Increasing accessibility and inclusion in undergraduate geology labs through scenario-based TA training

Emily Fairfax, Megan R.M. Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


People with disabilities are chronically underrepresented in many geoscience departments across the country. There are a number of proposed reasons why this underrepresentation persists, one of which is lack of instructor training in designing accessible curriculum and making high-quality accommodations. This not only puts students with accessibility needs at a disadvantage academically but also creates an unwelcoming environment. We determined through a broad survey of the instructors and undergraduate students that the geology department at a large research-focused university lacked sufficient instructor training on accessibility-related topics. We designed and implemented a scenario-based training at the university department scale to begin correcting the lack of training. Our training was designed for and given to teaching assistants (TAs), and we assessed the effectiveness of our training by measuring TA knowledge gain and retention throughout the fall 2017 semester; comparing the number of students approaching TAs with accessibility needs in the training year to years prior to the training; and gauging undergraduate feelings of inclusion throughout semester via a series of minute-paper style surveys. Our results show an increased baseline understanding of universal design and semester-long retention of that knowledge. The number of students approaching TAs with accessibility needs increased compared to years prior to the training, and undergraduates reported overall feeling that their TAs had a genuine interest in their learning as individuals. We conclude that our results merit the inclusion of an accessibility focused TA training in the annual training schedule.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)366-383
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Geoscience Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was conducted with government support under and awarded by DoD, Air Force Office of Scientific Research, National Defense Science and Engineering Graduate (NDSEG) Fellowship, 32 CFR 168a, awarded to Emily Fairfax. It was also supported by the University of Colorado Boulder Teaching-As-Research (TAR) component of the Graduate Teacher Program (GTP). This research was conducted under IRB Protocol 17-0145 and IRB Protocol 17-0429. We thank Dr. Adam Blanford for guiding us through the IRB submission process. Thank you to two anonymous reviewers, the associate editor, and Editor Dr. Anne Egger for their thoughtful feedback and constructive comments. They greatly improved the clarity of this manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, © 2019 National Association of Geoscience Teachers.


  • Accessibility
  • lab
  • teaching assistant
  • training
  • universal design


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