In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gallaudet University has joined other universities, colleges, and secondary schools in the unprecedented step of providing all instruction remotely. Maintaining our tradition of bilingual education and other equitable measures at the highest possible level is a challenge calling on creativity and flexibility from faculty, students, and staff alike.
Just as faculty and students are interacting remotely, all Gallaudet staff members, except those who are considered essential employees, are also working remotely, including the staff of the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSWD). Despite the changes, OSWD maintains its commitment to assisting its students with disabilities in obtaining the most equitable educational experience they can, and assisting faculty in helping to deliver an equitable educational experience.
As Gallaudet notes in its “Advice to Faculty”, from its coronavirus resources website:
You are the first and most direct line of contact to students. It is critical that you, as faculty, check in on your students and do your best to address their concerns and issues as we make the move to an online learning environment. Recognize that students’ abilities and their access to resources will vary widely at this time, and be open to creative solutions.
Above all, the current situation calls on empathy, understanding, and flexibility from everyone involved in remote teaching. These are times that call on us to do more for our students, not less. This is in alignment with Gallaudet’s guiding principles (found here).
Maintaining Essential Accommodations
As was true in the classroom, and remains true in the virtual classroom, faculty are responsible for implementing ADA disability accommodations and providing equitable access to courses and course materials.
During remote operations the goal of disability accommodations remains the same: providing equitable access; what has changed, and possibly changed significantly, is how best to implement a particular accommodation.
With a mind toward flexibility and finding creative solutions, we suggest that your primary resource in implementing an accommodation is talking to the student who has the accommodation, discussing the goal of the accommodation and how it can best be implemented in the remote setting. Faculty may find that some classroom accommodations are not even necessary in the remote setting, whereas others may call on additional creativity and flexibility to implement.
The Purposes of Testing Accommodations
There are several possible disability accommodations related to taking exams that OSWD may specify for eligible students:
- The use of calculators during exams
- The use of a laptop computer during exams
- Taking breaks during exams for personal needs
- Taking exams in reduced distraction environments
- Extended time for testing
Fundamentally, each of these accommodations has the same goal: allowing each student an equitable opportunity to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the course material and subjects being tested, without penalizing the student, or putting them at a disadvantage because of their disability.
Some of these accommodations, such as allowing breaks or calculators, easily translates into the remote-learning environment. However, testing in a reduced-distraction environment, or having OSWD proctor an extended-time test, both used OSWD facilities to give exams, so the usual manner of providing those accommodations needs modification.
Flexibility in Providing Extended-Time Testing
During the period of remote operations at Gallaudet, OSWD is unable to provide a physical environment for exams, or to proctor exams as we do under normal circumstances: we are not present on campus and do not have access to our usual testing facilities, equipment, or software.
Extended time on exams as an accommodation generally only applies to traditional, time-limited exams. If you have adapted your virtual course to offer alternative methods of assessment (e.g. essays, non-timed exams, project work), then a student’s extended time may no longer be applicable. If that is the case, discuss it with the student.
For students with disabilities who are granted extended-time testing as a disability accommodation, it remains the obligation of the faculty to provide the accommodation for the student, allowing double the usual time allotted to finishing a timed examination.
This may or may not translate immediately into a remote-learning environment, depending on how tests are currently administered.
If, for instance, faculty give timed tests on Blackboard, time limits can be extended for specific students as necessary. If the tests are proctored by use of the Respondus Lockdown Browser, that can continue to be used as before.
If test questions are sent out to students via email, with an expectation of their being returned within a certain time interval, students with an extended-time accommodation can be easily accommodated by expecting answers to be returned with a later time limit. All students may be asked, for example, to note down the times when they start and finish an exam.
Please remember that students are still bound by the Gallaudet Honor Code, even during times of remote education. Expect the most of your students, give them the responsibility, and they will likely rise to the occasion.
Rethinking the Goals of Testing
This may be an excellent opportunity to rethink your goals in giving exams to students in order to assess learning and understanding. Consider the following ideas (modified from a list published by Purdue University) as you create new exams and modifying existing exams:
- Allow exams to be open-book/source: Instead of trying to limit resources, assume students will USE resources while taking an exam, and encourage them to do so. Ask questions that probe deeper levels of knowledge and understanding, enabling students to apply, assess, and evaluate concepts and facts in meaningful ways. Require students to cite the resources they used.
- Encourage students to collaborate & share questions and ideas: Students will likely work together when they are stuck or confused. You can encourage working in small teams and ask them to include who they work with and in what ways.
- Focus on solving problems while showing work and explanations: In many cases, students may get the same answer, but showing their work reveals meaningful differences in understanding. Sometimes there may only be a few ways to show work, so you may ask for brief prose explanations, or have students record a video of them talking through the process to solve a question.
- Use student-generated questions with explanations: Instead of trying to ensure everyone answers your limited number of questions on their own, ask every student to create their own question with an explanation of how it would assess a certain topic or skill in a meaningful way. You can also assign students to answer each other’s questions and state whether those questions actually do assess these skills in appropriate ways.
- Consider question formats leading to essays, videos, pictures, and other personal responses: If your class lends itself to it, having students express their learning through essays, videos, pictures, or other personalized forms of writing/speaking/communicating means that everyone needs to create their own. You can also have students post their responses for each other and assess each other’s work through peer grading. Rubrics can help guide students as they develop such work, give each other feedback, and, of course, allow your teaching assistants and you a consistent method of assessment.
- Respect your own time: Most of these ideas take time to grade. Try to determine what is feasible in your situation, and use feedback-based or hand-grading intensive assessments sparingly. Also consider how much feedback students actually need/will use. Many times at least some feedback can be created for the whole group based on common challenges or problems, as opposed to individual responses.