Helping ALL STUDENTS be SUCCESSFUL #Accessibility

Working to ensure ALL STUDENTS are SUCCESSFUL is a Grand Valley State University (GVSU) commitment. In fact, GVSU’s vision demonstrates this commitment to providing an inclusive learning environment where all students can explore new directions, find their niches, and develop skills for life and productive careers.  

In addition, one of GVSU’s value statements is “Inclusiveness”, whereby:

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

Accessibility is not new. In fact, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and an amendment to this act in 1998 (Section 508) provides basic rights for people with disabilities along with specific requirements for electronic communication and information technologies. Further, the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) became law in 1990.  In the past 28 years, there have been many advancements in technology and education has largely become digitized. The rapid growth of online learning and greater use of digital materials by faculty creates a unique challenge in the support of the accessibility of electronic documents, software, and web-based services.

This challenge is further strengthened by 11% of college students reporting a disability, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Here at GVSU, over 1,600 students, faculty, and staff have registered with the DSR office for disability related needs as of 2017. 

A few important questions to ask are:

  1. Can all of my students access and review my course content?
  2. To what degree is my course content accessible?
  3. How can I improve the accessibility of my courses?

The importance of these questions is underscored by this video (“To Care & Comply Accessibility of Online Content”) from Portland Community College.

GVSU’s accessibility efforts are facilitated through a campus wide approach that includes a wide array of departments, faculty, and staff. The Division of Inclusion and Equity leads the university’s work in providing a campus wide framework for equity and inclusion. 

Focusing on teaching and learning, GVSU’s eLearning team, along with the Disability Support Resources (DSR) office provide accessibility awareness and training for faculty, and accommodation support for students. DSR focuses support on resources and accommodations that enhance the academic environment for persons with disabilities and to help educate the university community on disability issues. While DSR works more directly with students, GVSU’s eLearning team provides services to faculty, supporting their efforts to leverage technology in teaching, and to most effectively and efficiently use technology in an accessible way.

Specifically, the eLearning and Emerging Technologies team supports the use of Panopto and Blackboard Ally to assist faculty in opening the door to education for all students by providing captioning and enhancing course content. In addition, the eLearning team has created a series of “Accessibility Tips for Faculty” to help support faculty.

  • Learn more about using Panopto to increase the accessibility of your videos with captioning.
  • Learn more about using Blackboard Ally to review your course content for accessibility, and to learn how to increase the compliance of  your files.

If you are a faculty member at GVSU, please know that we are here for you. eLearning and Emerging Technologies offers key support and services such as:



Top 10 Questions to Consider before the next Semester Begins


The eLearning team has assembled a list of the top #edtech 10 questions to consider before the semester begins!

1. Have you posted a welcome announcement to help students get started?

Providing instructor contact information, your standard response times, and preferred communication methods are important to keep the lines of communication open and to set proper expectations for your students. You can also embed welcome videos and course tours using Panopto.

2. Have you discussed with students your preferences on collaborating with each other on assignments, taking a test open-book, or using other resources?

Including academic integrity statements and your policies on collaboration within your syllabus gives students guidance as they work on graded activities in your course. Be sure to address these kinds of things, too, when you describe assignments to students.

3. How are you evaluating students?

As you think through a variety of assessment strategies for your course, it is helpful to review your learning objectives to align assignments and learning activities. Students sometimes complain that assignments are “busy work.” But, if they understand the point of an assignment and how it aligns with objectives, they are less likely to be negative.

4. Have you considered using Respondus to quickly move your paper/pencil exams and quizzes into Blackboard?

5. If you are using Blackboard’s online assessments, are you using question pools and randomization of questions and answer choices?

Using these functions reduces the ability of students to complete a test together.

6. Timely feedback is crucial for student success. Have you tried using Blackboard’s automated grading tools, assignment comments and feedback features, or including video in your comments with students?

7. Looking for ways to improve student engagement, beyond the discussion forum?

Try Flipgrid for student introductions, create a Lightboard mini-lecture, or learn about the new features that are available for digital media with Panopto. More ideas and more tools are available on the TECH BYTES web page.

8. Are you looking for new, free, or low-cost course materials to embed in Blackboard?

The eLearning team and the library provides assistance in locating open educational resources as well as videos, books, articles, and more that can be embedded to your site or added to your electronic course reserves. Your liaison librarian is available to help you locate a variety of course materials.

