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Access & Equity

As you plan your course

Anticipate varied accessibility. Ensure that your online course content is accessible to all students, including those with disabilities, those with different devices and internet service, and those living in different time zones.

Consider giving a quick, multiple choice, anonymous, confidential survey before the first day to ask students about:

  • Their time zone
  • Levels of experience with particular Canvas tools
  • Whether they’ve used Zoom before
  • If they have reliable wifi access and devices
  • Previous course work, etc.

Be explicit about why you are asking so that students understand you’re building a course where everyone has equal access and potential for success and to create a better learning experience.

Below are a few sample faculty surveys that you can adapt for your own class.

  • Bioen 315 — Access survey (Bioen 315 Biochemical Molecular Engineering)
    Dan Ratner, professor and associate dean, Bioengineering
    Class size: 75
  • ENVIR 239 Class Survey AUT 2020 (Envir 239 Sustainability: Personal Choices, Broad Impacts)
    Kristi Straus, associate teaching professor & associate director, Program on the Environment
    Class size: 90
  • TCORE 101 Student Questionnaire (TCORE 101 Introduction to Academic Writing)
    Cassie Miura, assistant teaching professor, Writing Studies, School of Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences, UWT
    Class size: 20

If students do not have reliable 24/7 internet access and/or encounter obstacles joining a live event:

    • Aim to make as much of your content asynchronous as possible.
    • Don’t require synchronous sessions. Make synchronous sessions and activities optional.
    • Record synchronous activities and post them in a timely fashion.
    • Allow for longer windows of time than usual for students to submit tests and exams.
    • If you post recorded lectures, provide transcripts or notes when possible, so that students can access the content even if they can’t reliably stream videos.
    • Call out specific times and topics in any recording that are necessary for students to keep up with course content.
    • Post audio-only, transcripts, or other, more lightweight versions of your recorded content, for students with limited bandwidth.
    • Determine an alternative means for participation points.
    • Don’t factor in attendance as part of grading. POLICY

Understand that not all students will have access to the same technology or internet connection. Some students may not have a camera on their laptop and may need to join a session by phone. Some students working from outside the U.S. may experience limitations or delays regarding technology. Be prepared to work with students who have technological challenges. Direct them to the Student Technology Loan Program.

The UW’s Student Tech Loan Program recently increased the number of laptops available to loan. But some students may no longer be close to campus or have concerns about coming to campus. We can’t require them to do so. If that’s the case, students can also participate in Zoom video-conferences via either type of phone.

Consider incorporating Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an approach that recognizes that knowledge and skills can be both acquired and demonstrated in a variety of ways. UDL can support students whether they have a disability, a hidden or temporary disability, are ill, a caretaker, have limited access to hardware or connectivity, or are in another time zone.

  • Plan ahead to make your course accessible (providing accessible documents, captioning videos, using alt text, and pointing students towards Ally for alternative formats) which benefits all students, not just those with identified learning challenges.
  • Like instructors, some students have a lot of experience using Canvas tools (and/or Zoom and/or learning with Panopto). Others may not. Try to limit the number of tech tools you’re using, so that your learning curve, and that of your students, is less steep.
  • Seek support for accommodation requests. DRS can help if you have students that need to request specific accommodations.

Establish equitable norms and practices.

When planning assessment

During live video instruction

Consider allowing students to use Zoom background images – Students may be working from a location that they don’t want to share with you or others (their kitchen, bedroom, or car [to access a wifi hotspot]).

  • If you want to specify kinds of backgrounds are appropriate for class, bear in mind how you express what is appropriate. If you say “no political backgrounds,” be clear about what you mean by that. No photos of elected officials? If you say, “Nothing that would offend your grandmother”: do you know their grandmother? Or do you mean “nothing that would offend the faculty member’s grandmother”?

Consider the impact of requiring students to have their cameras on – It’s exhausting to be on camera all the time. Yours isn’t the only class they’re taking. If you want them on camera, explain why. For example,”If you’re comfortable, could you keep your camera on? That way I can ask you all to nod or give me a thumbs up to see how it’s going.” In the absence of an explanation, they’ll assume you’re checking to make sure they are present.

Other strategies for creating an inclusive class:

  • Include content from multiple perspectives. As you move content online, consider adding new perspectives that have been historically excluded from research in the field.
  • Create a respectful and productive learning environment. Work with students to create ground rules for your synchronous discussions, and discuss how you’ll handle “hot moments” or microaggressions that emerge — especially those that happen in breakout rooms or other spaces where you aren’t there to address them in the moment.
  • Provide clear expectations for students’ success and avenues for finding support. Be explicit about what students need to do to succeed in this class, and what resources are available to them if they are struggling.
  • Gather students’ feedback on their learning experience in the class. Use anonymous surveys or polls at various times during the quarter to find out from students what is helping them learn, and what is impeding their learning beyond the lack of in-person interactions. After reading their feedback, share any small changes you can make to improve their learning.
  • Find more ideas on our inclusive teaching strategies page.