Teaching for sustainability and accessibility beyond the next academic year

It’s 8am in the old world. 60 miles away, a student paces the train platform, anxiously waiting for their delayed train. 45 minutes by train then 30 minutes by bus. 9am lecture, 1 hour, nothing else on the timetable today. No chance of being on time, what’s the point? 50 miles away, another student gets into their taxi. £50 per trip to campus for an accessible taxi, £50 to attend a single 9 o’clock lecture in an otherwise empty day, plans to study at home for the rest of the day anyway because there’s never enough adjustable height desks on campus. 30 miles away a student waits outside their sports centre, waiting for their team mates and the bus to take them 150 miles away to a rugby match. Never makes the lecture on a Wednesday when there’s a game on. 1 mile away, a student sits down to breakfast in the university canteen, regretting the night before and contemplating crawling back into bed. 1 hour later and a lecturer shows up to deliver a 9 o’clock lecture with less than 50% attendance.

It’s 8am in the new world. The commuter student and the student with a disability stay at home and join the class using video conferencing software. They’ve both watched the introduction screencast and tried the first problem but they have questions. There’s no point coming onto campus for a single 1-hour lecture. The rugby player catches up the next day using the lecture capture, grateful for the discussion board with posts that answer some of their questions and the chance to ask their own. The student that regretted the late night has another late night catching up on their classes, but all-nighters are their thing. The lecturer delivers a 9 o’clock lecture with less than 50% physical attendance, and another 30% participating online synchronously. It’s OK though, because this year’s freshers’ flu requires 14 days of self-isolation. At least the students can participate virtually, and can catch up later if required.

How do we plan for our new normal in a way that is both accessible for all types of students, and environmentally sustainable?

I like the idea of being able to deliver sessions in hybrid manner, with students attending physically and through online means synchronously, and some catching up later as suits their circumstances. Yes, things like engagement become much harder to measure, and the student experience becomes substantially more variable, but also infinitely more tailored to an individual students needs. The questions I have about doing this relate more to finding good technology, sound pedagogy to tailor the hybrid approach, and how to ensure and encourage engagement in a reasonably timely manner. This kind of flexibility seems really necessary right now, but flexibility is challenging when it comes into contact with inflexible objects such as deadlines. I’m planning to do some reading up on blended learning approaches.

Should we have sustainability and accessibility at the heart of our planning for the 2020/21 academic year? Yes. And those practices should be developed with the goal of continuing them beyond the current crisis.

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