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Campus Technology Insider Podcast January 2023

Listen: How CSU Global Designs for Inclusive Online Education from the Start  

Rhea Kelly: Hello, and welcome to the Campus Technology Insider podcast. I'm Rhea Kelly, editor in chief of Campus Technology, and your host.

Campus Technology recently published 14 technology predictions for the coming year, based on input from higher education and ed tech industry experts across the country. A key statement on that list was this: Digital accessibility will be central to an inclusive campus culture. As Brian Fodrey, assistant vice president for Business Innovation at Carnegie Mellon University, put it, "Campus leaders must be thinking about how we are preparing our respective communities to take a more proactive and comprehensive approach to removing barriers and promoting all aspects of digital equity…. Prioritizing digital accessibility practices in all aspects of campus operations and life creates a more supportive community and inclusive culture for all."

That focus on digital accessibility is central to instructional design practice at Colorado State University Global. As the nation's first fully online, accredited nonprofit state university, CSU Global strives to achieve universal design standards in all of its programs, and to make courses accessible to a wide range of learners. For this episode of the podcast, I spoke with Associate Vice President of Digital Learning Andrea Butler and Director of Instructional Design Diona Hartwig about the importance of designing for accessibility from the start, ways to engage students in the online environment, and how inclusive design ultimately serves all students.

But first I have an exciting announcement to share. This fall, Campus Technology and our sister publication THE Journal are launching a new in-person conference called Tech Tactics in Education: Data and IT Security in the New Now. Join us November 7-9, 2023 in Orlando, Florida, for hands-on learning and strategic discussions about critical cybersecurity issues and data practices across K-12 and higher education. If you are an IT leader, data specialist, cybersecurity pro or other individual charged with technology decision-making on campus, this event is for you! Also, we have a call for speakers running until April 3rd — this is a great opportunity to share about your work, pass along best practices, learn from peers, make new contacts, and have fun all at the same time. For more information and to submit a session proposal, visit

And now, on to the interview.

Andrea and Diona, welcome to the podcast.

Diona Hartwig: Thanks for having us.

Kelly: I'd love to get a picture of how the overall course design process works at CSU Global, sort of like how does it start? Who's involved? And at what point does accessibility and inclusive design come into the equation?

Hartwig: So all of our course design projects start with what we, we call it a kickoff call. In that kickoff call, we include the program director, the content expert, our instructional designer, the instructional design manager, we also add in our librarian. And then if there are any tools that we know we're going to use within that course, we add in our academic technology team as well. That meeting is really to get everybody on the same page: We discuss our timelines, the program director shares their vision and their ideas of where they want to see that course go and what those changes look like and what they'd like to see. And then after that meeting, it is really in the hands of the content expert and our instructional designer. They work collaboratively side by side, anywhere between four to 16 weeks, and it really depends on what the project is, depends, you know, determines the length of the project. So within that timeframe, they are meeting weekly to discuss any issues or roadblocks that they, that they might have, or to have a collaborative working meeting to discuss, you know, they've got an assignment and, and they need to work around that accessibility issue or the universal design issue. And they're also working continuously in documents throughout the entire time. We start that conversation of accessibility and universal design from the beginning. And you really have to because it's so much easier to design it from the start rather than going back and having to rework a course to make it fit. So we do have those conversations throughout the entire process as they're developing a course.

Kelly: So in those weekly meetings, like, I'm curious about how you talk about tools and technologies. Is that something that comes up early on, like if people have something in mind, and you have to sort of work in how that's going to work? Or is there more of a search for, you know, a particular tool to solve a problem?

Hartwig: We really look at tools, we try to look at tools ahead of time. Because we don't have the luxury to just kind of pop tools in. It goes through a process. We have, we've got an entire process that they have to follow to get it approved. And that includes accessibility checks, that's our Academic Technology team taking a look at it for any integration issues that they would see from their side, we have the instructional design team, who's also looking at it. Everybody's kind of looking at it from a different lens. We also have our accessibility and disability coordinator to jump in and, and look at it from her standpoint as well.

