Conversations about blended learning or eLearning generally focus on the increased flexibility it provides around time and place (instruction no longer happens just in the classroom, or within certain hours), path (students and teachers can find modalities of learning that work best for them or their students), or pace (students can cater their workload to suit their circumstances). These are all important benefits. However, while the conversation often centers around how to meet students at different academic levels or with different learning styles, it is also important to think about supporting students with different needs —visual impairments or ADD, for example. The same technologies that make instruction more accessible or effective for some may actually make it more challenging for others.
As the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology notes,
E-learning can be an enriching and stimulating environment within which learning can take place. While the pedagogy employed within a course or unit must be at the heart of the experience, the technology employed also has an impact, both negative and positive, on the experience for the student.
From individuals with coordination disorders or other motor skill challenges to those with auditory or visual impairment, many students and teachers may struggle with new educational tools if those tools are not designed to be accessible. Meeting the needs of all users requires thoughtful consideration: does each page have a zoom function? Does a simulation require users (who may be color blind) to choose green for “yes” and red for “no”? Do popups or inconsistent layouts make the product less ideal for those with learning and attention issues?
Last spring (fall, for those of you in the northern hemisphere), our Smart Sparrow team began reviewing our platform’s accessibility features. Because educational institutions are required to comply with disability standards, the Smart Sparrow platform must also meet or exceed these standards to ensure we are supporting equal and inclusive learning. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (or WCAG) provide three levels of compliance: A, AA and AAA. In order to make our platform accessible for more students, we are currently working to meet the guidelines for AA compliance. Additionally, we will continue to review the accessibility of the Smart Sparrow platform in regular intervals to assure we are not introducing new barriers.
We are beginning our efforts by focusing on the student experience, since we have about 100 student users for every instructor. We know we won’t get everything exactly right the first time around. That’s why we will work closely with our users with audio, visual, or motor impairments, or learning and attention issues to give us feedback on what needs to change, or how we can make things better.
At Smart Sparrow, we truly believe that every teacher and every student, no matter where or who they are, should have access to the best possible learning education. Students with disabilities face important barriers and challenges when it comes to their education: but using Smart Sparrow will not be one of them.