- Technological Equity
- Sensitivity to Student Circumstances
- Racial Justice, COVID-19, and Trauma in 2020
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is a broad umbrella, and this spring, remote learning showed us that it is relevant in ways we many not have expected. This page specifically addresses DEI in relation to technological equity, accessibility, and sensitivity to students’ home and health circumstances. We also wish to foreground awareness that our young people (and we ourselves) are experiencing an extremely stressful, even traumatizing period of our lives, navigating COVID-19 even as many are simultaneously profoundly affected by the racist violence and responding activism of the early summer. All of these will affect fall classes.
If you have not completed the DEI Faculty Training that debuted in spring 2020, we strongly suggest you do so to create a solid foundation for how you address DEI under these unusual circumstances.
Many of us discovered that not all students are equally equipped for remote learning, and the same applies to flex-hybrid. Though we will be returning to campus in the fall, students who must miss in-person class because they are ill or have been exposed to the coronavirus will not have equal technological resources. Likewise, if a faculty member chooses to teach remotely for health and safety reasons, the students in that course cannot be assumed to be equally equipped for remote learning. Our campus will not have its usual level of computer lab resources and other ways of compensating.
This concern will apply to all classes after Thanksgiving Break, since we will finish the semester remotely. It may also apply during the first weeks if we have a staggered residential reopening (yet to be determined as of 6/9/20).
You should expect variation in:
- hardware (some students may not have a working webcam or microphone)
- computing power (some students’ older computers may not be able to run certain software, even if the software is made available free)
- internet access (some students who cannot safely return to the Burlington campus may enroll, but may not have a strong enough connection to participate in videoconferences, or may be unable to stream video consistently)
- length of time with computer access (some students may have to share a computer or tablet with parents or siblings if the state experiences a resurgence of COVID-19 and another stay-at-home order)
- student comfort with computing (ChampHub is being revitalized to provide greater Canvas support, but adding specialized tools creates new “parallel content”–technical skills–that take time and coaching to acquire)
According to data collected this spring by Information Services, some of these issues were more widespread than we might expect. For example, about a quarter of students lacked reliable internet access, and just under a quarter had problems accessing and running specialized software. Nearly a fifth struggled because they were suddenly required to use tools they were unfamiliar with (just as faculty were).
Technological equity means that students need to have the opportunity to successfully complete the course, including engaging with other students and the professor, if they have fewer technological resources than others. Some ways to help make your course more technologically equitable include:
- record all lecture sessions and make the videos available to all students immediately after the session (required)
- consider not mandating videoconference attendance as part of the grade, or allow students to call in to Zoom or Meet sessions from a phone
- if you pre-record lecture videos, divide your lectures into shorter segments (10-15 minutes instead of hour-long recordings) so students can watch in briefer windows of time with less interruption by buffering issues
- unless absolutely necessary to the outcomes of the course, avoid major assessments that require technologies some students may not be able to access; plan ahead as though students will not be able to use campus computer labs in person, particularly for final projects due during the post-Thanksgiving period, when we will be fully remote
- build time for students to learn any special (non-Canvas) technologies into your course, even if learning new technologies is not part of your outcomes
Consult your PD if you have concerns specific to your course.
Like remote learning, flex-hybrid introduces a different set of accessibility concerns than we may encounter in face-to-face classrooms. For example, a student who is usually able to compensate for partial hearing loss by reading lips cannot do so effectively in a videoconference. This spring, the CLT and Office of Accessibility provided a guide to accessibility during remote instruction that contains more details. We recommend referencing that page as well as the following.
Champlain College, in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), requires that you promptly meet the specific accessibility needs of students with accommodations. You are not entitled to know what a student’s disability is, and you may not ask them, but you are entitled to confirmation from the College (via an accommodation letter) of the appropriate accommodations. Considerations to ensure basic accessibility include the following:
- Students who use screen-readers must be accommodated with screen-reader-accessible versions of all written class materials. The Library may be able to assist with finding accessible PDFs or, in some cases, audiobooks. Scanned PDFs must be converted; contact the Office of Accessibility for assistance.
- Students who need text captions must be accommodated with captions on all videos and transcripts of all audio materials.
- Automatic captioning may be insufficient; check any auto-captioned videos (e.g., YouTube) for accuracy. See the Office of Accessibility for assistance.
