Teaching Continuity at Caltech  /  Advice & Guidance  /  Accessibility and Inclusion

Accessibility and Inclusion Online

Creating a welcoming classroom environment and making course materials accessible to all of your students are particularly important in an online environment, where students may lack interpersonal connections. Please find some strategies and resources below to create an inclusive and accessible online classroom.

Survey your students BEFORE class begins

  • Our students are joining our classes from different countries and time zones, and will be accessing your course with varying circumstances and needs. While any accommodations requests must come through CASS, we recommend reaching out to your students to assess technology access and laptop capabilities. Dr. Susanne Hall and Daniel Garcia (HSS) developed this survey template, which can be duplicated and edited for your own needs.

Create a sense of community in your classroom

  • If you hold Zoom 'lectures', try to log on a few minutes early, greet students and chat with them as they enter the classroom. Encourage students to use the chat box to send messages. Allowing students to engage often with the instructor and with others in the class has been shown in the educational research to improve student performance and sense of belonging.

Communicate frequently and often

  • Students will be unsure at first how to engage in your course, how to ask questions and what your expectations are of them. Include as much information as you can in the course syllabus and explain this on the first day of instruction. If using Canvas, post announcements on Canvas using the ‘Announcements' function and additionally send each announcement to students as an email. Ideally each email to students should have a subject line that begins with your course code, and students should be told how best to reach out to the instructor and TAs (e.g. first post question on Canvas or Piazza, then email the TA and/or instructor with the course code in the subject line).

Be clear about expectations, particularly around grading

  • In the course syllabus and on your course website, clearly state what the pass requirements are for your course and how you will accommodate special needs that might arise.

Get frequent feedback

  • Use features such as Zoom polling to engage students, whether about logistics (can everybody hear/see me?) or about conceptual understanding. Zoom breakout rooms can be used for smaller group collaboration, and instructors (and TAs) can move between breakout rooms to join in the conversation and/or clarify concepts. Consider doing short surveys during / after each class or administering pre-course and mid-course surveys. These can be done in Canvas.

Give guidelines for in-class discussions and/or engagement in online discussion forums

  • As appropriate, students may benefit from suggestions, encouragement and guidelines for engaging in online discussion forums.
  • Example language:
    • This forum is meant for all of us to benefit from the collective knowledge of your classmates and instructors. We encourage you to ask questions when you're struggling to understand a concept.
    • When posting:
      • Post early and often! Allow some time to receive a meaningful response from your peers and instructors.
      • Please post to the entire class unless you are asking questions of a personal nature (e.g. grades).
      • All posts should have a meaningful title name and include useful context. Try to avoid labels like, "Help", "Error", and "Code doesn't work."
      • Please be respectful of your peers and instructors.

Acknowledge that this is a difficult time both for your students in terms of their learning and for you in terms of teaching online

  • We are all doing the best that we can with the circumstances that we face! Students will appreciate hearing that it's difficult for instructors too, and that we're all in this together. Be patient with each other as we all navigate this new way of living, learning, teaching and technology.

Selected Resources:

8 Ways to Be More Inclusive in Your Zoom Teaching

The Human Element in Online Learning

Inclusion, Equity, and Access While Teaching Remotely

How to Make Your Teaching More Inclusive - The Chronicle of Education's Advice Guide

  • Include an accessibility statement in Canvas and on your course syllabus. An example statement can be found in the Caltech course syllabus template (also found in Canvas.
  • Use closed captioning and transcription features. One reliable, fee-based service that provides this is rev.com. When recording to the Zoom Cloud, you can also change your settings to automatically transcribe your lectures and can toggle the live transcript feature on.
  • Ensure that you repeat questions asked out loud in 'lecture' in the chat boxes as well. Students may have missed the question asked, or it may have not been audible! You might be able to ask TAs to provide logistical support in transcribing these questions.
  • Consider students' ability to engage synchronously and create opportunities for engagement asynchronously. Record your lectures (even when conducted 'live') and post for asynchronous learning. Inform students about Zoom video recording and what that means for them. Video recordings in which students' faces/videos are shown should only be posted on sites which require Caltech credentials to access.

Selected Resources:

Accessible Teaching in the Time of COVID-19

20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Online Course