Kelly: Does there end up being kind of a menu of tools, tools that had been vetted, that, to choose from, so you can kind of avoid the, that long process up front? Or how does that work?

Andrea Butler: Yes, we do, we do have tools that have already been pre approved. And so our PDs and our content experts know what those are. And so those tools are seamlessly integrated into our courses. But it just depends. There are some tools that, you know, they're out there, it might take two weeks to adopt, versus some tools take longer to explore, get to know, go through the process, do the whole risk assessment, go through the contract to bring on board, and so it might take six months to adopt. Therefore, that's, that's why we tell them to start earlier, if they know that there's a tool that they might want. And sometimes it's easy: They go, I absolutely want this tool. And sometimes they start with, they have an idea of what they think they might want, and so then we have to go and explore and maybe find and research and find a tool that might fit that need.

Kelly: Would you say that there are, I would say, like accessibility challenges or instructional design challenges that are unique to online learning that you deal with?

Hartwig: Yeah, I mean, I think developing online courses, we don't always know who our demographic is going to be. So we need to make sure that we are developing for the, you know, the widest range possible. When you're in, kind of on a ground university, you might expect your normal demographic to be that 18 to 24 year old, in that age range. Whereas for us, we, we run the gamut. We've got some courses where we, we do have some high school students in and we've got courses where we've got, you know, kind of older students and adult learners. So we need to make sure that we're developing and designing our courses for everyone. And we're, we're global, right? So we also have to take those into consideration, you know, kind of those cultural considerations as well. We need to ensure that we're able to engage our learners and create content that keeps them in, you know, they, they want to come back and they want to, want to take additional courses and continue. So some of those pieces: adding in content that is not only the reading a book or the, or the written word on the computer screen, but adding in, you know, videos and podcasts and visual aids and those sorts of things to kind of, to capture everyone.
Kelly: That kind of made a light bulb go off for me because the term universal design, it's not just to be inclusive, like for the sake of being inclusive, but it's perhaps because you don't know who the learner's going to be.

Hartwig: Yeah.

Butler: Exactly.

Kelly: So when you're working with faculty to like ensure that their courses are meeting accessibility and these kinds of design standards, what are some common mistakes that faculty make that, that you're working through with them?

Butler: I would not say they're mistakes. I just think that some of our faculties are just not dialed in to those things, and they're really dialed, dialed into, this is, this is how I want my course to be. This is how I want my assignments to be. And they're, and they go to their go to assignments. And so then we just help them reconfigure those assignments, so that they are, meet more students, wider audience. And so that's not a mistake, it's just, we just, we reconfigure those assignments. So it's more of a team effort. So we're still meeting the assignment needs, course objective needs, just rebuilding the assignment a slightly different way.

Kelly: When you're doing those faculty trainings, is it kind of, is it hard to engage faculty in, you know, participating? I mean, is it, do you, can you require them to take the training? Is it optional? Or how does that work?

Butler: At CSU Global, we pretty much have annual requirements. And our faculty really, I'm happy about our faculty participation. They tend, they tend to jump in and, and grab onto our training with both hands. So if we say this is what we do, it's kind of like our FERPA training, they jump in, and they do the FERPA training. So they do our accessibility training, and we say, here's our next round of training, they just do our training. And I'm pretty excited about that.

Kelly: Does the training change much from year to year? I mean, it seems like kind of a, I know these like kinds of standards are pretty standard.

Butler: Right, exactly. So that's why it's, it's not that hard. You just say this is, this is what we do. And this is …. We also incorporate, incorporate like when we have to do extended time for students, so when we do accommodations. So it's not just, this is our course standards. This is also what we do when we have to do extended time for quizzes, and how we accommodate students with different learning styles or needs. Um, so it's not just on the back end of courses. It's also what we might do for students on, when we're in the courses. Right? And so it's kind of a whole package of training for faculty.

Kelly: Okay, well, I'd love to get into some like specific tips, kind of the basics of engaging students in an online environment, like maybe things that every instructor should do as a baseline standard when it comes to universal design.

