One aspect of inclusion in education, especially online learning in higher education, is ensuring that all learning materials and content can be accessed all learners. All learners have strengths and weaknesses – using course design to help ensure they can leverage their strengths for learning is a responsibility we must instill into our practice and continue to improve upon as we improve and learn more about inclusive course design
“Inclusive teaching and learning refer to the pedagogical methods, techniques, and approaches that consider the diverse needs and backgrounds of all students, ensuring that they feel valued and welcomed in the classroom (Lightner & Agbor-Baiyee, 2018). An inclusive classroom climate benefits students’ motivation and autonomy, where they are recognized, can make relevant connections to their lives, and their unique concerns are addressed (Ambrose et al., 2010) (QM’s Accessibility and Usability Resource Site [AURS]).
Accessibility should not be an afterthought, becoming a concern only after course development is completed, or in the case of many institutions, when a student needing an accommodation has registered for a course. Accessible practices should be considered, deliberately addressed, and included from the initial stages of course design. Including aspects of accessibility from the beginning in our course mapping processes helps ensure faculty developers keep inclusive and accessible design principles in mind as they start to design and develop their online courses.
Quality Matters has long recognized the importance of accessibility in course design and made accessibility an essential aspect of the QM Rubric. QM recognizes the majority of QM Peer Reviewers are not and cannot be expected to be accessibility experts. So, based on feedback from the QM community, QM and the Rubric Update Committee updated the design of the 6th Edition of the QM Rubric to better address accessibility. General Standard 8 is now dedicated to providing guidance on creating and reviewing the accessibility of content for online and blended courses.
In addition to the annotated 6th Edition of the QM Rubric, QM and the QM community have developed and provide access to resources and training specifically for Standard 8 and accessibility. Training is available in a two-weeks-long workshop on Standard 8. The Addressing Accessibility and Usability workshop provides detailed information about accessibility, usability, readability and how to design courses with all these topics in mind.
The Accessibility and Usability Resource Site (AURS) is a free, community-led resource provides critical information on accessibility topics such as alternative text, hyperlinks, video captioning, readability, and color contrast. There are also forums you can use to connect and share directly with accessibility experts — peers in the QM community who have expertise in designing accessible courses. Registering for the AURS site is free for anyone with a QM account.
The AURS site also provides access to key research on accessibility, for example, the Digital Accessibility White Paper Series. This three-part series provides accessibility policies and practices of Quality Matters member institutions and presents research-based information and recommendations for administrators, faculty, instructional staff, and disability services experts in developing inclusive online materials.
An additional resource available on the AURS site is QM\’s Bridge to Quality Course Design Guide — this web-based guide provides a phased, step-by-step approach to designing quality online courses that help ensure inclusiveness.
Quality Matters and Academic Partnerships cannot guarantee accessibility in all instances. Meeting QM’s accessibility standards does not guarantee or imply that specific country, federal state and local accessibility regulations are met. Please consult with an accessibility specialist to ensure that accessibility regulations are met for your institution.