Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss anecdotal information on how the Fall 2020 term is going for students in particular. In a word, disappointing. We need to hear what they are saying and focus on the reality of current courses.


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly



Phil: Welcome to COVID Transitions, where we discuss higher education as we adapt to the COVID pandemic and what it actually means to colleges and universities today. I’m here again with Kevin Kelly and Jeanette Wiseman.

We’re going to be looking at now that we’re into the fall term, a couple of weeks for the semester-based schools and about to start for most of the quarter-based schools, were already getting firsthand reports back from the field, if you will.

This is a little bit different. We created a page on the MindWires site to capture student surveys because we think it’s important to get student input on what’s happening here. Instead of taking a survey approach, it seems more appropriate to hear some more firsthand stories and attempt to get some empathy for what people are going through. Students, faculty, and also support staff.

There’s a series [00:01:00] of resources that have been valuable, certainly to us, that we’d like to discuss. The EdSurge, they have a podcast series that is doing student diaries. They call it Pandemic Campus Diaries, where they’re talking to faculty and students, and they’re giving audio diaries of what’s actually happening in the classroom. Kevin has a colleague who started the Scholarly Teacher and that has some student essays that we’d like to discuss. From the support staff side, the TopCast podcast that comes out of the University of Central Florida with Kelvin Thompson and Tom Cavanagh, that had a fascinating episode recently looking at messaging and what they’re having to go through to communicate to internal and external stakeholders.

What we wanted to talk about today is what are we actually hearing from people on what classes [00:02:00] and life is like this fall during the pandemic. Welcome, Kevin and Jeanette. It’s great to have you guys, as always. Kevin, to get started. I hope you’re enjoying the blue skies that we’re finally having in California.

Kevin: I won’t sing the song, but I am enjoying this.

Phil: After weeks of smoke from the fires, it’s actually nice to have normal type of weather. Jeanette, how are things in New Mexico for you?

Jeanette: They’re fantastic. I just picked up my bushel of freshly roasted green chiles from Lemitar, which is an even better place to go than Hatch. My entire house smells wonderful. Looking forward to chile peeling later today.

Kevin: I am green with envy.

Jeanette: Yes, it’s the house smells amazing right now, so really excited for that.

Phil: Yeah. The fall is the best time. When I used to live in Albuquerque, my favorite time there was [00:03:00] the fall. Unfortunately, you guys won’t to have the balloon fiesta and some of the normal activities, but still it’s a great time of year.

Jeanette: There’s nothing like fall in New Mexico, that’s for sure.

Kevin: Just as a side note, we had turkey burgers last night that I made with Anaheim Chiles from our garden. Now you’ve got me really jealous that you have a house filled with the chile smell.

Jeanette: Yeah, it’s pretty incredible. This chile that we have from Lemitar has a much higher sugar content that it makes everything sticky, which I know people don’t think of that with chiles. It’s amazing. 

Kevin: It sounds like you should be making alcohol from them. 

Jeanette: The people do. It’s kind of gross. There’s definitely a few brewpubs here just for the out of towners, I think make green chili beer. I don’t know who is drinking that, that’s like heartburn city. We avoid that stuff.

Phil: Turning to the topic of the day, but it’s really going to be [00:04:00] the topic of the next few months, what’s actually happening in colleges and universities. You guys have been doing some of the research on the resources that we mentioned, and by the way, we’ll list those in the show notes on the podcast so people can link to them and hopefully subscribe to the podcast EdSurge and TopCast as well. What are your initial impressions based on what you guys have been seeing over the past week, listening to students, faculty and staff?

Kevin: Disappointment.

If I can, I’d like to add another. The South Phoenix Oral History Project from South Mountain Community College is another series of podcasts, and they’ve been going since mid-March, documenting student perspectives, faculty perspectives and staff perspectives around what it’s like to be going through the educational experience during a COVID era. Shout out to South Phoenix Oral History Project.

I definitely was disappointed [00:05:00]. The very first person they spoke with on the latest EdSurge episode was from San Francisco State University, where I teach, and she said her teachers were not really understanding the life that she has with two kids, both of whom need attention while she’s trying to do her studies. With a campus that’s as dedicated to social justice and equity as San Francisco State, to have instructors who haven’t gotten prepared for the emotional and social sides of the academic experience over distance. It just means we have work left to do.

Phil: Just on that one, that was Marjorie at San Francisco State. It struck me part of what she was describing, not just not being tolerant of her, but I also heard a lot of isolation. She didn’t have good [00:06:00] ways to connect and get support and encouragement from peers due to this.

Kevin: Right.

Jeanette: I think that disappointment is a good word. I think that across the board, we’re realizing now, compared to the spring, that this is going to be a marathon, not a sprint. I think that some of the disappointment and just sadness of missing out, especially missing out fall. Is there anything better than being on campus in the fall?

I don’t know. I think that’s amazing, no matter where you are. That’s not happening. The excitement of starting classes up, the new learning, that’s all sort of been tapered down. At least there’s a lot of students feeling like this is what we have to do and getting through it. Just having to really acknowledge from the student side, from the instructor side, and then I think depending on your age, the parent [00:07:00] side, that these experiences that you were hoping to have in higher education or even the K-12 experiences, you’re not having them. It’s disappointing.

Kevin: Also in that EdSurge episode, they had students who were going back to campus and expressed surprise that their instructors weren’t joining them in the classroom. They’re watching a Zoom lecture while being present, physically distanced apart from one another. One of the students they talked to did a kind of an informal poll with some of their friends. Three out of four were saying, if I had known it was going to be like this, I wouldn’t have come back to campus. To your very point, Jeanette, that the students have been telling us in these surveys over the last six months that they’re craving connection with their classmates, with instructors, and what do we give them? We give them come to a room and it’ll be a little bit like a movie theater, but not with any popcorn. [00:08:00]

Phil: Ironically, we just saw some friends late yesterday afternoon and their daughter, they just sent her off to go to New York City, to a university. Several weeks in, she’s had enough. This is not what she was looking for.

Jeanette: Was she a freshman?

Phil: Yes. Freshman. She’s looking to either transfer or just change what she’s going to do. It sort of echoes what you guys are describing. It’s just this disappointment. I knew that we would have the pandemic and I knew some of the risks that were involved, but I wasn’t expecting such isolation. I wasn’t expecting to sit here and only know my two or three roommates. Also the disappointment of how the school are supporting kids from a lifestyle, from the food that’s being delivered to dorms, from how they handle quarantine, et cetera. You add to [00:09:00] that the case that you mentioned, Kevin, at Purdue where you walked in and it was just a TA who had set up a Zoom watching session in there. The student even said there was more interactivity for the students who chose to do this online because they could do chat and breakout groups, whereas the students who were in the classroom, they even had it worse off than the students who were online. It just seemed like a lot of disappointment or reality is hitting in so many different ways.

Kevin: We should send that instructor the notes on HyFlex course design so they can create an equivalent experience for every student.

Phil: Yes. The first thing that hit me besides the isolation the students are feeling and the demotivation because of it, and that gets to student life well beyond just the classroom, but to focus on teaching and learning, which is more of our sweet spot of what we cover. The reality [00:10:00] is, and it’s anecdotal, this is not a survey or quantitative study, but everybody is talking about Zoom being the predominant medium that people are working through. The reality in so many cases, despite everyone’s intentions, is that what class means is Zoom or something similar to Zoom.

