Chapter 14.10: Academic support - Online teaching and learning

14.10.1. From face-to-face to online teaching

  • There has been a shift from face-to-face to online teaching in universities due to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. The shift from face-to-face to online teaching may bring about challenges to all university members. However, it is also an opportunity for instructors to design accessible course materials and carry out classes in accessible ways from the beginning.
  • The underlying principles and recommended accessibility practices mentioned in previous Chapters are equally applicable to online teaching and learning.
    • Ensure all staff and students have equal access to shared teaching and learning materials through the online platforms.
    • Ensure all students have equal opportunities to meaningfully engage in online classes including any pre-class, in-class, and after-class activities.

14.10.2. Roles of the University

  • The University should specify accessibility requirements in the procurement for online teaching and learning platforms wherever possible at the outset.
  • The University should do their best to ensure university staff and students have sufficient technical resources (both hardware and software) on campus and at home that can support online teaching and learning, e.g. stable Internet access.
    • For example, the University may prepare some lecture halls and teaching rooms for course instructors who need them for recording lectures and/or conducting livestreaming classes.
    • The University may also consider providing data card for Internet access and offering notebook computers for students who lack technical resources to borrow for use at home.
  • The University should provide information and multiple channels of enquiry contact regarding the accessibility arrangement of the online teaching and learning in the university webpage of “online teaching and learning resource hub”, or other resource packs of the similar purposes.

14.10.3. Roles of the Office of Accessibility Service

  • The Office of Accessibility Service and the Information Technology Office can give advice on the accessibility consideration for online teaching and learning platforms to inform the selection of appropriate tools by the course instructors.
  • The Accessibility Service Coordinators can proactively contact students with disabilities. Review the individual set of accessibility accommodation plan with the students with disabilities concerned and make any necessary adjustments in response to the shift to online teaching.
    • For example, for those students with disabilities who require notetakers and sign language interpreters in face-to-face classes, how to engage their notetakers and sign language interpreters in the online classes together with the students with disabilities concerned?
  • The Accessibility Service Coordinators can conduct a system walk-through of the online teaching and learning platforms with staff/students with disabilities and other staff concerned. Try out different functions of the platforms and identify any potential barriers as early as possible. Work out possible solutions together.

14.10.4. Before class - What course instructors should do

  • Ask about the availability of stable Internet connection and computer at students’ home.
    • Do not assume every student has access to stable and fast Internet connection and computer cameras for livestreaming.
    • Some students might even need to return to campus for computer and Internet access.
  • Decide whether pre-recording or livestreaming or both will be used to deliver the class. Prepare for backup plans when livestreaming fails.
  • Ask about any accessibility requests from the students regarding online teaching and learning.
    • Work out reasonable accommodations with students encountering barriers in certain functions of the online platforms.
    • Seek advice from the Information Technology Office and Office of Accessibility Service if needed.
  • Conduct a trial run using the online platforms with the whole class.
    • Brief the whole class about technical tips of the online platforms.
    • Set clear rules to help students understand and facilitate the flow of the recording or livestreaming, such as when to speak or mute themselves.
    • Make sure every student understands the technical tips and the ground rules clearly.
    • Try all the functions of the online platforms with the class such as the video and audio control, chat-box, screen-sharing, and interactive tools like whiteboards and polling functions. Note that the polling function might not be accessible to screen readers.
    • Gather students’ feedback and any suggested practices along with the course instructor’s own reflection. Modify the teaching materials and/or online teaching plan accordingly.
  • Prepare accessible course materials. Refer to Chapter 5.4 Web and multimedia accessibility and Chapter 14.1 Library services.
  • Provide caption and/or transcript of the pre-recorded videos. It not only helps deaf and hard-of-hearing students but also students who encounter unstable Internet connection and/or poor video quality.
  • If possible, upload the course materials certain days prior to class time.
    • Facilitates students to read before and/or during the class.
    • Helps students follow and orient themselves during class.
    • Allows time for some students with disabilities to convert the materials into required alternative formats for accessibility.

