Accessibility

Making Accessibility Accessible at GVSU with Blackboard Ally

On November 14, 2018, Sherry Barricklow and Eric Kunnen delivered a webinar for the Michigan Blackboard Users Group (miBUG) on the topic of accessibility and the implementation of Blackboard Ally to support GVSU’s work in supporting inclusive education.

The session was recorded and information is also available from the miBUG Bb Community site.

Here are the session slides that were presented during the webinar:

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GVSU participates in Blackboard Ally Forum Series Roundtable

On October 31, Eric Kunnen, Associate Director of eLearning and Emerging Technologies, participated in a panel for a Blackboard Ally Forum Series entitled: Heroic-Ally Minded.

Panel Description

Whether you’re considering bringing Ally to your campus, just getting started, conducting your pilot, or going live across campus, our roundtable speakers have seen it all. In our final webinar of the series, Ally campus leaders share their experiences launching Ally on their campus and what they have planned next as they continue on the pathway to inclusion.

Panelists

  • Dena Coots, Director of Distance Education, Alvin Community College
  • Eric Kunnen, Associate Director eLearning, Grand Valley State University
  • Kim Gelsinger, Director Distance Education, Gaston College
  • Christopher Soran, Director eLearning, Tacoma Community College

Blackboard Ally logo with a city lights backdrop with the words "Heroic-Ally Minded"

Questions/Discussion Topics

  1. What kinds of tools, processes are you putting in place to address accessibility challenges on your campus? What motivated your institution to include Ally as part of this solution?
    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 framework for equity and inclusion.

    The university established a web accessibility policy in March 2017, that commits to the academic principles of equity to support an inclusive academic environment.  Much of this work is facilitated by the Web Team in Institutional Marketing to ensure public facing website and digital information is compliant.Focusing on teaching and learning, GVSU’s eLearning team, along with the Disability Support Resources (DSR) office provides accessibility awareness and training for faculty, and accommodation support for students. The eLearning team is committed to empowering faculty and supporting their efforts to leverage technology in teaching and to most effectively and efficiently use technology in an accessible way.

    Finally, GVSU’s Academic Senate established an Accessibility Taskforce to investigate the existing accessibility impediments of faculty and students. This taskforce established Captioned Media Guidelines in November 2017.

    Blackboard Ally was adopted at GVSU to: 1) raise awareness of the importance of accessibility, 2) to build capacity of faculty in creating accessible content, and 3) to offer greater insight of and ADA compliance at the institutional level.

  2. How did you make a “business case” to leadership to purchase Ally?

    Blackboard Ally was a natural fit, culturally and strategically with the university.Inclusive education is embedded in GVSU’s vision statement: “Grand Valley State University demonstrates its 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.”

    Blackboard Ally contributes to the university’s vision by providing opportunities for generating awareness among faculty through highly visible on screen indicators of accessibility for their files, on demand help and guidance for how to improve their files, and auto-generated alternative formats for students to support universal design for learning principles.

    In addition, GVSU has an “Inclusiveness” value statement whereby: 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 provides solutions for more effectively managing accessibility of course content, while providing real-time conversion of content for students, and finally establishing an institutional dashboard to best monitor GVSU’s level of accessibility in course content.

    Further, the Blackboard Ally request was aligned to the following GVSU 2021 Strategic Plan objectives:

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

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

    Objective 1.D.3: At least 60% of faculty members use state-of-the art instructional methods in their teaching. 

    By providing Ally at GVSU, faculty would be encourage to place their electronic course documents into Blackboard, thereby assisting with Objective 1.D.2.

    Objective 3.D.2: At least 30% of undergraduate courses are offered in innovative approaches and formats, such as hybrid, online and competency-oriented.

    Objective 3.D.3: At least 30% of graduate courses are offered in innovative approaches and such as hybrid, online and competency-oriented.

    As the university expands and grows in online learning (For the Fall 2017 semester, GVSU offered over 300 online/hybrid courses, representing a one-year increase of 17%, and significantly, a 78% increase in online enrollment since 2013.) a solution to assist faculty in creating accessible content is of strategic importance.

