Accessible Blackboard Part 2


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In part one of this series, you learned about the importance of building accessible learning management systems and Blackboard's commitment and approach to accessibility. Teachers and instructional designers have an equally important part to play to ensure that their online content and learning experiences are accessible to all students. This session aims to increase awareness of the different accessibility challenges people face, and provide you with some universal design techniques that you can use when building content and teaching online with Blackboard.

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  • My name is Beth MacNeil Stinson. I am the manager of Content Development here at Blackboard. My team is responsible for all of the product documentation, online help, the On Demand Learning Center movies, and all of the licensed training materials. I have been involved with accessibility and universal design since 1983 when I was a community college teacher. But enough about me. How about you? Using the green check marks how many of you are teachers or instructional designers?How many of you are administrators – either for Blackboard or for your school?How many of you work with student services or disabilities services? Let’s jump into Accessibility.
  • We have an amazing opportunity to provide everyone with educational resources through online learning using Blackboard. By raising our awareness of the challenges people face teaching and learning online, we can design course content and activities that will benefit people with a wide variety of abilities and experience. Today I’m going to talk about the different ways you can make Blackboard content accessible to persons with disabilities. Next I’ll talk about universal design principles and how they can be used to make content in Blackboard usable by the most people with the widest range of abilities. Finally we’ll have time for some questions and answers.
  • Before we talk about accessibility and awareness, let’s define what is a disability. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines disability as a contextual variable, dynamic over time and in relation to circumstances. One is more or less disabled based on the interaction between the person and individual, institutional and social environments. These circumstances and interactions vary depending on one’s culture, nationality, age, and socio-economic status. According to WHO, approximately 15% of the world’s population lives with some form of disability, of whom 2-4% experience significant difficulties in functioning. The WHO now places a new emphasis on environmental factors to advance the understanding and measurement of disability. A person’s environment has a huge impact on the experience and extent of disability. Inaccessible environments create disability by creating barriers to participation and inclusion. Blackboard Learn is an environment.
  • The World Health Organization has a new International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) to help medical, social, governmental, and educational policy makers and practitioners understand the challenges faced by individuals with disabilities. This is a shift from classifying people’s disabilities to focusing on a level of health.Problems with human functioning are categorized in three interconnected ways:Impairments are problems in body function or alterations in body structure – for example, paralysis or blindness;Activity limitations are difficulties in executing activities – for example, walking or eating;Participation restrictions are problems with involvement in any area of life – for example, facing discriminationin employment or transportation, or taking a course in Blackboard.A disability then refers to difficulties encountered in any or all three areas of functioning.
  • The area at the bottom of the chart on the last slide diagraming the ICF contains a classification of environmental factors. Environmental factorsdescribe the world in which people with different levels of functioning must live and act. These factors can facilitate or hinder. Environmental factors include: products and technology (which Blackboard is); the natural and built environment (again, Blackboard is a built environment, along with your campus); support and relationships (in a course support from the teacher, relationships with other students); attitudes (which you bring into teaching and designing content); services, systems (Blackboard is part of a larger service and system at your school), and policies (which your institution and government will have).The other area at the bottom of the chart recognizes personal factors. Personal factors are qualities such as motivation and self-esteem, which can influence how much a person participates in your course. If a person feels welcome and enabled, they will be more motivated and successful. The ICF further distinguishes between a person’s capacities to perform actions and the actual performance of those actions in real life. This is a subtle difference that helps illuminate the effect of environment and how performance might be improved by modifying the environment. This goes towards learning outcomes – the person may have the capacity to read your content, but not be able to perform that action because of the way the content is delivered or the way their understanding of the reading is assessed.The ICF is universal because it covers all human functioning and treats disability as a continuum rather than categorizing people with disabilities as a separate group: disability is a matter of more or less, not yes or no. However, policy-making and service delivery might require thresholds to be set for impairment severity, activitylimitations, or participation restriction. An example of this might be having an assistant help a student with severe mobility issues that are not fully accommodated with assistive equipment.So now that we have some context with which to understand what a disability is, we can talk about how to create the best online environment in Blackboard to help students be successful when they experience impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions.The Blackboard Learn platform itself is accessible. You heard all about this in the previous presentation. The content that you add needs to be as well. Here are some of the ways you can ensure content is accessible…
  • Create content that uses structure to help students understand where they are and the relationships among different pieces of content. Use the Text Editor, Folders, Content Areas, and theCourse Menu to model your information hierarchy. Use well defined and consistent naming conventions for files, content, and tools.
