students working on laptops to make course content accessible

Penn State Fayette students working on making course content accessible for visually impaired and hearing impaired students. Clockwise: Jordan Troup, Bethany Coldren, Amber Adams, and Rachel Henschel.

This past summer, Penn State Fayette was one of six campuses chosen to pilot the Pathway to Success: Summer Start (PaSSS) program, which gave students the opportunity to start college a semester early to improve their English and math skills while they earned extra money for other expenses. Admissions at Fayette led a team that enlisted people on campus to provide work-study experiences for these students.

According to Cheryl Tkacs, a Penn State Teaching and Learning with Technology (TLT) instructional designer at Penn State Fayette, she volunteered to work with four of the 22 students who signed up for the University Park-funded program that ran from June 29 through August 13. The program is a two-summer program, where next summer returning program attendees will be mentors for incoming students. During the first summer, students take six credits and receive $250/credit scholarships up to $1,500, and during the second summer, students take 12 credits and can receive up to $3,000 in scholarships.

“As a campus, one of the initiatives we are working on is making sure our course material is accessible to all students,” Tkacs said.

Eight faculty members in various departments, including math, English, engineering, and political science, volunteered their course material for students to work on and make accessible for visually impaired and hearing impaired students. Tkacs said that students not only went through the process of making course documents accessible but also checked them through screen readers. In some cases, the students created MP3 files for text documents so that they could be uploaded as audio files for visually impaired students.

In some of the courses that needed accessibility help, the instructor had made videos that needed closed-captioning. Tkacs said the students used MovieCaptioner, a software developed by Patrick Besong, manager of creative design and development with TLT.

For guidance, Tkacs and her students worked with http://accessibility.psu.edu/ and had the help of TLT staff members Alexa Schrimpf, accessibility IT consultant, and Elizabeth Pyatt, instructional designer. Students also worked on creating a new student orientation video.

“They went through a variety of things, they were all very eager, they learned quickly, and they had a wonderful work ethic as well,” Tkacs said.

One student, Bethany Coldren, said she really enjoyed learning a lot of technology skills she did not have before, such as how to make PowerPoint and Word documents accessible.

But it was not just tech skills students got out of the summer program. “I feel like the main thing I got out of the program is being able to adjust to college more easily,” Coldren said.

Another student, Amber Adams, said she appreciated having a smaller group setting to get used to college. “It was nice to get a head start and they had a lot of help, like it wasn’t an overwhelming situation. It was a kind of ease into college life [situation], so it was nice,” Adams said.

For some students like Jordan Troup, their parents suggested the program. “Meeting new people was interesting,” Troup said.

“It was an effort to bring in students that, in some cases, were the first-generation college students from their family,” Tkacs said. “Giving them the opportunity to go to college and get a head start on being successful by providing the scaffolding for them, giving them the opportunity to take the classes they needed to possibly bolster theirs skills, their math skills, their English skills, so that they’ll be successful in whatever majors they have chosen as they go along.”

Another student in Tkacs’ group was Rachel Henschel, who saw the program as a good opportunity to get some credits and scholarships. “I was just happy to get a head start and get more familiarized with the campus before we all started in the fall,” Henschel said.

“The students were very good about coming up with solutions for different problems that we found in converting documents,” Tkacs said. “I’m very pleased at what we’ve accomplished this summer.”

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