  3. How have you supported instructor adoption of Ally? What have been your biggest challenges and successes in motivating/training instructors to fix accessibility issues with their course content?
    At the most basic level, we turned on Ally to make accessibility accessible. Meaning, our focus we to promote through the Blackboard portal and email newsletters of the implementation of a new accessibility solution. One of the challenges has been awareness. Despite a large amount of ongoing email and notification campaigns, many faculty are not aware of the rationale and value of Ally, along with the importance of accessibility overall.We have found that Ally does make faculty take notice as “red” indicators appear along side content.

    All in all, we have found that “faculty don’t like red” and they are encouraged to discover how to improve their files with “green being the goal”. Our eLearning team is continuing to promote the use of Ally as a tool to increase the pathways toward inclusion through accessibility.

  4. What was your process for rolling-out Ally to your campus (eg pilot phases, full roll-out)? How did you inform students/instructors about the availability of Ally?

    In brief, we implemented Ally in a short 2 month time frame. We started by deploying Ally on our test environment, then moved to a pilot with select courses, then enabled Ally site wide. The Fall 2018 semester was the first full semester of deployment.

  5. How (if at all) did you use the institutional report to inform your strategy? How (if at all) do you use the institutional report to track your progress?

    We have used the reporting information to present adoption and usage levels back to the GVSU Budget Committee, Academic Technology Advisory Team, ADA Advisory Council, and our eLearning and Emerging Technologies team. We have also used the reporting information to identify the top 3 accessibility issues so that we can be proactive with tip sheets and to hit these areas during our training sessions with faculty.

    Since deploying Ally in the summer of 2018, there have been 3,734 courses and 203,361 content items checked for accessibility. The top 3 accessibility concerns are: contrast issues, missing headers, and alternative descriptions with non-OCRed documents the most severe concern.

    In 837 courses, students have accessed over 2,800 alternative file formats with PDF being the most commonly downloaded file type. In over 1,000 courses, there have been 2,558 registered clicks on an Ally indicator and 107 faculty have manually improved the accessibility of over 400 files.

    In the first full semester of Blackboard Ally being used in production, GVSU is beginning to move the needle toward improving accessibility with “Green (indicators) being the Goal”.
    Through visibility, faculty, and our eLearning team are aware of the most common accessibility issues. This awareness has contributed to improving accessibility. Since deploying Ally, GVSU’s institutional dashboard has shown an improvement of 16 percentage points. We are beginning to take steps down the pathway to inclusion.

  6. What kind of usage of alternative formats are you observing with students? What do you see as the main benefits of the alternative formats?

    See above

  7. How (if at all) are you gathering feedback about Ally on your campus?
    We have recently sent a survey to our early faculty adopters. Our early results (N=25) include that most faculty became aware of Ally through an announcement on the Blackboard portal, followed by our eLearning website, and then from a colleague.When asked about the effectiveness of the online tips and suggestions that Ally provides in addressing issues with accessibility, 40% rated excellent or good, with 32% rating feedback as average.

    Faculty were asked to rate Ally as a solution to help ensure the accessibility of course content, 44% rated excellent or good, with 28% average.

    When asked if they would recommend Ally to a colleague, 88% indicated yes or maybe after spending more time with the application.

    96% of faculty haven’t informed students of the alternative file formats that are available in Blackboard through Ally.

    Open-ended comments ranged from Ally being self-explanatory and helpful to expressions of confusion as to how to get files to 100%, for example, being unsure as to have to properly tag a PDF and more helpful instructions on screen. In addition, faculty using math or chemistry expressed challenges in using LaTeX or MathML. MathType is an option for faculty which can create equations in an accessible format.

  8. How have you addressed accessibility challenges that are not handled by Ally, such as embedded content?
    As accessibility has created more interest, we are beginning to work with faculty to educate them on the importance of beginning with accessibility in mind. The GVSU Disability Support Resources office supports students and faculty in accommodations for students with documented disabilities. We are starting to walk down the pathway of inclusion.
  9. What’s next for Ally on your campus? What would you most like to see for future Ally capabilities?

