Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching | Capital University, Columbus Ohio


Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching

  • E-Learning

  • Update: Making Learning Accessible During COVID-19

    The mission of Capital University’s Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) is to use the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL) to support transformative student learning by providing education and resources to faculty and staff.

    CELT does this by

    • Supporting innovative pedagogies, digital pedagogy and instructional design,
    • Providing faculty and staff mentoring and development,
    • Promoting high quality, evidence-based experiential learning, and 
    • Facilitating curriculum/program development and assessment.

    While CELT’s formal location is Ruff Learning Center, the Center draws upon expertise from across campus to assist staff and faculty in transforming student learning.

    • Andrea M. Karkowski – faculty and staff mentoring and development and SOTL
    • Keirsten Moore – curriculum and program development and SOTL
    • Daniel Parker – academic technology
    • Deanna Wagner – experiential learning
    • Stephanie Gray Wilson – experiential learning

    Making Learning Accessible During COVID-19

    Dear Faculty,

    We are impressed with your commitment to the education of our students and the rapidity at which you have worked to transition to online delivery of course content.  In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis and a disruption to routine schedules, students are experiencing challenges and we want to take this opportunity to provide some resources and strategies for supporting all students.

    While the University is working remotely, we will continue to advocate on behalf of students, work diligently to connect students to resources, and also continue to be available to support instructors to ensure student needs are met.  These are challenging times for everyone and we are available to help in any way possible.

    Below are suggestions regarding how to further adapt your learning environment to offer greater flexibility, with appreciation for the varied needs and situations of our student population. First, we offer suggestions that attempt to account specifically for students in “low tech” and “no tech” households, as well as those who are now experiencing altered or increased demands on their time (e.g., family or childcare, increased work hours as an “essential worker”). Then, we provide suggestions for teaching students with disabilities as it is likely the rapid shift to exclusively online delivery may result in some unintentional barriers being created for students with disabilities. 

    Guiding Principles

    • Many of our students are facing increased constraints on their lives. Rather than require them to also conform to the constraints of our learning environments, we can adapt our  environments to better conform to their lives.
    • Many of our students are facing increased constraints on their lives. Rather than require them to also conform to the constraints of our learning environments, we can adapt our  environments to better conform to their lives.
    • We cannot change the circumstances surrounding us or our students, which is a source of significant stress. We can take responsibility to change the circumstances we do have control over to alleviate what stress we can.
    • The goal is for students to demonstrate that they meet course learning outcomes, not necessarily how they demonstrate it (outcomes-based vs. process or content-based).  How do you plan to assess the performance of students and have you considered alternatives for students?  Again, the goal is for students to demonstrate what they know to the fullest extent possible without being penalized by the method of demonstration.  This might include offering multiple methods (e.g., paper, multiple-choice examination, short-answer or essay examinations) and allowing the student to choose how they would like to demonstrate their knowledge recognizing that some exercises unknowingly test student abilities in dimensions unrelated to the content.
    • “Rigor” is not a static concept; rather, it exists as a standard in context. Forefront context when determining your standards, especially now.
    • For many students, their coursework is not the top priority right now; that is okay. It may not be your top priority now either; that is also okay. There is space to extend additional grace to oneself and to others in hard times.

    Additional Resource
    Adjusted syllabus language made open access by the author (a professor at UNC-Chapel Hill):

    Suggestions for supporting students facing time or technology constraints

    • Do not mandate “live” attendance. Pre-record lectures or record synchronous lectures and make them available for students to view on their timetable. Provide or send out more expanded lecture notes for students who may lack time or technology to ever view the recording.
    • Employ course discussion boards heavily; encourage asynchronous student interaction on content. You may not be available at a time a student needs help, but other students may be.
    • Prepare hardcopy packets of essential course materials (e.g., lecture notes, readings, assignments, etc.) and arrange to mail them to students or have local students come to campus to pick them up.
    • Condense remaining work into fewer, larger projects and extend deadlines.
    • Condense remaining work into a single “capstone” style assignment, with emphasis on having students demonstrate how they meet course learning objectives. Make this assignment due at the end of the semester and make yourself available for consultation. Invite student input into the format of this assignment.
    • Emphasize engagement with and completion of work, not necessarily on the quality of that work. Assume that, absent this disruption, students would likely produce work of a quality consistent with what they have done thus far. For example, if a student has earned a steady B up to this point, assign them no lower than a B on any assignments they complete moving forward. This allows opportunities for improvement without penalizing poorer work that may be a result of circumstances.
    • Take all work completed during the period of online instruction and reduce its weight in the overall final grade.
    • Consider group work carefully. Will students need to work synchronously? This could put a strain on both the students who lack technology or time, and the students who are relying on other group members to do their share. Even with asynchronous work, students may not have internet access soon or ever, and thus will be unable to contribute.


    Accessibility of synchronous (real-time) classes  

    • Please keep in mind that students with disabilities may not be able to participate the same as their peers at a fast pace online.  For cases in which the student may be utilizing assistive technology, they may require some additional time to communicate/interact with the information. 
    • When selecting multimedia content for the course, please be sure to choose videos that are already captioned whenever possible.  Please note that machine (or automatic) captioning, which is now available in YouTube and Zoom, is generally only about 80% accurate.  Our goal is to aim for 99% accuracy of captions.  When recording audio or video for your course, please consider developing a script.  It may be posted alongside the media as a transcript.  If you need assistance in meeting a student’s accommodation needs, please contact the Disability Services Office at
    • Do not assume all students can see or make sense of the visual display provided.  For accessibility, please remember to describe the image displayed visually on the screen.  Please also remember that visual depictions may display differently depending on the device the student may be utilizing. 
    • While we are unable to rely on the face-to-face interaction, please remember it is essential to stay in close communication with students about changes to the course.  Moreover, it is recommended that multiple modes of communication are utilized, such as email and iLearn announcements.  Please also record your sessions so students who may be unable to join in real time may view the session at a later time.