There was even Elena, from the EdSurge podcast, they were talking about how her teachers specifically were trying to replicate the in-person experience in Zoom. She was saying even down to the point of instead of using a white board application to write things down, they were doing it by hand and using a camera specifically so that we can try to duplicate the in-person experience. That, to me, is just such a problem that the dominant [00:11:00] mode is trying to duplicate in-person through synchronous Zoom usage. No matter how much we’ve talked about that being a very poor strategy, I think we have to admit that’s what’s happening.

Kevin: If you heard the University of Central Florida TopCast episode, they were talking about trying to help parents distinguish between remote emergency teaching and learning and online teaching and learning, when the parents and the students just think this is an online experience. I go on the Web and there’s something happening there.

The fact that they’re still trying to make that distinction speaks to the concept that you brought up, that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Something we all recognized in previous podcast episodes that you can’t make the leap from a fully face to face instructor to a fully online instructor with an emergency situation and six months of preparation. Faculty members devoted more [00:12:00] time than ever to professional development over the summer and tried really hard to get it ready. It’s not like they have years of experience doing this. That said, the fact that there aren’t more asynchronous activities, there aren’t more things to engage students, no matter where the students are located, that’s where some of that disappointment I felt at the beginning of this episode comes from, the fact that we haven’t done a much better job than we did in the spring.

Phil: One thing I want to add, if you go to the Scholarly Teacher website and there’s a post by a student at a community college talking about features of online teaching that support my learning. And this is again, it’s just an anecdote, but it should give us empathy to hear them. It’s right. It’s describing asynchronous activities and saying what helps me hands down the most helpful tools, a hosted help forum. You have weekly recap videos, you can post things. And then the second thing is [00:13:00] flexibility, accessing course content. And the quote is “the flexibility of choosing where and when I access content and complete coursework allows me greater control over the environment around me.” So this isn’t rocket science. We already know it, but we need to hear it as a community. That that’s that’s my concern is, I agree that there’s a marathon and we can’t expect faculty to change overnight and a course designed to completely change. But what I’m seeing missing is the empathy to look at what students in particular are going through and saying this is the reality. We need to hear what students are going through. And if it’s a marathon, we talk too much about the possibility of the quality of integrated design, online learning being so much better than emergency remote. And I 100 percent agree with that. But we need to face the reality of what students and parents [00:14:00] and teachers are going through.

Kevin: And it’s not an all or nothing proposition. Right. So if you’re familiar with I forget the name of his book, Tom Tobin wrote a book about Universal Design for Learning. And they had this plus one mentality where just pick one thing and try that for this next semester. So pick one way that you’re going to provide materials and an asynchronous fashion or pick one type of activity that’s going to help students feel more engaged.

Maybe it’s with Zoom. I just heard that over the weekend that Zoom is going to add in a new feature where students can join breakout rooms on their side instead of having to be assigned them from the host. So, you know, they’re hopefully there will be some ways where we can weave this together and have a gradual transition to play off the name of our podcast instead of this abrupt transition of like, OK, in a year’s time, we’ll get it right and by then we’ll be back in the classroom.

Phil: I would definitely agree with that. So [00:15:00] as people look at this, part of the reason I wanted to highlight these other podcast is for the empathy’s thing up standpoint. Listen to what people are actually going through. Let’s try to understand where their pain points are, but also see where there are these little wins. And we need to make changes soon. I mean, and not, you know, not going from zero to one.

But as you were saying, Kevin, we need to have within the courses and even outside of courses some changes happening this fall. And it’s going to have a big impact on student retention, in my opinion.

And the thing I guess that’s frustrating to me is just how many of these lessons we already know about, but we’re just not seeing them widely adopted or at least not getting adopted more widely as I would have hoped for this fall.

So Jeanette, to put you on the spot -are [00:16:00] you disappointed are you surprised in the things that you’re hearing from the students or from other sources? I know you have a lot of good contacts.

Jeanette: You know what, I don’t think surprise is the right word. You know why is because I think that, like we were talking about, there just wasn’t the planning. Everybody was sort of playing the game of chicken, I think, over the summer, rather than going like, you know what, let’s just plan for it instead. And if we can’t go back to the classroom, that’s going to be our default. But right now, starting in April, start planning for fall, that you’re going to be your courses are going to be online.

And here are the concepts that you need to understand and you just have to do it. That didn’t happen. So that’s again, disappointing. Hindsight is 20/20, right? So that that we can go back and say people should have been doing this. I think everybody there was like some wishful hopeful thinking that everything was going to be better for the fall, even though I think we all knew probably it wasn’t going to be. [00:17:00]

I know we were hoping it would be. That’s where it’s just again, it’s disappointing because we didn’t see that.

I will say that, you know, again, to prop up New Mexico a little bit, I think that there were really science backed decisions that were being made by the state. And in fact, the state was just featured in Scientific American because of how it was not political. It wasn’t economics, it was just science. And the scientists were leading the decisions being made in the state. And because of that our COVID numbers stayed really low. And both in the K-12 or just the Department of Ed here at the state pretty much made those decisions fairly early on that there likely weren’t going to allow people to go back. And I do think that that’s been reflected in the things that I’ve seen here personally, just with my students in public schools and my friends that are professors at the university. The enrollment has been [00:18:00] up then compared to, I don’t know that officially from the UNM data, but I do know from my friends that are teaching all of their classes, their intro classes have more students than them now than they did last fall as Zoom classes. So I feel like we’re doing a pretty good job. You hear the disappointment for the lack of tradition – not being on class, but you don’t necessarily hear the disappointment from the lack of learning. So I do think that things were handled a little bit better here. So those are my experiences just directly. I just feel like now things have got to be better planned out, and our instructors and the administration helping to have that happen across the country and globally. And I don’t I don’t know if that’s what’s happening. I think it’s still become it’s pretty fragmented on how people are working.

Phil: I would certainly agree about the planning and about how too few schools or states [00:19:00] or what have you seriously started doing this planning back in April when they should have been. And that’s a major factor. I think there’s another factor, which is higher education’s resistance to have minimum standards, if you will. And I know that’s a dangerous concept, but I’ll give you a personal one. My youngest daughter, she’s a senior at a Jesuit university. And it turns out that one that Kevin Kelly has some firsthand experience working with faculty development with them. Actually to tell the story without using the school’s name, Kevin, describe, could you just sort of describe the development and the categorization of courses that you were saying that? I wanted to describe what we’re seeing it from a student perspective.

Kevin: Sure. If you mean preparing faculty to teach online, over the summer, we did some workshops for faculty to help them teach summer courses. So it was a pretty fast turn.

Around in [00:20:00] late spring and the differentiation was if faculty were to complete this training related to how they could conduct asynchronous activities online, then their course would have a designation that would allow students to know that there were asynchronous elements compared to the type of class that Jeanette has been describing, where it’s primarily a synchronous reproduction or facsimile of a classroom experience. And so they would have a different designation and the and the course catalog so that students would know what their experience would be and could make decisions based on if they’re an essential worker and can’t be at a specific time and place on Zoom, then, you know, they might aim for those asynchronous courses.

Phil: So looking at it, and my understanding from talking to you, was the fact that, all right, for your course to be designated this way, which implies [00:21:00] a set of training and quality standards, not not formal quality, but there is sort of you’ve gone through the training aspect. 

Kevin: And they also had their course reviewed with an instructional designer or a better said, a peer instructor who had been doing it for years and years. So it wasn’t just, hey, I’ve participated in this training, but I’ve also redesigned my course respectively.

Phil: So knowing that that’s happened, you know, my reaction just hearing that would be that’s really good effort to push things along to try to enforce some level of minimum quality. The course review process from a student perspective, what my daughter saw is through the rostering system, you do see if it’s fully synchronous or not. But there’s no communication to students that what this means for certain categories is that teachers [00:22:00] have gone through training and that there has been peer or instructional review of the course. So the implied quality.

