Ally

Blackboard Ally supports Diversity, Equity, and Inclusive Education at GVSU

GVSU’s use of Blackboard Ally supports diversity, equity, and inclusive education.

Recently the GV Forum featured a highlight of Ally as the university works to increase the accessibility of course content in Blackboard.

 

Here is the article as highlighted by GV Forum:

Blackboard Ally supports inclusive education

More than 218,000 digital content items from more than 3,700 courses have been scanned by Blackboard Ally since the software was made available in June to students, faculty and staff members.

Blackboard Ally scans files uploaded into courses and evaluates the level of accessibility of content by displaying colored “dials” (red, yellow and green). These indicators provide awareness and insight and are only visible to instructors. The goal is to work to improve the accessibility of the files to turn the dials to green, which provides benefits for the learning needs of all students.

Eric Kunnen, associate director of eLearning and Emerging Technologies, said more accessible content means students have more usable, readable learning materials as well as high-quality alternative formats of content that work better on mobile devices.

“After Ally automatically scans course content, an indicator is displayed that estimates the level of accessibility of the file and a score is provided,” Kunnen said. “The system then provides on screen guidance to help make the file more accessible.”

So far, more than 464 files have been fixed by 138 faculty members in 146 courses.

Kunnen said Ally supports student success through universal design for learning principles and by building capacity to respond to increased federal and legal requirements for accessibility.

“Ally not only provides benefits to students with disabilities, but it also supports the university’s work in recognizing the importance of accessibility as part of our pathway to inclusive education whereby we support the diverse physical and cognitive needs of all of our students,” he said.

The eLearning and Emerging Technologies team offers support to faculty members using Blackboard Ally and has created a webpage with more information, gvsu.edu/elearn/help/ally.


Learn more about how you can use Blackboard Ally to support diversity, equity, and inclusive education at Grand Valley State University…

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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:

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.

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.

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:

 

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.