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Faculty Resources

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Accessibility in E-Learning

What is Accessibility?

Accessibility refers to content that is created in such a way that students with disabilities are able to access the content without additional aids or modifications. It addresses the needs of students with disabilities beforehand so they can enjoy the same experience and have the same opportunities as students without disabilities.

Disabilities may be invisible. It may be undiagnosed, and not all students with disabilities will self-identify. When you design with accessibility in mind, you are also improving your content for all students regardless of disability status. Universal Design for Learning* (UDL) is a concept that considers multiple styles of learning while creating content. To learn more about UDL consider looking at

The following video, “A Personal Look at Accessibility in Higher Education” shares the experiences of students, faculty, and staff with disabilities in higher education and how accessibility helps them be successful.

Accessibility in the Online Classroom

In 20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Online Course,” Dr. Sheryl Burgstahler outlines best practices for addressing accessibility in online courses. The list includes best practices for creating accessible documents and videos as well as best practices for instructional delivery, e.g. ensuring you allow adequate time for students to complete tasks. The tips offered by Dr. Burgstahler are not just for online classes though and can (and should) be used in face-to-face and hybrid classes.

Video Captions

Videos must have captions to be accessible. Captions are often referred to as open or closed. Open captions means that the video’s captions are burned into the image and cannot be turned off. Closed captions, on the other hand, allow the user to choose to turn the captions either on or off. Closed captions are preferable because students who may find captions distracting, such as students with attention disorders, can turn them off.

Videos that you’ve created can be captioned in Kaltura* or YouTube. If you do not own the video, contact the video or website owner (Youtube, Vimeo, etc) to ask if they would be willing to caption the video. If the video is on YouTube, the owner also has the option to allow for community submitted captions, which would allow you to then caption the video yourself. If it is a DVD, first check to see if the DVD is captioned (most already are). If the DVD is not captioned, contact the company and inquire about captioning. Sometimes, the company will have an alternative format they can make available.

Why Captions?

Captions are not only beneficial to students with hearing impairments. Students may use video captions if they are watching the video in a quiet space, such as a library, that would prohibit them from listening to the video’s audio out loud. Students without hearing impairments could prefer to use captions while watching videos for other learning purposes such as focus and better retention.

Captions may also be useful when conducting virtual meetings, both Zoom* and Google Hangouts* offer opportunities for students and faculty to communicate through text as well as voice and video.

Oregon State University’s Ecampus Research Unit conducted a study in collaboration with 3Play Media on students’ caption use. The video below, “College Student Uses and Perceptions of Closed Captions and Transcripts,” provides a summary of the study’s findings.

College Student Uses and Perceptions of Closed Captions and Transcripts:

How to caption at VCU

Guide to Captioning at VCU by SAEO:

VCU Web Standards in Captioning:

How to do captions in Kaltura:

[View Image]Image by Peggy und Marco Lachmann-Anke from Pixabay

Hungry for more?

Please check out our website for more details about course and support services, or you can enroll in one of our professional development on our Canvas Course Catalogue. For any other questions please contact

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Accessibility in E-Learning

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the US Department of Education, 19% of undergraduate and 12% of graduate students reported having a disability during the 2015-2016 academic year. This means that at VCU over 5,000 students could report having a disability. Making course content accessible levels the playing field so all students have an equal chance. 
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Canvas Course Navigation

Course navigation is crucial to instilling confidence in your students as they orient themselves in the new world of your course and curriculum. Your students should experience a navigation that is intuitive and free of clutter. This resource will offer suggestions that may help alleviate some of the "noise" found in canvas.
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Group Work

Getting students to collaborate and work with each other allows for them to construct new knowledge, an important concept in online education. We offer insights into best practices associated with collaborative work and how to integrate it alongside you online class.
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Concurrent Teaching v. HyFlex Instruction

