How edtech helps students with disabilities better access Higher Education

Covid-19 has undoubtedly transformed education across the globe, and the shift to online learning has not been an easy transition. While schools and universities are carefully reopening their gates, both students and teachers know that educational technologies will continue to be part of the new normal.

The pandemic has presented an opportunity to rethink the conventional education system, making it more inclusive and accessible for a wider range of students. For example, using virtual learning platforms for delivering online or hybrid education enables teachers to reach students from across the country.

For students with special educational needs and disabilities, who struggle more with traditional classroom methods, virtual learning has enabled many to access education and engage at a deeper level with learning content tailored to their specific needs. The shift to using edtech to deliver lessons and the self-paced asynchronous classes have enabled many such students to thrive.

As an educator and Executive Director at the Inclusive Higher Education Certificate Program (IHECP), I have witnessed this first-hand. Even before the pandemic, my students were familiar with various edtech tools, as I have been a promoter of accessible online education for years. Therefore, the step towards a completely remote learning environment was not a huge and inconvenient one. On the contrary, they adapted quite easily!

With the help of our virtual learning platform, teachers can structure their lessons in a format suited to the students’ needs while still enabling them to engage and expand their knowledge to realize their full potential. This includes using a more graphical interface and text-to-speech software for students who struggle with reading and language and integrating more quizzes, lesson recaps, and self-monitoring to help them enjoy an engaging and meaningful learning experience.

What’s more, the online learning environment provides plenty of opportunities for targeted and continuous feedback. It’s easy to identify when a student encounters a hurdle in a specific part of a lesson so that the teacher can provide the needed support. Not only that, but the way in which the feedback is delivered can be adapted as well: written, spoken, or in video format. My students love submitting a video or audio recording and getting my response in the same format.

Last but not least, a virtual learning platform offers the possibility to evaluate progress using a mix of formative and summative assessments and address various skills. Teachers can identify prior knowledge about a subject, verify if each student is on the right track throughout their learning journeys, and evaluate their ability to use the newly learned concepts or skills independently after the lesson is over.

The global pandemic shook Higher Education to its core. It’s high time things change for the better. Accessible learning design benefits all students, and that’s why I believe that every educator, whether they teach students with disabilities or not, should get to know their learning platform like the back of their hands. That is a key success factor in providing personalized and accessible education for HE students of all abilities.

Cathi Allen is the founder and Executive Director of the Inclusive Higher Education Certificate Program (IHECP), in partnership with the Metropolitan State University of Denver School of Education, located on the downtown Denver, Colorado Auraria Campus. The IHECP creates and administers higher education programming and supports students with learning, intellectual, and developmental disabilities who wish to continue their education beyond secondary school.