Migrating college classes online during the pandemic has been tough on all levels of education, but especially for students with disabilities.
People with disabilities often navigate a world that is designed and developed for non-disabled people, and this is unfortunately so in online classes which are not accessible, like remote classes without captions for the deaf.
It is support and inclusivity that Office Apps & Services MVP David Patrick wanted to bring to his newly-digital classroom. David has been teaching college-level computer science courses part-time since 2004, with tenure at Stevenson University, Towson University, and University of Maryland.
David has always used Microsoft technologies in his classroom, from Live Meeting to Skype to Teams, so shifting to an entirely remote teaching environment was not difficult for the tech professional. On the other hand, ensuring accessibility to all students is something which he did need to consider.
In the spring of 2020, David had two students with disabilities. One, at Towson, was deaf, and the other, at UMD, was blind. After the first week of classes, David immediately sought out ways to help these students better engage with their lectures and assignments. One way that turned out to be a hit with all of the students, David says, was the addition of captions to his recorded lectures.
“It turns out that by uploading my Teams video to Stream, I could automatically add captions with little effort,” he says.
“Not only did the deaf student really enjoy the addition of captions (no longer requiring him to attend class physically with his two interpreters), but other students remarked how the addition of captions to the recorded lectures helped them as well.”
Captions were a hit with the entire class as other students explained how they were able to better follow along by reading what the professor was saying, especially when it came to more difficult technical terms.
“Teams and Stream made it easy for me to edit the auto-generated captions to fix slight errors in the transcription and to fill out things where necessary,” David says. “The students also found it easier to search the transcript of the lecture if they needed to jump around the lecture to a specific demo.”
Now, auto-generated captions are a staple of David’s remote classes. Accessibility is important during times like these, and it is something the MVP worked closely with the larger tech community to improve.
“The tech community has been great with loads of resources for ideas on how to make my teaching more accessible and more engaging,” David says. “Whenever I reach out for ideas to problems, many MVPs, MCTs and even my students help provide fresh new ideas that help me think outside the box.”