely matched with emergent needs.  Our students learned many ways to create learning materials, accessible videos, annotated screenshots, and synchronous video with closed captioning. This means students who cannot hear were able to turn on closed captioning or access the transcript and follow along with everyone else in every lesson and video they watched.

The other day, I opened a video feed on my iPad to watch important messages related to the COVID-19 pandemic. One of my favorite speakers, Dr. Anthony Fauci, was interviewed and uploaded to YouTube by “Face the Nation” anchors. I was watching on an iPad that had fallen to the floor one time too many, rendering the speakers less effective than desirable; they work, but barely! After trying to read Dr. Fauci’s lips and getting nowhere, I came to a deeper appreciation for the talents of people who learn by lip-reading. Having an iPad with poorly functioning speakers has made me acutely aware of issues related to teaching students and communicating with colleagues who are deaf or hard of hearing.  

Instructional designers and teachers rely on The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) to provide laws we must follow as we create educational materials accessible for every person, regardless of disability or language.  In addition to ADA, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles provide excellent guidance (http://udlguidelines.cast.org/). By following UDL’s best practices designing for teaching and learning, we exigently follow ADA laws. UDL principles guide us to teach and engage learners in a variety of media, creating a comprehensive and flexible learning environment.  Students are encouraged to be creative because lessons require active participation. Teachers use multiple strategies to be certain all students can absorb the information to meet learning objectives.

ACE students have learned by example from assignments in our courses how to create assessments easily transferable to the online environment. They understand how important immediate feedback is and have learned ways to create these assessments. Our students understand the importance of real time collaboration and how peer review can be used to provide feedback. They know how to make an online classroom work.

Online discussions provide another venue for assessment. It is easier to provide feedback to a student in an online discussion than in a discussion in the classroom. In accordance with UDL principles, students could be able to provide discussion comments in the form of a video, audio, or informational graphic.  

Feedback from the teacher for any assignment can be text-based or could take the form of audio or video comments. Teachers can easily record their screens to annotate a paper or provide a pre-recorded video showing where things could be improved or changed. This creates a learning tool a student can play back as many times as they need to.

Reflecting upon the tragic turn of events foisted upon all of us gave me a chance see the silver lining. I feel pride in our program and in what the students in this college can accomplish. Our students work hard. Many of them are on the front lines as teachers, behind their computer screens teaching their classes over the Internet with a very short time to prepare. The hands-on assignments our teachers are asked to create each week have been outstanding preparation for helping their students make the transition to the online classroom. We set a good example for how a curriculum conducted solely online can be effective, engaging, and help all students, regardless of how they learn or what disabilities they may deal with, reach their learning targets.

Coronavirus has resulted in significant challenges for educational institutions. Several teachers are unsure how to teach students in an asynchronous platform. As an online institution, ACE has mastered how to deliver instructions in a manner that is easily accessible and clear. Your point regarding using the UDL is valid and provides opportunities for diverse students to access and participate in their education.