Day: September 27, 2018

Blackboard Ally Helps Make Course Content Accessible at GVSU

At GVSU over 1,600 students, faculty, and staff have registered with the Disability Support Resources office for disability related needs. Further, 11% of college students report a disability according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Blackboard Ally was implemented in the summer of 2018 to support the university’s accessibility efforts around equity and inclusion.

Ally scans files uploaded into Blackboard and evaluates the level of accessibility of content by displaying colored “dials”. These indicators are only visible to instructors of the course. Getting the dials to green is the goal!

Blackboard Ally Dashboard Indicators

After Ally automatically scans course content that has been uploaded by faculty, an indicator is displayed that estimates the level of accessibility of the file. The system also provides guidance to assist faculty in resolving common accessibility issues.

3 Steps to Improve Content Accessibilty with Blackboard Ally

“GREEN is the GOAL”

STEP 1 – Mouse over to the dial to view the “accessibility score”.

STEP 2 – Click the dial indicator to view recommendations and make the file more accessible.

STEP 3 – Follow the on screen prompts and guidance to add an alternative description to an image, or to fix the file and upload a new version to improve the accessibility score.

Sample Blackboard Content Area with Ally Indicators
Accessibility Indicators in Course Content
Sample Ally On Screen Guidance
Ally Dashboard Indicator Includes Recommended Fixes

In addition to assisting faculty, Ally automatically creates alternative files types for students, including: OCRed PDF, Tagged PDF, HTML, ePub,  Audio, and Electronic Braille.

Video Overview of File Accessibility with Blackboard Ally

“GVSU is committed inclusive education, and I am focused on ensuring my courses are accessible” said Cheryl Kautz, Affiliate Instructor in the School of Computing and Information Systems and 1st Place Award Winner of the Most Inclusive Classrooms in the United States, “Blackboard Ally will help me ensure that my courses are as accessible as possible for my students, save me time, and most importantly help faculty at GVSU to focus on improving student success.”

GVSU 2021 Strategic Plan Connection 

Blackboard Ally supports GVSU’s 2021 Strategic Plan in the following areas:

Strategic Priority Area 1: Actively engage learners at all levels.

Institutional outcome D: Grand Valley supports innovative teaching, learning, integrative scholarly and creative activity, and the use of new technologies.

Objective 1.D.2: At least 93% of faculty members regularly use electronic course management tools, such as Blackboard, in their teaching.

Objective 4.D.1: Effective technologies are integrated into every function and structure across the institution.

Objective 3.B.1: All systems and policies ensure inclusiveness and accessibility.

Inclusiveness/Access – Incorporating multiple voices and experiences by valuing identities, perspectives, and backgrounds.  Strengthening and expanding possibilities through technology to increase accessibility and remove barriers.

Blackboard Ally Benefits

  • Increases capacity to support faculty in building accessible content and correcting files already in their Blackboard courses.
  • Assists in the creation of high quality levels of accessibility of content in Blackboard through the real-time conversion of files (OCRed PDF, Tagged PDF, HTML, Audio, Electronic Braille, and ePub) uploaded into Blackboard without any faculty intervention or extra work.
  • Provides additional ADA Section 508 due diligence and good faith effort of evaluating content that has been uploaded by faculty into Blackboard.
  • Responds to student needs for accessible versions of content without the extra overhead of development time for our existing staff or faculty.
  • Builds capacity to respond to increased federal and legal requirements for accessibility at GVSU.

Blackboard Ally Support

Get help and access additional support information on GVSU’s eLearning and Emerging Technologies Blackboard Ally for Faculty support page.

“Ally documents evidence of my efforts as faculty to make my teaching more accessible. Through incremental changes Ally guides me step by step to adjust course files.  As I’m learning how to use Word better, all other file formats are generated in my course automatically. Ally uses gamification to indicate my progress in making files student-friendly.  Getting to 100% is an emotional rush!”

– Szymon Machajewski, CIS Affiliate Professor, teaching CIS150 in the School of Computing and Information Systems and recipient of the Most Inclusive Classrooms in the United States.


This post features a few insights around Blackboard use at GVSU in the Fall 2018 semester. Highlights include:

  • Users Logged in in the past 30 Days
    • 1,463 Students
    • 18,949 Students
  • 10,655 Most Simultaneous Logged in Users
  • 3,592 Courses Available to Students
  • 42,020 Gradebook Columns Created
  • 169,090 Content Items Created

Infographic showing Blackboard usage that includes: 18,949 students and 1,463 faculty users having logged in in the past 30 days.

These data are gathered from the BbStats OpenSource Blackboard Building Block.