Sac State Launches New Graduate Degree Aimed at Making Online Learning Spaces More Inclusive
August 02, 2022
A new graduate program at Sacramento State will help educators and others ensure that the education and training they provide in digital spaces is accessible to all learners.
The Master of Arts in Universal Design for Online Learning, to be launched in the fall semester 2022, comes after the ongoing pandemic has further blurred the line between traditional and virtual learning spaces, presenting new challenges related to access and inclusion.
“Educational technology used to be a discipline in its own right. Now all education is tied to technology,” said Alexander Sidorkin, dean of the College of Education. “There is a need to understand how to teach online and to use more universal principles of curriculum design.”
“Universal design” is the design of products or environments to make them accessible to people with a wide range of abilities, disabilities and other characteristics.
In learning spaces, this means identifying barriers in learning environments and creating courses, programs or trainings that include all students. For example, instructors can ensure videos are captioned for the hearing impaired, provide additional material for those learning a second language, or eliminate arbitrary time-based exams so as not to disadvantage learners who can have difficulty processing information quickly.
Online learning creates new challenges, said Corinne Rowland, University Program Coordinator: Some students might not have access to high-speed internet; others might need face-to-face interaction to learn successfully.
“We really identified that there was a need for inclusive design considerations to meet the needs of learners in digital spaces, in part because of the pandemic,” Rowland said. “This has further reinforced the need for universal design experts who focus on diversity, equity and inclusion so they can increase access and student success in online learning environments. “
The one-year program, which is now accepting applicants, is entirely online to make it more accessible to working adults. The degree is aimed at anyone designing a program or course, including instructional designers, technology specialists, and human resources personnel, in addition to teachers.
Much of the program is “project-based,” the organizers said, meaning students will research, design and execute a universal design project that is immediately useful in their current workplace or, if they are not employees, will meet a conceptual need.
“It’s about students making real connections and impact, and building skills development in the workplace,” Rowland said.
The need for universal design principles in learning spaces isn’t new, she said. The pandemic, however, has created a realization, especially in K-12 schools, that many teachers lack the confidence to teach in online environments.
Rowland said many people view online and hybrid spaces as inferior environments in which learners struggle to engage and stay motivated.
She pointed out, however, that “there are certain supporting concepts and tactics that instructors can learn to do to ensure that their students are getting the right materials, to ensure that those learners can be expert learners, that ‘they can learn what works best for them.’
The issue of inclusion is gaining attention at the State Capitol, where a bill is being considered in the Legislative Assembly. This would encourage teaching practices that promote the inclusion of all students in general education classrooms, as opposed to special education classrooms.
Sidorkin said the program is part of Sac State’s efforts to be an anchor university that actively engages with its surrounding community by developing people who can ensure learning spaces are inclusive of all who are part of it. of this community.
Graduates of the new program, he said, “will help spread this cultural knowledge and inclusive learning across multiple systems.”
The degree program is a partnership between the College of Continuing Education and the College of Education. For more information, including how to apply, visit the program website.
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