Accessible Teaching with Copilot 

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This post provides initial ideas for accessible teaching using the generative AI (genAI) tool, Copilot. Input was provided by Glenn Wagner, UDL Teaching Consultant, and Shermeen Khan, Manager of Accessible Learning Services.

Accessible Teaching and Learning   

Accessibility in teaching and learning refers to designing courses and using teaching strategies to meet the needs of people from various backgrounds and abilities (COU AODA Guide, 2012). Accessible teaching includes removing barriers to learning, presenting content in multiple ways, and giving students various ways to express their learning (Ontario’s Universities Accessible Campus, 2024). The accessibility of teaching and learning is required by legislation, including the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and Ontario Human Rights Code

Accessible Teaching with AI Copilot

Microsoft Copilot is one of many Conestoga-licensed tools that can improve accessibility for many different student learner profiles. Below are some ways you can use Copilot to support accessible teaching and learning for your students. 

Create accessible lessons

When preparing or revising your lessons, use Copilot to generate ideas for accessible delivery. You can ask Copilot to design an accessible lesson; for example, ask for tips on accessible board work or annotations during class, or suggest instructions for alternative ways students can participate in activities. You can also ask for feedback: what aspects of your lesson design might create accessibility barriers for students with disabilities, and how can they be avoided?

As you plan activities for learning using internet resources, keep in mind that not all webpages are fully accessible. In fact, webpages and apps that have added AI chatbots may, in fact, impede users with disabilities (Khan, 2024).

Create accessible documents 

You can use Copilot to create accessible digital content. For example, you can check the accessibility of any web-based content in eConestoga by sharing the HTML code and asking Copilot to check for errors. You can also use Copilot to transcribe and describe images; upload the image, and ask Copilot to read and transcribe it for an alt text.

Note that Copilot can’t check its own outputs for accessibility as a human would, so it’s a good idea to check the accessibility of AI outputs and exported documents.  

Demo Copilot with accessibility in mind 

If you wish to use Copilot in class, provide AI prompts in advance so that students have time to review them or have them made into an accessible version. In class, avoid sharing Copilot content in only one way. For example, rather than just cut and paste a prompt, read the prompt and the output aloud, and provide a copy to students (for example, in the virtual meeting chat). You can also use the microphone feature; use your voice to give prompts, and Copilot will read its responses back to you.

If you wish to demo a recording of Copilot use, ensure the video recording is fully accessible to all students (high visibility, captions, audio version of the prompts, etc.)

Supporting student use of Copilot

Students can use Copilot to re-present information in an accessible way. For example, they can prompt Copilot to describe visual images in written format, transform audio content into text, transform content in a table into a list, and translate content into other languages.

Students can also use Copilot to understand a concept, idea, or process in a way that makes sense to them. GenAI can function as a “cognitive tutor” to support learning in the classroom, enabling them to ask questions or get help that they may be initially uncomfortable asking a human for.

When supporting students using Copilot, it is important to remind them that AI outputs may be biased or inaccurate. Students should check AI outputs carefully. As well, encourage students to use Conestoga-licensed tools, as non-licensed 3rd party tools may not be fully accessible. Students can learn about the safe and responsible use of Copilot and other AI tools in the Library’s Generative AI Toolkit.

Provide opt-out alternatives 

Students may be anxious about using Copilot, especially if they are not familiar with using AI for complex tasks (Centre, 2024). Or, if students do not trust AI technology, they may prefer to learn how to complete tasks on their own without AI (Delaire, 2023). Also, your students may have restrictions on their use of certain technologies based on their Creed (a protected area of the OHRC).

When Copilot is not essential to the learning outcome, your class activities will be more inclusive if you provide an alternative to using AI. For a learning activity, you might give students an option to use a web resource to reference, complete a template provided by you, or use a Copilot output that you have generated for the class.

Final Thoughts  

Accessible teaching is a combination of accessible materials as well as accessible teaching practices: both should be present to enhance accessibility. Using Copilot can support and enhance accessibility in your classroom. By providing multiple representations of Copilot content and flexible ways to use Copilot to students, you acknowledge and support how learners comprehend and perceive information differently (Dzaman et al., 2022).

In addition to the apps and software (like Copilot) that are licensed by Conestoga, there are other AI-powered apps designed specifically for people with disabilities; you may wish to learn more about them with your students (Khan, 2024). Find out more about AI-powered accessible learning at the GenAI for Students Toolkit through Library Services.  

For more on accessible teaching and learning, see related Hub posts:

As well, reach out to Accessible Learning with questions.

References 

Centre for Teaching, Learning, and Technology. (2024). Equity: Do students have equal access to Generative AI tools? The University of British Columbia. 

Council of Ontario Universities (2012). Introduction to Accessible Education. 

deFreitas, M. P., Piai, V. A., Farias, R. H., Fernandes, A. M. R., de Moraes Rossetto, A. G., & Leithardt, V. R. Q. (2022). Artificial Intelligence of Things Applied to Assistive Technology: A Systematic Literature Review. Sensors (Basel, Switzerland), 22(21), 8531-. https://doi.org/10.3390/s22218531 

DeLaire, M. (2023, August 31). More than half of Canadian students over 18 use AI tools: survey. CTV News.  

Dzaman, S., Fenlon, D., Maier, J., & Marchione, T. (2022). Universal Design for Learning: One Small Step. University of Saskatchewan. Retrieved from https://openpress.usask.ca/universaldesignforlearning/

Khan, S. (2024). Personal communication.

Johnston, H., Wells, R. F., Shanks, E. M., Boey, T., & Parsons, B. N. (2024). Student perspectives on the use of generative artificial intelligence technologies in higher education. International Journal for Educational Integrity, 20(1), 2–21. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40979-024-00149-4 

Ontario’s Universities Accessible Campus. (2024). Understanding Accessibility.  

The outline for this post was drafted in collaboration with Copilot in a 9-stage process. Then, the author did additional research, revising, and editing. Additional expert human feedback was sought and incorporated into the final draft.

Elan Paulson

Elan Paulson, PhD, has been an educator in Ontario's higher education system since 2004. Before joining Conestoga as a Teaching and Learning Consultant, Elan was on the executive team at eCampusOntario. She previously served as Program Director and as an instructor in professional education programs at Western University's Faculty of Education. With a Master's in Educational Technology, Elan specializes in technology-enabled and collaborative learning to support diverse learners. She has also conducted research on faculty participation in communities of practice for professional learning and self-care.

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