This post was written by Duha Haque, a UTS student and member of the Student Learning Advisory Committee (SLAC).

Having non-verbal options for communication in class is often overlooked, but is very important for providing an inclusive learning environment for those who aren’t able to speak to the same calibre as their peers. These students often get ignored and isolated in learning environments, which makes it difficult and stressful to engage with others, and can have negative impacts on their understanding of the subject. Classes with mandatory participation and weekly discussions become daunting to navigate and are hard to keep up with when other students and academics aren’t willing to make simple accommodations for these students. From the outside it might not sound like a big deal, but the anxiety and humiliation associated with in-class discussions for people unable to participate never truly leave and thus make the university experience as a whole an unpleasant one.

Non-verbal communication not only helps students with speech disorders, but also those with auditory impediments and general anxiety to engage more effectively in class. Some students may even simply be too shy to speak up and prefer to write down their contributions. In this blog I will highlight some simple solutions to these problems, and ways academics and peers can make learning environments more accessible to everyone. 

Transcripts and captions

Providing transcripts and captions for audiovisual material like videos or podcasts helps students to engage with the content in a way that suits them best. Not every student learns effectively in the same way as others, and restricting core module topics to videos or podcasts only with no written alternatives (such as PowerPoint slides containing the same content) restricts the ability of other students to learn. Many students do not do well with podcasts only – I know I can’t, because I end up zoning out a few minutes in, but having a transcript to follow along with and highlight as I listen makes the topic far more engaging. Captions are also important for students with auditory impediments. I found it surprising to see that a few of my subjects completely rejected the notion of having captions, to the point where Zoom lessons would be halted if anyone turned on auto-generated captions. 

Using chat

Enabling chat functions on Zoom allows students who are unable to speak or just uncomfortable with speaking to participate in class discussions. By taking part in the initial learning process, students can absorb material more effectively as they have the structural foundation to go off later when revising subjects. In my own experiences, I’ve had classes that refuse to enable chat functions, or just forget to every week, and I end up forgetting the majority of what I learned in class. In subjects where academics made the effort to enable chat and keep track of what I was saying, and reminded other students to check the chat, I performed far better. I also noticed that more students were willing to engage when the chat was an option, in comparison to classes where teachers demanded verbal communication only, which resulted in long periods of silence where no one was willing to speak up. 

On campus

For on-campus classes keeping in mind that not every student may be able to speak would be useful, and normalising written forms of communication help make learning far easier. I have had situations where teachers have pushed microphones in front of me to answer a question with no prior warning, and as someone who is unable to speak fluently (or at all in certain instances) due to a speech disability, it has been an extremely stressful situation. I cannot even explain that I am unable to speak, or write down what I wanted to say without it seeming rude and as though I am ignoring them while the entire class watches. It was more than likely that the academics had simply forgotten that I was would not be able to answer, which is why keeping in mind alternative forms of communication is so important. It may not seem like a big deal to other people, but in classes like that I dread going back, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that would be the case for others with anxiety or other conditions.  

Staying inclusive and accessible

Keeping in mind the above three tips (providing transcripts and captions, enabling chat functions on zoom, and written communication options for on-campus class) academics and peers can do a great deal to help other students get involved and actively learning class content. It seems like a minor action to take but the impact it has is far greater than one might imagine. 

Read Duha’s first post via the link below:

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