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

Accessibility and Inclusion Online

As announced on March 18, 2022, the Institute will return fully to in-person instruction by Monday, April 4, 2022. Resources for remote and online teaching are provided on this site if Caltech must shift to remote instruction in the future.

Outside of special emergency permissions granted during the pandemic, Caltech's accreditation is limited to in-person instruction.

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

Survey your students

  • Students may access 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, time zones 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 are meeting by Zoom, try to log on a few minutes early, greet students and chat with them as they arrive. Encourage students to use the chat box to send messages to the class, you, or your TAs. Encouraging 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 may be unsure 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. Ideally each announcement and/or 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

  • If meeting online, use features such as Zoom polling to engage students, whether about logistics or about conceptual understanding; in person, quick polls can be set up and links shared using a variety of tools (e.g., Microsoft forms, Google forms, or simple shared documents). 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 administered 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.

Use closed captioning and transcription features.

Ensure that you type 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. It also provides a log for you afterwards in case there's a question that you want to follow-up on.

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

Conversations on Inclusive Teaching:

In addition, you are welcome to tune into this short series supporting Caltech faculty and instructors to implement and enhance inclusive and equitable practices in their teaching. Each conversation offers a short overview of a few key inclusive teaching topics or practices, with a brief overview of evidence and examples of use, and then prompts participants to adapt and apply them in Caltech classes.