    Accessibility of asynchronous (self-paced) classes

    • Asynchronous teaching, by its nature, is likely to be accessible to more individuals: Assistive technology users don’t have to worry about keeping up with the pace of the rest of the class; users who benefit from reviewing information multiple times will be able to easily do so; and users who have access to slower WiFi will not fall behind. However, the same requirements for accessible accompanying materials, such as captioning, etc., will be the same as synchronous classes.

    Accessibility of websites and documents (additional information may be located at:

    • HTML tends to be the most accessible format, followed by word processing formats such as Microsoft Word.  Please keep in mind that PDFs often pose barriers, as they often require workarounds to make documents accessible with screen readers or other assistive technology. To improve the accessibility of PDFs, please be sure to scan a hard copy article as a PDF format rather than scanning documents as images.  Whenever possible, it is best to make both Word and PDFs available to students. 
    • When saving your file, please be sure to give it a meaningful name, such as “Lecture Notes, Chapter 1.”   
    • Accessibility Quick Tips to ensure inclusive learning experiences (additional information may be located at:
      • Text Contrast: It is usually recommended to use black text on a white background to ensure that the text stands out on the page.  However, pure white backgrounds may cause problems with glare or distraction for some students so you might consider using off-white or light grey backgrounds instead.
      • Text Styles: Do not use color alone to denote differences in emphasis and content meaning.
      • Heading Styles: Use built-in heading styles to designate content organization.
      • List Styles: Use the built-in bullet or number styles for lists.
      • Alt Text: Provide a brief text alternative for images, graphs, and charts that answers the question: Why is this image important?
      • Closed Captioning: Captioning your media provides greater student comprehension of the material covered and provides accessible media for individuals with hearing impairments in compliance with federal regulations.
      • Link Text: Use descriptive titles for link text, titles, and headers.
      • Tables: Use simple tables when possible, with column and row headers


    • Extended time is a frequently approved accommodation, and instructors may provide extended time online.  Please note that an extended time accommodation is not the same as providing more time for all students; it means that the accommodated student should get an additional percentage of time above whatever other students are receiving.  For example, the standard test time might be one hour and an approved student gets time-and-a-half, or 1.5 hours.
      • The Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT) has demonstrated how to make extended time available in iLearn through a recorded workshop demo but if you need additional assistance, please do not hesitate to contact CELT directly at
    • “Breaks during exams” is an accommodation that may have online, timed implications.  A student may have extended time or they may have extended time plus “breaks” or class time plus “breaks.” If the student is unable to start and stop a quiz or examination, please be sure to add in their total break time to their examination time. 
    • For students who have been approved for readers or scribes, the University will rely on assistive technology to meet this need.  Please be sure to make your examinations available in a Microsoft Word format to ensure accessibility with the software.  If you need assistance in creating an accessible format, please contact Disability Services directly at
    • It is important to let your students know how questions to instructors should be addressed during an online quiz/test.


    • Given the rapid shift to online courses, some students may need some time to work with Disability Services to make adjustments to their accommodations.  Please be flexible and adjust deadlines to create an inclusive learning environment. 
    • Be aware that some students may be unable to access their technology during this time. For instance, students with certain types of disabilities (low vision, migraines, seizure disorders, etc.) may not be able to spend extended time in front of a computer. Please work with students to determine and provide a reasonable extended timeline for completing the work.
      • Lauren Cagle from the University of Kentucky has created a useful survey for learning about students’ accessibility and other issues that may affect online learning.
    • Please be sure to reach out individually to students who were attending on-campus classes but are missing virtual classes. This may be a sign they are experiencing accessibility or other challenges.
    • Instructors may also wish to think creatively about the assignment itself, through an approach that may not be intensively digital. For example, an assessment that relies on face-to-face interaction (e.g., discussion, presentations, debates) might be re-tooled or potentially substituted with an assignment in a different format that meets the same course objectives. One example of this type of adjustment includes asking students to write a pro/con issue comparison memo, in lieu of participating in a classroom debate.
    • Keep things accessible and mobile friendly: In a crisis, many students may only have a mobile device available, so make sure you are using mobile-friendly formats.  Consider saving other files in two formats, its original application format and a PDF.  PDFs are easier to read on phones and tablets and keep the file size small, and original file format often have application features that are helpful to students who use accessibility software for accessibility reasons. Also note that videos take a lot of bandwidth, so only require them if you are confident students will have access to them during the current situation.
    • Please be aware that student accommodation needs may change with different modalities of instruction and that we must be responsive to the needs of students with disabilities.

    If you have any questions or if you need support in creating an accessible online experience for students with disabilities, please do not hesitate to contact Disability Services via email ( or telephone (614.236.6611).  Likewise, Student Success remains available to support students who may be experiencing challenges and you may contact their office via email ( or telephone (614.236.6871).  Again, we sincerely appreciate all of your time and effort.  This is a challenging time for everyone and we will continue to proceed in a collaborative and supportive manner.

    Jennifer Speakman, Assistant Provost
    Accessibility Services

    Joel Ashley, Associate Director
    Student Success