  • Assessment is all about defining what mastery is and then creating the methods for students to demonstrate that mastery.Use test settings to provide information and instructions. Select the types of test questions that provide the widest range for students to demonstrate mastery. One question type to consider avoiding in some situations is Hot spot questions. They are not accessible. Use adaptive release for different versions of a test to give some students more time for example.
  • Test everything. Describe everything. Assignments, Text editor, Content AreasFolders, Links, Packages, Course MenuCreating course content such as documents, multimedia, HTML pages, images and external links need to be accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Collaboration can be synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous sessions can pose some added challenges. Blackboard Collaborate is an accessible application, but you will still have to moderate the sessions providing structure so that everyone can participate. The fast pace can leave some students behind if it takes them longer to enter text. A busy fast-paced session can also confuse or distract other students.
  • We have talked about defining a disability within the framework of the World Health Organization's ICF and some some general and basic ways to ensure your content is accessible in the Blackboard environment. Another way to understand how different people may interact in Blackboard is by using empathy. Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes creates unforgettable awareness. Schedule an appointment with student services and see the types of equipment students use with their computers, or simply take off your glasses or unplug your mouse and then try and use your computer. Once a teacher’s or any content developer’s awareness is raised, designing, building, and teaching online courses with accessibility in mind is easier! These factors will always be considered at the beginning of the process and carry through with the execution and remain as a goal for continuous improvement.The first steps are examining Universal Design principals and understanding the challenges people face in online courses. The next step is designing content that is usable and accessible by everyone.
  • Just as we started off defining what a disability is, let’s define Universal Design. Then we can look at specific ways inside Blackboard where you can use these techniques. Universal design is an approach to the design of all products and environments to be usable by everyone, to the greatest extent possible, regardless of age, ability, or situation. Universal design benefits everyone by accommodating the differences people have. Universal design principles for online learning environments are based on the idea that a broad range of human ability exists and this is ordinary and normal. The creation of content needs to be made as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability, or situation. Usable content accommodates people with disabilities, older people, children, novice technology users and others in ways that benefit all users. Online courses and communities add the dimension of anytime, anywhere access, creating many different scenarios for students and instructors engaged in the process of teaching and learning - not defined just by ability, but by time and place as well.In support of these concepts, web pages that can be read by someone with low vision are easier for everyone to read. Buttons and links that can be easily clicked by someone with fine motor difficulties from arthritis or by being a young child are easier to click for everyone. Smaller files for downloading take less time for dial up users to access without penalizing broadband users.To design content for online learning that uses the principals of Universal Design, it’s helpful to understand the types of challenges and ranges of ability people have in an online course environment and how using Blackboard can help everyone succeed. This next set of slides is going to look at specific challenges people face in online environments.
  • In an online environment, learning disabilities can dramatically affect learning outcomes, course satisfaction, and participation. Learning disabilities are defined as neurologically-based processing problems. These processing problems can interfere with learning basic skills such as reading, writing, or math. They can also interfere with higher level skills such as organization, time planning, and abstract reasoning.According the Learning Disabilities Association of America, the most common learning disabilities are: Input problems - Information brought into the brain through the ears and eyes is not received or processed normally. An individual might have difficulty in one or both areas. LanguageDifficulty organizing thoughts or to find the right words in a demanding situation such as an essay test or electronic classroom session. Activity (motor disability)Difficulty coordinating teams of small muscles, called a fine motor disability leading to problems using a keyboard, mouse or other input device.Difficulty coordinating teams of large muscles, called a gross motor disability leading to problems sitting for long periods of time, approaching and using a computer. Integration – Difficulty using information to draw conclusions, problem solve, or speculate by abstraction, sequencing or organizing. Memory - Three types of memory are important to learning, working memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory.Information is communicated by words (language output) or though activity such as writing, drawing, gesturing (motor output).
  • Specific ways you can design content in Blackboard for people with Learning Disabilities that also help everyone:People for whom the web poses learning or cognitive barriers can benefit from teaching strategies that appeal to their learning strengths. Many people find photographs and diagrams to be extremely helpful for explaining complex ideas and information, especially if they have difficulty reading long passages of text. Students who are dyslexic or who have ADD can benefit from graphical content. Other people respond best to audio accompaniment or sound reinforcement of text based information. Audio and video files can be played multiple times.Universally designed content and accessible content will take most people where they need to be to achieve their learning objectives, however, there are times when specialized equipment is necessary to help students interact with their computers and online courses.
