This was a really good webinar from Jisc and Government Digital Service (GDS) on the new accessibility regulations which are coming into force and which apply to all publicly funded bodies, building on our obligations from the 2010 Equality Act by adding a new, higher, standard for compliance with new levels of monitoring and enforcement. What this is going to mean for learning technologists is that we are likely to have to an increased burden on ensuring that learning systems and their content is compliant with the legislation. At Sunderland, I can see us being tasked with writing the accessibility statement, or statements, for the VLE and our other systems, as the University is far too complex for a universal statement covering all of our websites and apps.
Accessibility statements are the key new requirement, and are quite prescriptive about what they need to contain. They should detail how accessible the system is, what problems there are with it that you have identified, what end users can do to mitigate those or access the content in a different way, and most importantly the statement has to include a plan about what we are going to do to improve the current situation, however good, or bad, that may be.
There is of course some concern about additional workload requirements for us, but I’m fully behind this. It’s all excellent stuff and should drive an improvement on the quality of our learning materials across the board, something which will benefit all students. Jisc are putting together statement templates which HEI’s will be able to use, and GDS, who will be the monitoring body for the legislation, have a huge range of support materials on their site, including some excellent posters.
In a first, I didn’t just attend the meeting this time round, I hosted it at one of the University’s nicer enterprise suites at Hope Street Xchange. Working with Graeme and Julie who are the North East’s key contacts with ALT, I took care of the practicalities – venue, IT, parking, lunch – while they organised the agenda and speakers.
In the morning we had presentations from our regional Turnitin account manager who presented on their new Authorship Investigate tool which is designed to help detect instances of contract cheating, followed by a presentation and discussion from Jisc on changes to the EU’s Accessibility Regulations which we as an institution will need to respond to over the next year.
In the afternoon representatives from each institution attending gave a short presentation or talk about what interesting projects we have going on. I talked about using Trello with the team to better organise our workload, and the rollout of Panopto across the University which is now in full swing.
I’m pleased to be able to say it all went very well, with only one minor lunch hiccup which was quickly resolved. Hopefully this will be something we can do on a regular basis going forward.
Joined the ALT South webinar on online learning materials and accessibility, in which Tharindu Liyanagunawardena, Chair of the Online Learning Research Centre at the University College of Estate Management, presented a case study of their experience in adapting online learning materials to improve accessibility for students. This was initially in response to students who were having difficulty with particular items within a MOOC, but the lessons learned were adapted and implemented in new templates which were subsequently shared across the institution.
There was some discussion about Blackboard Ally, a tool, or ‘revolutionary product’ according to Blackboard, which can validate the accessibility of learning materials and in many instances convert them into alternative formats such as audio, electronic Braille, and ePub. Ally is available for multiple VLEs, not just Blackboard Learn.
The webinar was also my first experience of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. Well, it’s certainly an improvement as it no longer uses Java, unfortunately is uses Flash instead. I would hope that that is a stopgap measure in the transition to HTML5, but with Blackboard who knows. In keeping with the theme of the webinar, there was mention of a feature in Collaborate Ultra which allows an individual to enter live closed captions. That is a nice feature.
So I completed the Learn Moodle MOOC, got my badges and certificate, and learned a lot more about Moodle from an instructors point of view, having previously only used it as a student. It’s big. It’s monolithic. Reminded me very much of Blackboard in that it tries to do everything, be all things to all people, and in so doing it is perhaps over complicated and not as easy to use as I would have liked. I fear the staff development that may be required if we chose Moodle as our next VLE. On the other hand, it’s used by over 50% of HEIs in the UK so there’s a very good chance that many of our staff will have used it before, and the rest have probably used Blackboard so should find it easy enough to transition.
I liked the default text box editor initially, Atto, I loved it for the ‘Accessibility Checker’ feature, but as I used it more I found that it had similar problems to other VTBE’s – doing weird random things like inserting line breaks or additional space when they’re nothing there, in either visual or HTML edit modes. I also ran into a lot of niggly browser issues using a fairly default instance of Safari. The Learn Moodle mobile app was a little dated, but functioned very well, except for Big Blue Button integration which was lacking and which many of us on the course gripped about.
Other things I liked: the prompt / ability to assign a license when you upload a file; checkboxes to show metadata like size and filetype; the repositories look like they could do the job of replacing EQUELLA for us; ability to add files to a repository by emailing them to yourself; progress tick boxes for students; the ability to allow people to rate content items; the Glossary tool with highlighting function; and the very comprehensive reporting tools will be well received.
All in all, a good course, well worth doing, and there is no question that Moodle is a vast improvement over LearningStudio and would be welcomed by our academic community if it’s chosen in our VLE review.
The next presentation of Learn Moodle will begin on the 2nd of January 2017 if you missed out this time: https://learn.moodle.net
Not quite sure how I stumbled down this particular rabbit hole, but I have just discovered the WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool made by WebAIM, and what a wonderful tool it is. Like the W3C’s HTML and CSS validators, WAVE evaluates a given web page for conformity with the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, identifies errors, warnings and suggests solutions.
Yes, I ran it on this site, and no it doesn’t score well in the contrast section due to all the shades of grey. I’m going to shuffle responsibility down to the person who designed the theme, but in due course I would like to look at customising the CSS a little. I’ve already had to make one change to fix a glaring bug in the calendar widget (white on off-white). My other sites do very well I’m pleased to say. For fun, run it on the home page of the university or company you work for…