- Use Google Meet rather than Zoom for live sessions; Meet has automatic live captioning that is at least somewhat accurate. The option to turn captions on is private to the user and may benefit students who do not have accommodations as well.
- Students who are entitled to extra time on tests must still receive that extra time if tests are delivered remotely. Instructions on providing extra time for quizzes and tests administered through Canvas are available here.
- Students may have other accommodations not listed here.
Students with accessibility needs should communicate with the Office of Accessibility directly. According to Associate Director of Accessibility Services Erin Ferrara, as of 4/27:
Students with a documented disability who require assistance or academic accommodations should contact the Office of Accessibility to discuss eligibility. The Office of Accessibility staff are available to meet with students via Google Hangouts through the phone or video function. Meetings are by appointment only, so please contact the Office of Accessibility as soon as possible to discuss accommodations. They can be reached by email (email@example.com) or phone – (802) 865-5764.
Whenever possible, faculty should strive to make their courses accessible by default, often referred to as Universal Design for Learning. That would include ensuring all videos have captions, audios have transcripts, PDFs are screenreader-accessible, referenced websites are accessible (check here), documents are high-contrast, image descriptions are available, information is available in multiple formats, and the like. The University of Washington’s DO-IT (Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking, and Technology) Center has produced a list of twenty ways you can make your courses more accessible, available as text and as a video.
Sensitivity to Student Circumstances
One of the challenges of flex-hybrid is that student circumstances may vary widely. Students have less access to campus facilities, may be living in unusual situations, and differing styles of contact with you may make it difficult to tell who is struggling. As we learned this spring, students who are not studying in the “normal” college context–residential living, full campus facilities and resources, etc–may experience housing and food insecurity, additional work or family responsibilities, being forced back into the closet, technological inequity, and enormous stress. Many of these things will continue to be true, although the reopening of campus may mitigate some of them for some students.
Here are some recommended options to consider as you design your course and policies:
- Survey your students at the beginning of the term, asking if they have access to the technologies they need, potential work schedule concerns, challenges that prevent them from coming to campus, or other issues related to COVID-19 or the flex-hybrid format that they want to disclose. Surveying all students sets a tone of caring for all rather than asking those who are struggling to single themselves out by contacting you.
- Consider allowing cameras to be off in synchronous sessions. More students than usual may be living in difficult circumstances they do not want their classmates to see.
- Consider adding a syllabus statement about self-care, mutual aid, and counseling services. You might include information about resources available through the Counseling Center at Champlain and the Crisis Text Line (anyone can text HOME to 741741 to be connected to a crisis counselor and referrals to services). Also consider adding information about services assisting people with food insecurity and domestic violence.
Racial Injustice, COVID-19, and Trauma in 2020
The COVID-19 pandemic that has led to flex-hybrid learning is not separate from other issues of equity and injustice that affect our students, especially Black students and students of color. We can expect that the emotional and structural effects of COVID and the early-summer clashes over the murders of Black citizens by police will continue to resonate into the fall, and students most affected by them may be without the usual support systems they have at Champlain. While Champlain provides resources for students of color, women, and trans and non-binary people, we do not currently know how those services will be offered in fall 2020.
Whenever appropriate, curriculum can and should address structural racism head-on. The DEI Faculty Training includes content on confronting racism without tokenizing students of color (i.e., asking them to “represent” all members of their identity groups). The Peace & Justice Center, located here in Burlington, has excellent resources on racial justice projects in Vermont that can support place-based and service learning projects. A crowdsourced list of anti-racism educational resources is available here. A further resource on scaffolding activities and readings/viewings for anti-racist education, compiled by Anna Stamborski, Nikki Zimmermann, and Bailie Gregory of Princeton Divinity School, is available here. In addition, this article describes how to design your course and syllabus to further social justice.
This is an ideal moment to think about DEI in relation to your content and course structure. We are already adapting or redesigning courses, and the skyrocketing national attention to racial injustice serves as a call to think about whose voices are heard (and not heard) in our classrooms. This guide to Critical Analysis of a Curricular Unit can help you think through ways to make your curriculum more diverse, equitable, and just, regardless of your subject area. The guide was created by teacher Jess Lifshitz, and we thank Dr. Elaine Young for bringing it to our attention.
This summer, Dr. Kim Quinn will convene a webinar series on trauma and resilience that may help you understand and navigate the realities of living through COVID-19 and racism. The series will meet Wednesdays, 4-4:30pm, from July 8 to August 5.
More to come!