Remote Learning Accommodations Guidance for Faculty

Remote teaching and learning became new territory for Dickinson in the spring of 2020, and ADS continues to support faculty in this challenging endeavor. The college's responsibility and commitment to ensure accessible programs, courses, and services in compliance with disability law under the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of Justice has not changed.

Faculty hold a crucial role in helping the college meet our legal responsibilities and knowing how to facilitate equal access and an inclusive environment for our students is paramount. Furthermore, depending on how faculty set up their courses and design their assessments can influence whether or not students with disabilities may be in need of accommodations for that course. Please familiarize yourself with the important guidance found below. 

Syllabus Statement

Whether courses are taught face-to-face or remotely, it's important that each syllabus include Dickinson's most recent syllabus statement, articulating your facilitation of reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and the protocols required for receiving them. It is further recommended that the statement be read aloud by the faculty member. Students have shared what a difference it makes to them when faculty read the statement aloud to the class, as it not only reinforces your inclusive approach, it can help promote the timely use of any needed accommodations.

Course Design

Feel confident that you've covered your bases by completing the accessibility checklist included in this guidance document: Creating Inclusive and Accessible Syllabus and Moodle Pages. You might also wish to consult this "Explore Access" Guide to Designing an Accessible Online Course, and refer to this useful set of posters presenting the accessibility DO's and DON'TS for online course materials and instruction.

Guiding Questions

To best ensure that you are upholding our legal compliance obligations to students with disabilities who have academic accommodations, start by asking the following:

Have I learned how to (and made sure that I have) enabled closed captioning and made clear to my student whether/where I'll be posting my class recordings and transcripts?  Be sure to refer to the ADS' guidance on how to record sessions, enable closed captioning, and create transcripts of class lectures and videos.

How will I handle timed assessments for students with test-taking accommodations? See the "Implementing Accommodations" section below! 

Are all online documents accessible to students who need to convert digital text to audio? Follow this "Making PDFs Accessible" guidance to ensure that all uploaded PDFs can be read by students who use screen readers. 

How will students share their eligibility for accommodations with me?  Whether classes are remote or in-person, students will use the Access Plan platform in CLIQ make arrangements with you for accommodations.For a full explanation of the process, go to:

Might the format of my class impact whether a student will need certain accommodations or not? It very well might! To be sure, when having your Access Plan conversation with each student, discuss the format of your class as it relates to each of their accommodations to ascertain whether the accommodation will be needed.

Is it okay to require that students turn on their cameras for classes? No, it's not. APSC has established as policy that "Students are encouraged to use a camera but not required to since there are reasons why using a camera can undermine a student’s learning experience." Why might having a camera on might be problematic for students with disabilities? There are a number of students with an array of diagnoses for whom this could pose an unnecessary barrier to learning (e.g. Tourette's syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, trichotillomania, vision impairments, severe social anxiety, chronic eczema, traumatic brain injury, etc.). Some (such as a student with PTSD) may be overwhelmed by feeling "on display" and continuously looked at by all their classmates, and others (such as a student with a seizure disorder) may need to avert their eyes from their screens to prevent an exacerbation of their disability. Students may have valid reasons why having their cameras on for an entire class period is problematic, but should not be expected to share why.

Beyond the very common issue of poor connectivity, one faculty member shared this article presenting additional examples of why requiring camera use could be problematic: A Reminder of Who Is Hurting By Insisting that Students Share Images of Their Personal Lives. Although we know there are valid reasons why having one's camera one might be problematic, we all know that it's preferable to be able to see your students and for them to be able to see one another during discussions. Faculty can’t require that students articulate the reason(s) why they can’t always have their cameras on, but can open the door to allowing students to share this if they'd like, but including a camera use "encouragement" statement such as the following in your syllabi: “Active participation is an important and valued expectation for this class. In order for us to have meaningful and engaging exchanges of ideas, I’d like everyone to have our Zoom cameras on during discussion-based classes, whenever possible. If you believe this will be problematic for you, I invite you to schedule a time to connect with me about it in the first week of classes."

Implementing Accommodations

Please take note of the accommodations for which each student is eligible and see the guidance below for addressing specific accommodation needs:

TEST-TAKING ACCOMMODATIONS (Extended Time, Distraction Reduced Environment, Breaks While Testing, etc.)

