Call for long-term online learning

A disability rights advocate from the University of Otago is calling on the university to provide long-term online learning options for people with disabilities.

University of Otago Disabled Students’ Association co-chairman Sean Prenter said the hybrid mix of online and in-person learning introduced by the pandemic has been a boon for students with disabilities.

Mr Prenter, who suffered a traumatic brain injury and is immunocompromised, said the university’s online learning options were essential for people like him.

While online learning isn’t the way to go for all students, he believed a hybrid design would serve inclusiveness.

“Online learning is not for everyone because not everyone has access to it, and I am aware that many students have suffered throughout the shutdowns,” he said.

However, online learning should be universally accessible to those who need it, he said. Students had many reasons why they might not be able to attend classes in person, from physical to cognitive, he said.

Mr. Prenter described an incident recently in which he was notified at 9am to attend a tutorial at 11am.

When he refused, the head of the department told him that the hybrid approach to tutorials was impractical, he said.

“However, since then another speaker has hosted hybrid tutorials with in-person and online streams,” he said.

Most of his lectures have been recorded and held in person.

“Some lecturers will hold the lack of a taped option over students’ heads to try to encourage students to attend in person,” he said.

Accommodation for people with disabilities in college can vary widely, depending on a professor’s “ideology”, the department’s stance on accessibility and each student’s lived experience, he said. he declares.

Professor Helen Nicholson, deputy vice-chancellor of the University of Otago, said not all staff offered online options.

“For some forms of learning, this is not the most appropriate way to support student learning,” Prof Nicholson said.

Mr Prenter said that even when recordings were available for students with disabilities, students might not be aware the support was there.

It affected their learning outcomes, he said.

He estimated that the university had about 1,000 students with disabilities.

Walking to class may be difficult for some, while the environment of a conference room may not be comfortable for others.

“The university’s disability information and support service is helpful, but some people still fall through the gaps.

“A uniform conference accessibility policy must exist,” he said.

Professor Nicholson said the university was awaiting government advice before making any teaching decisions.

“We would like to return to as much face-to-face teaching as possible as long as it is in line with the Prime Minister’s guidelines.”

The university would consider all options as part of its deliberations and a hybrid model would be one of them, she said.

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