By creating an accessible classroom, we are building a space for all students to have opportunities for success. This interview with Johnathan Wade from the World Languages and Cultures department highlights some of the successes and challenges in working toward an accessible classroom.
Paul Keys: So today we’re here with Jonathan Wade to teachers in World Languages and Cultures. And we’re just going to talk to him a little bit about some of the things that he’s done for accessibility in his courses. Welcome, Jonathan, appreciate you doing this.
Jonathan Wade: Thank you, appreciate it, Paul.
Paul: So go ahead and tell us a little bit about what you’ve done to encourage accessibility within your courses.
Jonathan: Well, I would say there’s kind of two things going on. One, it can be ongoing effort to make a course accessible to all my students. And then I would say that as specific students have come along with unique needs, maybe even some needs that I have never faced before, working very closely with the students on an individual basis to provide the support.
And one example comes to mind is, I had a student in recent years who’s blind, and that was a first for me. And so much of what we do in terms of the textbook, evaluation, online learning platform, it’s all, it’s all visual. And so it was a process that not only can inform the way that semester began, but it never, ever ended. In fact, I had an opportunity to teach the student twice, as did one of my colleagues taught her once. And you just quickly realize all the things that maybe you take, take for granted. So for example, getting, being able to get a PDF copy of the textbook was important. But then even getting what was supposed to be an accessible copy from the publisher wasn’t enough. Sure she could have made it work, but it was still going to ask of this student so much extra. And so my goal was always okay, how do I make it so that she’s, this students not having to do any more than any other student. And I would say philosophically, right, that’s just, that’s the overall commitment.
And the thing is, as I never I always knew that there were things I still didn’t know. And so it was just constant open communication and try and not make any assumptions. But check everything I think is working in a particular way against what my students are actually experiencing. And this isn’t true only of this one student, but especially this last year using Zoom, using Brightspace. At a level I never had. I would do something thinking it was operating a certain way. But I wouldn’t know for sure until I check that my students. And so opening up the lines of communication in every way I could, whether that’s just in class, asking questions, but also creating on Brightspace, a widget that allowed students to drop anonymous feedback, feedback and my direction at anytime. I also like to do kind of six weeks in or so, of course, again, anonymous course eval, I use Google Forms and I’m asking questions about lots of things, but accessibility is one of them. Is the experience that I think I’m providing, the one that they’re actually having because it’s not, it’s not the case that, that those two always align. And so that the communication is critical.
And again, it’s back to that one student, I get what I get from the publisher. And it was better than what I had existing, but it was still far from when it needed to be. And so it was a matter of at times I’m Googling, finding our best practices and learning how to use headings. I’m using and learning how to use alternative texts. In certain cases, or it would be easy to just delete something but, and just kinda say the student doesn’t need to do that activity. But if it’s a worthwhile activity, no formatting in putting in the time to writing. I mean, some of the image descriptions that they got from the accessible document publisher were terrible. And so just think like there’s so much more going on in the sentence. The student deserves to have a chance to appreciate what’s happening in this particular scene that she’s then asked to describe. And so putting in that additional language.
And then when it came to creating quizzes and tests to, you know, just it’s funny but you realize how much and maybe in a regular document is superfluous. You just don’t need all these extra tables and spaces. And you learn simplify not only what it looks like, but how it reads. And I would say simplification was an important part of the overall my overall process. And I believe that entirely I when it comes to accessibility, I I have I hold no belief that what we start with being a semester is supposed to stay that way. Because I’ve, especially during the pandemic, when accessibility was an issue for everyone, to certain extent, believing that you don’t start with what I thought would be the best I can make it day 1. And then being continuous improvement to make sure that the course and the course tools that we use for assessment, evaluation or improving based on the feedback I’m getting from students.
Paul: And what kind of specific feedback did you get from students?
Jonathan: Well, when they know that you’re trying, and there are different ways that you communicate that. But I think it’s important to be transparent about the effort that you’re putting into it to get it right. And then when you get it wrong, it’s okay. They’re willing to tell you it’s not catastrophic and you get it, and you do you do better. And so I always, there was appreciation and then there was “thank you for doing blank.” Right? And here’s something else that would make it even, even better. And I experienced this with the one student already mentioned because I had a colleague who taught her as well. And so one of the first conversations we had in that third semester when I had her again was, OK, so what did he get right that I didn’t? Or what did he do better or what did you figure out together that we didn’t figure out the first go around. So by her third Spanish class, second with me, it was able to be, you know, certainly better than the first time with me. And hopefully in terms of accessibility better the second time with my colleague. And because we worked together, we learn things that together that we couldn’t have learned separately. And so that, that feedback of I did this in my, my idea in doing this was that it would have this outcome. Did it have that outcome? Student says “yes it did”, or “kinda” or “no”. And then kind of working through, through that. I felt like I felt those conversations were really beneficial, really rewarding, Even when the feedback wasn’t what I hoped it was. I put in energy and work in this area and it didn’t quite work out. It was still a learning process and rewarding because again, the students that I feel like when they, they sense your sincerity and honesty around getting it right. There’s a lot of support and kindness and grace coming from the students as well.
Paul: What would you, what advice would you give to faculty who are, want to make their courses more accessible?
Jonathan: I guess I’d say. I understand that it’s a process. No matter how much work you put in up front, they’re just going to necessarily be course corrections along the way. And that, that’s okay. That in fact, I think that our credibility goes up when our students see our willingness to evolve and to improve in these areas. And communication, I believe is everything. And flexibility, of course, because there will be some things that don’t go the way we mean them to. And it’s not because as professors we did something wrong or that student did anything wrong. It’s just kind of circumstance. But also I think the same curiosity we expect of our students, and sometimes are frustrated by the lack of maybe intellectual curiosity. Right? This is our chance to show our own curiosity and our own commitment to accessibility because the resources are out there, whether it’s our own staff at Meredith, IDAT, but also just online. There are plenty of people out there doing the same work that we are and trying to get it right and many of them written about it and some really good information to be found.
Paul: Anything else you’d like to add?
Jonathan: I guess I would just say it’s still one more reason I’m grateful to be at a school like Meredith where with smaller classes. I felt as though I’m in a position to provide support and we all we all want to provide, but in different contexts it would be hard. 200 students in a class and it’s going to be more generic. Accessibility still matters no matter what school you’re at, but I feel like at Meredith we have a chance to really provide the individualized attention. And, we’re fortunate to be in that position.
Paul: Great. Well, thanks for joining us today.
Jonathan: Happy, happy that to join the conversation will still have a lot to learn in this area. I’m still kinda surprised to be here as someone who got something right. Because they’re like I have so much to learn in terms of accessibility.
Paul: No worries, no worries. But once once again, thanks for participating and good luck in the fall.
Jonathan: Thank you.