Online Learning: Frequently Asked Questions for Faculty

The following information is provided as general guidance.  Sometimes situations are unique and require more discussion and problem solving.  DSS is available to consult as needed.  Please email a DSS staff member at for additional assistance.

As I am adapting my course materials for virtual instruction, what should I be considering with regards to disability access? How do I best support my students? 

We acknowledge the significant effort required to adapt your courses to online instruction. We want to  collaborate with you to ensure that access for students with disabilities is maintained through this transition. The barriers that exist in a face-to-face environment may look different in an online environment. Some accommodations used before may no longer apply.  Some accommodations not considered before may need to be considered now (e.g. students who use assistive technology, students with medical limitations on screen usage).   

The DSS team is proactively working with instructors where we’ve identified a potential for specific challenges (e.g. transcription, captioning, visual presentation of material). If you’ve received communication from DSS, please partner with us to proactively address these accessibility efforts.  

Additionally, the staff from Trefny – who are supporting faculty with their content and instruction as part of this transition to online – have tools and guidance on how to make your online content accessible. it is imperative that faculty work with Trefny to design course content upfront with accessibility in mind.  As a good first step, faculty should consult the Trefny’s website  and reach out to them for additional technical support.  

It is not possible for DSS to make all content accessible after it has been created or transitioned.  The need will be far too great (e.g. hundreds of videos) and the turn-around time is far too short.  DSS staff are available for consultation regarding best practices and accessibility. 

Below are some tips to keep in mind as you are creating virtual course content (adapted from  DO-IT and endorsed by The Association on Higher Education and Disability – AHEAD).

  • Use clear, consistent layouts and organization schemes  for presenting content, and make instructions and expectations clear for activities, projects, and assigned reading.   
  • Offer outlines, scaffolding tools, and adequate opportunities for practice  to help students learn.  
  • When selecting new materials, try to find videos that are already captioned, and articles that are available in a text-searchable format  (meaning you can highlight and search the text within the document;  click here for an example).   
  • Images can be made accessible to blind and low-vision students by providing captions or inserting alt text into the image.  Use large, bold fonts on uncluttered pages with plain backgrounds and color combinations that are high contrast.   
  • Provide flexibility and understanding as this experience may cause disruption to the student’s home life and available resources – which may negatively impact a student’s disability symptoms.    

For more tips, visit: 

What are the Key Faculty Efforts I should focus on in an online learning environment?


Key Faculty Efforts 

The Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD), has provided useful guidance and resources around online course accessibility. While we’ve taken time to detail a few below, additional highlighted resources are included at the end of the email.  

High Quality Audio  – The use of high quality audio recording practices may be the single most important accessibility effort all faculty should prioritize. This effort will be to the benefit of students with disabilities, potential forthcoming accessibility software (e.g. automatic captioning software), and all students in the course.  

The use of headsets with microphones and/or dedicated microphones will help dramatically with this expectation. Audio recording should be clear and loud, absent of any background or competing noise. Students, including those who with disabilities which can be accommodated by way of amplified sound (i.e. turning up the volume), will benefit greatly from this effort.   

Trefny and DSS can help navigate best practices and practical recommendations with audio recording. First, consider reading through this helpful guide: 5 tips to improve the audio quality in your video presentations.   

Accessible Documents 

Documents provided on Canvas need to be accessible to students with disabilities. For documents created using the Microsoft Office Suite, the built-in accessibility checkers will provide feedback on errors and guidance on how to fix them. Scanned PDFs are not accessible, because they can’t be read by a screen reader. Question related to this effort can be supported by Trefny 

Text Equivalents for Audio and Video 

For any recordings, either audio or video, a text-based equivalent should be provided or available. For audio, this is a transcript; for video, captions. The best way to create a text equivalent is to write a script and record from that.  

 If that is not an option, you can use auto-generated captioning tools like YouTube or to generate a transcript or caption file. You will need to edit the file to be accurate; auto-generated transcripts are typically only about 60%-70% accurate, which is unacceptable for students. 

 Text Equivalents for Images 

Any images included in the course site should include a text description. In documents, the accessibility checker will advise on how to add a text description. In Canvas, the image uploader has a field for alt text, which is where you can add a brief description of the image. 

Should you seek more information about this subject, the links below reference material that is fully endorsed and readily distributed by ADEAD.  DSS is also available to provide additional resources upon request.   

20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Course & 30 Web Accessibility Tips. 

How will exam accommodations work? Will DSS proctor online exams?  

The Mines Testing Center provides exam support for proctored online and in-person exams for students with accommodations. Proctored exams can be administered on a computer or using paper and pencil and are monitored by another person (TA, professor or exam proctor) either in person or virtually.

The MTC does not provide support for non-proctored exams.  Non-proctored exams are not monitored by another person.  If an exam is being administered online and is not proctored, faculty should make adjustments in the online platform to support applicable testing accommodations (e.g. extended time).  Where there are identified challenges with online exams, DSS and the Testing Center can problem solve as needed, and provide guidance on how to make exam adjustments in Canvas.        

