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Equity and Inclusion: Access
How to think about student learning: Access
In addition to thinking about the relationships, design of our interactions, and teaching practices, we should frame all of our interactions to provide access for learners.
Why is access so important? For in-person interactions, access takes the form of physically being able to enter and interact in our buildings, classrooms, and lab spaces, as well as the ability to get and use needed course materials like textbooks, lab materials, and course supplies.
On campus, our students still need access to our course materials and access to one another, to their instructors, to support services, and to the broader world.
Video: Meet Stan
Stan is a composite of college students across the UW-Madison service area. For every student from the Madison area who studies with us, there is another student from outside Wisconsin — international students or, like Stan, learners from nearby cities in Wisconsin or the Midwest. Our learners, regardless of location, have similar access needs.
Access is about lowering barriers
We strengthen our students’ learning (and save ourselves from a lot of re-teaching and re-explaining) the more we give students the chance to study, practice, and engage outside formal class meetings. The neuroscience behind Universal Design for Learning (UDL) informs practices that we can adopt to lower student access barriers. We also address UDL in terms of course design.
An access mindset is different from making accommodations for students with disability documentation. Accommodation is making one change, one time, for one person. It is labor-intensive and narrow in scope and benefit. Rather, think about the interactions you ask your students to have with the materials for your course, with each other, with you as the instructor, and with the wider world. Consider how you can provide access to those interactions beyond the formal course meeting times or methods — that’s how to decide where to begin with your efforts to increase student access.
You don’t need to guess where to expand access first in your course. One way to learn more about students’ access challenges is to ask them directly: send a survey or ask them to respond in a form, and ask them to describe the tools and practices that they use most often to study, interact, and show their skills.
Now that you have a framework for thinking about your students’ access to the various elements of your course and its interactions take a few minutes to plan where you will start taking action to lower access barriers for your students.
In a separate note-taking file, make two columns for your thoughts.
In the first column, list the interactions you ask your students to engage in throughout your course. Include things like taking in background information, engaging in course conversations, individual study, talking with you, taking quizzes and tests, lab work, etc.
In the corresponding area of the second column, think of at least two ways that students could access the information, interactions, or people listed in the first column.
For example, students could engage live or post comments on a discussion forum for a course discussion about a key concept (column 1).
Once you have filled in both columns, review the information for common “themes” around access to information, and select and work on implementing the top two or three access expansions that would help students better understand or practice with concepts that often challenge them.
You can expand on this exercise by considering where increased access can lead to better relationship-building or smoother teaching interactions between you and your students. Reviewing those topics can help you to select which elements to work on first.