9. Do you know if your course materials are accessible?

On June 21, 2018, Blackboard Ally was made available at GVSU.  This application provides insight as to the course materials you have uploaded and their level of accessibility. In addition, if you have videos that need closed-captioning, be sure to review the capabilities in Panopto. eLearning has also developed a web page with accessibility tips, including techniques for creating an accessible syllabus.

10. Would you like to learn more and connect with other faculty teaching online and hybrid courses?

Join a Faculty Learning Community and stop by to visit the eLearning team for our Open Office Hours. In addition, log into Sprout to view seminars and hands-on workshops scheduled throughout the year.

Want More Info? Need Help? Try These Resources!

Brought to you by the Online Education Council, eLearning and Emerging Technologies, University Libraries, the Pew Faculty Teaching & Learning Center, and the Office of the Provost

Supporting Student Success and Retention via eLearning at GVSU

commencement_fall2017-1943Student success is a strategic area of focus at GVSU. With the rising costs of higher education, and the value of employability after graduation, student retention plays a key role in our vision and mission. eLearning and Emerging Technologies supports student success through a variety of technologies and faculty support.

Blackboard Supports Student Retention

For faculty there are many opportunities to leverage Blackboard to help support student success. Here are some capabilities:

  • Gradebook and Assignment Tools – Provides faculty with the ability to post grades and timely assessment/assignment/journal feedback. Interactive rubrics provide students with assignment grading criteria.
  • Student Photo Roster – Faculty can more effectively and efficiently learn students’ names and personalize instruction.
  • Retention Center and Performance Dashboard – Enables faculty to monitor frequency of logins of students, participation in discussions, and grades. This includes last login/date access to the course.
  • Blackboard Collaborate Ultra – Real-time and live office hours for students unable to attend class or office hours. Helps build rapport and increases communication and instructor-student engagement.
  • Surveys – Used by faculty to gather information about the students’ experience in the course such as a mid-term “how is this course going” survey.
  • Announcements, Emails, and Discussion Board – Used to create an online learning community and open up communication.
  • Content – Benefits to students to provide easy access to course materials, even potentially before the class begins. Provides access to link students to open educational resources (OER) and no-cost or low cost resources.
  • Panopto – Ability to record and post lectures or instructional content and easily embed digital media into Blackboard.
  • Blackboard Ally – Helps faculty ensure accessibility of course materials while also supporting universal design for learning (UDL).

eLearning and Emerging Technologies Supports Student Retention

  • Consultations, Seminars and Drop-Ins – The eLearning team provides opportunities to work with faculty to build up their skills in best using technology effectively and efficiently. Including pedagogical support for flipped classroom design and other instructional models.
  • Foundations of Online/Hybrid Course Development – Providing support and training to faculty about how to best design and deliver an online/hybrid course.
  • FTLC Faculty Learning Communities – eLearning instructional designers help facilitate 3 faculty learning communities on topics such as student engagement, quality online courses, and more.
  • Blackboard Support –  Support is offered to faculty in collaboration with the IT HelpDesk.
  • Embedded Librarians – All liaison librarians have been certified through the Foundations course and they have been enrolled in over 200 Blackboard courses providing direct student support.
  • Digital Studio – Providing faculty with engaging multimedia and digital resources such as the Lightboard, and tools such as Panopto.
  • Technology Showcase – Enables faculty to evaluate emerging technologies that can be leveraged to transform teaching and learning.
  • GA’s – Graduate Assistants work to support faculty and students the team in responding to 1,800 faculty technical support needs related to Blackboard and other technologies.
  • Web Resources – eLearning offers a series of support pages to provide information to faculty regarding how best to leverage educational technologies.
  • Student Support – In addition to the IT HelpDesk, our GA’s and eLearning team provides tech support to students.  This includes some class visitations and student orientations.

New Initiatives Supporting Student Retention

  • OER – Open Education Resources Initiative is working to provide options for student textbook affordability.  OpenStax has been adopted by CHM115 and 116 saving nearly $150,000 for students in textbook fees.
  • Attendance and Learning Analytics – Research and evaluation of a new products and solutions such as Qwickly Attendance and Blackboard called Predict which provides student dashboards and predictors of success that can be used by advisors and faculty.
  • Accessibility and UDL – eLearning is implementing a new product from Blackboard called Ally which provides a dashboard view of the number of accessible courses and realtime auto-conversion of documents into accessible formats. In addition, Panopto is being implemented to support enterprise video. This solution enables faculty to auto-caption and edit their captions for digital video resources used in their classes.

