March - December 2020: ATS’ COVID-19 Response

Four key ways in which we promoted Inclusive Approaches

The inequities in student learning were the most significant challenge in the rapid pivot to online/blended teaching and learning in the face of COVID-19. This challenged the higher education field to innovate in real-time and develop creative pedagogical strategies to deliver instruction effectively to all, regardless of learner location, access to content, and use of technology. To overcome these challenges, Amherst College explored new technologies, developed different ways to make digital materials available to students, and assisted faculty in deploying novel instructional tools to achieve the twin goals of effective teaching and equitable learning.

  1. Transitioning to online learning in such a short amount of time presented a significant challenge in providing equitable learning experiences for all students. Amherst College’s response to this challenge was to provide resources to meet students’ basic technology needs, enabling them to engage with their courses and community. The IT department rose to the occasion to meet the increased demands for new tools and quickly ramped up support to make those tools work effectively. In March 2020, a working group that included faculty, and staff from financial aid and case management helped IT with assessing and meeting student needs. For example, the college provided students with 50+ webcams, 100+ laptops, and 150+ hotspots to meet the immediate needs of students, within weeks of the college’s transition to remote education. Through the summer and fall 2020 terms, IT offered a panoply of academic technology tools for teaching and learning. For more details on the tech tools provided by IT, please check out this summary (Amherst login required).

  2. Given the shift to online/blended teaching and learning, the total requests for accommodation-related digital textbooks saw a significant decline. This is because almost all the courses began to use digital textbooks, obviating the need for special requests for digital texts as an alternate format. For example, 173 digital textbooks were provided in Spring 2019, while only 110 digital textbooks were requested in Spring 2020. The shift to digital textbooks was not specifically for the purpose of accommodations, but for the benefit of all students, resulting in a transition toward a Universal Design for Learning approach. This decline is also attributable to the fewer courses students enrolled in the Fall than in previous semesters. The standard course load in previous semesters had been four courses, and that was reduced to three courses in Fall 2020.

  3. Otter AI for Zoom: When Zoom became the primary platform for synchronous interactions, ATS quickly identified a tool called Otter AI, to serve as an assistive technology tool. This tool produces auto-transcripts of live meetings in Zoom. ATS implemented this tool by assisting faculty in deploying it for their Zoom-based, synchronous instructional delivery. Four faculty piloted this tool in fall 2020 by applying a Universal Design for Learning approach. They used Otter AI with different pedagogical strategies that aimed at equitable learning experiences for our students. Please see our full write-up here of these four digital pedagogy-focused examples from the Amherst classroom.

  4. Digital accessibility and a “plus-one” approach: This means in addition to faculty employing existing ways of sharing content with students, they apply an additional means to make that content accessible to learners. Kaltura effectively exemplifies this approach of plus-one. Kaltura is a cloud-based platform that allows uploading and streaming of large video files, creating video quizzes, and recording videos. This tool not only hosts course videos but also provides automatic captioning. Students not only watch and hear videos but can also read captions of those videos. Please check this ATS resource page on Kaltura for more information.

ATS Supports the Pivot to Remote Education


Published Spring 2021 by Academic Technology Services