Blended learning: what institutions can learn from the Covid transition

AHEAD’s recent survey sheds some light on how students and staff coped with the Covid transition. What were the common problems? And how can we solve them?

4 min readPublished: 4 Sep 2020

AHEAD’s recent survey sheds some light on how students and staff coped with the Covid transition. What were the common problems? And how might a blended approach solve them?

Snapshot:

• Students with disabilities found it harder to adjust to remote learning than the general student body, according to an AHEAD survey

• Some of the problems students experienced were also shared by disability services staff

• Why blended learning could reset the balance, and why Glean™ is a tool that matches the times

It’s no surprise that students with disabilities have been adversely affected by the sudden shift to remote learning this year. While this might already be obvious to many working in Disability Resource Offices, the findings from a recent AHEAD survey make it clear for all to see.

Across nearly every domain, students with disabilities appeared to encounter more challenges than the general student population. From Wi-Fi and tech access to continuity of learning, survey responses demonstrate how an equity gap can quickly become a chasm under challenging circumstances.

However, one stat leapt off the page for us as an assistive technology company - 58% of students with a disability reported difficulties using assistive technology during the Covid transition.

Initial teething problems were forecast across the disability services community. But why has AT specifically been an issue for students? And how might a blended learning approach mitigate this problem?

Communication breakdown

The same survey also collected responses from disability support staff. These responses reveal a real problem with communication throughout the Covid transition.

58% of disability resource providers responding to the survey experienced problems with technology support. Other problem areas included ‘Communicating with faculty related to inclusive course design’ (52%) and ‘Communicating with students not registered with the DRO, but who may need services’ (51%).

Given that 74% of students with a disability indicated that communication with instructors was an issue, it’s clear that staff and students were experiencing the same set of problems. The entire staff and student body adjusting to remote learning at the same time will have undoubtedly stretched the capacity of academic staff and created headaches, particularly for those less tech-savvy members of faculty and department professionals.

But this could also indicate the limitations of an online-only teaching program. With a hybrid, blended model, institutions will be looking to reduce the chances of communication blackouts from happening with a return of face-to-face consultations and forums (albeit in a limited capacity).

The perceived drop-off in communication among staff and students could also help explain problems with using assistive technology. For students accustomed to practical demonstrations of AT, including training and troubleshooting, having these sessions over video calls could create their own set of problems.

Is communication the sole issue?

Communication hiccups alone can’t account for such a widespread problem in AT use. Another factor that must influence student experience is AT itself.

With most tools built to suit a specific classroom need, the capabilities of tools outside this context have been challenged. Many, undoubtedly, have come up short.

If students are being asked to learn both in class and at home this semester, they need to be confident that the tools they’re being given to overcome learning obstacles are appropriate to the situation.

That’s a challenge for coordinators dealing with students directly, but it’s also a challenge for director-level staff looking to innovate services in a blended learning landscape.

Summary

• Students experiencing problems with AT were also, like disability services staff, experiencing significant communication problems

• But they were also using an AT toolkit that was assembled for in-person instruction

• In a blended learning model, these problems can be offset by a partial return to face-to-face consultations

• But they can also be helped by simple tools that can adapt easily in changing contexts

Glean™ adapts to fit any teaching model

Responding quickly to changing user and admin needs is the MO of Glean™ . It’s one of its strengths as a web app. As soon as we make improvements or introduce new features they’re available to students next time they log in.

This adaptability led to us being able to roll out a screen audio recording feature for use with video classes during the Covid transition, alongside introducing other features that improve student experience and engagement.

Though institutions around the US are experiencing yet another transition with a shift to blended learning this semester, Glean™ is ready to roll with the punches.

Find out more about Glean™ , and a free trial at your institution this semester.

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