Benchmarking & Research Supporting Student Retention

  • ECAR Study – GVSU participated in the 2015 Educause Center for Analysis and Research Student and Faculty Technology Survey.  These results have been shared and have been used in strategic planning and for seminar planning.
  • Blackboard Survey – Working with Susan Mendoza and John Grabrosek, eLearning worked with students from STA 319 in the development, deployment, and evaluation of results from a student and faculty survey around how we can improve and enhance the Blackboard environment.

Learn more and connect with the eLearning and Emerging Technologies team at Grand Valley State University

GVSU selects Panopto to Increase Accessibility and Enhance Teaching with Video

eLearning and Emerging Technologies is excited to announce that Panopto will soon be replacing TechSmith Relay, our current screen and lecture capture software and Ensemble Video, our video-hosting platform. Panopto will provide a new way to engage students with digital video at Grand Valley State University (GVSU) and the university wide enterprise video solution will be available to all 25,000 students and 1,800 faculty at GVSU beginning in the summer 2018 semester.


Panopto is the leading platform for business and education, providing an easy way to manage, live stream, record, and share videos.

“As one of the most engaging sources of distributing educational content, video is rapidly increasing in its use by faculty at Grand Valley State University. In fact, during the past few years the number of videos created by faculty has increased substantially,” said Eric Kunnen, Associate Director, eLearning and Emerging Technologies, “Panopto will empower our faculty and students with innovative digital tools to more effectively support innovative teaching and ultimately student success at GVSU.”

Evaluating and looking at the needs of the campus strategically, a pilot of Panopto was executed in the Fall 2017 semester with the principal goal of working directly with faculty in evaluating the capabilities and ensuring their needs for video were addressed.

“We began the process of evaluating video-hosting platforms in the summer of 2016 and after a thorough investigation of available products, their features and capabilities, our team agreed that Panopto was the solution that would take GVSU to the next level of video content creation. Its seamless integration with our Blackboard LMS will give faculty, staff and students the tools they need to further enhance their teaching and learning.” said Vince St. Germain, an eLearning and Instructional Technology Specialist on the eLearning and Emerging Technologies team.

During the pilot faculty reported the following benefits when using Panopto:

  • “While testing Panopto it was very easy and quick to create shorter grading videos, and then insert the link into the grade center. The feedback from the students was very positive. It is also convenient that I don’t have to send the video from TechSmith to Ensemble and wait for the transfer.” – GVSU Faculty Member
  • “The amount of time saved by using Panopto contributes to faculty productivity, which would offset any costs in purchasing this product. It also allows for increased student participation through recording.  As we explore an increase in online and hybrid courses, this software is a valuable resource as a teaching/learning strategy and to increase faculty presence in a course.” – GVSU Faculty Member
  • I am in full support of the University switching to Panopto for video recording and storage. Panopto is a more efficient system compared to the current TechSmith Relay and Ensemble combination.” – GVSU Faculty Member

Faculty at GVSU will benefit from using Panopto’s enterprise video solution to improve their teaching through active learning, increasing engagement with students through video. Further, through the Blackboard learning management system integration, accessing the video capabilities is streamlined, providing quick and easy access to Panopto’s powerful video capture capabilities.

“Our faculty will soon have a new set of resources to support students with video,” said Justin Melick, Digital Media Developer in eLearning and Emerging Technologies. “Panopto now gives the ability for students to record, edit and submit video projects for their classes. This is a trend that we have seen growing at GVSU as more faculty are recognizing the need for their students to have basic video creation skills as they prepare to enter the workforce.”

Students at GVSU can interact with video in a variety of new ways. Panopto provides the ability to connect with other students through discussions that display along side video. In addition, students can respond to quiz questions while viewing video content, directly from the player without launching a separate application.Panopto includes the ability to search for keywords in a video, saving students time in finding the right moment and jumping to the segment of the content they would like to review. Finally, students can access content conveniently from their mobile devices, increasing access to instructional content and allowing learning to happen while on-the-go!

Focusing on the needs of faculty is key.  While professors look to create engaging student user experiences, Panopto provides a brand new set of capabilities. For example, faculty are able to create student video assignments that are easily collected and viewed through Blackboard. Video playback data and analytics also provide greater insight into how video content is being consumed by students. Further, video content is automatically closed captioning, reducing the burden that faculty can have with providing accessible video content.

“Accessibility is an institutional requirement for instructional video,” said Hunter Bridwell, Digital Media Developer in eLearning and Emerging Technologies. “Panopto saves faculty time, and the automated captioning feature was significant in the decision making process. It helps get faculty-created content much closer to ADA compliance in practically 3 clicks. The player and recorder are keyboard navigable and works well with a screen reader.”