Butler: Some of the basic things that we thought about was just create a community, be present, guide the conversation, don't dominate the conversation. Some of the things that we do is just offer different options. So we always say write the paper. But at CSU Global, we, we allow for writing a paper, or creating a presentation, or allowing students to videotape themselves in giving a speech. So just allowing for a different option in allowing the student to present that they know this knowledge. So those are just very basic ways of thinking of, you always don't have to have a student write the content out. And that tends to be what faculty go to, just write a two page paper. And the two page, two page paper, the quick paper isn't always the best way for students to present that they have, they've acquired that knowledge acquisition, right? And so you can always do it a different way.

Kelly: So how about some next level tips?

Butler: Next level: Avoid canned responses. Don't reuse old posts. Use video posts to engage the different senses. Encourage student led discussions. Change your discussion posts from, from just that standard post. Maybe start a debate. There's different tools out there where you can have them do simulations. For different courses, you can have them do current events, flipped discussions, do scenario based reflections, problem based scenarios. Just think, again, getting away from that standard discussion, respond to two of your peer posts. And it's allowing audio, visual, and, and then engaging the student in a different way than just basic post, two responses.

Hartwig: I think it just gets really easy for faculty to kind of get in, get stuck or kind of do that same thing over and over, term over term. And so, so one thing I thought of, just having their personality show within their responses. And so that's kind of where I went with taking, removing those canned responses, and not reusing them term over term. When you, when a faculty member presents themself and shows their personality, it engages the learners, and they feel more of that sense of community. So kind of bringing back into that, that basic step of the sense of community. So just engaging, I think, a lot of engagement with online learners, because we are all separated. And we aren't meeting in that synchronous setting. So having them come together.

Butler: And I'll just add on to that, what we found is that some faculty are really afraid to do video. But at least try to do audio, because a quick audio clip engages the learners in a different way, more so than the quick text. And, and so that also captures a different part of your student population, as well. And just be mindful that we are capturing different people. And it's not, people will always say, Well, I don't have anybody who may be hearing impaired in my course. But you, you don't know. And, and that's what we've stumbled across. And I personally am not hearing impaired, but there are times where I need transcripts because I'm in a noisy room. And I need to read things. And I process information more where I can't watch a video. And so if everything is in a video, and I don't have transcripts, I need that transcript. And so we all do learn differently. And so you have to think about even if we have video, we need transcripts with the video. And I think universal design and inclusive design doesn't just mean that you have to be sight impaired or hearing impaired to be appreciative of the inclusive design aspects of thinking about putting all of these features into our course.

Kelly: I like how you mentioned that you just don't know if you have a student who might be hearing impaired because I think students don't always, like they might not want to disclose their, you know, if they have a learning disability or something that they have. So just making it inclusive from the start kind of allows you to serve that student without even knowing that they have those needs.

Butler: And also, as Diona mentioned before, we have multilingual students in our course. Multilingual. So it also helps them to have transcripts so that they can process the multi languages that they know. And so English is not their first language. And it helps them process the English language faster when they can read it. And so that always helps them as well. And so we try to accommodate the wide variety of students that we have in our courses. And I think that, that's, that's the next level tip for faculty, is that there's not one type of student that you have in your course. And they're not all like you. So you have to remember that your learning style is not the learning style of everyone in your course. And how you teach needs to adapt to multiple student populations. And so you think about, like, let me see if I can teach you three different ways. And you have to pre think that in an online course. So you have to put all of that in there. And if someone were to approach you in a ground course, you would automatically think, oh, I need to give it to you like this. But in an online course, no one's going to approach you, so in an online course you need to put all that in there at the beginning. Because undoubtedly there's someone struggling, you just can't see them. So you have to do that now.

Kelly: That's interesting. And I hear you both talking about engaging the senses, you know, with the incorporating video and audio. And so that makes me wonder, is that something that you have to help, I mean, you did mention like some faculty are not comfortable making videos, but just in general in making multimedia course materials or content, is that something faculty need help with or you have kind of a process in place for that?

