Classroom Activities

Summary

To create accessible and inclusive classrooms, start by eliminating barriers to information when you develop or modify course activities. Barriers to information are the primary causes of inaccessible classroom situations. Acknowledging students’ gifts rather than what may be perceived as limitations helps create inclusive spaces.

Consider using the Universal Design for Learning framework as inspiration in planning a course. It is comprised of three principles:

  • Create (or use) multiple means of representation (content) 
  • Create multiple means of engagement (activities) 
  • Provide multiple means of actions and expression (assessment) 

Using the framework along with some good classroom practices enables you to honor the variability that exists both among students and within each classroom. There is no one best way; vary things. Change it up. 


Impact

Impact

As an instructor, you will not be able to predict every single barrier that might arise for students in your course. However, it’s often more useful to learn about barriers than about specific disabilities as a way of creating a more inclusive classroom.

Major types of barriers related to classroom activities include:

  • information presented in one modality
  • inaccessible online applications or features
  • timed responses or single-format responses
  • light sources
Dos and Don'ts

Dos and Don'ts

Expand all

Anticipate Students' Variability

Ask yourself: Who are the students that might show up in your classroom?

Consider things such as:

  • disability
  • race
  • ethnicity
  • national origin
  • language learner status
  • gender identity
  • sexual orientation
  • socioeconomic status
  • age
  • veteran status

This simple anticipation exercise can help prime you for the creative work of designing your course for everyone, rather than simply modifying existing activities to accommodate individuals with disabilities or a subset of students.

With this in mind, add variability to your course methods, materials, and assessments. All students will find some activity that they enjoy working on, at least some of the time.

Do

If you usually lecture, add other activities during the class period that let students engage in peer learning. 

If you usually center activities around peer or group learning, add in some activities that allow students to explore the topic on their own.

Don't

Don't rely on one type of activity, material, or assessment method.

Create or Use Multiple Means of Representation (Content)

Organize information in a way that empowers students to make connections. Some people would say this is just "good teaching" (and we would say it’s how people actually learn).

Do

Highlight patterns, critical features, big ideas, and relationships, especially around points where students may get stuck.

Explicitly connect new information to background knowledge.

Present concepts and big ideas in simple language before using new vocabulary.

Clarify vocabulary, acronyms, and symbols.

Use a variety of media throughout the course, such as video, animations, or other multimedia (and offer these in alternative formats).

Don't

Don't assume students will immediately understand key concepts, new information, or unfamiliar vocabulary, acronyms, or symbols.

Don't introduce new vocabulary before students understand concepts and big ideas.

Don't rely on one type of media to present information.

Create Multiple Means of Engagement (Activities)

Consider the multiple interactions that are happening in your classroom at one time. Students should be interacting with each other, with you, with the content, and with the technology (whatever form that takes).

Do

Vary types of activities and assignments.

Integrate self assessments and reflection opportunities (raising self awareness of learning aids learning).

Encourage students to use and apply course information in assignments that are authentic to real-life work.

Foster intentional collaboration and community to support students who need that interaction for their learning.

Minimize distractions (e.g., use plain and simple writing, minimize the number of decorative elements in your course websites and on your slides, etc.).

Don't

Don't use technology just for technology’s sake; the technology-driven activities you design should be meaningful and useful in and of their own right.

Don't expect students to only access or recall information.

Don't have students complete all assignments on their own.

Don't use dense language or too many or distracting graphics.

Provide Multiple Means of Actions and Expression (Assessment)

Assessment activities tend to have higher stakes in your course. They are where students tend to spend the most time and attention.

Do 

Use some non-traditional assignments (e.g., a mapping project, digital story, in-class presentation, or online exhibition).

Ask students to respond using non-traditional formats (e.g., a podcast or video recording), and vary these response parameters throughout the semester.

Ensure the tools you encourage for non-traditional activities are accessible.

Increase the amount and frequency of the feedback you give at all levels and in all contexts.

Use rubrics to give feedback.

Don't

Don't assign only research papers.

Don't ask students to respond only in class.

Don't give infrequent feedback.

Don't provide unique feedback to each student.

Don't assume non-traditional activities are accessible.

Ask About Barriers to Learning

At the beginning of the semester, identify methods to identify potential barriers or learning needs of your students.

Do

Consider asking them to complete an index card (or online form, or email) with an answer to a question like: 

  • What would you like me to know about how you learn best?
  • How can I best help you succeed in this course?
  • What can I do to best support your learning needs?
  • Do you have any access needs that you would like me to know about?

Invite students to come to your office hours or set up individual time to meet with you. Make sure to include an access statement in your syllabus.

Don't

Don't assume students will immediately disclose disabilities to you.

Don't assume students with similar disabilities will need the same accommodations.

Build Accessibility into Learning Outcomes

Do

Get students involved in enhancing accessibility in the course by adopting accessibility best practices such as the seven core skills as a part of the assessment criteria for assignments. For example:

  • Show students how to caption their own video assignments and award points on your rubric for handing in a captioned video.
  • Appoint a class note taker for each class session, who then shares notes with the rest of the class (and assign extra credit points for this task).
  • Model best practices for use of images by including captions or alt text for all the static graphics and images in your documents.
  • Ask the class what else would enhance class accessibility.

Don't

Don't assume all students know about accessibility.

Offer Alternative Activities or Assignments

Not all applications are accessible for students who use assistive technology like screen readers or text-to-speech programs, or who navigate on their computer using voice commands and/or a keyboard (instead of a mouse). Even accessible applications also may have features that are not accessible.

Do

Be prepared to offer an alternative choice to assignments that require students to use Flipgrid, such as writing a text response or using the discussion tool in Canvas.

Consult with [email protected] if you’re unsure whether technology or a feature in it you’d like to use is accessible.

Don't

Don't require students to use an inaccessible tool without considering alternatives.

Consult with [email protected] if you’re unsure whether technology or a feature in it you’d like to use is accessible.

Modify Clicker Activities

Audience response technologies like clickers can create barriers due to the dexterity required to use them and to the time constraint.

Do

Give options for participation points so that students who are unable to participate in a specific way (such as with a clicker) can still earn full points. 

Provide opportunities to submit responses via either the clicker device or the course site. 

Consider whether time is essential in the activity, and whether it is possible to remove or extend it (if you’re imposing a time limit).

Modify the activity for the entire class so that it doesn’t feel like you’re singling out an individual student.

Don't

Don't expect that all students will be able to read, process, and respond to questions in the same time frame. A tight time window for responses can cause unnecessary stress.

Consider Light Sources

Flashing, strobing, or flickering light on videos or slides you show in class can trigger disability symptoms for some students. Some also may experience barriers related to the combination of ambient lighting and color contrast, such as with the contrast of slide text against a colored background in a dimly lit room.

Do

If a video clip you’re going to show includes flashing, strobing, or flickering effects, let students know in advance.

Gather feedback from your students about classroom lighting and adjust accordingly. In a single classroom you may have differing access needs, so you may need to problem solve with your students to find a workable solution.

The Office of Classroom Management can be a resource to help you find a room that meets students’ needs.

Don't

Don't add flashing, strobing, or flickering effects on your slides.

How-to

How-to

Canvas

Course Design

Technologies

If you’re unsure whether a technology or feature in it you’d like to use is accessible, request a consultation by emailing [email protected].

Classrooms

Find a list of equipment and technology commonly found in OCM classrooms

Office of Classroom Management (OCM) staff can also help you find a room that meets students’ needs.

Specific Access Needs

Contact a Disability Resource Center access consultant about specific access needs or about how to reduce barriers more broadly in your course.