OWI Principle 1: Online writing instruction should be universally inclusive and accessible.
Effective Practice 1.1: OWI teachers should determine their uses of modality and media based not only on their pedagogical goals but also on their students’ likely strengths and access.
Effective Practice 1.2: Students should receive mandatory technology orientation sessions in advance of the teaching term, which will assist with providing adequately accessible OWCs. Ideally, these sessions would include opportunities for students to express areas of difficulty that can be addressed prior to the OWC. Such orientation sessions can help both the teacher and college staff to gather information about the needs of their disabled and otherwise challenged students and to find timely and helpful ways to address those needs. Carefully orchestrated orientation sessions also can permit stakeholders to assess students’ skills and aptitudes for instructional technology use in distance settings.
Effective Practice 1.3: OWI teachers should (1) ask students to confirm that they have the required technology at the beginning of an online writing course (OWC) and advise students regarding how to meet the course requirements through, for example, institutional computing equipment and (2) keep cost in mind when assigning texts (hard copy and digital) and “bundled” supplemental materials, necessary equipment, software, and so on. Doing so will help address inadequate access to classroom materials, which remains an issue, particularly for students from certain socioeconomic backgrounds.
Effective Practice 1.4: Teachers should provide students with reasonable alternate means outside the LMS for conferencing or meeting for office hours. Such means include the phone, onsite meetings, or various asynchronous or synchronous online media outside the required LMS (e.g., Oovoo, Skype, and GoogleTalk).
Effective Practice 1.5: When teachers create their own Websites for courses, they should first develop these sites with accessibility and inclusivity in mind. Second, they should validate such accessibility and inclusivity through an external evaluation (e.g., those performed by Bobby in keeping with the guidelines set by the Center for Applied Special Technology [CAST] and the Web Accessibility Initiative [WAI]).
Effective Practice 1.6: Teachers should consider that students may use mobile devices to access the course materials. Therefore, teachers should design the course and course materials according to best design principles that cut across these devices.
Effective Practice 1.7: OWI teachers should notice which students participate less fully in online discussions, whether asynchronous or synchronous. Teachers should connect with such students to learn the reason. For instance, poor participators may have weak keyboarding skills that affect their ability to communicate fully or freely. A possible accommodation is to allow slow typists to provide more detailed asynchronous commentary to one or two discussion posts, favoring quality over quantity (especially if written discussion is graded).
Effective Practice 1.8: The institution’s office of disability services should contact all students as soon as they register to let them know of the availability of their services. We make this recommendation in view of the time involved in preparing accessible materials for disabled students. By the time teachers share their syllabi with students, it is difficult to provide timely academic accommodations to the most disabled and/or challenged students. Without accessible textbooks and other learning materials, these students may fail. We encourage students to be proactive in obtaining academic accommodations, but expecting most undergraduate students to acquire such independence overnight is not realistic. Like their non-disabled peers, students with special needs also experience other pressures and require institutional support for success.
Effective Practice 1.9: Teachers must become acquainted with multimodal means for distributing and accessing learning materials. When students request different media, teachers should check with the office of disability services to learn where and how to find these media as well as who is responsible for acquiring it. In choice of media—Braille, large-print, recorded, or electronic texts—students’ preferences and previous experience with technologies and learning styles should be honored. All U.S. institutions are required by law to provide material in students’ preferred format, and the “reasonable accommodations” argument on the part of colleges has been rejected repeatedly by Federal Courts (Office for Civil Rights, 2010).
Effective Practice 1.10: OWI teachers should offer instructional materials in more than one medium. For example, a photograph or other graphic on the course Web space should be described textually. For another example, critical textual material should be described orally using an audio feature. Similarly, a teacher’s video should be transcribed or closely paraphrased textually to accommodate a deaf student or one with auditory learning disabilities. Students should have a choice about whether to receive an essay response orally (through digital recording) or textually; alternatively, students might receive one essay response orally and the next one textually. If these practices seem onerous, it is helpful to remember that multimodality assists all learners and not just those with special challenges.
Effective Practice 1.11: Institutional administrators should select their LMS for OWI according to its accessibility (e.g., textual, video, and audio functions) to students with the disabilities and other challenges considered in this document.
Effective Practice 1.12: Instructors should focus primarily on how well the student is communicating ideas and secondarily on grammatical precision. Mechanical and usage errors are not uncommon for students who grew up speaking non-standard English or who have certain disabilities. While grammar, mechanics, and usage should be taught, they need to be emphasized in a contextual manner consistent with good composition instruction.