Panopto Benefits

  • Creates closed-captioned video for accessibility
  • Offers the ability to edit the beginning, middle and end of a video
  • Provides searching video, enabling students to quickly jump to specific areas or content
  • Enables students to record their own videos using Panopto’s recording software and mobile app
  • Offers the capability to create discussions and assessment questions (true/false, multiple choice, discussion) within video content

“In colleges and universities around the world, video is enabling teachers to engage their students more effectively and helping students personalize their learning experience,” said Sean Gorman, chief operating officer of Panopto. “It’s a privilege for Panopto to partner with GVSU on the implementation of a unified video platform, and we look forward to a successful rollout to faculty and students this summer.”

GVSU Strategic Connection

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

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

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.

Learn more about Panopto and access more information about the Panopto implementation at GVSU’s eLearning and Emerging Technologies Panopto for Faculty support page.

GVSU selects Blackboard Ally to Support Inclusive Education

eLearning and Emerging Technologies at GVSU is pleased to announce the addition of a new enterprise accessibility software solution called Blackboard Ally to support the university’s work in providing inclusive education through accessibility. Ally will be available to all 1,800 faculty and 25,000 students at GVSU beginning at the start of the summer semester.

allyBlackboard Ally is an innovative and revolutionary solution that focuses on making digital course content more accessible. It enables faculty to effectively and efficiently deliver course content to students that adheres to Universal Design Principles as well as being more accessible.

Through integration with GVSU’s Blackboard learning management system, Ally automatically scans course content that has been uploaded by faculty. A report is provided to faculty as well as guidance to resolve common accessibility issues. In addition, Ally automatically creates alternative files types for students, including: Enhanced Version, HTML Version, Audio Version, Electronic Braille, and ePub.

“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.”

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 through content in Blackboard through the real-time conversion of files (Enhanced Version, HTML Version, Audio Version, 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.
  • Supports requests for an institutional dashboard view for the level of accessibility of all courses in Blackboard at GVSU.
  • 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.

Grand Valley State University selected Blackboard Ally after evaluating the capabilities and reviewing the benefits to students and to faculty. In short, Ally increases accessibility of course content while saving faculty time, allowing more focus on connecting and communicating with students, rather than managing technology.

GVSU Strategic 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.

Learn more about Blackboard Ally at Blackboard Inc. and access more information about Ally at GVSU’s eLearning and Emerging Technologies Blackboard Ally for Faculty support page.

16th Annual Teaching and Learning with Technology Symposium Highlights Universal Design and Faculty Innovation

The 16th Annual Teaching and Learning with Technology Symposium, held on March 22, highlighted Universal Design for Learning and a wealth of innovation happening across the campus in an out of the classroom.

With more than 30 topics to choose from, including breakout sessions in the morning by Techsmith and Blackboard, this event was a wealth of information and ideas for teaching with technology.

If you missed this event, don’t miss out on the highlights!

  1. Check out the symposium presenters page for more information about the presentations that were offered. Thank you to our faculty, staff, and students for presenting at this premiere event!
  2. View the Pew Teaching with Technology Award highlight video celebrating the accomplishments of Erica Hamilton and Sister Lucia Treanor. Congratulations to our award winning faculty!
  3. Watch the keynote video on the topic of Universal Design for Learning (access video on campus or through VPN) by Dr. Thomas Tobin.tomtobin

The Teaching and Learning with Technology Symposium was sponsored by eLearning and Emerging Technologies, Pew Faculty Teaching and Learning Center, and Disability Support Resources.  Support for refreshments was provided by Blackboard Inc.

Thank you to all of our presenters and attendees for an outstanding event!

See you next year in Allendale for more innovation at GVSU!

Top 6 eLearning Posts from 2016


HAPPY NEW YEAR from the eLearning team!

2016 was a great year in eLearning at GVSU, and to celebrate a start of a new year, we assembled our most popular posts from 2016.

Here are the top 6 posts from our eLearning blog:

  1. 7 Things You Didn’t Know that Blackboard Can Do!
  2. Professor Cheryl Kautz receives Blackboard Exemplary Course Award
  3. GVSU Faculty Members Awarded “Most Inclusive Classrooms in the United States”
  4. Virtual Office Hours for Student Success with Blackboard Collaborate and Bb IM
  5. Highlights from #BbWorld16
  6. Open Educational Resources Summit at Lansing Community College #LCCOER