McMaster University: Removing Barriers to Accessibility and Inclusivity
At McMaster University of Ontario, Canada, they describe the process of creating an accessible university as a “project of transformation.” The goal is to “eliminate visible and invisible barriers that impact the teaching and learning experiences of faculty and students alike.”
Initiatives at McMaster to create an accessible university go beyond serving populations people usually think of as being disabled.
“If we look at all of the learning needs that affect a student’s ability to learn, these needs can include sensory, motor, cognitive, emotional, and social constraints,” says Christa Morrison digital pedagogy specialist, McMaster University, MacPherson Institute for Leadership, Innovation, and Excellence in Teaching. “But they also include individual learning approaches or preferences. They include linguistic and cultural preferences. They include generational differences as well as technical, financial, or environmental constraints. All of this has to be considered if we want to provide an accessible and inclusive experience.”
Echo360 is among the technologies the University uses to achieve those goals. Survey research conducted at McMaster of students in the Life Sciences Faculty (done by Stefan Mladjenovic and Pulkit Sahi under the supervision of Dr. Katie Moisse) reveal that Echo360 helps reduce barriers to instruction and gives students greater flexibility to access their learning content.
- Of 247 students surveyed, 76% reported using Echo360 in courses administered in the Faculty of Science
- Of those students who have used Echo360, nearly 88% identified as having a flexible learning need (i.e., they are registered with Student Accessibility Services and require accommodation, they care for a loved one, they commute to campus, etc.)
- 92% of these students reported that Echo360 made their course more accessible
- 84% of these students stated that it helped them to understand course content
The Role of Video in Supporting Universal Design for Learning
“Echo360 is a powerful learning tool because it leverages the fact that video is everywhere in people’s lives today,” says Morrison. “This is especially true for Gen Y, Gen Z, and Gen Alpha. Just look at how those groups use social media,” she adds. “They are constantly sharing, communicating and learning through video.”
Morrison believes that video helps improve accessibility in several ways.
“There are a number of examples,” she says. “If you are a working student and have to care for a child, recorded video gives you greater flexibility. Students can access their learning content on their own if they have to miss class,” she says. “Students can also record and share their own videos in Echo360, giving them another way to express their learning. For some students, video could take the place of a traditional paper or other written assignment.”
Morrison says that Echo360 features create a more accessible learning environment by allowing for multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement, the three pillars of universal design for learning.
Tools such as Echo360’s automatic speech recognition (ASR) can be used to create captions and searchable transcripts of recorded video allowing students to listen and read course content. Students can search for keywords and re-listen and re-read recorded lectures and presentations. This multimodal learning environment allows students to access the same content in different ways which benefit different types of learners.
Echo360 student response tools also play an important role in increasing engagement.
“The anonymous polling feature can encourage students to respond to in-class to questions and can help lessen the impact of gender or cultural bias,” she adds. “Features such as group discussion, student polling, and support for flipped and blended learning can help increase student engagement and collaboration.”
Students Help to Drive Demand for Increased Use of Video
Students at McMaster have directly participated in many of the initiatives to improve accessibility and inclusivity.
“Over the past year students have helped us on a variety of projects,” says Morrison. “They have conducted research and helped with the Echo360 Sandpit, where students take on the role of instructors and instructors take on the role of students. We’ve flipped roles and it gives instructors a chance to experience what it is like to be a student in an Echo360 course.”
The Echo360 Sandpit experience focuses on how Echo360 can be used to increase student participation and interact with content in multiple ways – pillars of universal design for learning.
“Instructors need to understand the students’ experience using Echo360,” says Morrison. “They want to have confidence that it will enhance learning. In the Sandpit, they experience first-hand how Echo360 allows their students to interact with content in different ways. Very quickly, they realize how these activities, whether they are polling questions, group discussion or other activities can expand the opportunities for students to learn. That is when they begin to really get excited about the technology.”
As a result, students have become advocates for inclusive teaching practices, and for expanding the use of video recordings at McMaster.
“Students taking on the instructor role helped us to understand their frustrations, the way in which they think, communicate, access, use and share content,” says Morrison. “It has helped us to develop support resources for students and a formal communication plan to inform our community about the work that has been done,” says Morrison.
The communication plan outlines how students will approach faculty members as well as the wider student body about the role that technologies like Echo360 can play on campus.
“The president-elect of the student union has made accessibility one of the main initiatives he will focus on in the upcoming year,” says Morrison. “Another student is planning a series of talks on student radio. There is definitely a pull and push effect from students to expand the use of Echo360. I think that in itself tells a story of its success. It is a continual process, but our goal is to try to take everything we are learning into account at the beginning of the process of designing our learning experiences, our learning content, and our learning spaces to create inclusive learning opportunities.”
In an upcoming blog, you will hear from the students themselves as they share their story and insights about how Echo360 has helped create a more accessible learning environment at McMaster University.
Learn more: From campus video management, lecture capture, online learning, flipped classrooms and more, contact us to discover how Echo360 can help transform the teaching and learning experience at your institution.