This past semester saw many of us try our best to move our (carefully designed to promote in-class interactions) classes to the online space. This transition happened amidst the health crisis of the outbreak of COVID-19. Students that had not signed up for an online class in the first place found themselves trying to navigate the uncertainty, new technologies, and the lack of face-to-face instruction. This was particularly pronounced for students that lacked access to fast internet connections, high-end technology, or even the space and time to work on their classes wherever they were quarantining.
This blog post is meant as a general guide for continuing and reinforcing work on inclusion, equity, and accessibility in the online realm, too. General suggestions for ensuring all students feel respected and equal when teaching online are:
When lecturing in a physical classroom, students will ask lively, thoughtful questions, and have a chance to interact with one another during in-class activities.
When teaching asynchronously, this feeling of community is difficult to maintain. Giving students the opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback both eponymously (through the forum) and anonymously (through frequently sent out feedback forms) can emulate the physical classroom and foster a much needed sense of community.
When teaching asynchronously , consider posting smaller videos of 10-20 minutes each.
Students may have picked up different responsibilities or may have siblings and family members to take care of during these uncertain times. Giving students smaller, more manageable content lectures will help them organize their schedules better and stay on top of the material.
When teaching synchronously , make sure to record the lectures for students in different time zones, for students with limited connectivity or facing technical difficulties, and/or students who are otherwise unavailable during the time of the lecture.
You should always strive to provide lecture notes before the lectures (synchronous or asynchronous) so that students may review them.
Lecture notes and examples should be all inclusive and equitable, and video lectures should be ADA compliant.
Some easy steps to follow (with links to instructions in the References) that go a long way for ensuring every student feel respected in the online realm are:
- Provide alt text for images used in your lecture notes. Alt(ernative) text is text that is provided to describe an image. A screen reader would then read the text to the student: this is especially useful for eyesight limited students. Typically, for the alt text to use consider the question: “how would I describe this image over the phone to someone?
- Use high contrast colors. This is particularly useful for students that are colorblind; however, it helps every student viewing the figure.
- Add captions to the video lectures provided. There is a number of (freely available) auto captioner software. Some networking tools (such as Blackboard Collaborate) also offer captioning.
- Make an effort to provide images, examples, and case studies that showcase the diversity of our field. For example, most case studies are focused on the US and the Western world; there are few non-male protagonists; and when there are other protagonists, it is under the assumption that there are only two genders; finally, names are always Western. Consider adding supply chain management examples from continents other than North America and Europe, consider giving examples with non-traditionally named protagonists, and avoid using examples that promote stereotypes.
Provide students with opportunities to show their work and what they have learned outside of higher stake exams.
Online exams tend to disproportionately hurt students that are underprivileged. Instead, consider smaller activities or (lower stake) quizzes to evaluate your students learning as it happens. Also consider classroom assessment techniques for following how students are learning every week and identifying possible points of confusion for your students.
References and Footnotes
- Image Alt Text: https://accessibility.psu.edu/images/alttext/
- Contrast checker: https://webaim.org/resources/contrastchecker/
- When Coronavirus Closes Colleges, Some Students Lose Hot Meals, Health Care, and a Place to Sleep https://www.chronicle.com/article/When-Coronavirus-Closes/248228
- College Made Them Feel Equal. The Virus Exposed How Unequal Their Lives Are. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/04/us/politics/coronavirus-zoom-college-classes.html
- Unintended consequences of gender-equality plans https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-01904-1
- The Pandemic and the Female Academic https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01135-9
- Faculty Home Work https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2020/03/24/working-home-during-covid-19-proves-challenging-faculty-members
- Podcast: Science is for Everyone. Until it’s not: https://one.npr.org/?sharedMediaId=825409532:830288158
- ASEE has a great (private) group on Facebook for faculty teaching remotely at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1222276261295578/
- Classroom assessment techniques: https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/cats/
- High-stakes exams don’t transfer well to remote learning: https://www.washington.edu/teaching/topics/teaching-remotely/put-classroom-activities-online/
 Asynchronous learning is considered to happen when materials (video lectures, lecture notes, assessment) are provided in a flexible schedule. For example, students may opt to watch video lectures at any point in a week.
 With the term synchronous learning, we mean the learning activities that take place in real-time, typically following a rigid schedule.