Accessible Blackboard Part 1


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Learning Management Systems have the potential to improve the quality of the interactions between teachers and students, but they can also present serious barriers to students with disabilities. As demand for learning management software increases so does the importance of delivering accessible software. In this session we will talk about Blackboard's commitment and approach to accessibility, show you examples of what is working well within Blackboard Learn and talk about features that can be used to improve the experience for students with disabilities.

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  • When applications are accessible everyone is successful. Learning management systems should be simple, efficient and usable for all users. Building an accessible learning management system means thinking about this from the perspective of all clients.
  • Learning Management Systems are complex applications, The Blackboard LMS is no different. It’s a very interactive environment for teachers and students. When working with complex applications like these users have to deal with vast amount of static and dynamic informationMost applications in the market are not designed with accessibility in mind.Only Universally Designed applications can be utilized effectively by users with disabilities.
  • Blackboard wants to ensure that Bb Learn is a universally designed platform that can bring positive educational experiences to all usersThe input we receive from clients, and the development and testing processes we’ve established helps us learn more about what it means to build a universally designed application and to continue to invest in developing accessible products that can meet such diverse user needs.
  • Before we talk more about our approach to development and the results of our client and industry partnerships I’d like to show you an example of what it’s like to navigate the product using assistive technology – like a screen reader.This slide includes a picture of the first page in Blackboard, with the My Places tool opened.My places is a tool which is located in the top frame of the Bb Learn application and is therefore accessible from anywhere any time. It provides quick access to a list of your courses, among other things. The video you’re about to watch shows a user using the My Places tool to navigate to their course using a screen reader.
  • There are three key elements to Blackboard’s approach to building an accessible LMS:First, we design with industry standards in mind (these include the US based Section 508 Standards as well as the internationally recognized W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.Second we partner with clients and industry leaders to ensure we’re doing the right thingsAnd third we test the results to check and make sure everything is working as expected – for all users
  • Our approach to accessible development has allowed us to modularize our code to improve efficiency and stability. But as you can imagine, doing so has both advantages and disadvantages. These need to be carefully balanced to make sure we are alwaysheading in the right direction withourimplementationapproaches. Some of the advantages we’ve discovered with our approach include: The ability to make faster corrections when mistakes are found; good consistency across page types and interactions throughout the product; development methods that are reusable by clients and vendors building other tools and extensions for Bb Learn; and a simplified learning curve for anyone looking to build features, tools or extensions for the Blackboard Platform.The one major disadvantage is that if there isone bug in the system it probably shows up in many locations. But by balancing this with all the advantages we gain from a standard approach a bug found in the system may appear to be pervasive but we can actually resolve it through out the product quite easily.
  • As mentioned earlier, a lot of applications are not built or designed with accessibility in mind. At Blackboard, accessibility is built into all our design and development activities. We continue to work with partners and clients to ensure we understand the impact of any design decision BEFORE we build it. If we encounter accessibility risks and issues with our design we change the design. Accessibility is a critical component in Blackboard’s commitment to providing high quality products and services.
  • Butwhat is it that makes Blackboard Learn accessible? There are lots of things we could talk about today but we’ve decided to focus on these four areas within the application and provide some examples of how this helps users with disabilities:1. Blackboard Learn provides a consistent navigation2. Provides methods to allow users to reduce the noise and clutter on the page and really just focus on the task at hand. 3. Allows for flexible presentation of content to students. 4. And ensures that help information is always available when you need it.
  • Consistent Navigation is key to a user being able to use a learning management tool like Blackboard. Users need to be able to orient themselves with the system quickly and efficiently and then be assured that they can rely on the core structure to navigate subsequent areas of the product.Simple structures help improve interaction and increase efficiency and once a screen reader user has ‘learned’ the structure of the page they can easily jump around to find the key sections of the content or move throughout the system.
  • The first step to building a consistent navigation within a learning management system is to design a logical heading structure that will be easy to understand and follow along with. When headings are used consistently users can trust that they will be able to navigate to and through any page in the system without having to constantly learn the page structure to locate content. How does it work?- BB uses headings logically to construct pages.- Heading 1 to go to main content area.- Heading 2 for the main menus.- Unordered list to group related items.- Good use of Breadcrumbs.- Frame names change dynamically to reflect the content.
  • Breadcrumbs help users to understand the page/content relationships as well as maintain some context about where they are in the system. Breadcrumbs also helps users to easily travel within the page hierarchy.How does it work?- It appears right at the top ofthe main content frame in screen reader view.- Nodes are linked so user can click on them to parent pages.
  • In addition to using breadcrumbs to understand the structure of the content you are viewing, selected tabs (in the top frame) provide a consistent method of orienting the user to their location in the system. For screen reader users not knowing what tab is selected is like not knowing in what window you are in.Screen reader users must know what tab they are in before exploring the page for desired function. This allows better orientation and navigation.How does it work?- Text indicating the “selected tab” is hidden off-screen and appended to the name of the tab.- Only screen reader users see the off-screen text so it is there when they need it but does not distract from the system for sighted users.
