Inclusive teaching in an online world

Accessible Media Production graduate tackles barriers through accessible course development.

By Andrea Johnson


When Allison Fitzgibbon '20 decided to enroll in Mohawk's Accessible Media Production (AMP) program in September 2019, she certainly didn't feel any of the normal "back to school" jitters. After all, as a faculty member at Sheridan College, going "back to school" was already an everyday occurrence for her.

Instead, she saw it as an opportunity to gain new knowledge that she could use to craft courses that appeal to a wide range of post-secondary students.

"College students are a diverse group with varying lived experiences and learning needs," says Allison. "I want my courses to appeal to all learners, without enacting barriers to the learning process."

While the increase in virtual classes, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, created more flexibility for college students juggling work, school and families, moving courses online created new barriers, especially for the 22% of Canadians aged 15 and older who have disabilities that may interfere with their ability to access and share information. For example,

many websites and software programs aren't designed to be accessible, and many people forget to add closed captions to their video and audio content.

Allison Fitzgibbon from her home, via Zoom.

Allison Fitzgibbon from her home, via Zoom.

Allison's research in accessible course development led her to the Accessible Media Production program at Mohawk, an executive-delivery post-graduate program led by industry experts that would allow Allison to develop her skills in creating online accessible content.

The program also had one additional benefit- a project-based capstone course that would allow her to develop resources to make it easier for educators to design accessible virtual courses.

"I wanted to create a course template that faculty could adopt that would provide the structure required for easy navigation and use," says Allison about her capstone project. "I also wanted to develop a module to train faculty in the creation of accessible content, so that they can learn how to add closed captions to videos, create accessible PowerPoints, Word documents, and social media posts, and consider inclusive interactive activities."

Allison had initially planned to share the results of her capstone project with just a few colleagues. But after educational technology company D2L learned about her project at the program's annual capstone showcase, demand for her course template and training modules skyrocketed. Allison established it as an Open Educational Resource that is available in D2L's online Accessibility Lab. Hundreds of college faculty and staff in over 15 post-secondary institutions, across Canada and internationally, have now accessed her resources.

Allison is excited to see the wide-spread adoption of inclusive design in education, seeing the opportunities for teachers at all levels- from elementary to high school to college and university- to help their students learn better.
"When all students have access to accessible educational materials, we avoid stigmatizing those students who need alternatively formatted learning material and we reduce barriers in the online learning environment," says Allison.

"By adopting even just one or two of these practices now, our students' lessons can be more accessible and more inclusive to all learners."