Performing “CPR” to Improve Inclusion and Accessibility in Teach-Outs

Marcus Hall, Design Management Fellow

Marcus Hall, Design Management Fellow

Marcus Hall, Design Management Fellow

In late February, I was not sure what to expect as the Design Management Fellow at the Office of Academic Innovation since I knew I was going to be the first fellow for the Teach-Out Series. However, I saw an immense opportunity to shape my fellow experience when Benjamin Morse, Design Manager, asked me to craft learning objectives for my role. I poured over job descriptions of Learning Experience Designers and Product Designers, identifying key skills I wanted to gain. Shortly after, I held informational interviews with members of six different teams connected to Teach-Outs because I wanted to get the lay of the land for opportunities to collaborate at Academic Innovation. 

My Background in Inclusion and Accessibility 

In my previous internships, I had supported Sub-Saharan African professionals and community members living with disabilities such as blindness, mobility challenges, and deafness. This led me to think more intentionally about the learning experiences of participants living with visual impairments and certain cognitive disabilities. This, also, illuminated some challenges learners may experience when participating in Teach-Outs and provided a pathway for me to add significant value to the team by enhancing the accessibility of content in the Teach-Out Series. 

Performing “CPR”

After holding initial informational interviews and combining my previous work I found an opportunity to merge my role with the Learning Experience Design (LXD) team. Yuanru Tan, Learning Experience Designer and Accessibility Coordinator, acted as a mentor to help me to improve the inclusion and accessibility of Teach-Outs. Under Yuanru and Benjamin’s mentorship, I scoped different projects, and as a result, I created the Concept, Practice, and Reminder (CPR) toolkit and training sessions. To create this, I reviewed 12 Teach-Out videos and identified potential barriers from the perspective of users living with different disabilities and identities. For example, in multiple videos, the speakers did not describe relevant details about the environment and objects around them. This means that a Teach-Outs participant living with a disability, like blindness, would miss crucial information for learning. 

I utilized multiple frameworks and guidelines in design and web accessibility, such as the “Universal Design for Learning” and the “Web Content Accessibility Guidelines,” to contextualize my observations and created categories, learning objectives, and best practices that could be immediately implemented in Teach-Outs. Our final guidelines and recommendations fell into the following categories: Language Register, Identity-Based Consideration, Concretization, Descriptive Language, and Visual Auxiliary Aids. More detail on each recommendation in the image below:


Challenges Along the Way

I realized midway through designing the plan that I did not have a working definition of accessibility and inclusion. In the online learning space, accessibility generally relates to users living with disabilities that people are familiar with, such as blindness or hard-of-hearing, while inclusion encompasses markers of identity, such as nationality, race, and language. However, a disability forms part of someone’s identity. Thereupon, I integrated the two concepts because they were both equally important and influenced each other in this project. 

Another big challenge was working with the development timeline for Teach-Outs. From ideation to production, this timeline can vary from three or four months to two weeks. It is common to think about project timelines across weeks or months, but that metric is not always helpful for Teach-Outs because the frequency of planning meetings changes drastically depending on the launch date. Sometimes you might have five meetings in two weeks or three meetings in three months. This means you have less face-to-face time to train guest experts and Teach-Out hosts in inclusion and accessibility practices. The solution needed to be malleable enough so a Design Manager could use certain resources from a toolkit and training materials as needed, particularly for shorter timelines. 

Piloting “CPR”

The three deliverables in the toolkit and training, “CPR”, include an instructional video, a double-sided infographic, and a pre-production training program. The five-minute instructional video introduces guest experts and hosts to Concepts in inclusion and accessibility. The pre-production training is a set of presentations for meetings leading up to production that surface prior knowledge among faculty and staff about inclusion and accessibility, along with presenting our guidelines and recommendations. The stakeholders Practice these recommendations with curated, tailored activities so they take theory and apply it to practice. Our double-sided infographic Reminds them of these practices both prior to, and the day of, the video recording.

My favorite part of my fellowship has been taking the toolkit and training program and putting it into practice. I have co-led several training sessions that include past and future Teach-Outs on concussions, LGBTQI+ pride, and the intersection of art and technology. I also co-led a session on inclusion and accessibility to visiting Teach-Out scholars at institutions from across the country during the Teach-Outs Academy earlier this summer. I’ve enjoyed collaborating across seven teams in Academic Innovation to inform the design and implementation of this project.

So what’s the impact? Here’s what Benjamin has to say:

“The toolkit and resources that Marcus created increases the Teach-Out team’s ability to work closely with partners and guest contributors to bring inclusion and accessibility to the forefront of the design process.”

What’s Next?

We have done a lot in the area of inclusion and accessibility but there are certainly opportunities to enrich this component in the future. The team could consider collecting feedback from users about its inclusion and accessibility. User feedback could have informed our design of the toolkit and training. The Teach-Outs team could also consider efforts to write discussion questions that bring topics related to accessibility and inclusion in online conversations with future participants. I have expanded my skills in design thinking, instructional design, learning theory, and project management throughout my fellowship experience and I am looking forward to building on these skills as I pursue a career in learning experience design. 

