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November Tea Talk

November’s Diversi-Tea session started with a list of critical questions focusing on issues in accessibility. The facilitators for November’s Diversi-Tea were Annazette Houston and David Ndiaye from Student Disability Services and Dr. Eric Moore from the Office of Instructional Technology. The conversation allowed participants to raise both insightful and critical questions throughout the session. Below, you can find the topics discussed, as well as resources provided by the facilitators to help faculty and staff create equitable opportunities for student success.

The facilitators began the November Diversi-Tea session by asking the group questions that the Student Disability Services and the Office of Instructional Technology often receive from the campus community:

Do students who use significant accommodations (such as extra time to take test, use of note takers, etc.) deserve to receive the same degrees as those who complete their degrees with no such accommodations? Should there be some kind of indication on the degree that accommodations were required?

  • College is where students learn how to learn. Therefore, many participants suggested that the real question should not be whether the university should list accommodations on degrees, but whether students are meeting the learning outcomes in their courses.
  • Some participants also mentioned that there is no differentiation between degrees of students taking 5-7 years to graduate and those taking only 4 years.
  • Given the stigmas associated with some disabilities, however, participants felt that employers might discriminate against candidates with certain limitations. For this reason, they emphasized the importance of helping students be self-advocating, while building on their strengths in other areas (e.g., developing problem-solving skills).

Does accessible design reduce the rigor of courses? In other words, does changing the course delivery methods and materials to make it such that more students can learn without supports reduce the quality or challenge of the course for all?

  • Respondents indicated that the design of a course does not equal or determine rigor. Therefore, changing the design of a course to make it more accessible should not reduce the rigor of a course.
  • Some participants then mentioned that, in their experience, moving a course from a traditional format to one that is online can make a course easier or more difficult depending on the discipline. To address this comment, others suggested that training in the area of course design for online learning might be needed to mitigate this issue.

Who is responsible for ensuring diverse students (including, but not limited to those with disabilities) have opportunity to learn at UT? In a perfect world, who ought to be responsible?

  • Participants mentioned that responsibility should start with policymakers and with those in authority. However, others suggested that the responsibility should not only just flow from the top down, but that everyone is responsible.
  • Aside from teaching concepts related to the discipline, participants felt that educators should also address the “hidden curriculum”— this includes the expectations, social norms and values that inform the way in which students learn. Just as everyone can be a part of constructing a culture of marginalization, everyone has the responsibility to create an inclusive environment.

Does offering support for diverse students and students with disabilities, including assistive technology and accommodations, ultimately hurt their employability? That is, would we better serve students with disabilities by pushing them to learn and function without accommodations?

  • For many of the participants, the answer to this question depended upon the support that employers were willing to offer the employee. In most cases, if an accommodation is small – such as providing a chair for someone that cannot stand all day – employers may be more willing to honor it.
  • Employability of students with disabilities can also depend upon individuals’ access to resources throughout their educational careers. Lack of adequate support can have an effect upon a student’s ability to cope within the context of a college classroom, as well as in a job.
  • While the primary role of faculty is to teach students and help them be successful here at UT, there are opportunities in the classroom to help students build “soft” skills for the workplace (e.g., public speaking, effective written communication, etc.).

Below, you will find questions raised by the participants during the discussion as a result of the facilitators’ questions.

  • How do we, as educators, challenge students to learn how they learn?
  • What’s the balance between challenging students in their learning and making sure they can be successful?
  • What does a diploma mean? Would adding or mentioning accommodations impact that meaning?
  • Do we define rigor as more of a process or as an outcome of a course?

If you would like additional information on accessibility, please check out the following resources:

  • UDL on Canvas (Self-paced course)– This course contains a set of online modules to orient faculty and staff to Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an educational framework that helps instructors to make their courses accessible for all students. In this course, participants will enrich their understanding of concepts related to accessibility and universal design. They will strengthen their professional skill in course design in such ways as to increase the quality of student learning. Further, participants will take steps toward mastery of the features of Canvas.

  • UDL on Campus (Resource Website) – This resource provides tools for successful implementation of Universal Design for Learning principles.

  • Accessibility.utk.edu (UTK Accessibility site)– This website provides tips on how to create accessible resources (e.g., documents and videos). It also explains university policies surrounding accessibility.

  • Make an appointment with Dr. Eric Moore. An expert on Universal Design for Learning (UDL), Dr. Moore provides resources via workshops and one-on-one consultations on how to implement UDL principles in course design. You can contact him at emoore50@utk.edu for more information.

  • Talk to Student Disability Services. For more information about faculty resources and accommodations available to students with disabilities, please contact Annazette Houston (amccane@utk.edu) or David Ndiaye at david@utk.edu.

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