  • Another navigation aid that is unique to Blackboard Learn is the “My Places” tool we saw in the earlier video clip. My places provides a series of quick links that can be accessed from anywhere in the system. My places will include links to all courses and organizations and user is participating in as well as quick links to bookmarked files and folders in the content system. How does it work?It’s located in the top frame of Blackboard Learn and is therefore available no matter where the user is within the course. Within a few clicks (or keystrokes) a user can quickly jump to any commonly used link.
  • Finally, let’s talk about keyboard interaction. For users (like screen reader users or motor impaired users) who constantly use the keyboard to navigate web based applications it is very important to ensure that the product is using well know keyboard interaction models.How does it work?Blackboard’s keyboard interaction model follows all web application interaction standards. You can use the tab key to move around menus and major sections of the page. The space bar or enter key will activate links. Arrow keys will let you easily move around radio buttons and menu options and other list based elements.
  • Another important aspect to building an accessible Learning Management System is to remove the unnecessary elements from the page and allow the user to only focus on the things that matter the most. If there are too many things for a user to consume and understand it increases the risk of confusion for the user and decreases their efficiency in using the product. Keeping things simple is always better for all users. As we talked about earlier, Blackboard Learn is a complex interactive application with lots of features, functionality and options for the users. However, we also provide quick and easy methods to show and hide section of the page. This means links are available when you need them and hidden when you do not.
  • All of the menus in Blackboard Learn are available only when you need them. In the example shown here you see the options for “Creating an Assessment” have been opened to reveal the types of assessments that can be created. Other contextual menus and sections of the course menu can be collapsed and only accessed (by all users) the moment they are needed. This allows users to focus only on relevant items and improves orientation and navigation.How does it work?- The Alt tag associated with the icon toggles between Collapse/Expand so a user knows a menu exists and if it is open or closed- When a menu is expanded, the menu icon changes to "Collapse" and all its children appear under menu in an ordered list.- When a menu is collapsed, the list will close and the menu icon changes to "Expand".
  • Similarly to what we were just talking about, a user has the option to expand and collapse sections of the course menu. They will also be able to just collapse the menu altogether and focus all their attention on the content of the page. This allows for a less crowded interface which significantlyimproves user's interaction. It’s also simply less links for keyboard-only and screen reader users means less tab stops and faster navigation.How does it work?- Once you are in your desired page, you can hide all the course menu.- A "show Course Menu" icon appears there for the case you want to see the menu again.- The state of menu is maintained for the length of the session.
  • Taking advantage of the flexible presentation methods in Blackboard Learn is another great way to support students with disabilities and ensure they are getting the best experience possible. First and foremost, users need to be able to customize the interface as much as possible. But teachers also have a variety of presentation modes they can user for their course to help reduce the volume of information a user needs to consume at any one time. Targeting material to students when and how they need it will also improve their over all experience when using Blackboard Learn.
  • Blackboard Learn supports all operating system settings for high contrast as well as allowing the users to change their font size (using the controls for the browser). All pages in the system will properly respond to whatever settings the user has defined. In addition to that, the user must be able to customize/optimize the interface to their needsallowing for better orientation and quick navigationHow does it work?- On ‘portal’ pages (like My Institution)users can specify the numbers of columns on the page- User can move modules to different column- User can re-arrange modules in their preferred order (like bring the My Courses module to the top left of the page so it is the first thing ‘found’ by screen readers)Using keyboard you can select a module from the list and then move it to left, right, up, or down (if applicable)
  • Teachers also have a responsibility to ensure they are building accessible experiences for their students. The flexible page layouts in Blackboard Learn help them do just that. By using something like the “Icon Only” page shown here teachers can help remove distractions and focus students on the content within specific areas of the course. How does it work?- There are three layouts available: Icon Only (shown here)Icon and Text (the most commonly used layout)Text only (reduces the extra ‘image’ clutter on the page)Each layout has it’s own benefits and purpose.Icons only removes all the ‘noise’ of the content and provides simple links to view each item. This can be extremely helpful for users with cognitive disabilities as it allows them to focus on the details of one item at a time. Text Only shows all of the content on a single page but removes the extra clutter of an icon for each item. Icon and text also keeps information on one page and uses a standard icon to identify what type of Blackboard Content each item is.
  • Adaptive release is another great way to target content to the students that need it – when they need it. It allows you to define rules about when and how content will be displayed in your course. If you have students in your course with accommodations allowing them to receive additional supplemental material you can use adaptive release to ensure that content only becomes available to the RIGHT set of students and does not confuse or impact the other students in the course. It’s a great way to provide alternatives and supplemental material to a targeted audience. How does it work?From any content item in your course you can create rules that are based on completion of previous material and achievements (grades). You can also build rules based on date ranges and group memberships
  • Blackboard’s product help can be accessed directly from within the product and is focused on the feature you’re currently looking at or working with. This helps users to learn quickly about the features and functionality. But, Blackboard also provides an option to hide help related info when you don't need it.How does it work?- User can easily turn on and off the Help-When it turns off, the help information will disappear and the real estate is made available to the interface.
