Penn State’s World Campus is making online education accessible to students with disabilities.
Almost 200 World Campus students require some sort of accommodation. Michael Miller, who suffers from a degenerative bone disorder and vision problems was about to give up on his schooling, when Watson told him about the Kurzweil software that enlarges fonts and can read textbooks aloud, writes Hilary Appelman for Penn State News. Miller also can delay taking quizzes or tests if his pain is very bad.
“It’s made an incredible difference,” said Miller, who expects to graduate this month. “Within one semester, I went on the Dean’s list and I’ve been on it ever since.”
A design team for the university works to make this accessibility possible, captioning all educational videos and ensuring that alternative text is available for all graphics and charts. For courses involving a live component, arrangements can be made for captions.
Many students, especially older ones, don’t realize what is available for them, Watson said. “They might think they have to find their own accommodations. I make sure they’re referred to the appropriate resources.”
Those who participate in the World Campus can interact with professors and fellow students in a real campus “community”. Opportunities for such interactions are being created at the College of Information Sciences and Technology at Penn State.
One of these developments is the Penn State World Campus Technology Club. Founded by sophomore Ray Vasquez in 2014, the club allows students to easily network via webcam.
Online students can now not only network and take part in extracurricular activities but also interact through Google Hangout, Blackboard, Angel, and Facebook, allowing group work to be easily accomplished, forming bonds between students around the globe.
Penn State World Campus was launched in 1998 in an effort to extend the Penn State experience to those who could not attend the physical university due to geography or other life factors. There are currently 120 degrees and certificate programs offered with more programs being added.
In order to attend, students must be accepted to their program through Penn State’s University Park Campus. Courses are taught by the same faculty that teach the in-person classes, and upon graduation, students receive the same degree and are welcome to attend the on-campus graduation ceremonies.
In an effort to maintain the academic integrity of the online component, certain parts of the courses must be completed live, such as video conferencing with other students, in order to determine that the student is completing the work on his or her own without aid.
Multiple technologies are used in order to make these programs available at any time, in any place around the world.