Community Comes First on the Road to Inclusion
Supporting Student Success at the College of DuPage
Popcorn and and Promoting Personalized Learning
The aroma of fresh popcorn filled the air outside the “Access and Accommodations Office” at the College or DuPage, as members of the Learning Technologies team passed out Ally swag and popcorn to students passing by. While the team may spend the majority of their time working with faculty on their courses, they still play an active role in helping students take advantage of available digital tools to enhance their learning. On this day, they are letting students know about Ally’s alternative formats, and where to find them in their courses. In Episode 6 of the Ally Tour podcast, the Learning Technologies team shares more about their efforts to promote the learning benefits of the alternative formats and support a more inclusive COD campus.
The second largest community college in the country, COD is nestled in the picturesque town of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, just 30 miles west from Downtown Chicago. With several connected buildings stretching across the campus, COD can feel like a labyrinth of hallways, classrooms, collaborative learning spaces, offices, and Starbucks. But it was clear during our Ally Tour stop that no matter where a student might wander in the halls of COD, they are certain to find a supporting and knowledgeable educational professional to help them along in their journey.
Like many community colleges, COD provides opportunities for career and academic advancement to diverse students, including a growing population of students with diagnosed disabilities. Studies over the last decade report 71% of students with disabilities attend community college (Barnett, 2006), though only 8% of students with disabilities ultimately complete a college degree (US Dept of Education, 2017). Helping ensure students with diagnosed disabilities as well as students with undiagnosed disabilities and other unique learning needs have equitable opportunities for success is therefore a campus-wide commitment, and a key area of focus for the Learning Technologies team.
I have a student with a visual impairment, I have students who are physically impaired, this [Ally] is excellent for them. And then we have students with emotional disorders, which Ally also is very helpful for them because any level of frustration as far as being able to access something, they just quit, they’re done- “This is too hard”. When they use Ally and see that it is easier, it’s more accessible, they don’t feel so defeated right away.
– Sarah Bryan, High School Transitions Case Manager
Universal Design as a “Guided Pathway” for All Students
To support their diverse learners, instructional designers Becky Benkert and Michael Maxse work with faculty to infuse universal design principles in their courses, such as providing students with course content in different modalities so that they have options to learn in ways that work best for them. Susan Landers, manager of the Learning Technologies department, describes how tools like Ally that help promote these universal design for learning principles have also helped raise awareness and drive momentum for broader student success efforts, such as the “Guided Pathways” program designed to make navigating the college experience easier and more effective.
Having things laid out in the same way on a consistent basis reduces confusion for everybody not just visually blind students, but for everybody.
– Zach, Student Accounting Major
For a student like Zach (featured in the video above), access to course materials that work with his screen reader can make a difference between an easier path and a harder path. During my Tour visits, I’m sometimes asked by instructors why a properly Tagged PDF is important to accessibility. Zach explained this in quite clear terms to me: When he is using his screen reader to listen to a document, there are moments when things suddenly appear out of order, and the document no longer makes logical sense. At this point, he’s realized the reading order of the document has not been properly tagged, and it’s going to be near impossible to grasp the material out of order. He’ll need to make a trip to the Access and Accommodations Office to have the PDF remediated before he can complete his work. Yet despite some of these challenges, Zach’s own perseverance and the vast network of support at COD keep him on a pathway toward a career in accounting and business. And while fixing all the untagged PDFs will take some time, using Ally to readily identify courses where those untagged PDFs appear can help accessibility and remediation professionals like Maureen Price and Kelli Kerns ensure that Zach has his accessible course materials before he sits down to read them.
Everyone learns differently, and maybe one thing might be good for one student but another student might be struggling. And as a teacher, you’d want both students to be successful in the end.
– Colleen, Student Sports Studies
As we departed COD and prepared for the 260 mile drive to Southern Illinois Edwardsville University, I felt a deep sense of community among the learning technologies team and the broader campus. I think sometimes, the journey to inclusive education becomes overwhelmed by document remediation and content accessibility, but we shouldn’t forget that inclusion begins in the content of the relationships that form between people. I was reminded by the close knit, supportive, and fun-loving people at DuPage that the pathway to inclusion truly begins in the community, and once we have made a collective commitment to a more inclusive campus for everyone, only then can we begin navigating through the barriers and challenges that stand before us.