In Brenden Oliva’s journey through academia, universal accessibility of online education stood out as one of the most important issues to tackle.
“I’ve been there myself,” Oliva said. “Busted laptop, living 65 miles from campus, no access to computer labs or even the local library because of my work schedule, typing up and submitting essays on a hand-me-down iPhone’s baby screen.”
It was his ambition, determination, and love for storytelling that served as Oliva’s motivation. While earning his doctorate in creative writing and literature, he began teaching hybrid and online courses. Shortly thereafter, Oliva joined the English department and continued to educate at UNLV. It was through reflecting on his own experiences that Oliva undertook the responsibility of ensuring universal accessibility for his students.
“Thing is, that assumes a perfect world in which everyone has equal access to technology and the internet,” Oliva said. “For some folks, that smartphone is the only way to get both.”
The coronavirus pandemic only reinforced his stance. Oliva learned from his students that some of them rely entirely on their phones to complete their courses. Two students especially impacted Oliva when he discovered that they did not have regular access to the internet in their country and depended on their mobile data to even communicate with their professors.
“Those experiences and realizations stick with you,” Oliva said. “That’s when I started ensuring every aspect of my courses were mobile-friendly.”
His hard work left a positive impression on his students. Over the span of the semester, they regularly commented on the overall course organization and delivery methods. By testing and optimizing, Oliva has managed to make 95 percent of his courses completable through the Canvas mobile app if needed.
“Mobile testing doesn’t take long, and it provides valuable insight into the learning environment you’ve created for your students.” Oliva said. “If mobile learners are forced to spend more time figuring out how to navigate and access your course instead of engaging with your course material, well, that puts them at a distinct disadvantage.”
Oliva’s idea isn’t the only one benefiting academia at UNLV. In fact, it is one of 35 currently being presented at UNLV’s fifth annual Best Teaching Practices Expo. Faculty across the university are featuring their research-based ideas for improving teaching across campus. Instructors will each share their teaching practices that:
- Addresses a particular need to improve teaching
- Benefits UNLV students in particular, and
- Applies in a variety of teaching contexts
Hosted by the UNLV Faculty Center, the event aims to promote teaching development, research, and career planning. Most notably, on Feb. 12 is a virtual discussion with distinguished panelists that celebrates the achievements of the faculty’s teaching practices.
The expo serves as an opportunity to discover new approaches to teaching that benefit not only the faculty, but the students as well.
“I’ve participated in over a dozen workshops and webinars already,” Oliva stated. “It was extremely valuable, having the opportunity to share online teaching practices and bounce ideas off other folks.