There are many different ways to engage students using your video conferencing software, and this resources aims to assist you in understanding the differences between concurrent teaching and hyflex instruction.
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Digital Teaching Tools

This page provides a list of recommended tools for teaching online or in the blended learning environment. Tools listed here are organized by ease of use as well as whether or not they are University supported tools.
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Giving Feedback Online

Giving student in an online environment helps to keep students engaged in the class and allows for the instructor to communicate with the student on their work in a non-judgmental manner. Learning how to efficiently offer feedback to student will allow for a stronger online environment and an overall better learning experience.
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Live Session Lesson Plan

Teaching in a synchronous environment can be a daunting task for any instructor, this resource offers a template for a lesson plan which will aid in the preparation for teaching in a challenging environment. The live session lesson plan aims to engage the learners and take away some of the fear of having to lead a class using video conferencing technology.
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“Low Tech” Methods of Online Instruction

The digital divide is a real issue at educational institutions, and instructors should be prepared to offer different modalities to students so they be successful in the online classroom. This resource aims to introduce the digital divide and provide some examples how to alleviate strain on students.
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Managing the Discussion Board

Discussion in the online environment is a concrete manner through which your students co-construct new knowledge. In order for it to be engaging and not exhausting we have a few recommendations which will help you navigate the online discussion board.
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Teaching First Generation College Students

College can be an extremely stressful time for many students, and one major contributing factor of stress to college students lives revolves around the financing of their educations. This resource offers ways faculty and staff can assist in reducing some of the costs of college life, and help in reducing a little pressure associated with college life.
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Online Presence

In a face-to-face classroom you do not need to worry about your presence in the classroom, as you physically see the students in the classroom and they get a sense for your personality and teaching style. However, in an online environment instructors need to work a little bit harder to establish a connection with the learner, which will lead to a better learning experience.
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Online Teaching Pedagogy

Research demonstrates that online teaching methodology varies drastically from face-to-face instruction. This page was created to provide you with information and support on best practices in online instruction as well as some information on learning theories in online education.
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Plagiarism is a real concern with any class, but there is a way to prevent cheating through SafeAssign. Utilizing Canvas you can embed SafeAssign to help encourage students to only use original work.
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Synchronous Learning in Zoom

Moving from a face-to-face classroom to one based on video conferencing software can be stressful for both instructor and student. This resources aims to relieve some of the tension by providing resources and insights to the world of synchronous learning through Zoom.
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Using Rubrics

In online environments communication between instructor and students is incredibly important, an effective way to maintain a level of transparency when it comes to grading is utilizing a rubric with course assignments. Rubrics can take some time to create and use, but once you have established your assignment expectations it allows for an ease of communication about it, which in the long run creates a less stressful learning experience. This resources offers different rubric methods and considerations when contemplating the creation of your rubric.
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VCU Course Evaluation

In order to improve online learning, and integrate new types of learning activities, it is important to evaluate previous courses design. This resource provides information on how to we at the ALT Lab/VCU Online evaluate online courses for quality.
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Welcome Videos

As an online educator, it is extremely important to make connections to your students. A simple and fun way to accomplish this is through the creation of a welcome video at the beginning of the course. A welcome video allows students to break down assumptions made about you as a professor and acknowledges you care about the learning relationship. This resource illustrates the power of welcome video and helps you prepare for the creation of your own.
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What is Flipgrid? How Do I Use It?

There are many great tools to help you facilitate a dynamic classroom which places the student at the center of the knowledge. One such tool is called Flipgrid; it allows students and professors to hold conversations through videos virtually, which is a great way to create an interactive online class.
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What is Voice Thread? How do I Use It?

VoiceThread is an impressive tool faculty members use to enhance student engagement and online presence. It takes time to master, but once you become proficient at knowing how to use this online tool you can create, share, and comment on images, Microsoft PowerPoint presentations, videos, audio files, documents, and PDFs, using microphone, webcam, text, phone, and audio-file upload.

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