|Component of Online Teaching||Accessibility Goal||Decisions within Instructor Control|
|Social Relationships in the Course||A supportive and welcoming online space where students are engaged, included and able to learn||How you create the conditions to encourage students to interact with you and each other in a respectful and positive manner|
Social interactions within an online course are shaped to a large extent by the communications and opportunities to connect with other students that the instructor builds in. There are many small actions that you can take to recognize and affirm students’ lived realities, model the empathy and consideration you expect your students to show you and each other, and cultivate a respectful learning environment. These efforts can collectively make a big difference to students’ experiences with online learning.
Applying the FAVE Principles to Social Relationships in the Course
Case Study: Disabled Student Responses to Pandemic-Provoked Online Learning
Accessibility – why now? Why did it take this long? Some students with disabilities may be facing complex feelings as they watch the university mediate systemic barriers in response to the global pandemic, barriers that were otherwise left unaddressed until now despite years of disabled student advocacy. As Stephen Campbell (2020) writes in this blog post,
“The idea that suddenly so many courses and modules can be taught and studied away from the campus must come as a surprise to those disabled students who either underachieved or dropped out of university precisely because this very flexibility was not available to them.” As McMaster students have shared with us, “Profs are more open to offering accommodations now that there’s a pandemic… but it shouldn’t have taken a pandemic to do this” (event hosted by MSU Maccess and the Equity and Inclusion Office, June 2020).
Shifting nature of disability identity in online environments: Another response we have heard from students is how learning online has changed the visibility or perceptivity of their disability from how it might otherwise be observed in an in-person environment. Some might experience this reduced visibility as a welcome relief from stigma and discrimination, where they have some more control over how they choose to bring their disability into the classroom (Pichette, Brumwell, & Rizk, 2020).
Others, or in other moments, may find this shifted visibility alienating, especially when disability comprises a significant aspect of their identity and sense of self. They may now have to overtly and intentionally disclose or talk about disability to increase its visibility in ways not required before – such as to explain their embodied experiences of pain, the barriers they are facing in the online environment, or the importance of disability in their thinking and analysis. Disabled educators may likewise be facing impacts of this “invisibility” in online environments.
This invisibility may also contribute to decreased awareness of and attentiveness to the constant presence of disability in online classrooms (whether or not it is visibly apparent to us). If we’re not already in a habit of considering disability, we may need to make even more intentional efforts to do so when teaching online. Hopefully these efforts will continue into our in-person classrooms as well so that we can further address our students’ many disability experiences that will never be visually or verbally disclosed to us.
Beyond making our classrooms accessible for students with disabilities, we might also consider:
- How we will demonstrate and sustain our commitments to disability inclusion beyond our present moment so that the accessibility gains provoked by the pandemic are not lost when we return to physical classrooms.
- How the online learning environment not only shifts students’ experience of studying and learning, but also potentially their sense of self, identity, social relationships, and connection to community.
Continue Your Learning
- Relaxed, socially responsive, intersectional teaching: To further consider what it might look like to respond to the complexity of students’ lived realities and different embodied experiences, check out this blog post on “Relaxed pedagogy: Relaxing teaching and learning in the university” by Kelsie Acton and Dieuwertje Dyi Huijg. The authors differentiate between “uptight pedagogy” and “relaxed pedagogy”, encouraging the latter and its challenge to the undesirable demands of ableism.
- Trauma-informed teaching: For resources specific to trauma-informed teaching and learning, review the following:
- “Trauma-informed teaching and learning online” (webinar and handout) facilitated by Dr. Johanna Báez and Matthea Marquart at the Columbia University School of Social Work;
- “Examining the intersections of equity, trauma-informed pedagogy, and student learning” facilitated by Dr. Mays Imad from the Teaching and Learning Center at Pima Community College;
- “Trauma-informed practices for postsecondary education: A guide” by Dr. Shannon Davidson, Education Northwest; and
- Dr. Megan Youmans’ (2020) academic article on the integration of trauma-informed pedagogy into remote chemistry education in response to the global pandemic.
- Disabled student experiences of remote learning during the pandemic: For emerging research on the experiences of students with disabilities during the pandemic and associated barriers in the remote learning environment, review these findings, lessons, and recommendations from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (Pichette, Brumwell, & Rizk, 2020).