Some COVID-induced shifts in learning have staying power

Student accessibility services (SAS) assists about 2,000 students each year, providing accommodations for those with disabilities or temporary health conditions.

That work was put to the test during the pandemic as SAS developed new or modified ways to help students learning in an online or hybrid environment.

Those challenges taught lessons and brought technological advances that will continue benefiting students, even as they return to the classroom.


The move online had many instructors recording their lessons so students could watch when it was convenient. It helped students who had a schedule conflict and lessened the impact of missing class.


Jamie Niman and Lori Mickle will present on the flexibility of universal design for learning on Oct. 26 (11:15 a.m., 2030 Morrill) as part of Disability Awareness Week.

"That is an example of a universal design platform we are hoping will continue," said Lori Mickle, instructional technology specialist in the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching.

Universal design makes the environment usable by all people without adaptation or specialization.

SAS accessibility coordinator Jamie Niman said some students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder found online delivery enhanced their learning.

"They said it was optimal for them because the classroom can be very distracting, and they can control their environment at home," she said. "They could make it very quiet. They could move around as they learned."

Everyone's needs are individualized. Some flourished online while others needed the classroom structure and requested to come to class when safety measures allowed, Niman said.

Instructors also got creative testing students' knowledge. Finding ways to assess learning besides exams allowed some students to shine. Whether it was presentations, group projects or writing, students have different ways of sharing their knowledge, Mickle said.

Meetings between SAS staff and students also enjoyed improved attendance with a virtual option.

"We offered focus sessions, which were two-hour blocks of time where students could log into WebEx, and the soft-skills coach would check in with them after establishing their goals," Niman said.

The coach would check in halfway through and at the end of the session. It made completing a task easier and didn't require students to travel across campus for support. Niman said virtual options like focus sessions are important because SAS space limitations do not allow large numbers of students to gather in-person.


Captioning lectures for deaf and hard-of-hearing students became a significant issue for Zoom and WebEx instruction beginning in March 2020. Niman said coordinating captioners required adding them to Zoom or WebEx sessions, and instructors were asked to help coordinate.

Previously, a faculty member wore a microphone that sent audio to a captioner working remotely to be put into a document for a student. That changed with the move online. Students interacting with breakout groups or shifting between small- and large-group discussions was more common.

"When everything went online the captioner had to be integrated into the chatroom or somehow get the audio," Mickle said. "It was trying to figure out how to get non-ISU members to where they needed to be."

Niman said advances made by videoconferencing services since the start of the pandemic have improved numerous functions, including closed captioning.


Moving classes online introduced challenges finding homework assignments, guidelines to complete work and expectations in Canvas. As faculty became more comfortable and knowledgeable, consistency in Canvas navigation improved for students, Niman said. Instructors and students also became more familiar with what the learning management system could offer to assist faculty delivery and enhance communication.