The first Coffee Break will be facilitated by Kathy Tracey and Mike Cruse. Areas of focus include the professional development changes needed to facilitate remote learning, future professional development plans, addressing remote learning strategies for learners with disabilities, and challenges to ensuring equity for your teachers and learners in remote learning environments.
Register here for the Coffee Break held on Wednesday, June 3rd at 10:00 a.m. EST.
Thank you to everyone who joined today's coffee break with our Professional Development colleagues. My fellow moderator, Kathy Tracey, and I were grateful for your active role in making it a rich conversation. Thank you also for bearing with us as we refine our use of new virtual platforms for these types of events.
If you weren't able to join us, we will have a recording of the 60 minute conversation available to share with you soon. In the meantime, I want to share the highlights most relevant to this community. To begin, here are the questions we asked:
- Has your professional development included supporting teachers to provide access to remote learning for learners with physical and/or cognitive disabilities? If so, what resources and strategies have you found most useful for your learners? What questions do you have ?
- What do you see as the biggest challenges to ensuring equity for your teachers and learners in remote learning environments? What resources have helped you expand access to digital learning tools (computers, smart phones, tablets) and infrastructure (wi-fi)?
Two participants' comments really helped frame the subject of disability in virtual learning spaces. One member noted that their program does not test because of the label it places on learners. Another commented that "The pandemic has also exposed our "Achille's heal" with providing equitable instruction for learners with disabilities. The fact that adults do not have support to get tested for disabilities is an impediment that kept us from knowing whether a student had a disability and what type was there before. We can't serve them appropriately if they don't have documentation." These aren't new problems in the field, but ones that may have a greater impact on learners trying to access virtual learning. I briefly mentioned one partner that adult education programs should work with on the testing front. States' Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) systems are able to help assess and identify disabilities in adults. This is not a quick or easy process, but it may be the best option to pursue with many learners.
David Rosen mentioned a program using phone calls to learners as a very simple way to connect with learners, whether they have a disability or not. This kind of low-tech solution is a good way to show concern for these learners, re-establish a connection, and learn what might be causing them challenges with accessing more robust learning technologies. However, we also need to find the resources to make virtual learning equitable across economic and ability differences. To that end, we also touched on programs needing to learn about the accessibility features of the technology that they are using with learners. Ed tech companies should be building accessibility into their platforms. If not, you may want to reconsider its use in your program. Often times, research on a companies' website will give you resources on these accessibility features. If it doesn't provide you with enough information, you can reach out to the companies directly and ask to speak with someone in their organization which will help you learn to use these features. As customers of their products, we need to demand this level of accessibility and support from these businesses.
This coffee break highlighted for me the work that we need to undertake in order to ensure all students have access to continuing their learning in virtual formats. I invite your thoughts and suggestions for how we can use this community to ensure that we are connecting the most vulnerable learners to the resources they need to keep engaged with you and your programs. I'll be sharing some thoughts in the weeks ahead, but I also hope you'll share yours too.
Disabilities and Equitable Outcomes Moderator