    While sessions have been offered on accessibility and universal design for learning, they have not been well attended. Turning on Ally has generated attendance in our accessibility seminars. Our next steps include increasing and consistently working to promote inclusive education as a way of working, not an extra or “if I have time” optional activity.

    We plan to continue to promote the importance of pathways to inclusion for faculty and students. Most recently, our student newspaper, the Grand Valley Lanthorn, featured an article on the front page entitled: “Blackboard Ally provides resources to improve accessibility”.

Ally_HeroSticker


Learn more about Blackboard Ally for Faculty at GVSU on our eLearning web page.

2018 Students’ Use of Technology Research Study via EDUCAUSE

Each year, EDUCAUSE conducts research on students and their use of technology through the EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR). GVSU has participated in this survey in the past. (See this post from 2015: ECAR Study of Students and Technology at GVSU)

This year, the ECAR study included 130 institutions and responses were collected from nearly 65,000 students. The goal of this study is to monitor trends and to determine technology usage patterns among students.

Here are few highlights:

1 – More than 75% of Students indicate that an LMS (Blackboard) was used for Most or All of their Courses

“LMS use remains prevalent across higher education institutions, with continued high rates of use and student satisfaction. Three-quarters of all students reported being either satisfied or very satisfied with their institution’s LMS, and more than three-quarters of students reported their LMS was used for most or all of their courses. This likely reflects satisfaction primarily with the functional aspects of their institution’s LMS.

Consistent and widespread use of the LMS and ensured access to it in public institutions can benefit students. Even the basic functions of the LMS, such as posting grades, have been found to contribute to a student’s academic performance; access to grades allows for real-time monitoring of their course progress and the ability to make mid-course adjustments as needed. And the convenience of the LMS offers off-campus students much needed flexibility in contacting instructors and classmates, accessing course content, or taking quizzes.” 1

GVSU uses Blackboard to support the delivery of content, provide live communication capabilities, and enable grading feedback in teaching and learning.

2 – Laptops are the most important Device for Students

studentsanddevices

“Continue providing students with access to the basic technologies
that are most important to their academic success. The maintenance of
desktop computer labs, laptop and tablet rental programs, and negotiated
discounts for personal academic devices enable nearly all students to have
access to the technologies they need to succeed. Avoid the creation of a new
digital divide by making bleeding-edge technologies such as AR and VR
headsets and 3D printers and scanners equally and publicly available to all
students in venues such as makerspaces and libraries.” 1

GVSU provides unique bleeding-edge technologies in the Atomic Object Technology Showcase.

3 – Accessibility remains a Concern

accessibility

“Overall, our data suggest that IT accessibility is an issue for many college students with both physical and learning disabilities. According to these students, institutions have a lot of room for improvement. Awareness may be especially challenging for the largest public DR institutions given the sheer number of students they serve, but resources to accommodate may be an issue.

To increase institutional awareness and provide better support to students with
disabilities, we recommend the following:

  • Be a collaborative partner in testing and implementing assistive/accessible technologies and the principles of universal design for learning.
  • Provide professional development to IT staff via accessibility workshops,conferences, and training; develop campus IT accessibility policies related to the development, procurement, and implementation of products.
  • Encourage the cultivation of an “accessible mind-set” across all campus stakeholders to better understand the needs of students with disabilities.
  • Offer training for faculty on implementing Web Content Accessibility Guidelines and other universal/inclusive instructional practices.
  • Educate faculty on the inequitable impacts and potential legal implications that bans on in-class use of personal devices can have on students with disabilities.
  • And stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Stop banning laptops.” 1

GVSU supports the use of Blackboard Ally (and Panopto for video captions) to provide accessibility awareness and to establish a pathway to inclusion.

