When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020, MSU was faced with the difficult decision to transition in-person classes to remote offerings. It was a considerable change, but MSU faculty and staff rose to the challenge to make remote coursework accessible for all. RCPD Assistant Director for Assistive Technology Innovation, Leslie Johnson, was one of the staff members that played an integral part in this project. As the pandemic provided moments of uncertainty, Leslie remained involved in addressing student, staff, and faculty concerns for providing accessible and inclusive content for the Spartan community’s success during this time.
A few days prior to the virtual learning transition, Leslie was contacted about planning for the shift to remote courses. With her accessibility knowledge, she was able to assist in the technological efforts needed to create virtual learning environments. Her task was to train her colleagues and provide information for crafting online learning with accessible content and universal design.
“It was all about how to prepare faculty and help faculty to make the switch online, which as everyone knows is not an easy task, going from in-person class to online. So, my involvement was just helping to be involved in all of the trainings we did,” shared Leslie. “Once MSU did shut down, the next few days I was still on campus. We had recorded a bunch of live training and Q&A sessions, answering questions. I presented on how to help RCPD students and how to implement accommodations online, which is something many faculty weren't thinking about or prepared for.”
From researching different testing platforms to uncovering other accessibility challenges, Leslie was dedicated to making sure students with disability accommodations were thought of and included in faculty discussions. There were many challenges that arose from the transition to remote teaching and learning, especially when it came to accessibility. For example, this was the first time that all students would be completing their final exams online. With Leslie’s knowledge of assistive technology and accessibility, exam software solutions were implemented that provided a secure and accessible online testing environment. As summer and fall semesters approached, Leslie and selected educational technology faculty created a ‘Keep Teaching’ course that helped faculty members prepare for continued online learning.
“The Keep Teaching team was a small group of individuals from different colleges and departments and worked to guide the University in the quick pivot to remote teaching and learning for the Spring 2020 semester and then prepare for online education for the future semesters, Summer and Fall 2020,” says Leslie. “This course worked to guide remote and online learning practices, with recommendations to develop teaching strategies that lead to the best outcomes for students across the institution.” As a member of the ‘Keep Teaching’ team, Leslie worked to implement RCPD disability accommodations in an online setting, strengthening accessible solutions in higher education.
Leslie was also an attributing author to the Spartan Online Instructional Readiness Educational Experience (SOIREE) program, previously referred to as the Summer Online Instructional Readiness Educational Experience. This is a one-week training program for more than 800 faculty members, focused on properly teaching online courses. Despite the name adjustment, according to Leslie: “The training has been slightly modified over time but the content all still remains. The content was also used to then help other schools.” Now, K-12 schools have access to the program, ensuring further aid to institutions who have made the switch online.
Having over 800 faculty program participants in the SOIREE program and webinar training sessions for faculty and staff about online education considerations with ‘Keep Teaching,’ Leslie was at the forefront of MSU’s remote transition. Due to her focus on generating a more inclusive virtual environment, student success for individuals with disabilities was at the leading edge of the remote instruction transition.