The MacPherson Institute has launched a new zine exploring barriers of access on campus

C/O LQ from This Insane Life: MadStudents Zine, 2014

The MacPherson Institute, McMaster’s teaching and learning centre, has launched a new zine on disability, accessibility and teaching and learning at McMaster University.

Current and former McMaster students with lived experiences of disability, disablement, inaccessibility and ableism are invited to contribute to the zine to share and voice their experiences. This could include any barriers to access they might have experienced at McMaster or other post-secondary institutions.

Current and former McMaster students with lived experiences of disability, disablement, inaccessibility and ableism are invited to contribute to the zine to share and voice their experiences.

The zine project is being led by disabled students and alumni.

“[The zine] seeks to uncover and document the labour and legacy of these disabled student initiatives and others (individual and collective; formal and informal) we haven’t heard from yet,” as stated on the website

“The zine takes an arts-based approach to educational pedagogy and seeks to inform educators and faculty about the struggles of students who are or identify as a disabled, neurodivergent or are service users of mental health,” explains Evonne Syed, a third-year undergraduate MacPherson student partner and educational research assistant on the zine team.

The project will hope to acknowledge the need for greater accessibility and disability inclusion in the classroom, within curricula and on-campus. The project also builds on the work of a similar 2014 McMaster zine on Mad student experiences. It will also contribute to commemorations for the 50th anniversary of the MacPherson Institute.

Both individual and group submissions are being accepted in multiple formats, including but not limited to: creative arts such as collage, comics, graphic design, drawing, painting, photography; literary arts like dialogues/interviews, essays, poetry, lyrics, reflections, satire, short fiction, theatre scripts; or other ideas such as lists, recipes, games, etc.

The submission deadline is March 31 and can be submitted through a Google Form. Contributors will be notified about the status of their piece on May 1, with the publication date set for summer 2021. 

“Art is [one of the] the most successful modes for expression… there aren't really many guidelines and you have a lot of freedom with what you do and how you express yourself. In that way we can appeal to a wider audience when it comes to talking about disability and accessibility,” emphasized Tanisha Warrier, a second-year biology student on the zine team.

“Art is [one of the] the most successful modes for expression… there aren't really many guidelines and you have a lot of freedom with what you do and how you express yourself. In that way we can appeal to a wider audience when it comes to talking about disability and accessibility"

Tanisha Warrier

Up to 30 current students and alumni from 2011-2020 are eligible to receive a $125 honorarium for any pieces chosen for publication in the zine. Other contributors whose pieces are chosen for publication will be eligible to request an honorarium.

The amount will depend on the project budget and the overall number of accepted submissions. These honoraria are funded by grants from the Arts Research Board at McMaster University as well as the Student Success Centre’s Career Access Professional Services Program.

“Something that I really love about this project is that we are asking the people who are [directly] impacted by these [accessibility] barriers what their experiences are and compensating them for their contributions,“ said Emunah Woolf, a social work placement student on the zine team.

“A lot of times, we either don't ask the people who are impacted and, therefore, don't solve it in a way that actually fixes the issues. We're asking folks from equity-seeking groups how they want equity and then not actually compensating them for that knowledge or that labour,” said Woolf.

The zine will be an open-access publication that will be distributed to students, staff, faculty and campus partners. After the publication, the zine team plans on conducting research to evaluate the engagement and impact of the zine, such as through focus groups and surveys of contributors and readers.

The zine team emphasized the importance of this project in creating a more inclusive space for those with disabilities.

“We need to start having more conversations. Not only within our own friend circles and things like that, but also conversations with higher-ups in academics and larger, more influential people in our faculties to ensure that voices are being heard, and are being taken to a place where change can actually take place,” said Vikita Mehta, a second-year arts and science student on the zine team.

The team also highlighted tangible action that must follow through with the contributions of the zine, especially to make the learning environment more accessible for disabled folks.

The team also highlighted tangible action that must follow through with the contributions of the zine, especially to make the learning environment more accessible for disabled folks.  

“With the release of [the zine to] really set the scene, it might also be helpful to educators and [professors] in incorporating a more inclusive educational framework and improve their teaching methods in terms of how they structure their classes, so that it's more accessible for different students [of] different abilities,” said Syed.

“We need to ensure that the playing field level when it comes to school, work and academics [is made so] that everyone has equal opportunity to succeed,” added Warrier.

“We need to ensure that the playing field level when it comes to school, work and academics [is made so] that everyone has equal opportunity to succeed." 

Tanisha Warrier

Proctoring seen as a pro for some, but a con for others

As students and instructors find new ways to adapt to an online educational environment, methods of online assessment are something that also face major changes. The MacPherson Institute, McMaster University’s centre for teaching and learning, has shared many resources and suggestions for instructors to develop a remote teaching plan. 

On the MacPherson website, there are also resources for assessment alternatives. A final exam can be a take-home exam and student presentations can be done online using Microsoft Teams or they can be recorded and posted on Avenue to Learn

For instructors that wish to conduct final exams online through Avenue to Learn, MacPherson suggested different features, including presenting questions one-by-one or putting in time constraints for the exam.

Although not mentioned on the MacPherson website, many course outlines also state that professors have the option of using proctoring softwares for assessments. As noted on the Undergraduate Examinations Policy, instructors have the responsibility to specify the required electronic equipment and software at the beginning of the course. 

Students have the responsibility to ensure that they have the necessary equipment and software required and any questions or considerations related to online examinations must be referred to an instructor no later than 10 days prior to an online examination.

For an online proctored exam, students must ensure they have equipment such as a webcam and additional software. Such software may require students to turn on their video camera, present identification, allow instructors to monitor and record the student's computer activities, as well as lock or restrict their web browser during assessments.

It has not been made clear to all students whether proctoring will be used for some of their courses. 

https://www.facebook.com/spottedat.mac/posts/2075325055936821

Clean D’Souza, a third-year actuarial and financial mathematics student, is one of the students who is unsure if his course examinations will be remotely proctored or not. D’Souza said that he doesn’t mind if it is proctored and that he believes proctoring has many benefits. He believes proctoring can help to separate those who are actually putting in the work to get their grades and those who decide to cheat. 

Another third-year actuarial and financial mathematics student, Rimsha Laeeq, finished her first proctored examination on Oct. 5. Laeeq said that she did not mind having her examination proctored as it encouraged her to have greater focus during the test and to study harder beforehand. However, Laeeq expressed that proctoring was uncomfortable at times, including the fact that she had to show all of her surroundings to the camera and ensure she does not look away from the computer for too long. 

Kinesiology professor Trevor King has opted for online open-book assessments through Avenue to Learn.

“I'm hoping to not use [proctoring softwares] because I think that it adds a lot of stress to an already stressful situation for students, so I don't want to add that on,” said King. 

“I'm hoping to not use [proctoring softwares] because I think that it adds a lot of stress to an already stressful situation for students, so I don't want to add that on,” said King. 

King also added that although professors have to consider whether students are truly understanding the content, an open-book assessment doesn’t necessarily hinder students from learning.

“[M]y thought is that a test is not really applicable to the real world in most situations and if you go out and have a problem to solve, in the real world, you're going to be able to look things up. [The ability to] quickly and effectively look things up is a very important skill that I think that students should have when they come out of university. So I think that an open book test makes way more sense than just having to memorize things.”

Professor Jennifer Ostovich of the department of psychology, neuroscience and behavior, has also taken a different approach to assessments this year. 

Ostovich has decided that rather than a traditional approach to grading, she will use specifications grading

Specifications grading is an approach in which course assessments and assignments are broken down into pass or fail tasks. To achieve a certain grade, students would have to pass certain tasks, and for different grade levels, there will be a different combination of tasks to ensure students reach the appropriate level of understanding. 

For example, weekly quizzes are divided into two different types and to achieve a higher grade, students would have to complete a higher ratio of one type of quiz versus another. In addition to weekly quizzes, there are also assignments students can complete and a greater number of completions is required for a higher grade. 

Ostovich expressed hope that with this new approach, students can feel that they retained more of the material and stress less about achieving certain grades on their assignments. 

When asked about potential student collaboration on assessments, Ostovich expressed that collaboration can be beneficial for student learning.

"Is it a bad thing for students to talk to one another and learn that way? I don’t think it is."

“With any of the online testing options, that’s been the concern: that no matter what we do, students will collaborate. . . We have to set up a system in which it doesn't matter if students are collaborating, because you can't stop it right?. . . Is it a bad thing for students to talk to one another and learn that way? I don’t think it is. But you have to set up your assessment strategy so that that's not a big deal if it happens and that's what I've tried to do.”

 

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