She has a course, at least one course this term that’s fully synchronous. All she knew about it was the synchronous aspect, not the not the quality aspects. But so that means that she’s got one course where it is up to the faculty, they chose to do it fully synchronous. Every session, just like face to face. Well, this is a school that has students in Asia who are now from home being having to log in at 2 a.m. to watch. Of course, she’s got a friend who’s down in L.A. who lives in a small house with siblings that share share a computer. And they have no choice but to work within the synchronous environment. And to me, I guess it’s as a parent is I, I get the [00:23:00] frustration, because you look at it and you can talk all you want about faculty development. What we’re living in reality includes experiences like this where it comes across like I’m just not willing to deal with changes to my course or changes to what the educational experience is. And it’s very frustrating. And I think that we miss that frustration a lot because our natural tendency is to say, well, it doesn’t have to be that way. But the fact is it is that way in way too many cases.

Kevin: Yeah. And I don’t know if we can identify all the reasons behind the decisions. Some of them might be just pure I want to keep doing what I’ve been doing and some of it may be technological hesitations or just lack of readiness on the part of the instructor. So I don’t want to take away from the fact that other factors may play a role in those decisions. I do want to point out that that same university [00:24:00] that you’re talking about, I also got to work with them on one of the few student facing preparedness efforts where they created a course to help students get ready for a virtual experience in the fall and leveraged a number of student voices.

Over 20 students were involved in creating this course. And so I felt that along the lines of the podcasts and the essays that we’ve been describing as part of this episode, we’re producing the fact that they made an effort to have near peer coaching where students talked about what their fall, their spring experience was like, gave advice about how to prepare for the fall directly to their classmates and colleagues. That that was exciting.

Phil: I’m not trying to assign blame. I guess I’m trying to call out the viewpoint that we need to have, we need to be careful about talking too much about, hey, we’re doing these things, we’re not quite sure what happened, [00:25:00] and there were good intentions. And we need to do a little bit more of saying, let’s look at it through student eyes, and it gives us a harsher view a lot of times. And that’s what I like about the EdSurge podcast. It’s unvarnished. We’re saying this is what I’m experiencing. So I’m not trying to blame any one person or any one group, but I think it’s so important that we actually start, particularly this fall, seeing what are students experiencing in reality and how can we have that Plus one mentality that you mentioned? What are the things that we should be fixing, not even waiting until the end of the term? Let’s start addressing these pain points now. Make as many improvements as we can.

Jeanette: You know, and to follow up on that, I think that people, again, very patient and understanding in the spring. I think probably less so now. But still, there were things that we didn’t know as spring rolls around spring 2021 And some of these things haven’t been [00:26:00] figured out, and things aren’t moving more smoothly and things are still primarily online. There’s no more excuses at some level. You know, people really need to be on the ball. And I think that’s not so much not necessarily administration or staff and faculty, but the administration needs to really step up at this point and start requiring things and training. And I know that there’s so much being put on them in terms of budget and just a lot of pressure. But if it doesn’t happen, I just I don’t see students staying with a lot of these universities. The return on investment is just too low. And you start looking at those schools that really have been able to move online effectively and looking at their pricing and is if you’re going to be online anyway, where are you going to go to that’s going to give you the best education for that medium?

Kevin: Well, and if you saw the Educause quick poll that was released yesterday or today, the campuses, the stuff on campuses that made their decision [00:27:00] as early as May had a much higher feeling that their campus was prepared for fall then. And it’s a linear path. If you look at May, June, July and August and every month, the level of preparedness goes down. And so, to your point, Jeanette, we already know the Cal State University system, the L.A. County Community College District, both have decided to be virtual in the spring. And so, you know, they’re going to have that extra amount of time to be preparing now, even though they’re both already virtual now, they can hopefully get instructors to the point where students are telling EdSurge, my instructor was really giving me grief that I hadn’t done X, Y or Z. Hopefully those students will be saying, I’m so glad that my instructors understand my life experience and what I’m going through.

Phil: Yeah, hopefully we’ll have more like [00:28:00] the story saying, hey, these are the things that are helping me the most in my course from them, from the Scholarly Teacher. I don’t know how they and how your colleague picked the student for that essay, but I hope that we see a lot more of those types of stories. Hey, here’s the plus one activity that really changed things and they added it in October. And boy, I wish I’d done it from the beginning, but this helped me out. So I agree. I hope we see a lot more of that.

Jeanette: I don’t know how much this has been discussed. I don’t think we’ve discussed it. But I there’s another piece of this that I wonder is from the student perspective and also from the instructor perspective, say things go back to normal, whatever that’s going to look like, how much education was lost, do you think, in  what could maybe three semesters, where the students really take those classes. They got a grade and they’re moving on. [00:29:00] But do you think we’re going to see ripple effects both from the K-12 space, just say seniors that are moving into the college situation, when we’re setting or maybe they didn’t get their writing in classes because of how it was set up and people, instructors and teachers were being really compassionate.

What I’m wondering what the ripple effects are going to look like for just the level of knowledge that’s being transferred at this point. Is that a bigger question?

Kevin: It is. And it speaks to what I encourage online instructors to do, which is to address the bell curve of readiness for your particular course, never mind readiness for online learning. And so that you have these sets of resources, let’s say a science instructor has links to Khan Academy videos that might supplement or provide a different way to learn a fundamental topic that you’re going to need in order to build in the following course or on the other end of the spectrum, you have a folder if you want to learn more. Here’s some interesting articles [00:30:00] that are things that you can use to get a deeper dive, but you’re you’re talking about something that’s critical. And I know K-12 parents have been talking about it over the summer, that they don’t know that their students, their children are going to be prepared for the level of work that they’re going to have in this fall because they missed so much school. And if the parents weren’t able to, because of work circumstances or anything else, help those students kind of catch up or do whatever activities they could to stay at grade level, then you’re going to have a lot of extra work to do to accommodate the needs of students who just aren’t ready for the level of work they’re going to be asked to do.

Jeanette: Yeah, I agree. Yeah, we see that. I think in the K-12 space, I have a daughter who’s taking Spanish and pretty much the Spanish instruction has amounted to Duolingo. So that’s it. Pretty much. And a very non compassionate teacher. So that’s like the one maybe downside that [00:31:00] we’ve seen. But what we have the resources to do it. So now we’re going to be hiring a Spanish teacher so that she makes sure that she doesn’t get behind when she does have to take that eventually in college. But we have the resources to do that. And I just feel like there’s other parents. And in the K-12 space, certainly what their students going into college, they’re not going to have that. And I feel like those students are going to really struggle.

Phil: We’ll find a lot more examples like this where we can make improvements and actually advance the field overall. But in the meantime, is really trying to emphasize how important it is to hear students in particular and what their experiences are. And so I’m thinking we should create a page just like we did with the student surveys over the summer. We should create a persistent page on the MindWires site that captures so many of these firsthand diaries and essays and stories and just make them more easily accessible for people who do want to hear what’s [00:32:00] happening.

Kevin: And we can redirect people back to some of the blog posts that I put together around those surveys were recommending that we talk to students, not talk about students diving into the social, listening with the campus sonar and other tools like that.

But yeah, I would say let’s either expand the existing page or create another one to capture that qualitative data as well as the quantitative data.

Phil: Well, I don’t know if I was able to duplicate Jeanette’s passion from the MindWires Musings episode earlier this week, but certainly it was fascinating listening to these stories. But as you guys said, very disappointing. And we really need to face reality. It’s time for the higher ed community to to take the next step and really listen to what’s happening and deal with it. But it’s great talking to you, too. And we will keep looking at these examples and create some resources that hopefully will help as people are doing the same thing. [00:33:00]

Kevin: See ya.

