Universal Online Learning

Education is becoming more digital, with options for learning spanning more than just the classroom. Online courses have made perusing an education more attainable for many sectors of society, including those with disabilities. But, designing an online course means the instructor must ensure that as many students as possible can benefit from it.

Ohio State English Ph.D. student, Jessie Male, is preparing her first online course in Disability Studies. She says she is looking at the vision of universal design to make the course work for everyone. This means not only for students with disabilities, but also for students who have work or family commitments which prevent them from studying on campus. It may also include students with anxiety issues, those taking a semester abroad, or those who prefer reading a transcript over watching a lecture video. Male is just one of many faculty members and institutions looking to make education accessible to people with disabilities and she highlights the importance she places on accommodations at the top of the 11-page syllabus, which reads, “I assume that all of us learn in different ways, and that the organization of any course will accommodate each student differently. For example, you may prefer to process information by speaking and listening, or you might prefer to articulate ideas via email or discussion board. Please talk to me as soon as you can about your individual learning needs and how this course can best accommodate them.”

The online course option still provides students a chance to participate in class discussions through discussion boards, and Male offers her students emailing and videoconferencing as alternatives to face-to-face discussions structured around her specified office hours. Male says the purpose of her course is to give students a “taste” of disability studies. And so, all the readings in her virtual class are free of charge online.

Male hopes the online course’s objectives and outcomes will remain the same despite the change of teaching style, “These objectives to me would not be successful if they could not translate over multiple platforms,” says Male. “That’s part of accessibility and universal design – that there are multiple modalities of design and learning,”

 For more information about universal online learning, click here.