Building KU's Teaching and Learning Community

STUDENT SUPPORT, ACCESSIBILITY AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION 

At CTE, we understand that often you will need to offer support and assistance to students in ways that are not strictly pedagogical. This support can take many forms, including helping students obtain groceries, legal services, medical and mental health services, and financial assistance for emergencies. This page contains information for KU Resources that will cover all of these needs. In addition to helping students in need, you may also be put in a position to resolve conflicts within the classroom. In addition to this two-minute mentor video, we encourage you consult this page for information on strategies to resolve classroom conflicts.

Student Support

The Teaching the ‘Whole Student’ Resources will direct you to resources on campus that might be useful as you encounter students who need support and assistance beyond academics. Recognizing ourselves and our students as a ‘whole’ individual with needs and values beyond those that appear in the classroom helps us build a community of committed and connected learners. These resources include counseling & mental health services, career planning, child care & parenting, support for international, LGBTQ, and students of color, and financial assistance.

Making Active Learning Accessible

Research over the past decade leaves no doubt that active learning improves student success. By incorporating techniques like discussions, group work, in-class writing assignments, two-stage exams, projects, and clicker questions into their classes, instructors can improve student learning. The activities involved in active learning can pose challenges for students with disabilities, though. By making some adaptations, instructors can make their student-centered classes accessible to everyone.

Forethought is crucial to any adaptation, according to Andrew Shoemaker, director of the Academic Achievement and Access Center. It's much easier to design accessible work in advance than it is to try to adapt assignments or technology at the last minute. The AAAC provides advice for making many types of digital content accessible. This webpage is intended to supplement that by identifying common active learning techniques and offering suggestions on how to make those techniques accessible.

Group work. Pay attention to the design of the classroom and make sure the arrangement can accommodate students with disabilities.

  • Spacing. Provide additional room at tables for students who use wheelchairs or crutches or have other mobility issues.
  • Positioning. In rooms without tables, make sure students with mobility issues can position themselves so that they can easily join conversations.
  • Speaking. Reading aloud can be difficult for some students with disabilities, so it is better to have someone else take that on.
  • Noise. Position groups within the class as far apart from each other as possible, or allow a group to relocate to an adjacent room or work space to minimize background noise, which limits the ability of students with hearing loss to participate fully.
  • Student anxiety. An increasing number of students are telling instructors that group work triggers their anxiety and that they need to work alone. That anxiety is often real. The number of students who have documented anxiety issues with the AAAC has more than tripled over the past six years. Even so, group work is often an essential part of learning in a course. It helps students think through problems more deeply and helps prepare them for the dynamic atmosphere they will face in many careers. Don’t simply dismiss students’ concerns about anxiety, though, or automatically give them permission to work alone. Instead, consult with the AAAC to find potential alternatives. In many cases, the student may need counseling to help with anxiety, and the AAAC can make referrals.

Whiteboard work. Students who have problems with vision, dexterity, or mobility may have aides who accompany them to class to take notes and to help with activities like whiteboard work or using manipulatives. If they don't, the student may contact the AAAC to discuss the need for an aide.

Clickers. Clicker technology isn't always accessible, so it is important to have another option for students with a visual impairment or dexterity issues. Having a partner read a question aloud and helping the student respond is one option. Technology is available that will send questions to students' smartphones so that they can hear questions and respond. (Contact the AAAC for more about this.) This may require additional time, so work with the student and adjust response times.

Two-stage exams. With a two-stage exam, students start by taking an exam on their own. After everyone has finished, they take the exam again in groups or with partners. Students who have a disability may need additional time, so direct the student to work with the AAAC to arrange accommodations. This often involves having students complete the individual exam in a separate room and then rejoining the class for the group exam.

Handouts and in-class reading. Students who are visually impaired will need electronic versions of handouts, and students with authorized accommodations may need more time to work through documents. Rather than hand out documents in class, it is better to make them available on Blackboard before class.

Class trips or off-campus work. If you are providing transportation for an off-campus trip, make sure the vehicle can accommodate students who use wheelchairs, scooters, crutches, or other devices. If the off-campus work is a regular part of the class, the student is responsible for arranging transportation. Most students who need that type of transportation have arranged for it as a part of their regular routine. If they haven’t, though, work with the AAAC to consider options.

Study abroad. U.S. accessibility laws don’t apply in other countries, and students may have difficulty accessing historic buildings, finding transportation, and maneuvering through international cities where accessibility has never been taken into consideration. If study abroad is an essential component of a degree or a course, consider allowing the student to visit countries like the U.K. or Australia, which have modern accessibility laws. If that isn’t possible, work with the AAAC to find other options.