14.10.5. During class - What course instructors and students should do

  • Course instructors let students know about the planned duration of the livestreamed lecture in advance. If possible, include some breaks in between the livestreamed lecture.
    • Some people may experience discomfort after prolonged exposure to the computer screen.
    • Some students with attention deficit / hyperactive disorder, autistic spectrum disorder, and/or learning difficulties may experience difficulty of concentrating on the computer screen for a long time due to distraction by environmental settings and/or their emotional states.
  • Course instructors spend a little time in greeting students and explaining the flow of class, any materials to be shared, and any demonstration to be done. It helps students to follow and orient themselves.
  • Course instructors check with students from time to time during the livestreaming to ask whether they can follow the teaching flow and class activities.
  • Regarding the use of virtual backgrounds, course instructors and students should use non-distracting backgrounds that remain unchanged and do not contain sharp colours.
  • Course instructors and students are advised to use of microphone effectively.
    • Course instructors do a sound and video quality check with the students at the beginning of the livestreaming.
    • Use standalone microphone attached to the computer to better project your voice.
    • Speak close to and in the direction of the microphone to enhance the sharpness of the speakers’ voice.
    • Mute irrelevant notification sound of other programmes whenever possible to minimize background noise and distraction as much as possible.
  • Students may be advised to mute themselves unless they are speaking to minimize background noises.
  • Introduce yourself before speaking. Repeat any questions for everyone to listen to it clearly before inviting someone to answer; or before replying to the someone’s questions.
    • It facilitates students with visual impairment and/or learning difficulties, students who encounter problems with Internet connection and/or poor video quality to understand the materials.
  • Students are encouraged to proactively notify course instructors if they cannot hear clearly during livestreaming.
  • Course instructors make the video screen of the current speaker as large as possible and more visible to the rest of class. If needed, pin the video of the speaker.
    • It helps students focus on the speaker.
    • It facilitates students who communicates by lip-reading.
    • It helps deaf and/or hard-of-hearing students refer to speakers’ nonverbal language to aid understanding of their speech.
  • Course instructors include live captioning whenever possible.
  • Course instructors include sign interpretation whenever needed.
  • Course instructors share a copy of the course materials to students for easy reference during class.
    • The content displayed in the “shared screen” window may not be readily accessible to some students with disabilities such as those using screen readers.
  • Course instructors and students verbally describe any visual content that is displayed on the online teaching platform, e.g. written text on the shared screen, chat box, and polling content. Avoid simply pointing to any parts of the materials and say “this” and “that”.
    • It facilitates students with visual impairment and/or learning difficulties, students who encounter problems with Internet connection and/or poor video quality to understand the materials.
  • Enlarge the size of the mouse cursor. Make use of the larger cursor to point to and/or highlight the main points of the slides or the parts under elaboration.
    • It facilitates students with deaf and hard-of-hearing students, students with learning difficulties, and students who encounter problems with Internet connection and/or poor audio quality to understand the class content.
  • Course instructors are advised to avoid working with multiple windows in the online platforms such as “presentation room”, “shared screen”, and “chat box” simultaneously during livestreaming class. Try to focus on a single window within the online platform at a time.
    • Students using screen readers would encounter interference due to overlapping voices from screen readers working across different windows.
    • Hard-of-hearing students may encounter difficulty of listening to the speakers when there are multiple sources of sounds at the same time.
    • Switching back and forth different windows in the online platform may require fine finger movement within short period of time. It may be a barrier to some students with mobility disabilities.
    • Some students with attention deficit / hyperactive disorder, autistic spectrum disorder, and/or learning difficulties may find it difficult to handle multiple windows and tasks while listening to the speaker simultaneously.

14.10.6. At the end of class - What course instructors should do

  • Course instructors save any content shared in the chat box during the livestreaming, such as hyperlinks and files before closing the livestreaming session.
    • Hyperlinks shared in the chat box may not be activated by screen readers.
    • Course instructors share the content with the class after the livestreaming through email and/or any other designated platform that is accessible to screen reader users.
  • Course instructors share the recording of the lecture if possible. Add subtitle to the video recording if possible.

14.10.7. Useful references