4 – 62% of Students Favor Online and Hybrid Courses over Face to Face

blendedprefer

“Expand student awareness of the benefits, expectations, and demands of
blended learning environments. Students should receive consistent and
clear information from multiple campus sources so that they can make
well-informed decisions about the learning environments that are best
suited to their own learning and lives. Expose students to blended learning
early in their college careers and provide faculty who lack blended learning
experience with professional development and opportunities to teach in
these environments.” 1

GVSU offers instructional design support and assistance to faculty through IDeL (Instructional Design for eLearning).

5 – 67% of Students indicate that their Instructors use Technology to Enhance Learning, Engage Students, and Encourage use of Online Collaboration

technologyusebystudents

“Eliminate classroom bans of student devices important to their success. Although devices that can connect to the internet have the potential to distract students during class, many students—especially women, students of color, students with disabilities, first-generation students, students who are independent (with or without dependents of their own), and students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds—find these devices significantly more important to their academic success than do their counterparts. Classroom device bans have the potential to indiscriminately undermine students who may disproportionately rely on them, creating unnecessary (and possibly illegal) obstacles for those who may need them the most.” 1

GVSU offers support for the use of a wide array of instructional technologies such as (Blackboard, Panopto, Lightboards, etc.) through the eLearning team.


Access the full report, view an infographic, and learn more about the 2018 Students and Technology Research Study on the EDUCAUSE website.


[1] Galanek, Joseph D., Dana C. Gierdowski, and D. Christopher Brooks. ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2018.  Research report. Louisville, CO: ECAR, October 2018. Retrieved from: https://library.educause.edu/~/media/files/library/2018/10/studentitstudy2018.pdf

Blackboard Ally provides resources to improve Accessibility at GVSU

Eric Kunnen, Sherry Barricklow, and Hunter Bridwell from the eLearning team met with Nick Moran, who is editor of the Grand Valley Lanthorn to talk through the opportunities and benefits of Blackboard Ally as a solution to improve accessibility at GVSU.

Here is an excerpt from the article entitled: “Blackboard Ally provides resources to improve accessibility“:

Blackboard Ally is a tool that works in conjunction with Blackboard to analyze files and convert them into a variety of accessible formats to better support students with disabilities, said Associate Director of eLearning and Emerging Technologies Eric Kunnen. Through faculty accounts, the tool also provides educators with resources to view the current accessibility ratings of their materials, as well as tutorials to raise their ratings.

…the team has been hosting seminars to teach faculty how to better use Ally, which Bridwell said gets them excited once they know the tool exists.

“By the end of [the seminars], we have a lot of faculty who go, ‘Oh man, I’ve got a lot of work to do,’ and they find that intimidating,” Bridwell said. “Fair enough, I completely understand that. But [they] really start to feel a charge on why that’s important and understanding to serve accessibility in that way is to serve all of your students.”

In looking at the next steps for Ally, Kunnen said that it shouldn’t be seen as a “silver bullet,” but more of a “pathway to inclusion” for faculty. While only one tool, its growing use is encouraging, highlighting GVSU’s efforts toward promoting further inclusion.

“This is a wonderful, phenomenal, very huge first step that our faculty are taking,” Barricklow said. “It’s now OK to ask the question, ‘What else?’ because they know they can take the first step.”

We are thankful to Nick for highlighting Ally as a resources for students and faculty as we work to establish new pathways to inclusion at Grand Valley State University.

Read: “Blackboard Ally provides resources to improve accessibility” on the GV Lanthorn website.

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.

Enhancing Teaching with Panopto and Blackboard Ally at GVSU

With 5 weeks into the Fall semester, this post provides a few highlights around the use of Panopto and Blackboard Ally in teaching and learning at GVSU. Deployed this past summer, these technologies are available now to all faculty, staff, and students at Grand Valley State University to enhance education and support student success.


Panopto

Panopto replaced Ensemble and TechSmith Relay in the summer of 2018, with the migration of content being completed on June 30. GVSU adopted Panopto to increase the capabilities to best leverage media-rich content in teaching. In addition to more powerful tools such as searching, embedded video quizzes, and discussions, creating closed captions was made easier for faculty.

