Spotlight on SOTL: Want students to benefit from accessible teaching? Check your underlying reasons and motivations.
This article is based on the following research article:
de Bie, A., Marquis, B., Suttie, M., Watkin-McClurg, O., & Woolmer, C. (2020). Orientations to teaching more accessibly in postsecondary education: Mandated, right, pedagogically effective, or profitable? Disability & Society, 37 (5), 849-874 https://doi.org/10.1080/09687599.2020.1848803
In this article, the authors investigate the factors that influence educators to go beyond the assigned bare minimum (e.g., accessible education training) to make their teaching practices more accessible. Using a qualitative methodology, the researchers outline five orientations (or reasons) of accessibility that inform educators’ practice of accessible teaching. These reasons include 1) mandate, 2) right, 3) pedagogically effective, 4) nice, and/or 5) profitable. The researchers discuss the importance and implications of orientations in practicing accessible teaching.
What did the researchers do and find?
The study conducted semi-structured focus groups and interviews with 27 teaching assistants and instructors here at McMaster University. These were audio recorded and transcribed for coding and analysis. The researchers selected the ‘values and orientations’ factor since these explicitly articulated the motivations and implied understandings of the participants about accessibility.
These reasons to advance accessibility are:
- Mandated thing to do: Accessible teaching results from institutional or legislative mandates. It can incentivize accessible teaching but also create resistance owing to the ‘rule’/’forceful’ nature of mandates.
- Right thing to do: Accessible teaching is synonymous with equity and a socially just educational experience. But there are concerns about misuse of the system and ensuring fairness and equity for all.
- Pedagogically Effective thing to do: Accessibility is integral to pedagogical principles (like learning goals) and effective teaching rather than a separate responsibility. But how can educators apply accessibility while maintaining teaching standards?
- Nice thing to do: This signals tight interlinkage between helping and providing accessibility. But it can frame disability as a deficit and come off as an optional charitable action.
- Profitable thing to do: Accessible teaching means meeting customer (student) demands and helping educators obtain positive student evaluations. But this furthers neoliberal understanding of education and diminishes the inclusive spirit of accessible teaching.
How might you use this research in your teaching?
Educators should be aware of the values and reasons that underlie accessible teaching practices for the following reasons:
- Values and reasons are not separate but interconnected and fluid.
- Some values and reasons are outcomes-based rather than embedded in the spirit of accessibility.
- Consequences of orientations in practice can manifest as excluding students from the benefits of accessibility.
- Broad conceptualizations of accessibility can produce misunderstandings and impede addressing all inequalities in post-secondary teachings. For instance, they can fail to adequately respond to calls for Truth and Reconciliation or decolonization of academia.
How can you minimize inaccessible consequences of orientations?
- Practicing mindfulness about potential exclusions resulting from accessible teaching practices by consulting scholarly literature or talking to other educators.
- Reflecting critically and evaluating your reasons for accessible teaching. Asking questions like, “Am I practicing accessible teaching because it is nice/inclusive or helps create my teaching portfolio?”
- Taking perspective and considering the situation from another person’s perspective. Asking questions like, “If I were a student, would this accessible practice include or exclude me, and how?”
- Engaging in regular student evaluations of ‘accessibility’ in teaching practices .
- Consulting educational developers for additional support and insights.