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What Does It Mean to Be a Full-Stack Instructor? How to Bake Accessibility and Equity into Your Online Courses

  • 3 Min Read

Full-stack accessibility is a term I learned from my colleague Sam Chandrashekar. It is directly related to Mishra and Koehler’s work on the TPACK framework, which I’ll speak more about shortly. It is a useful metaphor for thinking about how to plan and design for accessibility in online courses. It is made up of three components: technology, pedagogy, and content, each of which is vital to effective teaching and learning online.

When designing and building an online course, we want to be sure there are accessible learning options and activities readily available. In order to make that happen, we need to be intentional and design for it at each level.

Let’s start with technology at our base. The technology is simply the learning platform, the learning management system, the website, or the digital applications used to support the pedagogy and content associated with the teaching and learning experience.

The pedagogical layer of our stack embodies the instructional methods and practices involved in the teaching and learning process. These are the techniques, activities, and assignments used to assist learners as they acquire new knowledge. For many familiar with accessibility concerns, the pedagogical layer could be framed around Universal Design for Learning principles, which offer a clear set of instructional strategies devoted to equity and access for every learner.

Finally, the top of our stack is content. These are the facts, concepts, theories, and principles that are taught or interpreted by an instructor and that we expect learners to master by the end of the course. Combined, these three layers give instructors and learning designers an easy way to think about addressing all learners equally. As I mentioned earlier, this three-layer stack is directly related to Mishra and Koehler’s TPACK framework, which provides a theoretical and practical account to help us think about technology, our course content, and how we teach it (technological pedagogical content knowledge).

For example, an instructor is expected to have deep content knowledge of their subject area, like mathematics, physics, psychology, or writing about literature. However, possessing a deep level of content knowledge is no guarantee that the instructor will know how to effectively teach their subject. To be most effective, an instructor needs to possess a strong pedagogical knowledge or know the most effective ways to teach their content. Now let’s add technology to the mix. Let’s say an instructor is having to teach their subject and content in an online environment. To do so, they will need to possess a strong technological knowledge; in other words, they must know how to proficiently use the digital tools available to them in order to better instruct learners more effectively. Knowledge of and fluency in all three components are essential to providing learners with the best possible learning experiences.

From an equity standpoint, the TPACK and full-stack accessibility models are important for educators and designers to be deeply familiar with. Keeping them in mind will help ensure that learning materials and feedback are available in multiple formats that are more likely to be perceived well by the learner. Differentiated instruction and assessments are not only possible through the adoption of these models—instructors and designers are also able to provide learners more academic agency, which allows them to learn and express themselves in ways that suit them best. How cool is that?

To learn more about full-stack accessibility and how we are able to support it in Brightspace, I invite you to check out these resources. And if you have questions or would like to continue the discussion, I invite you to join us in our Community, where you can see and share with other instructors and designers seeking better solutions to each learner’s needs.

Check out the rest of the Reimagining Teaching and Learning Series

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