Digital teaching, as has already been explained in the "Position Paper on the Design of Digital Courses" by Doran Nettig for the AStA of the TUHH, among other things, offers a lot of advantages if implemented well, which do not need to be explained further now. Because this statement is intended to draw attention to the people who encounter barriers in digital teaching. Because even if digital teaching offers advantages for many people, this does not apply to everyone and we need to point out
For whom and why might digital teaching bring limitations?
There are people with various disabilities at this university. Some of these are known to the examination board because they have submitted compensation for disadvantages, but some will be unknown. Either way, these people have found their own ways and means of not being left behind in everyday life. These ways and means can be, for example, the help of fellow students or self-made solutions adapted to the situation. In this new situation, some of these aids will no longer work. On the one hand, there are no more tools, and on the other hand, the affected person may feel overwhelmed or helpless, which is an additional burden. The following applies to almost all of them: if no solutions are found for any barriers, these students will record poorer results, forego participation in exams and possibly even drop out of their studies.
There are various impairments and life situations that make studying more difficult and are briefly mentioned below as examples; there is no claim to completeness:
- Impairment of hearing or deafness
- Impaired vision or blindness
- Speech impairments
- Psychological impairments
- Autism Spectrum Disabilities
- Students with care responsibilities (e.g., of children or family members requiring care).
- International students
- Students with professional obligations
Identification of potential problems and proposed solutions
- Synchronous online lectures or events can be problematic for all the groups of people mentioned if there are no additional materials, such as scripts, transcripts or presentation slides. The recordings of the events could, for example, be put online and references to summary or further text materials could also be given outside the lecture or event in order to realize asynchronous and individually adapted learning. Illustrations and photos can also be verbalized for people with visual impairments. To check online videos for barriers, the following guide can also be used: https://bik-fuer-alle.de/leitfaden-barrierefreie-online-videos.html
- Documents and programs can be especially problematic for students with vision impairments or blindness. For one thing, most programs are inoperable when permanently magnified, and for another, recordings of handwritten notes can be illegible. Handwriting that is large enough and clear enough are essential for handwritten notes to be legible, as students lack the option to ask the person sitting next to them what exactly is happening. Software adapted for browsers is also often scalable and remains almost unrestricted.
- Creating deliverables in virtual teams can be a hurdle for all previously mentioned student groups. Please formulate clear and obligatory requirements for the teams or, if possible, provide substitutes through individual assignments.
- Working for too long at workstations that are not designed for long periods of time can lead to various physical impairments, for example due to poor posture - both for students and for teachers. In addition, working in front of a screen for long periods of time can be very tiring for everyone, but especially for people with impaired vision, and can hinder concentration. In order to prevent these impairments, sufficient opportunities for both small and larger (lunch) breaks should be considered when planning the events.
- Working in an environment with background noise or poor sound quality is also a problem for all students, but especially for students with hearing impairments: some people cannot wear headphones and many hearing aids are not compatible with headphones and simple speakers. Accordingly, it is almost impossible to follow along in an environment with background noise. Alternative teaching aids or subtitling of educational videos are urgently needed for these people. There are already apps for this, which convert what is said into writing. Recordings should be produced in good sound quality and in a quiet environment.
- New situations in themselves are even more challenging for people with disabilities or people in special circumstances than for unrestricted people. In some cases, problems can be eliminated by new assistive devices, but these must be financed, which not all affected students can afford and can lead to additional financial worries. A feeling of helplessness can occur for all those affected. In order to support all of these people, there should be a central point of contact within TUHH to address the concerns of these individuals and find timely solutions with them. Because if timely solutions cannot be found, these students will be left behind and may not be able to catch up on missed classes in time.
- In general, all students can benefit if the planned implementation of the event is as clear as possible and communicated in advance, e.g. on StudIP. Then students can possibly make necessary arrangements before the event or communicate personal needs to the lecturers as early as possible. In addition, signaling openness to students' concerns by instructors can empower restricted students to make their needs and problems or solutions known. Furthermore, providing time-independent consultation opportunities, preferably using a variety of media, will support all students to include both those with hearing and visual impairments.
Digital teaching is relatively new for all of us. However, it is also particularly challenging for groups of people in special circumstances or people with disabilities. The task now is to provide special support for these individuals so that they are not left helpless in the digitalization frenzy. On the whole, I think many hurdles can be avoided, for example through asynchronous teaching, a contact person for these students to collect and promptly remedy these problems, and good cooperation between the teachers and these affected individuals. I therefore advocate good cooperation between all parties involved so that digital teaching is a step forward for everyone.