Ally connects to the GVSU 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.

 

Here are a few usage stats of Panopto as of August 1, 2018:

  • 2371 videos have been created
  • Approximately 98 assignment folders have been established, allowing students the ability to easily submit a video for an assessment
  • 99 hours of video (on average) is being viewed per day
  • There has been a total of 7968 viewing / usage hours
  • 9710 total users on Panopto with 1056 faculty accounts and 8654 student accounts
  • 103 faculty and staff have installed Panopto on their Windows 10 PC or laptop
  • Training sessions: 7 sessions in the Spring, 7 sessions in the Fall, with additional support offered to faculty in Drop-Ins, eLearning Open Office Hours, Big Byte and Faculty Learning Communities as well as individual consultations.

Panopto has been a success at GVSU in providing a unique and engaging way for faculty to deliver high quality instructional content. Further, it extends the capabilities available to faculty while enabling closed captions to be added for accessibility.

“I jumped right in to using Panopto because I had a Spring online course to prep. I am thrilled to report it is easy to use. I can make videos and upload them for near immediate use – a great improvement over the old system. Editing videos is easier, and I particularly like the feature that allows me to add quiz questions. Especially, teaching online, being able to add a couple questions to incentivize students to watch the whole video, and check they understood it, is a great bonus pedagogically. I also find the viewership metrics incredibly handy. They provide real insight into students’ work habits.” – Jeff Rothstein, Sociology


Blackboard Ally

Blackboard Ally was put into production and made available to all students, faculty, and staff on June 21. Ally was adopted at GVSU to increase awareness of the importance of accessibility and ADA compliance, build the capacity of faculty in creating accessible content, and to offer greater insight at the institutional level.

Ally connects to the GVSU 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.

Since June 11, and overall, 107 faculty have fixed 406 files in 129 courses and students have downloaded 2862 alternative formats from 786 courses. Usage stats of Ally as of August 27 (semester start) to October 18, 2018 include the following:

Graphs of Total Courses (3,672), Total Content (160,344), and Overall Accessibility Score (62%) from Blackboard Ally

Since deploying Blackboard Ally, the Overall Accessibility Score reported by the institutional dashboard shows an increase of 16 percentage points.

Graph showing Blackboard Ally accessibility score increasing with 62%, up from 46% the previous semester.

For courses in the Fall 2018 (since August 27) semester:

  • 3,724 courses include content
  • There have been over 209,000 total content items created and scanned by Ally
  • 62% is the “Overall Accessibility Score” (58% without Ally) indicating improvements made through Ally’s alternative formats.
  • Top 3 most common accessibility concerns include:
    • Contrast Issues
    • Missing Document Headers
    • Images without Alternative Descriptions
  • Most severe accessibility concern:
    • Non-OCRed Documents
  • Training sessions: 1 session in Spring included UDL, 2 in Fall with additional support offered to faculty in Drop-Ins, eLearning Open Office Hours, Big Byte and Faculty Learning Communities as well as individual consultations
  • 125 files have been manually fixed by faculty in 38 courses
  • The most popular alternative format is PDF, followed by HTML

Graph of the numbers of access of alternative file types showing 1,584 accessed of PDF files, 959 accesses of HTML, 111 accesses of ePub, 108 accesses of OCR PDFs, 69 accesses of audio, and 5 of braille.

Overall, from June 11 until October 2, in Blackboard Ally:

  • 406 files have been fixed by 107 faculty in 129 courses
  • 2,862 alternative files have been downloaded by students in 786 courses (5,205 total views of the alternative file format screen)
  • 1,000 courses have 2,558 registered clicks of Ally dials by faculty

In addition, Jeff Sykes, Assistive Technology Coordinator in  Disability Support Resources, has demonstrated how to access alternate formats in Blackboard while meeting with students who use alternate format books. In the Fall 2018 semester, 40 students are using alternative format books as an accommodation.  The “Ally feature is benefiting any of those students who have a course that uses inaccessible documents posted to Blackboard.”

“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.

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: