Accessibility During COVID-19 Simon Fraser University (SFU) Needs Asynchronous Learning

To all Simon Fraser University (SFU) administration and faculty:

SFU students from vulnerable backgrounds are calling for increased asynchronous online course delivery for the summer 2020 term.

Asynchronous delivery allows for self-paced learning within a flexible time frame. It often includes self-guided lesson modules, recorded lectures, and multiple options for student participation and classroom engagement, while requiring time-constrained student attendance only at a minimum such as for exams. Asynchronous learning is a student-centred approach that supports diverse student needs, one that is imperative during this time of crisis.

The following are just a few examples of students facing barriers that are compounded by synchronous delivery:

    Students with inconsistent WiFi access
    Students with inconsistent computer access (For example, low-income students sharing a single computer with the rest of their household)
    Students who had to travel back to their home countries during the pandemic, or have traveled abroad and cannot safely return to Canada, whose lectures are now during their sleeping hours due to time zone differences
    Students who are doing on-the-ground volunteer and employed work to help vulnerable populations survive the pandemic, often at extreme hours
    Students who are essential workers, who may be now working more irregular shifts given massive lay-offs and employee turnover rates
    Students who are parents or caregivers, who now must conduct childcare at more inconsistent hours
    Students with disabilities receiving home care to support their activities of daily living, who may have their home care schedules impacted due to COVID-19

We recognize that many instructors are facing these same barriers. In addition, we recognize that synchronous delivery contributes additional time pressure and stress for instructors dealing with technical difficulties during real-time online lectures and exams. Instructors also benefit from the flexibility provided by asynchronous learning.

Many universities, including SFU, are recommending instructors to incorporate asynchronous learning as much as possible in their classrooms. However, students are reporting that many professors are not providing asynchronous options, even when it is feasible, justifiable, and optimal.

Some instructors argue that certain class components can only be provided synchronously, but this is true in only a very limited number of cases. In most cases, asynchronous options are appropriate and feasible if instructors apply some flexibility and re-evaluate their pre-pandemic expectations. For instance, class discussion can be conducted via Canvas and Piazza discussion forums. Students who cannot attend live lectures could be given access to recordings through Canvas and submit written work the week of lecture.

Some instructors have expressed worries that students would not attend lectures if they are recorded. However, students who are able to attend live classes, who want to participate in live classes, tend to attend anyway—the same as before the pandemic. Holding inaccessible lectures largely impacts participation of the growing number of students facing barriers. Providing accessibility increases student engagement. 

Instructors and students alike have voiced the need for regular schedules to maintain routine for mental well-being. Asynchronous options can provide this necessary regularity with consistent upload times and deadlines for weekly participation. Asynchronous course delivery can and should be maintained with regularity and consistency.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented changes on a global scale. Pre-pandemic class expectations, such as attendance participation marks, need to change with these times.

We do not know how long the pandemic will last. It is not an option for many students to simply drop classes if they are newly inaccessible. Some rely on continued full-time status for their live expenses funding. Some need to graduate by a certain deadline before their tuition funding runs out.

Asking students to delay their education because available accessible options are being withheld is inequitable and unjust. It will have significant impacts on the quality of life and future of students, and disproportionately affect students from vulnerable backgrounds.

We call for:

    Stronger leadership from SFU administration mandating asynchronous course delivery options
    Increased uptake by instructors to ensure asynchronous learning environments are maximized and consistently delivered
    A dedicated COVID-19 complaints process to report artificially-created accessibility barriers in online course delivery

SFU Disability & Neurodiversity Alliance
Simon Fraser Student Society

Sign the petition here on