The Start of Summer Semesters: Making Online Courses More Accessible

By: Danielle Chazen

Summer semesters present opportunities for universities to engage new students, as well as allow for existing students to complete more coursework to speed up their anticipated degree completion dates.

This summer, most courses will be offered online due to the COVID-19 crisis. However, professors who are new to teaching in the online environment can now make it relatively easy to make these summer courses both engaging and accessible to their students.

The importance of summer semester engagement and accessibility

Summer courses must meet the same level of ADA compliance as regular courses, meaning professors must look to make all materials accessible to students with disabilities or varying learning needs. It’s critical to ensure that accessibility, but also engagement of students do not fall to the wayside.

The number of distractions naturally presented by the summer season, force students and professors to push themselves a bit more to stay focused and engaged. Whether it’s incorporating more video and interactive elements into lectures or adding live captions to online courses to account for students who may be learning in noisy environments, an array of options are available to help facilitate engagement.
person typing on a laptop on the table with his mobile phone, coffee and other work tools
Verbit has released live captioning and transcription tools and integrations to proactively make these summer and online classes more accessible and interactive for all students. These tools can, of course, help to meet the guidelines outlined to provide equal opportunity to those navigating disabilities. Yet they also help to provide engagement tools that meet the needs of commuters, parents, international students learning in non-native languages and others faced with numerous additional distractions.

With an understanding of these summer-fueled distractions, universities and professors would be wise to proactively implement additional tools. Captions and transcriptions, among other technologies, provide proven opportunities for students to engage with materials and better retain the information being presented.

For example, why not actively provide students with automatic note taking of lectures they’re consuming so they can focus on what the professor is saying versus how quickly they can write it down? Searchable videos with lecture captions can also help summer students who are watching pre-recorded videos to skip to specific parts of the lectures they need to go back and reference rather than needing to rewatch an entire hour or more of video.
woman in a park working on her laptop
Additionally, with new students participating, summer semesters present opportunities for disability needs to be met with delay, which is far from ideal. New students often need to flag accessibility requests or alert the disability department of specific needs at the last minute. They’re then granted accessible materials after their peers and in unrealistic time frames when these courses often occur over a span of a few short weeks.

Universities can benefit from providing accessible materials to all summer semester students ahead of time. There’s a reason why the majority of social video is distributed with captions on it already.

Facebook says adding captions to videos can boost view time by 12 percent since 85 percent of Facebook videos are watched on mute. Many individuals who are able-bodied choose to watch Netflix or YouTube videos with the captions on as an additional aid upfront.

Key takeaway

Rather than need to scramble to meet last-minute accessibility requests this summer, schools and eLearning platforms can work with a partner like Verbit.

Providing live and post-production captions and transcription tools to make materials more accessible will also engage all summer students more effectively from the get-go. These summer students already have it harder when trying to find a balance between their social lives and academic responsibilities, and will therefore greatly appreciate any help they can get to improve their study techniques.
ipad and iphone beside each other

The reasoning behind summer semesters

Students choose to enroll in summer semesters for opportunities to: 

  1. Complete a more difficult course on its own rather than juggle it with multiple general semester courses
  2. Enroll in locally-based courses, which are often less expensive, to transfer them toward their degrees while spending summers in their hometowns
  3. Help them stay in a studying mindset with less of an adjustment period when the traditional school year begins

Regardless of the reason, the thresholds of summer semester engagement and accessibility being provided should be the same as those offered during a regular semester. While these courses typically occur over shorter time frames, the needs of students remain the same. Captions and transcriptions can therefore greatly aid these students.