Have conversations with students. The best way to know whether an accommodation is working is to talk to students privately. Ask what sorts of problems or challenges they are having and how things might be improved. Some instructors shy away from these sorts of conversations, but they are important to make sure accommodations are working and to identify areas where a student may need additional assistance.

Accessibility Checklist for Online Course Materials

Active learning requires students to complete some type of work before class. Making that material accessible on Blackboard and other digital sites isn't difficult, but it does take time and planning. Quick checks for accessibility and revisions ahead of time will reduce difficulty for students. The AAAC’s site on making digital content accessible offers advice on a range of online content. Here are things instructors should keep in mind:

Video and audio. Video files should have closed captioning or have an accompanying transcript, or both. Audio files should have transcripts for students to review. That is important not only for students with disabilities but for international students who may have trouble following or keeping up with a conversation. Video demonstrations of concepts may also need further description for students who are visually impaired.

Photographs and graphics. Blackboard and other websites provide ways to add visual descriptors to photographs and other graphical elements. Make sure to fill that in so that screen readers can provide adequate information to students who are visually impaired.

PDFs. PDFs aren't always accessible. Acrobat Pro includes a tool for checking accessibility and will flag issues like inaccessible text and tables, visuals that lack alternative text, and color contrast that may make the document difficult for some students to read.

Word documents. Common accessibility issues in Word documents include unidentified headers, images without alternative text, lists created with hyphens rather than bullet points, and columns created by tabbing rather than with the column tool. Word has an accessibility checker than can identify other potential problems.

Excel. Many of the same areas of concern in Word apply to Excel and PowerPoint files. In Excel, though, avoid blank columns, rows or cells because screen readers often identify those as the end of a page's content. Also use descriptive titles for each sheet in an Excel file.

PowerPoint. Slides generated with the "new slide" function are automatically accessible, so it is best to use that function. Each slide should also have a title. This makes each slide easier to identify and adds the slide to a table of contents.

Digital textbooks. Some online textbooks aren't accessible, so it's important to check.

Scientific notation. This can be a challenge for students who are visually impaired because most screen readers can't read advanced or complex scientific notation. Work with students to find a solution that works for them.

Where to Go for Assistance with Accessibility

The Academic Achievement and Access Center handles requests for such things as exam accommodations, sign language interpreters, accessible print materials, and in-class assistants. Contact:

For help with transcription

Other resources

  • UDL-IRN (https://udl-irn.org/about/) provides a good introduction to universal design for learning, an approach that helps instructors create materials that accommodate a wide range of learners. The site has many resources that can help instructors make their courses more accessible.

Working with a Student in a Mental Crisis

In an article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, David Gooblar of the University of Iowa offers the following three pieces of advice for faculty who have students suffering from mental health crisis. The first step is to notice, because, according to Gooblar, faculty “are regular fixtures in their [student’s] lives over an extended period and are in a position to notice when something’s not right.” The second step is to ask, which requires instructors to “show concern and give the student a chance to talk about the problem.” Finally, Gooblar advises faculty to refer, because “a little preparation—just knowing what resources exist and how to seek them—can go a long way toward being able to help if such a situation arises.”

Jody Brook, from the KU School of Social Welfare, modifies Gooblar’s steps into the following four pieces of advice:

  1. Observe: Hygiene, missing class, changes in behavior, academic performance, activity, written work, falling asleep in class—anything that marks a change in the student.
  2. Ask: In a private setting, ask the student if everything is going OK. It is OK to say that you notice that they seem to be struggling lately and you are wondering if they are getting the support that they need?
  3. Refer: Keep the phone numbers handy for referrals and make them when indicated. It’s OK to call with the student in your office, it’s OK to walk a student down to the Psychological Counseling Center if you believe that is warranted.
  4. Check-in: After you have initiated a conversation, or made a referral, it is important that you check in with the student to see how they are doing. Showing care and concern is not a “one and done” activity. It does not need to be extensive e.g. “Hi, Kevin, you seem to be doing better—I hope things are going OK with you.” There is no need to re-open the case; you just need to show you care. Make eye contact, display care, and show the student that you are concerned about their overall well-being.
KU Student Affairs classifies the following as signs of concerns that faculty may note in the classroom:
  • A significant change in appearance (poor hygiene, weight gain/loss) or personality
  • A substantial drop in academic performance
  • Distracted or preoccupied thought processes
  • Withdrawal from social interactions with peers, family, and significant others
  • Frequent class absences
  • Expressions of loneliness or fear, such as avoidance or apprehension about being alone, and
  • Occurrence of a recent loss or other crisis (e.g., relationship breakup, death of a friend or family member, academic failure, physical illness, sexual violence)
  • Expressions of hopelessness (statements such as "there's no use trying" or "what's the point?")
  • Indirect statements or written essays about death or suicide
  • Emotions (sadness, nervousness, fearfulness, etc.) that are displayed to an extreme degree or for a prolonged period of time.
  • Extreme anger or hostility
  • Lengthy, ranting or threatening communication with staff, faculty, or peers
Brooks suggests that instructors in the classroom or field might also note:
  • Changes in written performance;
  • Content of written work may take on a different tone, or become outright disturbing;
  • Student may withdraw from group based activities in the classroom;
  • Group assignments may pose difficulty, and fellow group members may experience the student’s behavior as concerning.

