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The Student Voice with DCU Students

In this session, Mark Glynn was accompanied by a number of students from DCU who shared their insights and experiences with online learning.  

Mark posed three questions to the students: 

  • What were your challenges in using Moodle?
  • How can lecturers do better?
  • What did lecturers do well?

In this blog post, we collate the answers from the students and reflect on the key points.

What were your challenges in using Moodle?

One student who has dyslexia and dyspraxia explained that their main issue with their institution’s Moodle site was the irregularity and the differences in how every lecturer used and interacted with the platform. Some were decorated differently, some by week and others would just have everything together. Another issue is PDF uploads, as uploading the original Powerpoint file is a lot easier for students to use. 

Another student pointed out the biggest issue with their online learning platform was uploading assignments using a drag and drop method. The drag and drop upload system would clash with the magnifying software installed on the student’s device, making it impossible for them to upload their assignments to the platform’s submission box.

“The platform is only as good as the people who use it and who can understand how to use it,” another student explained. They thought Covid-19 would be a watershed for access to notes on learning management systems. Previously, some lecturers would have had issues with lectures being recorded in person.

Other students concurred with the comment that the platform is only as good as those who know how to use it. 

Speaking from their experiences navigating online learning with dyspraxia, one student remarked on the importance of having Universal Learning Design (UDL) present from the ground up. Having an effective UDL strategy in place would prevent the panic and anxieties that many endure when it comes to requesting an exemption for a handwritten assignment or having to notify their lecturer of their disability.

How can lecturers do better?

With regards to improvements for lecturers, here were some of the answers. 

Make Lecture Material Available 

One student added that some lecturers would refuse to share lecture notes outside of scheduled classes. In their case, they would share the notes upon request, but the student remarked that maybe that is not good enough. The other students agreed and commented that their lecturers would refrain from uploading lecture notes in fear that students wouldn’t come to class. 

One student commented that they sit at the front of each lecture because they use a particular chair and table. For this reason, in large lecture theatres, it is difficult for them to look at the board without craning their neck. This student would approach lecturers and ask for the physical copy of the lecturer slides beforehand. They remarked that while the lecturer would usually accommodate, this proved difficult when exam time arrived. Fellow peers would know they have physical copies of the notes and would ask for them. This problem would be eradicated if notes were made available to all learners.

Upload Accessible Formats

On the topic of library resources, one student commented that certain books are only available as physical copies. Often a lecturer would scan a chapter from a physical book and upload it for assigned reading. Almost every time, a screen reader would not be able to navigate this as it is a scan of a physical book. Another student added that trying to access learning resources that are only available in the physical form is a type of barrier for anyone, regardless of their abilities.

One student remarked, “I really think in terms of what lectures can do better… incorporating universal design is key.” They said lecturers should ensure every assignment, every lecture should be as accessible as possible, instead of waiting to accommodate someone with a disability and then catering your assignment or lecture to that. This student comments that to achieve this, Universal Design is the key. 

What did lecturers do well?

Answering Mark’s question ‘What did lecturers do well?’, the student’s gave the following answers:

  • Uploading learning materials through a variety of formats (multimedia, videos… not just academic papers or powerpoints)
  • Making lecture slides available for students online.
  • Asking the learners what they can do to help. 

One student told a story of approaching a lecturer. The student wanted to ask if the lecturer could record the zooms and upload them later so that their PA could tune in at a later stage and take notes. The lecturer responded positively, but also added “let me know if there’s anything else I can do, if there’s anything that could be done a bit better online, let me know and I’ll do my best.” This was one of the best things this student has ever heard from a lecturer. 

Other Points of Interest

During the panel, the student’s discussion brought up some very interesting points. Below we mention some of those points. 

  • Allowing PA’s limited access to students’ Moodle portals. This would help with going to the library, picking up books, photocopying etc. This student commented that their personal assistant is not a member of staff or a registered student at the university. Therefore, they do not have access to the LMS, the Library or campus services without the accompaniment of the student. Giving a PA a separate login or limited role to access resources would help the student and improve their learning experience.  

  • The needless responsibility of students having to frequently remind and disclose their disabilities and/or request additional resources and assistance from their lecturers. One student said that he has no problem doing that, but added that some students wouldn’t be as comfortable. During orientation, the disability office said learners would not have to make lecturers aware of their disability. Implementing Universal Design would benefit students who may not email their lecturers. If Universal Design was compulsory, we’d be helping a lot more students, particularly the ones who do not ask for help. Mark Glynn comments “UDL is right. It’s the legal responsibility of the institution to create  barrier-free content. It’s not the student’s responsibility to say give me this extra service or it’s not the student’s responsibility to put themselves forward. We shouldn’t have to put the responsibility back on the student.”

  • This student also added the following “When things work well for me I sometimes forget that I’m disabled. That’s the importance of accessibility.”

  • One student suggested linking the disability office and Moodle. This would allow lecturers to have full visibility of their students and their needs for example:
    • Student A will be accompanied by a PA
    • Student B will need lecture material before class
      This came to light as this student shared that often their note-taker got misunderstood as a student. 

5 Key Learnings From the Panel

  • The student experience matters. The discussion and planning that comes from Panels that include students are essential to improve the learning experience for all. 

  • Lecture notes and recordings should be available to everyone and not held hostage by staff until someone discloses their disability. The responsibility should not be left to the students to ask.

  • UDL is key – providing multiple formats of resources supports all learners – and it is important that this is online and offline.

  • Personal assistants cannot assist amply without suitable access to systems like Moodle.

  • The platform is only as good as those who know how to use it. 
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