Of note, the Mines Testing Center exists to help proctor exams, often for students who have extended time or the need for a less distracting/private testing environment. In some ways, the Testing Center is not needed an online environment where extended time can be provided within the context of Canvas and students have control over other environmental factors.  Faculty can accommodate a variety of testing accommodations through offering extended time in Canvas and imbedding flexibility with the structure of their course (e.g. take home exams, large windows of time to take exams to eliminate schedule conflicts, etc.).   

Faculty should contact MTC ( with questions, or to problem solve unique testing situations.  

How does extended time on exams/quizzes apply in an online learning environment?

The accommodation of extended time, which provides an extension on the time allotted for exams/quizzes, also applies for online exams/quizzes.  Students with accommodations would receive an extension on the X time frame. (Note that an extended time accommodation is not the same as providing more time for all students; it means that the accommodated student should get an additional percentage of time above whatever other students are getting. For example, the standard exam time might be one hour and an approved student gets time-and-a-half, or 1.5 hours. If the exam is expanded to two hours, the accommodated student would then get three hours.) 


What does the accommodation of extended time on an exam look like in a virtual world where classes are still offered at normally scheduled times, potentially creating scheduling issues for students who have time and half on exams.

Incorporate as much flexibility with the structure of the course up front in order to alleviate schedule conflicts.  This may look like a larger window of time to complete the exam for all students, or for students with schedule conflicts.  In cases of scheduling conflicts, students would take the test at a later time that day or the next day, instead of using the Testing Center to take the exam at a later time.  DSS is available to consult regarding specific situations and Trefny’s team can provide technical guidance on how to account for these different scenarios in Canvas.     

Does extended time apply for take home exams?

Extended time on exams as an accommodation generally only applies to traditional, time-limited exams.* If you decide to offer alternative means of assessment (e.g. essays, non-timed exams, project work), then a student’s extended time may no longer be applicable.  We encourage to speak with registered students if that is the case.  

*There are some situations that extended time may apply to a take-home exam.  Consider the following guidance:   

  • Generally students doing take-home exams do not get extra time if the exam time consists of several days to a week, rather than a time limited number of hours.   One suggestion is to consider the average time it should take for the exam and then add the extended time for the accommodated student.  Is it reasonable to get that amount of work done within the take-home window? If the average time is 10 hours and the student would get 20 with extended time, does that seem doable to accomplish in a week along with other academic responsibilities?  
  • Extensions on take-home exams usually become more of an issue if there are 2 – 3 days to complete the exam and the amount of time that a student could spend on the test with accommodations would be 20 hours or so. That may be a lot to handle in a short window. 

Please communicate with your students to discuss their exam accommodations in your courses. DSS remains available to instructors and students to consult regarding specific situations.  

How do I give students their extended time for online exams/quizzes? 

Prior to making time allotment adjustments, please confirm  how much extended time each of your students should get for their exams/quizzes. 

You can confirm an individual student’s extended time by checking their Accommodation Letter (previously emailed to faculty) or by accessing the AIM Faculty Portal, now currently available on the DSS website.   

Log in here:   AIM Faculty Portal to gain access to the following features:

  • Virtual access to accommodation letters 
  • Export lists detailing students and accommodations 

Please refer to Trefny’s website: instructions and technical support for how to make specific adjustments (e.g. allowed time, exam/quiz time frame) in Canvas.  DSS is available to consult, and the Testing Center is also available to provide technical assistance as well (   

How do I support a student who may need transcription or captioning for lectures and videos?

Trefny’s team has outlined a variety of different options for faculty who are seeking these services through Zoom and other platforms.  Please consult their website for resources, guidance and technical support – DSS is also available to work with faculty on determining solutions and coordinating accommodations pertaining to students with this need (e.g. hearing impairments).  

Specifically, Trefny is recommending the following Mines’ supported platforms:   

MS Stream – connected to your Office365 account and can be found here 

  • All videos posted here will automatically be in the Mines’ public space, unless you create groups and assign videos to a specific group. 
  • Groups take a little work to set up as you have to manually add members to it, but once it is done you do not have your videos in the Mines’ public space. 
  • Captioning videos: 

Zoom (cloud) – This option would allow you to host a live session and have auto captions added once the session ended. 

How do I address extensions on assignments in an online environment?

For assignments, it should be an infrequent request, not a blanket extension for all assignments, and a 1-2 day extension is typically reasonable and appropriate under the parameters outlined in the accommodation letter (e.g. advance communication from student).  Please consult with DSS if there are specific questions or concerns regarding a student request.  

How do I address the accommodation of flexibility with attendance?  

Students with accommodations related to flexibility with attendance should be contacting you to discuss any additional barriers, if any, presented by changes to the course format.  Whenever possible, provide flexibility with course participation and attendance policies, as many students may be dealing with health issues for themselves or their families. DSS is available to instructors and students to consult.