Module 7: Accessibility in Online and Technology-Enabled Learning

Part 2: Creating and Selecting Accessible Course Content

Component of Online Teaching Accessibility Goal Decisions within Instructor Control
Content Creation & Selection Student access to effective course material What content you create and/or incorporate, and how you make it accessible

When teaching online, you may be creating content – or information – for your students in digital formats, such as videos, audio recordings and textual documents. You are likely conveying that content through a learning management system like Avenue, and how you design your course shell will impact how that content is received. You may also be presenting course content through synchronous means such as by lecturing via a web conferencing tool. Whether teaching asynchronously or synchronously, you are communicating information to students and will want to consider how to ensure that information is accessible to the greatest extent possible. Ensuring all content is accessible – whether within or external to the learning management system – will make an enormous difference to your students’ learning experience.

Applying the FAVE Principles to Content Creation and Selection

Flexibility
  • Where possible, ensure that content can be accessed in a flexible manner; that is, if any course content is delivered synchronously, it should also be made available asynchronously (e.g. via recording).
Alignment
    • Verify that course content and activities are aligned with the learning outcomes for the course to avoid overwhelming students with out-of-scope information.
  • Use best practices in designing accessible content/presentations.
    • Design accessible Word, PowerPoint and other documents. Review this webinar on Accessible Documents to learn more.
    • Enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the captioning process by writing your lecture transcript ahead of recording your lecture; you will then be able to upload your transcript to a video hosting platform (e.g. Microsoft Stream, MacVideo) to ensure correct closed captioning. Visit McMaster’s Remote Teaching and Captions resource for support.
    • Apply strong accessible presentation skills to ensure descriptive and clear recordings. Review this webinar on Accessible Presentation Techniques to learn more.
Variety
  • When posting content for students, include more than one format where possible and available (e.g. PDF and Word).
    • If you are posting a recording of a synchronous lecture, also post the slides and notes taken by notetakers. If you have uploaded the video to a platform (like MacVideo) that creates captions and/or transcripts, you can also post the transcript.
    • Even if a transcript is available for lecture videos, students may still need notetakers, as lecture notes provide a different way for them to process information; detailed speaking notes in presentation slides can also help, if you will be making them for your own reference and are willing to share them.
    • *Note that SAS-accommodated students needing notetakers should continue to have this accommodation available to them in the online environment, unless otherwise communicated.
  • Create and select course material across a variety of formats throughout the course where possible, such as written text, videos, podcasts, and so on.
Explicitness
    • Keep things straightforward, simple, and bite-sized: Omit content that isn’t necessary to the learning process (e.g. decorative pictures, background music) to remove as many “moving parts” as possible. This way, students do not use precious energy deciphering expectations or negotiating tasks and can focus their mental processing on actual learning. It also saves you as an instructor the energy of developing complex materials that are unnecessarily overstimulating.
  • Apply accessible design principles in the creation of any content to improve the clarity – and so, the explicitness – of the information being communicated.
  • These include, but are not limited to:
      • Appropriate use of built-in styles (e.g. headings, lists, tables) to properly format documents.
      • Standard, readable fonts like Arial, Calibri, Helvetica, Tahoma and Verdana are typically good choices for online reading. WebAIM’s Typefaces and Fonts guide offers a quick overview of considerations.
      • Alternate text for images and captions for media. The verbal description of images and use of captions can be integrated into synchronous presentations as well.
    • To learn more, review this webinar on Accessible Documents.
  • Write and speak in plain language, which is more accessible for all learners and will reduce the need for additional clarification of confusion; the “Creating Accessible Documents” resource produced by George Brown College offers the following guidelines for writing in plain English:
    • Aim to use language in a way that is user-friendly, clear, direct and natural.
    • Convey your ideas with a target audience in mind.
    • Put the main message first.
    • Omit unnecessary details; scale back the information to what your reader needs to know.
    • Give examples to explain the text where appropriate.
    • Use the active voice primarily, as it tends to be briefer and clearer than the passive voice.
    • Divide the text into short sections, and include headings to give cues regarding what the section is about.

Case Study with Manifying Glass

Case Study: Designing for Accessibility

As a student explains, describing their instructors’ use of a learning management system (LMS), “Most teachers use the minimum, and it’s messy and outdated with last-term deadlines and mistakes that should have been caught before the term started” (Gierdowski & Galanek 2020).

No one sets out to create an LMS course shell that would be described as “messy and outdated,” but competing time commitments and a lack of familiarity with the technology can lead to it becoming an afterthought in the larger course design process. And yet, when teaching online, the course shell in an LMS is often the first point of contact with students and a key modality through which to communicate with them. Though technology should not be the main focus when teaching online, it should nonetheless be approached purposefully and with accessibility in mind, as technology is the primary medium of all communication between instructors and students within an online environment.

Imagine instead a course shell in Avenue with:

  • a clearly laid-out homepage that includes only important information and a “Start Here” area to orient students to the course;
  • a top-level menu that has been streamlined to remove any tools that aren’t used in the course;
  • a consistent approach to communicating course information that has been coordinated with other instructors in the student’s program;
  • a “Content” section structured by week; modules labelled with the dates of each week and all content items given meaningful names;
  • correctly captioned videos; all images have alternative text and all PDFs are accessible to screen readers; and
  • discussion forums that have word limits for posts and students are only shown the topics for their own group to keep the number of posts manageable.

Designing the asynchronous and synchronous components of your online course with accessibility in mind benefits all learners. As a starting point, getting comfortable with the technologies you will be using in the course before the start of term will help you to better communicate through them. This is easier to do when you keep the number of tools you are using to a minimum – which is less confusing for students as well!

Check out these 10 Tips to Improve the Usability of Your Avenue Course for further ideas.

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