Jeanette: Thanks.

Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss the issue of equitable outcomes and whether or not higher ed is prepared to support all student groups this fall.


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly


Phil: Welcome to COVID Transitions, where we discuss the changes that higher education is going through and reaction to the COVID pandemic. I’m Phil Hill, and I’m here again with Kevin Kelly and Jeanette Wiseman. So it’s great to talk to you guys again.

Kevin: Hey there,

Jeanette: Hey Phil. 

Phil: Just a little bit of a personal note. It sounds like we’re doing some socially distant vacationing next week, or at least doing as much of a vacation as we can handle. Kevin, tell me what you’ll be up to next week.

Kevin: Well, because I prefer a physical distancing to social distancing, Daphne and I will be going to Yosemite, and we’ll be doing some camping far away from people and closer to bears, Pumas and other things that don’t wear masks, and you want to stay six feet away from.

Phil: Yes, that’s true. And Jeanette?

Jeanette: Yeah, so we’re going [00:01:00] up to the northern part of New Mexico, Navajo Lake, it’s right on the border and we’re renting a houseboat, which I’ve never done.

So we’ll see how that goes. Almost camping.

Phil: Up on the northern part of New Mexico. Is that the U.S. border? I used to get that a lot when I lived in New Mexico.

Jeanette: Yes, it is the US border between Colorado and New Mexico. Yes.

Phil: Well, as for us, we finally have accepted reality that we’re not making it to my oldest daughter’s graduation in Paris in September. We just canceled that trip officially. At least we had a month of pretending like there was a little bit of real life, and doing planning, picking places to stay and things to do. I think it was a charade, but we finally canceled that. We’re going to try to find a different place where we can just hole up in a house and with a pool and wake up at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. to watch a Zoom graduation. That’s not next week, but that’s our vacation [00:02:00] plans.

Kevin: Well, get some French food to bring.

Jeanette: Lots of French wine.

Phil: What wine is appropriate at 4:00 a.m.? Is that a white or red or a rosé?

Kevin: I’d go with the Margaux, but champagne is a French appellation that you could go with as well.

Phil: I think that’s socially acceptable.

Kevin: Especially if you add orange juice.

Phil: Last week we talked about accessibility and how it was a ticking time bomb – that as schools transition dealing with COVID, that accessibility concerns were going to become more prominent in the fall. It’s based on things we know how to do in higher education. As we rushed things online and as we deal with budget cuts, a lot of it’s getting getting overlooked. It was a caution about what might happen in the fall.

This week, we want to talk about a companion issue, which is about achievement gaps. We’ve [00:03:00] long had achievement gaps in higher education between online and face to face. Specifically, we want to talk about different demographic groups. First generation students, ethnic minorities, various groups where for several years people have been focusing on we need to pay attention to what achievement gaps are. In the very least, make sure that they’re not getting worse due to digital learning. Obviously, we’d like to reduce the gaps.

There’s been a lot of effort for online learning, face to face and hybrid as well as a system. We’re learning what works and what doesn’t work. The caution this week that we want to talk about is how much of this effort we’ve been doing around reducing achievement gaps might get thrown out the window and might come to bite us in the fall because we’re over looking it.

The [00:04:00] two things I would posit that is a concern of mine, first of all, you have budget cuts. You’re talking about things that are not as easy to quantify. They’re susceptible to all the budget cuts that schools are going through. Are they keeping their support staff? Are they funding any of the programs they’ve already put into place? The second reason is because there’s been such a mass migration to emergency remote teaching. Quite a few schools and a growing number of schools are going fully online for the fall that are not typically there. Do they even have the support structures in place to implement the programs that we’ve already seen, increasing the success to reduce achievement gaps?

I’ll start out with saying this is a big concern of mine. As awful as I think that people aren’t talking about it enough and where it’s really going to raise its head and become a problem for schools [00:05:00] in the fall, not just as an embarrassment. It’s something that should be worked on, but it also could impact state funding, accreditation. It could impact other issues that target schools, trying to make sure that they are improving these areas. That’s my hypothesis, that we have a real problem that’s going to become much bigger in the fall. I’d like to start out with saying, do you guys share the same concern? Jeanette, what are your initial thoughts?

Jeanette: Absolutely. I think that a lot of things are being overlooked. Again, I think people are doing the best they can with what they have been given. There’s been a lot of things written about how, especially lower income and first generation students are struggling with housing and food security. That leads then to things like if they are going online, if they have a place in their home to to study. [00:06:00] Do they have a computer or do they have Internet access?

All of that is things that are much more controllable on a campus and students are able to get the services they need.

Now, I think there’s a couple of things going on. A lot of these students, because they are on scholarship, if they decide to take a gap year, because their online learning experience in the spring wasn’t what they needed. They may lose that financial aid or the scholarships. They’re almost required to move forward without the services. I think all of those things need to be taken in consideration. In the long term, effects are not only not having a community in a population that’s better educated, but also for those individual schools.

There’s real enrollment risk here as well moving forward beyond when we get out of the COVID issues. Those are all things that I’ve been thinking quite a bit about, actually.

Phil: Well, as long as we’re negative, Kevin, what do you worry about? Do you [00:07:00] share the same concerns?

Kevin: I share the concerns, but maybe not the negative outlook because Angry Kevin is somewhere else today. I’ll start with the nomenclature.

Right now, groups I’m working with are changing “achievement gap” to “education debt” to recognize that students aren’t necessarily responsible for the gaps. It’s embedded in how we talk about and work toward these equity improvements, we need to consider that there are institutional barriers. There are different aspects of what we do as instructors. As Jeanette was bringing up, the student services side of the house and making sure that equity is kind of embedded in supporting students, even outside the course experience.

The other thing I want to bring up is while mainstream media like Inside Higher Ed haven’t talked about equity for maybe a month and a half, small efforts are being made locally. [00:08:00] For instance, Des Moines Area Community College made universal design for learning and equity the theme of their annual summer conference, which was virtual this year. Kevin Gannon from Grandview University and I gave the keynote addresses. What was really nice to see was that this was a continuation of a year long arc dedicated to diversity, equity and inclusion. While we may not be seeing the mainstream media in higher ed focusing on the equity challenges as fall looms over us like a haboob down there in Arizona and New Mexico. That’s a mile high cloud of dust of equity challenges. I think there are efforts out there and I’ll talk about more of those as we go through this particular chat.

Phil: I’ll take a step back, I do think that there has been discussion in education circles in the media about equity in [00:09:00] terms of Internet access, having a computer, having a quiet place, particularly for synchronous video conferencing. I do think that’s gotten the discussion, and hopefully people are dealing with that. I think it goes deeper than that. To think that even if you talk about it, it’s a challenge.

One of my favorite visits when we were doing e-Literate TV years ago was when I visited Northern Arizona University, and they had a somewhat unique position being a research university with up to 40 percent of incoming students were first generation students. What they were discovering is they had to address that if they were going to deal with retention, student success, and they had invested in several programs to deal with this. I wouldn’t say all of it, but most of it happens outside the classroom. It got into the [00:10:00] emotional support and encouragement for students who don’t necessarily have family members who can say, ‘hey, I went through the same challenges you went through when I was in the situation.’ Instead they would match them up with peers who were one year ahead of them. That would provide a lot of the mentoring. They invested a lot of their advising systems so that whatever level of support they’re getting from the university, people understood them, who they were, and could target their support and be proactive to help them out.