We strongly encourage professors who are conducting assessments at a distance to do away with synchronous timed assessments. Many students with an "extended time on tests" accommodation also have the accommodation of "testing in a distraction-reduced environment," and there's simply no way that can be guaranteed when students are accessing your class remotely and may be unable to find a private and quiet space. Assessing whether a student is able to convey information in a limited time while potentially contending with the obstacles of limited privacy, unreliable broadband, or boisterous siblings would not provide an accurate assessment of their knowledge. This Inside Higher Ed article: 5 Reasons to Stop Doing Timed Online Exams During COVID-19 should serve as a good reinforcer for this. 

Beyond the obstacle of ensuring a distraction-reduced setting during a synchronous exam, there are additional test-taking accommodations that would be very difficult to implement in a virtual setting. These include...

  • the ability for students to be able to take breaks during an exam
  • the ability to have test questions read aloud
  • the ability to obtain clarification of test questions
  • ensuring that students have a maximum of one exam or one final exam per day.

Faculty might find it valuable to read this brief Chronicle of Higher Ed article: What Do Final Exams Mean during a Pandemic? in which one solution presented is to give students choices in what their "final assessment" would be. Should you choose to replace or complement timed assessments with other types of assessments, here are 14 ideas from UC Berkley's Center for Teaching and Learning: Alternatives to Traditional Testing, as well as ways to design assessments that minimize the risks of cheating on remote exams.

If all students have indicated that they have no concerns about privacy, interruptions, or internet connectivity, and/or you deem it the ideal way for your students to demonstrate their expected skills and knowledge, then it might be appropriate to create time-limited quizzes, tests, or exams.

Given that students will be in multiple time zones and that we have no control over broadband access or the circumstances in students' home environments, AND that you'll need to meet ADA requirements for equitable assessments (i.e., implementation of the student's accommodations, including those listed above), we advise faculty who are conducting timed assessments to set them up for all students using the following guidance:

  • build in 1.5 - 2x more time for the assessment than would typically be allotted for an exam administered on campus
  • then calculate students' extended time based on that longer duration being given to all students
  • offer a broad window in which students may take the exam (e.g. 12:00 am to 11:59 pm)
  • consider allowing students to take their test in separate segments
  • devise a plan for what the protocol will be if a student loses internet connectivity during an exam (which we know that many students have reported experiencing)
  • set up the exam so that students can peruse the whole test before starting (test for yourself to ensure this is possible).

This last item will ensure that students who struggle with the timed aspect of test-taking (e.g. those with anxiety, impaired processing speed, disorders of executive functioning, etc.) can forge a plan for how to best allocate their time and determine where in the test it would be most appropriate to start, based on their skills, knowledge, and disability-related strategy needs.

To be clear, after building in time to allow for potential internet, household, and other possible disruptive issues, you will still need to implement any established extended-time accommodations.

Note for Final Exams:  Professors may still follow the above strategy of allowing a broad window in which students may take the final, but that window should encompass the time designated in the Final Exam Schedule for students without accommodations, and as calculated for students with 1.5x or 2x extended time test-taking accommodations. 

Setting up Moodle Exams for Students with an Extended Time Accommodation

Having taken into consideration the factors and guidelines presented above, this "How to Set Up Extended Time Exams in Moodle" video explains one way to schedule extended time exams in Moodle without calling attention to students with disabilities who need extended time.

Availability to Address Questions During Exams

All students should know how to reach you if there is a question (or, as it happens, a typo caught) during an exam. If you set up your exam to be taken at the time of the student’s choosing, it would be prudent to establish more than one window when you can be reached if a student has a question. This is especially necessary for students with the accommodation to have test questions and instructions clarified so they can plan to take the exam when they know you can be reached for questions.

Access to Supplemental Notes

Many students with this accommodation may find that they no longer need it for courses that provide a recording of lectures along with the transcription, but they are still eligible for the accommodation. While some may find it feasible to go back and review the recordings of every class to obtain their notes, for others, this would necessitate more screen time than would be appropriate for them due to their disability. 

Access to Tutoring and/or Writing Support

Tutoring sessions will be conducted through video conferencing, when possible. You can refer students to the Peer Tutoring or Writing Center webpages.