Remote Learning Accommodations Guidance for Faculty

Remote teaching and learning became new territory for Dickinson this spring and will remain new for many this fall. ADS is here to support faculty in this challenging endeavor. It is important to understand that the college's responsibility to ensure accessible programs, courses, and services has not changed, as has been reinforced through communications from the Office of Civil Rights.

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 students with disabilities are even in need of accommodations or not. Please familiarize yourself with the important guidance found below. 

Syllabus Statement

Now that courses will be taught remotely, it's important that each syllabus include this current statement articulating your commitment to facilitating reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and outlining the protocols required for receiving them. Students have shared what a difference it makes to them when faculty read the statement aloud to the class. It not only reinforces your inclusive approach, it can help promote the timely use of any needed accommodations.


Accommodating Students with Disabilities

Dickinson values diverse types of learners and is committed to ensuring that each student is afforded equitable access to participate in all learning experiences. If you have (or think you may have) a learning difference or a disability – including a mental health, medical, or physical impairment – that would hinder your access to learning or demonstrating knowledge in this class, please contact Access and Disability Services (ADS).  They will confidentially explain the accommodation request process and the type of documentation that Dean and Director Marni Jones will need to determine your eligibility for reasonable accommodations. To learn more about available supports, go to www.dickinson.edu/ADS or email access@dickinson.edu

If you’ve already been granted accommodations at Dickinson, please follow the guidance at www.dickinson.edu/AccessPlan for disclosing the accommodations for which you are eligible and scheduling a meeting with me as soon as possible so that we can discuss your accommodations and finalize your Access Plan. 


Course Design

As you continue to develop and fine-tune the design of your course, we urge you to follow Marni's newly created (with faculty input) guidance document (which includes an accessibility checklist): 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 will benefit from checking out this useful set of posters presenting the accessibility DO's and DON'TS for online course materials and instruction.

Guiding Questions

In order to continue to uphold our legal compliance obligations to students with disabilities who have academic accommodations, start by asking the following:

Have I determined how I'll be recording classes and whether I'll be captioning or producing transcripts of my videos?  Click here for guidance on how to record sessions, use 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 Accommodation" 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. If you don't have Adobe downloaded to your computer, you can also quickly convert nearly any file type to an accessible format for use with text-to-speech programs by visiting SensusAccess. All file types available for conversion are listed at the bottom of the page.   

How will students share their eligibility for accommodations with me, given that we won't be on campus?  It'll be easy! We have replaced hard copy Accommodation Letters and Blue Forms with an entirely online process accessed through CLIQ. More information will be forthcoming, but you can learn more about ADS' new accommodation set-up process called the Access Plan through handy shortcut link: www.dickinson.edu/AccessPlan.

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. social anxiety, Tourette's syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, severe eczema, trichotillomania, vision impairments, 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. That said, 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.

Here's a sample camera use "encouragement" that you could use 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 timed assessments, especially those that are synchronous. 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 limited privacy, unreliable broadband, screaming siblings or needy grandparents (etc.) 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 assessment with other types of assessments, here are 14 ideas from UC Berkley's Center for Teaching and Learning: Alternatives to Traditional Testing.

If all students have indicated that they have no concerns about privacy or 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 the circumstances in students' home environments, AND that you'll need to meet ADA requirements for equitable assessments (including implementation of the accommodations 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 breaking up and allowing students to complete the exam in 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.

Setting up Moodle Exams for Students with and 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 which is captioned or transcribed. Among the reasons that's it's important for all synchronous classes to be recorded is so that, if a note-taker loses connectivity during class, you'll be able to provide the recording. 

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. 

Student Survey Feedback

After moving to remote courses in the spring, ADS surveyed students about their concerns regarding the implementation of their accommodations through distance learning. For your awareness, we compiled that feedback into a document showing some of those concerns. 

Need a laugh?

I Will Survive!

Virtual Meeting Bingo