These types of programs are expensive. Part of my concern is what’s happening with the budget cuts. Are we seeing cuts to the very support programs that actually have been improving the results in these different areas?

Kevin: That’s tough to say.

I mean, looking at listserv comments and things like that, I’ve been encouraged to see, and I made a blog mention of this, that different [00:11:00] campuses are looking for new ways to incorporate students into their workflow so that they’re able to address the needs of students.

I know we’ve brought up first generation students and students from disproportionately impacted ethnicity groups like LatinX, Hispanic students or black African-American students. We aren’t able to track progress for many of these groups other than gender. That doesn’t even take into account non-binary students, which the HEDS consortium found was negatively impacted in the spring. I think having an attention to it is one thing, but knowing how to help each distinct group is another. You brought up some great examples with respect to first generation students, what we call a hidden curriculum and making sure that we’re clearly stipulating all of the aspects of anything we’re asking students to do, including the why and not just the what and how. The support for students of student services, [00:12:00] like mentoring programs or things like that, are going to be critical.

Phil: Jeanette, do you have much of a sense on are we going backwards in support? Are you seeing things about budget cuts and that might impact other schools, even have the resources or can support people making these programs or any kind of insight you have on this?

Jeanette: No, I haven’t seen a lot of insight. I think the budgets are still being worked on. Right now, it seems to me, at least what we’re seeing collectively within the job or what I’m hearing from other professors and instructors that I know, are that the budgets are so in flux because of the lack of clarity around what is going to be provided at the federal level right now. I feel like that’s making things really kind of just muddy about what they can cut and what they can’t cut and people [00:13:00] just trying to do the best they can. I was just thinking while Kevin was talking about this, we also have to keep in mind a lot of these communities are also the ones that were hit the hardest with COVID. Not only are they dealing with just educational issues, but they’re also dealing with serious health issues or people in the family that are not doing well. School is always sort of a safe place for a lot of these places in terms of housing and even jobs on the campus and also food. Those things have been taken away from these students, not only the services, but how are they going to manage next fall?

I think the positive side, and it’s not necessarily achievement gap of what I’m hoping will have just really long lasting effects that could be really positive for the higher ed system in general. Because of COVID that ACT’s and SAT’s have been canceled and [00:14:00] so a lot of these students that were not able to get ahead because their testing scores weren’t where they’re supposed to be, that it looks like admissions have maybe changed so that it’s not necessarily about the test. More students that were kind of falling into these places, are now looked at more for ability and achievement rather than one test score.

Phil: The focus where there is a bigger risk is more on the retention side than on the admissions side?

Jeanette: I think so. Right now it seems like if people think a lot of looking at those admissions was always really skewed.

I think we saw that especially last year with all of the admissions scandals that were happening. Things were happening that if you were a student of means or you came from a wealthy family, then you were going to schools based on that.

To me, it seems like if admissions changes, for [00:15:00] the long term, because of COVID, that’s only going to be better for students overall in my mind.

Phil: You guys are both telling me I should be more optimistic about the fall, or at least I’m hearing the message that there’s potential upside on this. Let’s also talk about the subject of if you look at online programs, online schools, they’re aware of this issue and there has been a lot of effort, in my opinion, over the years on how to support a greater variety of students, partially because there was a recognition that students who went into online programs often were quite different from an ethnic background, from an age background, from a situation of being working adults and having other life responsibilities to balance. There has been this general sense that we have to think of our students differently and support them where they are. That’s already happened.  [00:16:00]Now what we’re dealing with are students who have not chosen to be in an online program, but they’re getting put into an online program at least. Definitely for the spring, but increasingly for the fall. I think there’s sort of a first time situation where it’s not just let’s support the students, but what about all the students where this was not their chosen modality? Do we even understand what we need to do to support them adequately?

Kevin: Working with different community colleges in California, the spring 2020 statistics showed that in courses that began the semester as online courses, students continued to improve with their success rates compared to the previous year, whereas the traditional courses that were forced into emergency remote teaching and learning circumstances were [00:17:00] anywhere between five and 10 points lower than the previous year in terms of number of students who pass those classes. What’s interesting that you’re pointing out is how are we addressing the needs not of the online courses that have been set up to be online, but those that have probably going to have to revert to online again after campuses feel like they could have open, but now can’t. That article in Inside Higher Ed that we saw this week, will virtual learning be better this fall? Will it be better enough? That quote I really liked and there was from Jose Bohane, there has never been this kind of investment and pedagogy in American higher education in my lifetime.

It’s something that we all talked about in the last podcast, that there is this increase in uptake of faculty members trying to improve their teaching. I do think that statistic we saw in spring 2020 may not be as bad as it was in spring 2020. I don’t think it’ll rebound to the normal rates [00:18:00] that traditional classroom experience will generate.

Phil: On balance, though, and I don’t think we have statistics here, but one of the observations I made from NAU, for example, is the fact that so much of what they and other schools have put in place, that is helped them with students who have challenges, first generation, students of lower economic means, is support outside of the classroom. What you’re describing is classroom support and improvement. There’s got to be a balance there. I don’t know that there’s a simple answer, but how much of the challenge is met inside versus outside of the classroom?

Kevin: Well, that points to what I’ve been telling folks they should try, which is take some student, work student money and convert it to create online learning mentors.

People who have taken five or more online classes should be recruited [00:19:00] to be mentors to students who are new to online learning, have only taken one or zero and be their buddies alongside them outside the course experience, but providing guidance. Working with one university to create near peer coaching videos by students for students that are a little bit like that Texas A&M video that a student talked about working at home and how to set up your space. Even that, the students I’m working with right now said that type of video needs to be more transparent and show that it can be challenging. You can’t just show how easy it is to set up a space. When some students are faced with sharing a room with two other people and may not have a quiet place to study, may not have good Internet, may not have a device, all those things.

Phil: I like that idea, especially because it’s raising the subject of how much of the opportunity for improvement, but also the need for support and encouragement. Ideas [00:20:00] should come student to student from their peers, and school, setting it up to enable that to happen, but the power of using peer support.

Jeanette: Kevin, how difficult do you think setting up a program like that is?

Kevin: The example I’ve been giving is the one at LaGuardia Community College. They have what’s called the student tech mentors, which before COVID was a group of around 50 students that were helping not only other students with the coursework that required technology, but also helping the instructors who needed help using the technology for teaching. That has been in place for a number of years. I do it in my own class and in the beginning of a semester, I ask every student in our in-person meet ups how many online courses have you taken? If they say five or more than I asked them offline, would you mind being a mentor and watching the discussion [00:21:00] forum and helping students who look like they’re new? I capture the names of the students who haven’t taken an online course before, and I try to pair them up if they’re both willing.

If I can do that as an individual instructor, I can imagine that somebody from an academic technology unit could find ways or maybe the head of student undergraduate dean or something like that would be able to put together some kind of survey and create a structured way to provide matching between veteran online learners and new online learners.

Phil: So part of it is just the awareness for faculty and course designers, but mostly faculty of that this is a big opportunity in a big issue experience and these types of courses and the opportunity to turn them into mentors and how powerful that idea could be. It’s really an awareness or it’s not solely an awareness, but awareness is such a huge part of [00:22:00] this opportunity moving forward.

Kevin: Along the lines of awareness, I’ve talked about the South Phoenix Oral History Project as a podcast that includes students and now they’ve been including blog posts. I think they’re over 40 blog posts by students about learning during COVID and these podcast interviews as well. Just today, they launched a campaign that they’re going to donate 10 dollars to a fund that supports underserved college students for every subscriber or people that follow them on iTunes or Spotify. At least in August, they’re going to give that money to the Maricopa Emergency Grant Fund. Those are the types of things that are outside the course and in some cases outside an institution that’s just an instructor who took it upon herself to start helping students in her area. I just I love to see that kind of effort.