  • Sensory and physical disabilities are easier to diagnose and in many cases easier to address with assistive and adaptive technologies than learning and cognitive problems. There can be considerable overlap in some cases, for example the accommodations, like descriptive captions, that can help a student with an audio learning disability and also help a student who is deaf.Students and teachers can become physically disabled at any time from an illness or accident. Disabilities such as these are not usually permanent, but can have a profound affect on learning outcomes if materials that were once accessible are suddenly inaccessible, even if this state is temporary. Learning is built upon acquiring and practicing skills, then building the next skill level based on prior experience. A disruption of this building process can have lasting consequences. If a student fails to learn basic addition principals for multi-digit numbers, multiplication and division cannot be achieved. If a student is unable to master certain calculus formulas, taking physics will not have a satisfactory outcome.Mobility - Mobility challenges include fine motor and gross motor functions. The inability to move parts of the body at will to perform specific tasks impact a person's ability to interact with a computer and thus can affect online learning outcomes.
  • Specific ways you can design content in Blackboard for people with different Motor abilities.Often assistive technology will help in these situations – voice activated software, special input devices, including ergonomically designed keyboards and foot pedals. Set up all documents whether they are in Word, PDF, or HTML with clearly defined heading tags to describe the hierarchy of the information in the document. One H1 tag per topic or page, H2, H3 and so on. Provide other ways for students to interact with the content if they cannot use a mouse.
  • ADDAttention Deficit Disorder is a neurological impairment characterized by inattention, impulsivity, and/or hyperactivity. Students may be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Other learning and social-emotional problems can co-occur with ADHD. Students with ADHD may appear easily distracted, disorganized, and lose things frequently. TBITBIs are head injuries typically caused by accidents (motor vehicle or falls), exposure to combat, or repeated concussions (sports). TBIs result in physical, cognitive, and/or psychosocial impairments. Students with TBIs face various difficulties and functional limitations based on the nature and location of the head injury. Some common consequences of head injuries include changes in cognition, attention, memory, judgment, and organization; physical, sensory, and perceptual impairments; and social, behavioral, and personality changes.Mental IllnessPsychiatric and other mental health impairments have a wide spectrum and range from mild depression to chronic disorders such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Negative stereotypes and the fact that these disabilities are typically "invisible" (students do not admit to having these problems or go to extraordinary lengths to cover them up) further complicate making accommodations for students with these disorders. Students with mental health or psychiatric impairments can be affected in many ways. They may be more susceptible to the common stressors of school involving academic demands such as exams and evaluations. Interpersonal relationships can also be difficult so working in groups and synchronous collaboration sessions may be stressors. Students can have particular problems receiving, processing and recalling information during times of stress.
  • Limit distractions of the busy Bb interface or just computers in general, allow students to work off line – send them documents they can print. Allow for the collection of discussion posts. Clear written objectives, and due dates. Allow students to work at their own pace, select to withdraw from group work.
  • International students attend every college and university in America. Students who have immigrated to the US are also attending schools in record numbers. Online educational opportunities erase the time and place barriers making access to courses open to anyone anytime and anywhere.Know your students. If they are attending a college or university, it is the language itself they have problems with, not reasoning, abstract thought, and problem solving. Look for creative ways to present content that remains at course level. Students who are taking a course in a non-native language will have trouble with slang, idioms, and jargon. They will also have trouble following long complex sentences with multiple clauses and sub-clauses.Provide clear and direct instructions for each assignment, assessment and interaction. Consider allowing phonic spelling and loosen grammatical rules for those courses that do not  have learning objectives centered around language usage.
  • Again, clear and precise objectives and directions are key. Use a syllabus, Calendar, and tasks to help students understand what is due when, and how their mastery of material will be assessed.Use the language packs if available. Currently Bb is translated into 15 different languages.Format content pages using bulleted lists, shorter paragraphs and links.Use Rubrics.Create a Glossary.
