Designing an Accessible Course
Inclusive education is an accessible one: all students should be able to access the materials they need for their learning. While accessibility is oftentimes associated with providing access for people with disabilities, issues of access are universal and affect all learners.
Consider accessibility broadly and how it impacts everyone in order to develop a course that is inclusive for all.
Access for learners with visual or hearing differences
Start with Stanford-approved technologies
Canvas, Zoom, Google Drive, and other Stanford-approved tools have been vetted for accessibility concerns. Tools not approved by Stanford may not have been checked for accessibility.
Follow best practices for creating accessible learning objects
An accessible document or web resource is one that can be easily navigated using assistive technologies like a screen reader used by people with visual impairments. The Office of Accessible Education (OAE) provides the SCRIBE tool for converting existing files into more accessible formats.
Seek support for captioning services
Captioning is important for people with hearing impairments but can be useful for anyone. The Office of Digital Accessibility (ODA) offers great tips on captioning and has a list of captioning services available at Stanford.
Provide low-bandwidth options
Some students may have limited or no access to reliable high-speed internet connections. Consider recording your lectures and offering asynchronous options for activities, so that students may access them when they are on a more stable internet connection.
Select Stanford-approved tools that are familiar to students
Students are typically familiar with these tools, allowing them to focus more on learning rather than an unfamiliar tool. With Stanford-approved tools, the cost of license fees is typically covered by the University. University support staff are also much more informed and knowledgeable of these tools.
Consider international restrictions on certain tools or content
Some students living outside of the United States might face particular challenges because their countries have laws that enable governments to access data that is moving in and out of their countries. Specific tools might be restricted and even specific topics or content might sensitive in certain countries.
Avoid prohibitively expensive course materials
Cost can be a big factor preventing students from accessing course materials and succeeding in a course. Consider earlier less-expensive editions of a textbook, select materials that are available in e-book formats, and provide advanced notice for obtaining required materials. Or better yet, use materials that are available freely through Stanford University Library services, or adopt free open educational resources (OER).
Minimize incidental costs when possible
Incidental costs such as printing, online subscriptions, paywalls, or fees for lab and studio materials can quickly add up. Offer students options for submitting assignments in digital formats. Provide access to articles, journals, and databases through Stanford University Library services. And work with your department leaders to cover lab and studio material costs for students.
Ask students about restrictions or time-zones
Ask students from what time zone they are joining and what time restrictions they might have to get a better sense of the challenge that they may face. Adjust section and office-hour times, or increase asynchronous offerings to suit their situations.
When possible, be flexible with attendance policies, extended time for accommodations, dues dates, and office hours. Consider whether a strict attendance or due date policy is beneficial to furthering the pedagogical goals of the course. The syllabus should be specific about expectations and mechanisms for students to make up missed class time or assignments.
Check-in with students regularly
While students, in general, appreciate individual attention and chances to connect with the teaching team, students in different time zones or in fully online formats are likely to feel particularly isolated. Consider ways to check-in, such as asking all students to sign up for a ten-minute meeting with a teaching team member.
Provide instructional materials in multiple formats
All learners differ in the way they comprehend information. Presenting content in text, audio, verbal, graphic, audio-visual formats, and so on, can appeal to more students and deepen learning by highlighting connections and patterns between different representations.
Provide options for activities and interactions
Allowing students to make choices and have some autonomy can spark interest and sustain motivation. Providing various levels of difficulty within an activity can help to optimize the challenge-level for individual students.
Allow multiple modes of demonstrating mastery
Refer to the course's learning objectives when determining what is essential to assess student mastery. Consider a variety of frequent smaller assessments rather than a single comprehensive and high-stakes exam. Be flexible with the tools and format for students to demonstrate their learning. For example, instructors might adapt an existing rubric to be equally applicable to a written essay, slide presentation, or verbal presentation.
- Resources for Faculty & Teaching Staff, Office of Accessible Education (2020).
- Universal Design for Learning (UDL), Stanford Learning Lab (2022).
- Stanford-approved Learning Technology Tools, Learning Technologies & Spaces (2020).
- Stanford Office of Digital Accessibility, Online Accessibility Program (2020).
- Stanford University Library services, Stanford University Library (2020).