Phil: So part of the issue, it raises a question how [00:23:00] do we know? Do we even have adequate information to tell us how things are going once we get into the fall? We’ve worked and we’ve mentioned several times that California community college system and they’re doing a much better job with their data. You can actually look up and look based on ethnicity. You can look at first generation and you can break down data based on these various demographics. Unfortunately, most of it is purely based on course success. Doesn’t do as good of a job of tracing not just how do you do in this class, but how does this impact you and your subsequent classes? Still, there’s quite a good system here. How many systems or schools have that type of data, not just in their systems, but available for people to explore and figure out if how the achievement gaps are progressing, particularly [00:24:00] as we get into this big unknown fall situation? I don’t know, again, that there’s a simple answer, but that’s one of the questions I have is do we even have that information available?

Kevin: Can we trust the data? Because working with different community colleges at the individual level, the data for first generation students is a field that’s not filled in for 60 percent of the population.

Then your data is really not accurate. You have yes, no and don’t know. The don’t know outweighs both the yeses in the noes. Age, gender, that doesn’t count for non binary students, and ethnicity are really the three demographic factors that you can track. Student information systems right now with a reliable sense of we have data on most of the students, but things like status as a veteran, status as a foster youth, all those different factors. Students with disabilities sometimes don’t report [00:25:00] it, all those different aspects of students, we know we need to be helping more because of all the surveys and reports from the students themselves, it’s really tough to tell.

Phil: It’s going to be interesting to see in the fall. I guess these two issues are the accessibility and achievement gaps or how did you phrase it again?

Alternate education debt.

Education debt. I tend to be more negative right now or I’m worried about it quite a bit. Yes, I do see the opportunities as well and the increased focus and the changes to admissions.

Certainly we’re seeing signs of opportunity in these areas. I also, personally, think that we’re going to have a little bit of a rude awakening in the fall once we get a little bit more data or information on this. It’s certainly something that we need to be watching for because logically, there’s [00:26:00] higher risk in these areas.

Kevin: If we can look at, let’s say, just the attendance at the Black Minds Matter series that was put on by the center of organizational responsibility and advancement, they repeated, it was so popular. When I tried to log into the first session, it said all 2500 people have already logged in. You’re going to have to watch the recording on YouTube.

If there’s that much interest in supporting students of color in online courses with this Black Minds Matter series led by Doctors Wood and Ford, then we know that there’s a craving for it. It’s just are there are enough offerings and is it going to be done where faculty can actually make changes to their courses in time for the fall? You bring up really good points that this is something to think about and make sure we’re attending to. I guess we need to balance my sunny optimism with the reality that not everybody’s working on it or aware [00:27:00] of it.

Phil: I hope I’m a little bit too pessimistic on this for what happens. I will just reiterate the point that we also have this unknown situation of different groups being thrown into a modality they didn’t choose. Do we even understand all the impacts there? Yes, there’s a lot of opportunity, but this is a topic along with accessibility that I think we need to pay a lot of attention to in the fall to see what’s happening, to see what we can learn, and to see if we’re taking advantage of opportunities to make improvements in these areas.

It’s great talking to you guys and look forward to our discussion next week.

Although, Jeanette, I’m not sure. Will you be back in time for a discussion next week?

Jeanette: I think so. We’ll keep them guessing so that I think I will.

Phil: Ok, well, great talking to you guys and enjoy your vacations next week.

Kevin: Yes, you too.

Logo for MindWires COVID Transitions podcast

In this episode, Phil Hill, Jeanette Wiseman, and Kevin Kelly discuss the issue of accessibility for emergency remote teaching and online education. Are we making problems worse for the fall?


  • Phil Hill
  • Jeanette Wiseman
  • Kevin Kelly


Phil: Hello. Welcome to another episode of COVID Transitions. I’m Phil Hill, and I’m here again with Kevin Kelly and Jeanette Wiseman. This week, what we wanted to talk about is the subject of accessibility. Accessibility for students to online learning environments, particularly given the transition, the remote transition of teaching the spring and leading into the fall and try to tease this out about what’s really happening. Do we have a problem here?

I had mentioned in a previous podcast that there’s a ticking time bomb of accessibility that’s not being addressed. If we go back to early April, there was an article that set a good context. It was at Inside Higher Ed, titled Accessibility Suffers during a Pandemic. It essentially said, quote, “And the quick shift by colleges from in-person to online instruction in response to the coronavirus pandemic. [00:01:00] The needs of students with disabilities can sometimes be overlooked.” It quotes an accessibility coordinator for Iowa State University saying, “Wiley said although some faculty members may have discussed digital accessibility in the past, they may not be aware of the importance of insuring it for all students and may not understand that it goes beyond making special accommodations for individual students that specifically request it.”

It really is talking about another quote or somebody saying what we worry about now is that in the rush to move everything online in light of COVID-19, universities are paying even less attention to whether it’s accessible or not. That’s the point that we wanted to focus on. Are we actually falling backwards in terms of accessibility because it’s always a challenge, but are things getting worse?

If we jump ahead to some of the surveys that we’ve been looking at, we certainly [00:02:00] saw in the Every Learner Everywhere, Time for Class report, where Tyton Partners had put this out. They talked a lot about how we need to ensure accessibility for all students. It’s showing that faculty are saying, we understand this needs to happen, but it’s not necessarily that it is happening. If you jump to the CHLOE report from Quality Matters and Eduventures, they essentially are saying little was spent on accessibility needs.

There was one chart where they were asking schools, when you did investments for the remote teaching, where did you spend that money? Accessibility accommodations across the whole gamut, only five percent of online officers reported that they invested in accessibility due to the increased need [00:03:00] for this subject. That’s really where we are or what the survey data and some of the analysis is telling us is that we have an issue that’s becoming a bigger problem because of this transition to remote learning.

Let’s start out with discussing a little bit more why is this happening. Faculty are saying, hey, we’re aware we need to do accessibility, but there are indications it’s not happening. So why is that?

Kevin: I think you talked about the quote, little attention’s being paid. I think it’s partly because there’s attention deficit disorder going on right now at an organizational level where they cannot focus on so many things at once. We need to think about ways to support institutions, individual faculty, the people who support faculty and students to make [00:04:00] this rise to the top so that it does get the attention it deserves.

When you’re thinking about the different aspects of accessibility for students and for faculty who may need accommodations as well, there are just quite a range of topics to consider. There’s captioning for videos, there’s accessibility accommodations in documents you upload to the learning management system. There are considerations on how you structure your course for students with different learning disabilities and many more.

Paying attention to all that while you’re in the middle of a crisis, trying to put a course online that was completely face to face, I think we missed the mark because it was an overload for those instructors who couldn’t focus on all of those things at once.

Phil: Ok, and Jeanette, give me some of your thoughts about why we are in this situation or why this is becoming an even bigger [00:05:00] challenge on properly providing environments that are accessible by all students.

Jeanette: I agree with Kevin. I think there’s ADD happening right now for good reason. I think that it was always a difficult thing to do for a majority of instructors, especially ones who maybe are directly affected by someone either that they love with a disability or that disability themselves. They don’t understand the implications of what it means to not have their course be accessible. It just takes more work. I think that everything we’ve seen is these people that do apply accessible and universal design techniques to their courses, that it benefits all learners, but it’s time consuming.

