How Can We Make Virtual Conference Work for Everyone?

ISTE Standards for Educators

5 – Designer – Educators design authentic, learner-driven activities and environments that recognize and accommodate learner variability.

5a. Use technology to create, adapt and personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences and needs.

Educators have been using virtual conferences technologies to create and deliver content and social emotional learning experiences to students due to the pandemic remote learning. While all teachers are using virtual conference tools like Zoom and Teams with their students, how do these virtual conference tools accommodate learner differences and needs? In this post, I am going to compare Zoom, Teams, and Google Meet accommodation to users with disabilities. I will also explore virtual meeting engagement strategies and practices that meet learners with different learning styles. 

Learners/ Presenters with Disabilities

Zoom
(Wetherbee & Caruthers, 2020)
MS Teams 
(Nopanen, 2019)
Google Meet
(Wetherbee & Caruthers, 2020)
-Keyboard Navigation
-Screen Reader Support
-Live Closed Captioning by Human
-Automated Live Closed Captioning
-Low Vision Support
-Transcription of Recording
-Live Captions
-Translation feature in chat
-Zoom feature
-Zooming presented content
-Dark mode or high contrast mode
-Immersive reader
-Voice message on mobile device
-Shortcut keys
-Focus time and notification settings
-Voicemail: speech to text
-Speaker Attribution (adding speakers’ names to captions)
-Automated Live Closed Captioning
-Compatible with magnifiers and screen readers
-Limited Keyboard Navigation
-Spoken feedback

Among the three popular virtual conferencing tools, Microsoft Teams has invested heavily in its user accessibility. However, according to the article “Hosting Accessible Online Meetings” from the University of Washington, the most effective strategies to ensure online meetings are accessible are not technical strategies. They involve the following practices:

  • Distribute slides and all other materials to attendees in advance.
  • Clearly state the meeting agenda up-front, including which features of the meeting tool will be used.
  • Ask meeting participants to state their name each time they speak.
  • Create pauses during and between activities, so students who are taking notes, students with slow Internet bandwidth, or students using captions or sign language interpreters can catch up.
  • Don’t say “click here” if demoing something on the shared screen. Not everyone can see what you’re referring to. Students might be blind or have low vision, writing notes, looking at the textbook or dealing with a notification that popped up that they haven’t figured out how to turn off. Instead, specifically identify what you are clicking on.
  • All meeting participants can benefit from captions, both of live meetings and recorded meetings.

Learner Engagement in Virtual Meetings 

An engaged virtual meeting for students includes dynamic, interactive communication and the ability to create shared experiences together. Spencer(2020) recommended the following strategies to boost engagement in a virtual meeting. 

  • Do a social / emotional check-in
  • Incorporate movement
  • Use the Q&A feature
  • Use polls
  • Allow students to show off their pets
  • Use the chat function
  • Make use of hand-gestures
  • Incorporate silence
  • Integrate other platforms into the virtual meeting
  • Use breakout rooms strategically
  • Use hands-on learning to take it off-screen

Spencer(2020) also stated there is limitation to use virtual meetings for direct instruction, larger group discussion, and class presentation. He suggested if a prerecorded option is available for certain activities then pre recording might be a better option because class video conferences should be highly interactive and centered on deeper, free-flowing discussions, or to clarify ideas or make decisions together as a group.

Learners with DIfferent Learning Styles in Virtual Meetings 

Researchers recognized that different learners had different cognitive styles and habitual information-processing strategies that determine a learner’s typical mode of perceiving, remembering, thinking, and problem solving(Zapalska & Brozik, 2006).

According to Zapalska & Brozik (2006), Kinesthetic learning focuses on active participation in the learning experience. Unlike visual, auditory, read/write learners who are comfortable watching videos or reading textbooks, kinesthetic learners prefer to be in motion and engage all their senses. The article “Kinesthetic Learning in an Online Learning Environment” suggested the following strategies to meet our kinesthetic learners need in virtual meeting:

  • Enhancements to lectures such as including pictures or sound effects can help remind kinesthetic learners of the real-life situations that the material is related to and can thus increase retention.
  • Keep lectures short and novel and include interactive elements.
  • Send students on virtual field trips.
  • Remind students to take a break and walk around.
  • Help students visualize complex processes.

Teachers must understand how students learn, how they perceive, and how they process information. Learning styles of online students must be identified so that the instructor can plan appropriate teaching strategies to accommodate individual strengths and needs during virtual meetings. 

Regardless which virtual conference tool educators choose, the most effective strategies to ensure online meetings are accessible, engaging, and accommodating learner differences and needs are not technical features or strategies, educators need to incorporate meaningful practices to make learning and teaching effective.  

References

Hosting Accessible Online Meetings. Retrieved May 13, 2021, from https://www.washington.edu/accessibility/online-meetings/

Nopanen, V. (2019). Microsoft Teams is also about inclusivity and accessibility. Retrieved May 15, 2021, from
https://myteamsday.com/2019/12/20/microsoft-teams-is-also-about-inclusivity-and-accessibility/

Wetherbee, J., & Caruthers, B. (2020). UNC Charlotte. Retrieved May 15, 2021, from https://spaces.uncc.edu/pages/viewpage.action?pageId=79398695

Spencer, J. (2020). How to make virtual meetings more interactive for students. Retrieved May 15, 2021, from https://spencerauthor.com/virtual-meeting-interaction/

Zapalska, A. & Brozik, D. (2006). Learning Styles and Online Education. Retrieved May 15, 2021, from https://www.qou.edu/ar/sciResearch/pdf/distanceLearning/learningStyles.pdf

Kinesthetic Learning in an Online Learning Environment. Center for teaching and learning: Wiley education services. (2020). Retrieved May 15, 2021, from https://ctl.wiley.com/kinesthetic-learning-online-learning-environment/