Hartwig: Yeah, we, we have got video kits that we're sending out to faculty members kind of making it easy for them to record. They don't always like recording. So you know, you kind of have to baby step sometimes just, okay, let's do an introduction video, or let's kind of do a module overview video, to kind of get them used to the process. I don't know a lot of people who love seeing or hearing themselves on video, or podcasts, but you know, working with them and getting them through those steps, it really does help the learner. And that's, that's our main goal. That's always our top priority is what's going to engage the learner and what's best for the learner.

Kelly: Can you share some specific tools that have worked well at CSU Global, for just making online learning more interactive and accessible?

Hartwig: So some of the tools that we use on the back end from a design perspective, we, so our learning management system is Canvas. And we've got some great accessibility checkers that we utilize when we're going through our courses, they're going to help make sure our headings are in the correct order for screen readers, they're going to make sure we've got alt texts on all of our images, that our links are working. So really some of those functional items that we need from that accessibility side. From a student perspective, we, we obviously we use the Immersive Reader. And so that allows for the content on the screen to be read to the learner, it can be translated in different languages if they need it to be. So those are a few tools that I can think of.

Butler: Most of our students use JAWS.

Hartwig: Yeah.
Butler: So and we just make sure that our design is able to be used with those tools that are already well established in the, in the industry already. And that's kind of what we, what we are doing currently.

Kelly:  So when you're partnering with, with vendors or selecting new tools and assessing their, their accessibility features, what are some important questions to ask?

Butler: So we are giving them fits, because we actually are holding them accountable to the standards. And some of them we've sent back to the drawing board and asked them what's their plan. And they are coming up with plans. I won't name names. But the number one important question that we ask them is, do you have a VPAT? And if they say no, we ask them what's their accessibility plan. And that's it. That's the biggest question because if they don't have a VPAT, we pretty much don't want to use them. And if they aren't making a plan to get to that standard, then it makes it hard for us to integrate them into our learning management system. Because we, we have too many courses. That, it makes it hard for us to then try to adapt them on the back end, where we're trying to retro fit a class or retro adapt, adapt the class so that a student who may have a need, at the end of the day, we gotta turn the tool off or we have to come up with a secondary class or try to figure out a secondary assignment to meet course objectives. That's too hard.

Hartwig: Also go in and look at it. Test. Ask the questions. Meet with their accessibility team if you can. Because while they may give you the VPAT and it looks amazing, you really gotta get in and you have to test it for your, for yourself.

Kelly: Do you ever have faculty who fall in love with a tool and, and really want to use it and then you, you know, it doesn't meet the standards?

Butler: Yes. And then you say no, and you break hearts. You kindly break the heart, but then our faculty realize that if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. Because sometimes even the tool can't even be integrated into the platform. But when we, when we show them that it can't meet the needs of the students, our faculty then realize, okay, well it can't meet the needs of the students. Then our Academic Technology team springs into action. They're really great. And we start looking for alternative tools. So it's just a momentary heartbreak, and then they realize there's a team out there that helps them start looking for alternatives.

Kelly: Any final advice or things that you think other institutions should know that I haven't asked?

Hartwig: I think my just one biggest piece of advice is start thinking about accessibility and universal design from the beginning. Be proactive, rather than reactive. It's just so much easier, and it's gonna save everyone time in the long run if, if you start from the beginning.

Butler: And then my advice is that it's, it's not even an accessibility kind of question or a thought or a practice. It's more about inclusive for all students. Because like I said before, there are, there are students who are doing multiple things and have active lifestyles. And these kind of design practices help all students. And when you include them, it makes learning easier for all students. And oh, by the way, they just so happened to make you compliant with accessibility guidelines. And so yes, if you're proactive, and you start thinking about this at the beginning, it's not just about accessibility. It really is great for all learning styles and all students.

Kelly: All right, so thank you so much for coming on.

Butler: Thank you for having us.

Kelly: Thank you for joining us. I'm Rhea Kelly, and this was the Campus Technology Insider podcast. You can find us on the major podcast platforms or visit us online at Let us know what you think of this episode and what you'd like to hear in the future. Until next time.

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