Phil: I would add to this, besides the overload, there’s also the nature of all the teachers that you’re talking about that haven’t taught online in particular. [00:06:00] I think there was likely a lack of appreciation of how much effort has already been applied to try to improve accessibility and accommodation for sight or hearing or various disabilities. Now that the faculty are thrust into it, it’s not just that it’s overwhelming. I question whether they really understood how much hard work was already happening in the community. That’s part of the problem as people say, well, I had no idea. You mean we have to do this, this and this? I didn’t even know that or I didn’t think about that very much.

Now, there’s a silver lining to the cloud, if that’s accurate, which is there could be a broader emphasis on increased accessibility because of the pandemic now, that could even potentially last after we get to whatever the new normal is. I think there are various reasons on the human level why [00:07:00] this is happening.

I would also argue that there are some technical reasons as well or pedagogical, is there’s such a predominant migration to synchronous video. Zoom U is the oversimplified but description of what’s happened. Well, once you go synchronous and live video, that’s actually quite difficult to handle. You can’t do alternative formats very easily. About the best that you can do is live transcriptions. If you look at Zoom, which is the most popular thing, you have to have it, enable it. But even there, Zoom hasn’t figured out all of the nuances of accessibility, such as enabling it for breakout rooms. It’s only recently you’ve been able to do live transcription. I don’t want to pick too much on Zoom, but I think part of the reason that we’re in this trouble is because of what became the default shift for so many people during remote transitions.

Kevin: Well, [00:08:00] I’d agree with that. I’d go a step further and say that automatic captioning or a transcription service that Zoom provides is usually not up to the standards that accessibility requires. If you have a student with a hearing disability in your class, then they would require a live captioning or an American sign language translator to be present. Then that student could pin the video of the translators so that they’re able to see that person signing the lecture. But you’re right that the technology hasn’t caught up with some of the demands that this puts on the infrastructure and the instructor.

Phil: If you get into where I’ve seen the most emphasis and higher education accessibility, at least from a technical standpoint, Blackboard Ally is the tool that’s most frequently [00:09:00] used to address the accessibility. That’s really set up for asynchronous pedagogical tools, detecting which files and which web pages, and what has accessibility issues and how to fix them. What they were really pushing at the Blackboard World conference this week, the ability to create alternative formats to documents. That sort of relies on the fact that you’re not just doing a live video conference class. I think that we’ve talked about the need for more emphasis on asynchronous elements of pedagogical, if not that being the default, but part of the reason is accessibility as well.

Kevin: I would say that equity needs to be a higher priority than the legal aspects of this conversation. The fact that we need to level the playing field so that every student has no barriers between them and the [00:10:00] learning should be the way we’re looking at this. There are groups out there right now that are providing guidance. The Association on Higher Education and Disability, the National Center for College Students with Disabilities, they’re all putting out different guides for the students themselves and for campuses and instructors. They’re important to know about.

Phil: From what we’re seeing, is the view that I describe from Inside Higher Ed, that was written back in April during the middle of the transition or right near the end of the initial transition, is it still an issue now that we’re into late July? Do we see this being a ticking time bomb for fall? I don’t know that we have a clear answer. 

Do these surveys indicate no, we’re not doing enough and this is really going to be a problem? Both, if you look at it in legal terms, from a Department of Justice setting up schools for lawsuits based on what’s happening in the fall or [00:11:00] as you’ve described, getting into equity.

Well, that gets into are students really able to succeed, which could show up in retention and student success numbers. Just based on what we’re seeing right now, what do you two think is going to happen in the fall? Do you think that we are going to have a growing problem that’s going to be more apparent both legally and equity based?

Jeanette: I do. I think that the spring, people were understanding of the transition that had to be made. At this point, students, instructors and institutions have been given the summer to figure this out. I think the schools that were best case scenario and thought everything could go back to normal are going to be the ones that are going to be caught flat footed at this point because they didn’t do the preparation that was needed. I think that’s across the board.

If you’re a student that needed those courses [00:12:00] to be online, needs to be accessible, or if you’re a student that had equity issues and your school didn’t provide that for you, they’re not going to be able to succeed and that’s not going to be their fault. I think that they are going to see a lot of issues come up.

Phil: Kevin, we’ve mentioned this before, but I think you have a unique role in how many faculty workshops and how involved you’ve been in the professional development of faculty across multiple schools. Are you seeing this as a well-known topic? Do you see any signs that people understand what needs to be done? What’s your view from the professional development trenches, if you will?

Kevin: Yeah, at San Francisco State, when I was in my role as an academic technology manager, we had the whole system wide initiative around accessible technology. They had three different components, procurement [00:13:00] and instructional materials and one more. The instructional materials aspect, we were training faculty how to make their documents accessible, their files. They’re also thinking about what’s beyond the technological to reducing those barriers for students that Jeanette brought up earlier and the professional development aspects, it’s woven into a lot of different tools.

The CVC, OEI, the California Virtual Campus Online Education Initiative, has a course design rubric for people putting their courses online and one of the four main sections, at least until 2018. I know they just revised a couple of months ago. One of the four core sections in that rubric was accessibility. They are making it so that people are aware of the need to make their courses accessible in a lot of different ways.

Phil: It’s almost part of [00:14:00] what I’m hearing, what I’m seeing also is we don’t need to reinvent the wheel in the situation we’re in right now. We’ve always needed improvements in accessibility and equity, but we’re in a situation where we don’t need new solutions per say.

What we need is broad adoptions of the solutions and the teaching practices that we already know about. This is not just a technology. It’s a practice adoption challenge that we face right now. Let’s at least apply the things that we already know about as opposed to how we’ve got a new problem and need to come up with a completely new solution. Does that sound right to you, too?

Kevin: It does. Even if you’re looking at articles like the June 17th article and campus technology where they said COVID-19 intensifies the need to tackle digital accessibility. That’s more recent than when we were in the thick [00:15:00] of it in the spring. They referenced landmark settlement with Harvard University and the National Association of the Deaf. They’re bringing to the forefront the concept that moving a ton of content and live activities into a virtual space requires more consideration for those people who need additional support or us to think about the barriers we may be putting in front of them.

Phil: I know that we prefer not to look at this purely as a legalistic method. I have to say in the area of accessibility, it’s taken DOJ lawsuits to wake a lot of schools up to the issues that they face. It’s certainly not what I would wish would be the preferred method happening. I’ve seen that actual legalistic lawsuits have been the trigger pre-pandemic to take this more seriously. Is that what’s [00:16:00] going to happen in the fall? Part of the challenge is does it need to be legalistic to push people forward, or is there enough emphasis right now to take care of it outside of legalistic concerns?

Kevin: Yeah, like I said before, it would be better if we looked at this through an equity lens than a legal lens, because that’s focusing on the students and not covering our ass.

The truth of the matter is, and it’s not just higher ed, Target had a big lawsuit because their online shopping cart wasn’t accessible. There’s a lot of different businesses that have to think about how the virtual experience needs to change to allow everyone to participate.

Jeanette: I think that we, of course, don’t want the legal aspect to happen, but I think it’s a really important tool for students and for consumers to be able to use when their needs aren’t being met.

Phil: Yeah.  [00:17:00]Well, let’s talk some specifics. Particularly for if you’re a faculty who’s new to teaching remotely or online or hybrid or just for people who aren’t fully versed in it, what needs to happen? In other words, what are the key things that instructors or course designers can do to make sure that courses are accessible?

Kevin, what are some of the things that you’ve seen in professional development or the rubric that are the starting place?