  • While there are a lot of great examples about an “Accessible Blackboard” platform there are definitely still some challenges areas within the application. Interacting with some tools is still very cumbersome and frustrating and might never be perfect but we are working on improving the usability and accessibility of them all.Discussion Board Messages page is very complex. Using “collections” can offer some assistance. Multi File UploadUses a Java applet that’s not accessible. Stick with the single file upload option for now.Internet Explorer 8Browser support for some newer technologies is not as advanced as Firefox and causes some challenges with contextual menus. Text EditorFocus can be stolen by equation editor applets and there are no keyboard shortcuts for common formatting controls. Significant improvements to the Text Editor are currently underway. Grade CenterThe interactive tables in the Grade Center don’t work well with screen readers. Alternative grading pages (such as “Grade all attempts” or “Grade by Questions” or “Needs Grading” provide a better alternative for grading with a screen reader.
  • But despite all of what we’ve shown you today, a Learning Management System can only be as accessible as that content that is built within it. Each faculty member and instructional designer does have a responsibility to ensure the content they are adding to their courses is accessible as well.
  • Blackboard Learn is an accessible platform. The platform will provide ways to enable teachers to build accessible content. One example would be that when uploading images, audio files, video files or other rich media files teachers are prompted to also include the accessible alternatives: alt text or long descriptions for images, and transcripts or captioning for audio, video and rich media files.Blackboard also provides a full training course on Universal Design. This will provide a great deal of information about how to design and build content in your course that is accessible to all users. If you are looking for more information about building accessible content within courses or simply want to know more about the principles of universal design check out the Universal Design Course on CourseSites. This is a free resource available to everyone and providing great information about universal content development practices.
  • The final element to a fully accessible Blackboard is the continued collaboration with clients, partners and vendors. The kind of collaboration we’ve developed with all our clients – not just those focused on accessibility issues provides us with the opportunity to learn more about the things that matter to them. With these programs, we’ve learned a great deal about building accessible applications that are equally usable for ALL users. It has also provided us with a means of giving back to the Accessibility community and help further access to education for students with disabilities – even outside of Blackboard Learn.
  • In 2010 Bb was awarded the Dr. Jacob Bolotin award from the National Federation of the Blind. We took this $10,000 award, added $15,000 to it and created five $5,000 research grants to be awarded to projects that focused on furthering access to education for students with disabilities. Earlier this year a committee was formed, with both internal and external experts in Accessibility, to review all the applications and select the five projects that would be awarded the grants. These five projects are currently underway and are being supported by volunteers within the Blackboard development team.
  • And finally we wanted to provide some additional resources for you. If you’d like to join the Accessibility Interest Group go to the link above and sign up. If you’d like to participate in some of our more formal Product Development Partnerships please email clientprograms@blackboard.comDetails about what’s changed and what’s still challenging are updated and posted on for each major release. Members of the Blackboard team frequently post to the Blackboard Blogs about what we’re doing with regards to accessibility and try to provide tips and tricks regularly for using the Blackboard Learn software with assistive technology as well as information about how to use Blackboard to support students with disabilities.
  • Accessible Blackboard Part 1

    1. 1. Accessible Blackboard
    2. 2. JoAnna Hunt m
    3. 3. Accessible applications allow ALLusers to complete the same taskssimply and efficiently.
    4. 4. LMS Accessibility
    5. 5. Our Commitment and Approach
    6. 6. Navigation
    7. 7. Enter Text Here
    8. 8. Development Approach testing partners standards
    9. 9. Impact of Standards Approach Advantages Disadvantages
    10. 10. Accessibility is considered part ofBlackboard’s design anddevelopment activities from Day One
    11. 11. Learn Release 9.1
    12. 12. Consistent Navigation
    13. 13. Heading Structure
    14. 14. Breadcrumbs
    15. 15. Selected Tab Indicators
    16. 16. My Places
    17. 17. Standard Keyboard Models
    18. 18. Reduced Clutter
    19. 19. Dynamic Menus
    20. 20. Hidden Content
    21. 21. Flexible Presentation
    22. 22. Personalization
    23. 23. Page Layouts
    24. 24. Targeted Content
    25. 25. Help when you need it
    26. 26. Known Challenge Areas
    27. 27. An accessible experience requires agreat platform and great content.Contributors must do their part.
    28. 28. Universally Designed Content
    29. 29. Everyone benefits from the increasedaccessibility and usability that comesfrom collaboration
    30. 30. Community Outreach
    31. 31. Accessibility Grant Projects
    32. 32. Accessibility Grant Projects
    33. 33. Get Involved and Learn More
    34. 34. Accessible Blackboard Part Two