Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Identifying and Removing Barriers: How Campus Partners Cultivate Diverse Online Learning Environments

Academic journal article Library Technology Reports

Identifying and Removing Barriers: How Campus Partners Cultivate Diverse Online Learning Environments

Article excerpt

Online courses are becoming increasingly popular in educational institutions. Enrollments in online college courses are growing at a rapid pace. (1) Online courses have the potential to attract students who may not be able to enroll in traditional face-to-face courses. As colleges and universities move toward offering more online courses, students with special needs may get left behind. (2) Universal design becomes more important every year as institutions of higher education extend their reach and course offerings to a variety of students near and far. Many students, including those students with disabilities, are opting for online versions of courses.

According to Tobin, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is an educational framework for designing multiple ways for learners to interact, engage, and experience content. (3) UDL was initially developed to provide equal learning opportunities for students in traditional face-to-face courses, but the framework has been adapted for online courses. UDL goes beyond being helpful for students with disabilities. These principles often benefit all learners.

Online learning can present challenges for all students. If course accessibility and usability are not appropriately addressed, challenges can be particularly significant for students with various disabilities. (4) Some students may require unique support in the online learning environment, and many educators erroneously assume that all materials available online are accessible to all students. Oftentimes, faculty don't know how UDL strategies can benefit students. (5)

Overview of the University of South Carolina

USC-Columbia is a large, diverse public university with a Carnegie I research classification. The university is the state flagship institution, which encompasses many disciplines and schools, strong departmental structures, and a strong sense of faculty governance. The USC system includes three senior four-year campuses--USC-Aiken, USC-Upstate, and USC-Beaufort--which are governed by separate academic leadership. The system also includes four Palmetto College regional campuses (USC-Lancaster, USC-Salkehatchie, USC-Sumter, and USC-Union). The USC system enrollment exceeds 50,000 students--over 42,000 undergraduate students, 6,900 graduate students, and 1,800 professional students. The system employs more than 3,300 full-time faculty. (6)

In addition to traditional courses, USC-Columbia and the Palmetto College regional campuses have a wide array of distributed learning (DL) courses through many degree programs. USC uses the umbrella of DL to describe courses offered through a few modalities: 100 percent online, blended, and two-way video. Courses that are delivered 50 percent or more online, either synchronously or asynchronously, fall under DL.

University of South Carolina Libraries

The USC system is home to fourteen libraries. The University Libraries support learning and discovery by connecting university faculty, staff, and students with collections and support for research and teaching. Librarians collaborate with campus partners including departmental liaisons, the Office of Distributed Learning, and the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE) to provide quality services for students who enroll in DL courses and faculty who teach DL courses.

University library staff assist faculty with addressing copyright concerns by utilizing e-reserves. Staff scan library materials for faculty and input the material in the content collection of the Blackboard learning management system. Librarians collaborate with the Student Disability Resource Center (SDRC) to create accessible scanned materials.

Instructors have the ability to include library resources within DL courses by linking to interactive subject guides where students can access pertinent course information. Librarians can create course guides for class research assignments. Faculty and students at a distance can request that journal articles and book chapters be scanned and provided electronically. …

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