Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

Issues in Preparing Visually Disabled Instructors to Teach Online: A Case Study

Academic journal article Information Technology and Disabilities

Issues in Preparing Visually Disabled Instructors to Teach Online: A Case Study

Article excerpt

OVERVIEW

This case narrative covers the process of training a visually-impaired instructor to create online materials, to learn the course-management software adopted at the faculty member's institution, and to teach a pedagogically-valid, successful online course. The author is the Coordinator for Instructional Technology and Distance Education Support at Westmoreland County Community College, a medium-sized two-year college in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The visually-disabled instructor is a member of the faculty at Westmoreland County Community College who volunteered to teach an online course in Labor Relations during the Fall 2001 academic term. The author would like to express his gratitude to the instructor for allowing the author to relate this narrative and to use potentially identifying information in this essay.

This case narrative will follow the narrative method, primarily because there are few published resources available on the subject of offering support services to visually-disabled faculty who teach online. The conclusions of this narrative are, therefore, specific to the case narrated, and generalization from the conclusions of this case narrative is not recommended until a larger number of cases can be reported. The author invites readers to attempt to reproduce the conditions and results of this case in order to test the validity of its conclusions.

RESEARCH QUESTIONS

Online support staff can rely on a large body of literature when constructing mechanisms by which to assist visually-disabled online students. Such techniques as providing text-only versions of resources, using alternate-text HTML coding with graphics, creating audio files, and offering training with screen-reader technology are well-established methods by which support staff can decrease the burden on visually-impaired students. However, the underlying assumption of supporting visually-disabled students is that support staff are assisting students to retrieve content that is already there--the content of the course has been created by a sighted professor and is modified or augmented by the support staff to better fit the needs of the visually-impaired student.

In terms of preparing a visually-disabled faculty member to teach online, several questions arise. First, teaching an online course almost always implies the creation of new online course materials, or, at the very least, the transition of traditional-medium materials to electronic formats. This raises the question of how to train a visually-impaired faculty member to be able to make the "jump" in formats, how to assist the faculty member to learn how to use the software involved, and how to help the faculty member to become as independent of the support staff as possible in terms of creating and posting class materials. Secondarily, once the course begins, similar questions to those faced by online students arise: what accommodations must be made by the institution, the students, and the faculty member in order to maintain the accessibility of the materials created and used by all of the members of the class? A third area of inquiry has to do with the manner in which support staff train the faculty member how to handle the online class once it has begun; what are some successful strategies that can alert the students to the fact that their instructor is disabled? Is it even necessary to reveal this information? How ought the faculty member to view his or her relationship with the support staff?

These basic questions give rise to other, more specific issues, but these three areas--preparation of materials, training on the software, and online teaching techniques--appear to be the focus points facing any faculty support staff who wish to work well with visually disabled faculty members who will be teaching online.

PROPOSITIONS OF THE NARRATIVE

Before this case narrative began, the author had already worked with online students who had a range of disabilities from multiple sclerosis to deafness to visual disabilities; recommending adaptive technologies and partnering with local social-service organizations were effective methods of giving disabled students maximum access to the materials in their online classes. …

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