  • Knowing your students again is the most important factor in designing appropriate and meaningful (and not offensive) content. Color – Design with intentAge – young people like bright primaries, older people like pastels and muted colorsTrends – fashion trends affect web pages too! Remember black web pages with colored text? Now many sites have light gray text and white backgrounds.Activities in online coursesMen and women bring their own unique expectations, customs and behaviors to online classes. While not promoting stereotypes here or making a value judgments on gender or background, some general gender traits can be mitigated or acerbated by culture, and can affect the behavior and communication of students in an online class. Generally speaking, females approach group activities by reaching a consensus and forming group and social bonds. These bonds can take on the characteristics of friendship, making disagreements difficult to settle or debate hard to stimulate. Assessment and evaluations might be taken personally or misunderstood. Males can bring competition and hierarchical organization to group activities. Their competition can create a fast pace that might leave others behind or keep individuals from participating in group activities. Assessments and evaluations can be stimulating and lively, but are not usually taken personally.When males and females are put into the same group, be aware that they can have unintended affects on the group dynamics. A once vibrant and communicative female student with a traditional background or conservative family can suddenly become quiet and demure if placed in a group with males. When facilitating group projects and promoting group discussion, create opportunities for different groups of people to work together. Groups should be fluid and students allowed to switch groups whenever possible. Find ways for students to participate in group activities that respect their values and situations. One idea is to group males and females in separate groups. Another is to create private discussion boards and chat rooms so that students can feel freer to communicate among their peers.Cultural and Familiar ExpectationsAll families have different expectations for their children. Some families face economic challenges and expect their children to work and go to school. Some families promote academic scholarship and push their children to study and excel. Other families have a more relaxed attitude and let their children figure out what they what to learn. Still other families value athletics or the arts, and less traditionally "academic" pursuits. Families can attempt to dictate what is acceptable in terms of programs of study. Pressure from families can create learning problems for students who do not live up to the expectations the family places on them. Understanding students within the context of their families and cultures is the best way to build online courses that give them opportunities to succeed. For a family that drives their children to excel, sharing their children's accomplishments with them can ease anxiety. For students who face economic challenges, allowing them to participate while they are at work (as long as its cleared by the employer) can promote higher attendance.PlagiarismNot all cultures take the same view of plagiarism. The Western notion that "ideas" can be the property of individuals may actually seem absurd to those with different views on what constitutes shared information, common knowledge, or public discourse. Students from cultures which have a more collective sense of identity, for example, may have a difficult time understanding the distinctions some cultures draw between individual and public property. You might spend some very productive class time discussing your students' perspectives on this issue.
  • Select color schemes and a course theme that are appropriate for age and culture. Consider having your administrator build some custom themes, or if you are using Learn SP8, look at the 50 or so course themes and select one that fits your students and subject matter.Use group activities with care. Not ever meeting people in person in true distance education situations can make communication among course members difficult, especially when there are cultural differences. Age and gender differences can be hard to overcome without clear communication and allowing flexibility for self-selecting group work.Many families have specific expectations for their children that can interfere with participation. Creating guest and observer accounts allows family members to understand what is happening in the course and help children succeed.Use tools like SafeAssign to teach students about the correct and expected ways to site work and avoid plagiarism.
  • Lots of people find routine computer use difficult. Some younger students may have never used a computer before. Other students who speak English as a second or other language might never have used a computer before. The same is true for older adults returning to school. All of these students might be hesitant or intimidated using computers and related technology.
  • OrientationGlossaryLinks to IT and other help linesMeet face-to-face if possibleAssign a mentorSmall groups
  • To learn more about universal design and accessibility you can download and install a self-paced Blackboard course.
  • Awareness of the international definitions and having empathy for challenges people face in learning online combined with Blackboard Learn sets the stage for building accessible content for online courses. Content that is accessible and designed using universal design principles will deliver the promise of education for all. I am happy to take questions at this point.
  • Accessible Blackboard Part 2

    1. 1. Accessible Blackboard
    2. 2. Beth MacNeil Stinson
    3. 3. About You
    4. 4. Outline of Today’s Session
    5. 5. What is a Disability?
    6. 6. International Classification ofFunctioning, Disability, and Health
    7. 7. The Blackboard Learn Platform isAccessible
    8. 8. Structure
    9. 9. Assessments
    10. 10. Course Content
    11. 11. Collaboration
    12. 12. Awareness Through Empathy
    13. 13. Student Services
    15. 15. Learning and Cognitive Disabilities
    16. 16. In Blackboard
    17. 17. Sensory and Physical
    18. 18. In Blackboard
    19. 19. Neurological and Psychological
    20. 20. In Blackboard
    21. 21. English as Second or OtherLanguage
    22. 22. In Blackboard
    23. 23. Culture and Customs
    24. 24. In Blackboard
    25. 25. Limited Access or Experience withTechnology
    26. 26. In Blackboard
    27. 27. Universal Design Summary
    28. 28. A Happy Ending Awareness +