Improving equity of experience in distance education for students with challenges accessing online learning environments

Aiken, Fiona J. and Hutton, Christopher (2023). Improving equity of experience in distance education for students with challenges accessing online learning environments. In: EDEN 2023 Annual Conference “Yes we can!” – Digital Education for Better Futures, 18-20 Jun 2023, Dublin, Ireland.



There is a legal requirement (Equality Act, 2010) to provide students who have declared disabilities with reasonable adjustments which address their learning needs. An Advance HE report on making reasonable adjustments (Falsinger & Bryford, 2010) recommends including ‘resources available’. Reading on screen can lead to difficulties focusing, e.g., when reading through text interspersed with images and links (Habib et al., 2012). This can also mean studying takes longer, which itself can be a barrier due to the impact on workloads and can negatively affect quality of life leading to stress and anxiety (Lambert & Dryer, 2018). Accessibility can be improved for students with barriers to studying online-only materials through producing printed versions of the materials (“print packs”). Typically, print packs improve accessibility for students with a range of declared disabilities (e.g., sight conditions; chronic migraine; chronic physical pain or fatigue).

This research evaluates the use, utility, and efficacy of print packs as a reasonable adjustment to some disabled students and students in secure environments (SiSE) on Earth and Environmental Science modules. We investigated (2021/22) how students used print packs and the problems and benefits associated with them, through scrutiny of institutional data, a student survey, and focus groups with Associate Lecturers tutoring the students, and student support staff.

Institutional data for a large, year 1 science module over 2 presentations revealed higher submission rates and performance among SiSE using print packs compared with the whole module cohort; however, the same metrics were lower than the whole cohort for students using print packs as an adjustment for a disability.

An online survey of students using print packs (13 responses / 43, 30%) highlighted that the majority use them for over half their study time. Comments revealed students blended study of the printed materials with shorter periods of access to interactive online content and synchronous / asynchronous tuition. 23% reported having received advice on how to make best use of print packs.

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