Are We Ready to Move Beyond Translations? Making a Multilingual Destination for Learning and Problem Solving

James DeVaney, Associate Vice Provost for Academic Innovation

Last month, we launched three massive open online courses (MOOCs) in Arabic with our partners at Coursera. As a result, the nearly 300 million Arabic speakers around the world now have access to courses on Leading Teams, Programming for Everybody, and The Science of Success. This spring and summer, we will launch seven additional courses in Arabic delivered on the Coursera Platform.

We are also partnering with edX to translate courses into Spanish delivered on edX’s Spanish language platform. We will start this journey with Programming for Everybody and create additional learning opportunities to meet the needs of Spanish-speaking learners across the United States and around the world. Previously, we translated a course on Successful Negotiation into both Spanish and Portuguese through our partnership with Coursera and have reached more than 110,000 learners to date. All of these courses are made available to learners on Michigan Online.

Screenshot of the Michigan Online course description page of the "Leading Teams" course translated in Arabic.

Why does this matter?

Imagine a destination for lifelong learning, better yet, a destination for lifelong problem solving. Significant problems. Problems that matter to diverse, global populations.

What do you need to solve these problems? Knowledge, skills, and people. Scaffolding to support interactions. A sense of community. A shared purpose. To solve the most important societal problems, we need problem-solving communities made up of learners that reflect the diversity of the world around us. Unfortunately, most learning communities fall short on many dimensions of diversity.

So what is standing in the way?

In the current digital era, we often start by removing the barriers of time and space. We create self-paced, asynchronous, and near synchronous learning experiences. We develop tools to personalize learning, support collaboration, and close distance. We quickly find ways to lower these barriers with smart technology choices and shift our collective thinking about reach.

Next, we tend to look beyond our massive reach and see positive gains on many dimensions of diversity. At the same time, we realize that we can do much more. Relaxing time and space gives us a new lens and inspires institutions like the University of Michigan to think differently about our ability to expand our public purpose. As we build upon experiments in the only way we know how, informed by data and scholarship and in the interest of advancing learning, we see additional barriers in the form of access, belongingness, and affordability. We haven’t solved for higher education deserts, helped learners at all levels to see themselves in higher education environments, or sufficiently experimented with business models to reduce costs to learners. There is more to do here and experiments are underway.

But there is at least one more important barrier to lower in addition to time, space, access, belongingness, and affordability: Language.

In a world of near-limitless access to knowledge, and with learning tools that are improving every day, we understand that increasing access to learning opportunities is essential, but also insufficient. We must provide opportunities to learn together.

Language is one tall barrier that stands in the way. Since launching our first MOOC in 2012, We have surpassed more than 7.3 million enrollments with learners from nearly every country. This new network of learners objectively alters our community diversity. At the same time, we see significant opportunities to make larger strides forward in areas of diversity such as socioeconomic status, educational attainment, and cultural identity.

We believe lowering the barriers imposed by language is part of the solution. We know that more diversity leads to better problem solving. Just as we’ve designed experiments to lower other barriers, we are now pointing resources toward language. Translations are only the beginning. We need to imagine and design learning environments and enabling tools that engage and empower learners and facilitate sharing, understanding, and problem solving across this boundary type. We need a multilingual destination for learning and problem solving.

As we move beyond translations we will explore new modes of learner-centric design, including the development of original learning content in the language and context of specific communities, which will help all our learners develop cross-cultural competencies, and position our global problem-solving community to address grand challenges. It is these grand challenges that require problem-solving teams made up of curious learners that together posses deep knowledge, skills, and lived experience. These problem solvers are evenly distributed and language is a significant barrier to constructing the universal and compassionate public square our world so desperately needs.

In the near term, we hope to open our doors to more learners around the world in order to strengthen the diversity of our community. We will start with on-ramp courses and our Teach-Out series to provide new opportunities for learners to access our community and level-up in certain areas. Ultimately, we aim to facilitate opportunities for these learners to put knowledge and skills into action.

Imagine there’s no barriers. It isn’t hard to do.

We want aspiring problem solvers to be able to learn with and from each other, to create new learning experiences and tools that bring us closer together, to create new knowledge and a better world.

It’s important to note that the near-term benefits of translation will be realized close to home as well. Let’s go back to the example of courses translated into Arabic. The population in Michigan who identified as having Arabic-speaking ancestry on U.S. Census surveys grew by more than 47% between 2000 and 2013. With an Arab American population of more than 223,000, the State of Michigan ranks second among all U.S. States and is among the fastest growing Arab populations in the country. There are particularly large concentrations of first-language speakers in cities like Dearborn and Hamtramck. Michigan has also been one of the most welcoming states when it comes to accepting refugees, particularly those from Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

Creating these new learning opportunities in Arabic provides an immediate opportunity for U-M to impact the lives of Michiganders and to open channels for U-M to learn from the individual and collective experiences of an important constituency in our State. We also create new learning opportunities for U-M’s students, faculty, staff, and alumni in Ann Arbor, Flint, and Dearborn as translated courses provide language-learners and bilingual students with valuable opportunities to practice new skills in domain-specific contexts.

We are excited about the potential of this new area of focus and hope to see more compelling projects initiated through a new call for proposals shared with University of Michigan Faculty and Staff. On March 8, 2019 we launched a new call for proposals designed to expand equity and inclusivity in U-M’s academic innovations. With this call we see opportunities to increase access to the scholarship, learning experiences, and technologies created at U-M. We invite proposals aligned with our mission of supporting diverse learners and the creation of inclusive and equitable learning experiences.