Kevin: Jeanette brought up universal design for learning, so providing multiple pathways to consume instructional materials and resources and videos to participate in instructional activities to assess your learning, either for your own purposes or for a grade. All of those need to be viewed as the more options we provide for students, the more accessibility accommodations [00:18:00] we’re making by default. As Jeanette brought up, that takes time because you’re doing multiple versions of different things.

The other thing is just to do a quick self check. If I were a student with visual impairment, would I be able to get all the information from this complex diagram? If not, do I have to create an audio recording of myself describing that diagram as if I were talking to a friend over the phone who couldn’t see it so that way that person is getting the same amount of information.

When I talk about it’s not just technological practices, it’s pedagogical practices. That includes knowing that some of the students are going to be watching a recorded version of something. Talking about where you are within the presentation here on slide two, I want to bring your attention to X or I’m going to ask you to press pause, go do something and come back. You’re creating audio versions of what people with sight would be able [00:19:00] to tell by looking at the screen. You need to make sure that information gets conveyed in multiple ways.

Phil: I would also add in, the ability for students to interact even as the recording is asynchronous video. If you’re not watching or doing something live synchronous, how do you engage and have a discussion? As an example, Jeanette and I both attended the virtual LMS conferences this week. One of the things I noticed for the sessions where I chose to do it on demand, after the fact, is the chat windows. While obviously I can’t participate in the chat windows because I’m watching it on demand, but the software did not do a good job of synching up the previous chat window along with the video itself. There’s an issue of the discussions as well. Is there an option [00:20:00] for students to have a meaningful engagement that they might have been able to do live?

Kevin: Well, that’s what HyFlex instructors are faced with, too, right? You have this live experience where people are either in the room or on Zoom or some other video conference solution. Then how do you engage those asynchronous students and equivalent activities that may not be the same? For that example you just gave, Phil, having the chat stream synchronized with the time code of the video is goos, but it puts students with vision impairments at a disadvantage because the screen reader can only focus on one thing at a time. They can’t hear the speaker and the chat being read to them simultaneously because it’s like trying to pick up conversations in a crowded cafe, once we get to have those again.

Jeanette: SKevin, are there any solutions to that?

Kevin: It’s all in [00:21:00] the preplanning. The article I wrote for Phil on EdTech about hybrid flexible course design, I thought through some ideas of what a 50 minute or a 75 minute course might look like. You have to be conscious of the fact that some of these people are going to be asynchronous. You have to create an equivalent activity. You might take that chat text and dump it into a discussion forum after cleaning it up and creating a summary version. Instead of having to read through an hour’s worth of chat, which some might be “great to see you online, Jeanette.” Instead, hey, these are the themes that emerge. These were the top questions. Here were the answers. Now add yours and then bring it up t the end of the session. Say, for those of you who are watching the recording, be sure to go to this discussion and we’re going to pick up the conversation where we left off. I’ll be sure to summarize all the key points. We want you to add your questions and comments to the discussion. You just [00:22:00] have to plan it ahead. You have to create a run of show that includes multiple channels of participation.

Jeanette: When you’re designing those courses,to me, it seems like people who’ve gone through educational training and pedagogical training know that there are sometimes these templates that you create with learning objectives and then what the activities are. Is there something similar for people that are designing HyFlex courses that it’s almost a grid, you are identifying the key elements that need to be captured for the different types of audiences?

Kevin: I don’t know if you’re throwing a softball for me to hit, but as part of that article I referenced, I did create a Google doc that’s open to the public that has columns for if you’re in the classroom, if you’re on video conference or if you’re asynchronous and it basically says what the instructor does, what the students do in each situation, how they wrap it up, [00:23:00] how they’re tied together.

It’s just meant to be a set of ideas for people to consider. How would I incorporate a poll activity in multiple channels of participation? How would I do think-pair-share and how much time would it take? It’s going to take longer than it might if I were just doing it with an in class group of students because I have to walk over and set up the breakout rooms in Zoom and I have to do all these extra tasks. You have to say maybe that means I’m going to record some of my lectures in advance and flip the classroom so we have more time for activities that are going to take longer. How do we do that in a room where people have to be six feet apart?

How do you do a think-pair-share when you’re shouting at your student neighbor who’s three seats away in the stadium seating fixed chairs? There’s a lot of things to think about. Accessibility is just one of those things that because there’s so much to consider, it hasn’t been on the list, but it has to be.

Phil: It’s difficult, but the planning aspect. This [00:24:00] can be done, but it takes some planning. Clearly, we didn’t have time in the spring for the vast majority of courses to have that type of planning. For the fall, this gets to Jeanette’s point, expectations are going to be different. We should have had time to make significant improvements in these issues and planning out activities for the various modalities. It’s going to be fascinating. Hopefully in a good way, but possibly in a cringeworthy way, once we get into September and October and we see actual results to find out just how much did do the teaching practices get improved in this area? I’ll have to say it’s not easy.

We’re not teaching courses here, but with the podcast, we go through a transcription and we provide full transcriptions. We use Sonix.AI. It does quite a good job of transcribing. However, every [00:25:00] episode I have to go back in and change things like it never understands LMS or even COVID, which is sort of funny that the software providers haven’t figured out that’s a key word these days. The grammar on adding commas and making the spoken word sound more structured in a transcription, it takes extra work. When we first started doing it, it was sort of fun for me because I was learning quite a bit about what it’s actually like and how much has to be changed. For a 30 minute episode, I would say that the transcription is automated. I just upload it. It takes about 15 minutes, but then it probably takes me 30 to 45 minutes to correct each transcription before it posts.

If you’re teaching now, the question is, are we asking the faculty members to do that type of work or should there be academic technology [00:26:00] support staff who do that for them? Just that one example, it really points out the resource needs to do this holistically, if you will. That’s got to be a challenge in the budget times, especially.

Kevin: You brought up the word I was about to bring up, because there are certain services. I know the California community college system has a limited budget for instructors who have students with hearing impairments to have their lectures captioned for an online course. I forget if it’s 3C media, it’s one of the groups that the system has a contract with. 

Kevin: When you put almost every course online and you have to consider the needs of where the students are and which courses get the transcription dollars, then you’re not making it so that every course is transcribed. You’re only thinking about the ones with students this semester that need that particular [00:27:00] accommodation. We definitely need to start following the chancellor’s statement that we can’t let COVID get in the way of learning equity. It means they might be putting some dollars behind that weren’t there before.

Phil: To wrap this up in a negative view, this gets back to why I called it a ticking time bomb. What I’m nervous about is if you go back to the CHLOE report, if it’s representative and accurate, they’re describing that only five percent of schools really invested more to deal with accessibility issues. You just gave one specific example of it, investing in a service that can do the transcription. We’re not seeing that investment.

That’s what makes me nervous. Maybe that fits back into what we’ve used a couple of times on this podcast, “Entering Darkness.” I think we’re going to see a lot of issues come up in September and October that are going to be quite stark [00:28:00] and how badly we’ve adapted for accessibility and equity. I’m hoping that since we know a lot of the potential solutions, that it will act as a way to spur schools and even instructors and course designers on to fix things and make that investment in time and effort to improve in this area. I hope I’m wrong, but that’s where we need to watch for what happens in the fall.

It’s going to be a different set of expectations. It’s an important topic to start looking at more seriously.

Kevin: Maybe we call this “exiting darkness”, planning for the fall.

Phil: Well, that’s the optimistic view. I hope you’re right. I expect this is something that we’re going to talk more about because it’s a subject that needs to be explored more thoroughly. If we’re right if some of these subjects are going to become very stark very soon, we need to understand them and what schools [00:29:00] could do.

It’s great talking to you guys. Sorry for ending on a negative note, but that’s what we’re looking at right now.