Online Course Design

Every course is unique. While we’ve provided some tips and guidelines here, we’re also happy to work with you on an individual basis as you build your online course. We encourage you to visit our page on Universal Design principles that you can put into practice in any online or in-person classroom.

Course Structure: Synchronous or Asynchronous?

Accessibility Considerations for Asynchronous (Self-Paced) Classes

Asynchronous teaching, by its nature, is likely to be accessible to more individuals: assistive technology users don’t have to worry about keeping up with the pace of the rest of the class, users who benefit from reviewing information multiple times will be able to easily do so, and users who have access to slower WiFi won’t be left out. However, it will still have the same requirements for accessible accompanying materials, captioning, etc. as synchronous classes—see the Digital Accessibility section for more information on these topics.

Accessibility Considerations for Synchronous (Real-Time) Classes

If the nature of your course requires synchronous participation, please keep the following in mind:

Lecture Content
  • We recommend recording the class session and posting it on Blackboard via Panopto. This allows students who miss class content or are not able to attend the entire session to go back and review the class.
  • Consider assigning a student to take notes for the class and post them online. This will allow students to attend to the lecture and fill in any gaps in their notes caused by technology issues, muffled audio, or fast pacing. Another option is to ask students to crowdsource notes on a shared Google doc. This is a great way to build collaborative understandings and clear up individual misconceptions in real-time.
  • If you have students who are Deaf or hard of hearing, access needs to be provided in real time. Arrangements with an access coordinator will need to be made for ASL interpreting and/or real-time captioning. Learn more about accommodations in online courses.
  • If you have students who are blind or have low vision, read aloud all text and provide a description of any images used in a live synchronous or recorded asynchronous presentation or lecture (e.g. PowerPoint, videos, webcasts, images, tables, graphs, etc.).
  • Students with disabilities may not be able to participate at a fast pace online; e.g., their assistive technology or CART (text transcription provider) may require some time to communicate the information. Fast paced classes may also be problematic for students in areas with slow WiFi, etc. Consider pacing your instruction accordingly and check in with students about how your pacing is working.
  • Ask students to mute microphones to reduce background noise or feedback.
  • Be flexible regarding participation on video. Students may be uncomfortable with or unable to share information via this method. Allow options for audio or chat participation.
  • Some students may not be able to use screens/computers for extended periods of time due to their disability. Faculty should consider additional flexibility with attendance to synchronous sessions and with deadlines in these circumstances.
Grading and Feedback
  • Be aware that some students may need time acclimating to the tools and software in your online course, particularly if they utilize additional software for access, such as screen readers.
  • Do not penalize students for spelling or grammatical mistakes. The extra cognitive load of so much typing (or text production via voice transcription technology) may make things difficult for them.
  • Check in with students and ask how features and structure of the course are working for them. Work with our office and other resources on campus if you need support to make changes where you can.

General Best Practices for Accessible Online Teaching

  • Create a clear, consistent structure. Organize multiple modules in an intuitive and predictable way to reduce the chance that students miss important content or assignments.
  • Give clear instructions. If you’re asking students to do something, give as much detail as possible (how, when, where, what). Give students both written and verbal instructions.
  • Provide checklists and self-assessments. Help students know what is expected of them and to check their understandings of key concepts.
  • Send weekly messages to your students, including deadline reminders. This helps build community and encourages your students stay focused and engaged.
  • Present content in multiple ways/formats. For example, use a variety of slides that include text and images, add audio and video clips (see the section on Digital Accessibility for tips on making each of these formats fully accessible), and use readings in various formats (e.g., professional articles, web pages, news articles, etc.). This gives students autonomy and options to select content that is most accessible to them.
  • Offer assessment options. Allow students to demonstrate their understanding via a variety of different formats—video, audio, web, or paper, for example. This will allow students to best demonstrate understandings and not be impeded by potential disability barriers.
  • Provide opportunities for questions. Do so using different tools such as unmuting participants to ask questions verbally, inviting students to use the chat tool, and encouraging students to email you questions.
  • Provide opportunities for feedback. Engaging with students throughout the week and providing many different opportunities for feedback will allow them to correct misunderstandings earlier and deepen connections to the content. Feedback can be provided through a variety of formal and informal activities and assessment—discussion boards, quizzes, reflections, of office hours, to name a few.

References/Additional Resources