If you are concerned about a student, it is okay to call KU CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) and submit a “Care Referral,” which can be found here. We also suggest that you read the “Teaching the Whole Student” document in the Student Support section of this page, in addition to the resources below:

"College Students (and Their Parents) Face a Mental Health ‘Epidemic’by Terry Gross, host of Fresh Air

"Campuses Are Short on Mental-Health Counselors. But They’ve Got Plenty of Antidepressantsby Lily Jackson, writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education

Responding to Disruptive Behaviors

Incivility and misconduct disrupt learning. To keep your classroom environment positive, consider these suggestions from Mary Lord, reprinted in “Tomorrow’s Professor.”

1. Halt Bad Behavior Before it Starts.

Set expectations early, in writing and verbally. Research shows that students are more likely to rationalize misconduct if they feel the instruction is poor, lecture confusing, or workload unreasonable. Underscoring the relevance of the material and learning objectives can boost motivation and reduce the urge to cheat.

2. Decrease Anonymity.

Faculty who get to know their students tend to have less conflict in the classroom or hostile discourse online. Calling on students by name makes an instructor seem more approachable and thus more likely to gain their respect. Large lecture class? Scheduling time to meet individually with students can foster rapport.

3. Encourage Active Learning.

Classes that include peer-to-peer learning have fewer incidents of rude or unethical behavior, research indicates, because students tend to take more responsibility and hold each other accountable. Active learning and small-group work can reduce chatting and inattentiveness even in large classes.

4. Make it Harder to Cheat.

The availability of solutions to textbook problems on the Internet makes it hard for educators to directly address cheating on homework. Consider research on the value of ungraded assignments, increasing the weight of projects, and either writing your own questions or swapping problems with instructors at other schools. Other studies have found that giving harsh warnings against cheating right before a test can reduce transgressions by 13 percent, with a 25 percent drop for writing multiple versions of a test. Meanwhile, plagiarism-detection software can cut down on copy-and-paste essays or computer code.

5. Establish Ground Rules for Disruptive Technologies.

Many students view smartphones and tablets as essential tools. To minimize withdrawal pains, on the first day of class you might discuss and then vote on rules and consequences for disruptive technologies. The most successful has been a two-minute texting/phone/email break in the middle of class.

6. If you can't beat 'em...

Tablets, smartphones, and other mobile technologies can be used to promote deeper engagement and understanding. For example, ask students to take notes on tablets, use smartphone accelerometer apps to track their commute to class and graph the data, and conduct hands-on mini-experiments using other free measurement apps. Students also can use their smart devices in independent projects—all without the college needing to invest heavily in infrastructure.

7. Address Disruptive Behavior Immediately.

Faculty and students agree that ignoring incivility is the least effective approach for halting it. Think about talking to inattentive students in private or refocusing the class by using think/pair/share or other active-learning techniques. Severe disruptions, such as threats of violence, may leave faculty members no option but to stop the lecture and contact campus security.

In their teaching workshops, Richard M. Felder, a retired chemical engineering professor from North Carolina State University, and his wife, Rebecca Brent, ask participants to brainstorm responses to such everyday disruptions as students strolling in late, chatting loudly, or sleeping. Ironically, no one ever recommends asking the offenders politely but firmly to stop their rude behavior. "It's almost as if instructors don't know it's legal to do it," wrote Felder and Brent in a column. "It is legal. And it works." So does chiding. To look up from that Youtube video, students often need just one word: "Really?!"

References: “Driven to Distraction.” Tomorrow's Professor.

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