Online Course Design for Active Learning within the UDL Framework

A wordcloud in the shape of a Rubik's cube with these main words from the blog on active learning: learning, students, course, provide, can, and UDL.

This is a WordCloud based on my blog post on active learning.

Active Learning Defined

Active learning engages students directly in the learning process through instructional activities with differing degrees of interaction that’s student-centered, whereas passive learning occurs indirectly and without interaction. The latter is often, but not always, teacher-centered. Student-centered learning emphasizes learner control and manipulation of information, so students can actively use what’s learned. Students respond well when they have a participatory voice in their learning.

Active learning is preferred because it triggers cognitive functioning. Examples of active learning include the following:

  • Studio model with a teacher or student observations and feedback (e.g., writer’s workshop, art production, portfolios);
  • Problem-based learning;
  • Group work (e.g., business proposals, case studies, mixed media presentations);
  • Debates;
  • Gaming and simulations;
  • Metacognitive strategies to monitor self-learning;
  • Transference of knowledge to new problems and situations; and
  • Assessments that require analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.

See the University of Michigan’s instructor worksheet to reflect on active learning opportunities you already use or would like to try.

UDL Defined

Universal Design refers to the consideration of the needs of persons with disabilities in regard to physical spaces, objects, and tasks. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) recognizes those needs for course design. Its main premise is equal access to education and extends this to all types of learners. Active learning aligns with the UDL framework when lessons provide multiple means of representation, multiple means of action and expression, and multiple means of engagement (CAST, 2018). See my blog post on UDL to learn more and test your knowledge.

What does active learning look like online?

Active learning can take on different formats, levels of engagement, and levels of complexity in setup. It can be for individual or group work. Online educators use the community of inquiry (COI) framework to ensure students are engaged with the content, each other, and the instructor to maximize learning. Social presence (SP), cognitive presence (CP), and teaching presence (TP) are the essential elements to the communication loop for an online COI (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). This means that online learners are involved in cognitively challenging activities for CP (i.e., analysis, synthesis, evaluation), are able to interact with classmates for SP (e.g., discussions and projects), and that the teacher or student moderator is present in some way through communication, guidance, and feedback for TP. This aligns with the UDL goals to foster collaboration and community and to provide options for comprehension, communication, and executive functions (CAST, 2018).

Collaborative computer-mediated instructional strategies require interactive technologies such as videoconferencing tools for office hours and feedback, forum tools for asynchronous discussions, shared drive for collaborative documents, and portfolio or other platforms (e.g., blog, Google Sites, wiki) to share student work. These digital activities require clear guidelines for interacting with each other, the content, the teacher, and the tools in order to be effective (e.g., group roles, peer review criteria, schedule, samples, tool guides). Designing these opportunities for all students to access, build, and internalize information requires forethought.

Set the Stage for Active Learning

Tell your students what you expect of them in the online course. A best practice is to provide an introductory course overview with your syllabus, schedule, and protocol for interactions (Quality Matters, 2018). For some examples, see my blog on Student and Teacher Expectations for Online Courses. Share course requirements for the online environment and address learning values such as the growth mindset. This aligns with the UDL’s Checkpoint 9.1: “Promote expectations and beliefs that optimize motivation” (Cast, 2018).

Dweck (2009) described those who underestimate their ability to learn as possibly having a fixed mindset, while those who believe that they can learn by establishing attainable goals and applying effort to learn as having a growth mindset. Students with a growth mindset want to be corrected; their ego isn’t tied to learning. Conversely, those with a fixed mindset don’t pay attention to corrective feedback. They believe that learning shouldn’t take any effort because it’s tied to their intelligence; their ego influences how they learn. Students with a fixed mindset may be resistant to active learning. See my blog post to Focus on the Process to Support the Growth Mindset of Students. This process aligns with mastery-oriented feedback promoted by the UDL to sustain effort and persistence (CAST, 2018).

Second, make sure students know how to use the learning management system (LMS) prior to high-stakes assignments to reduce anxiety and to reduce the cognitive load for the overall task. Here are some useful tasks to help familiarize students with the LMS:

  • Student acknowledgment form submission to try out the assignment tool (i.e., course expectations),
  • ‘Getting Acquainted’ discussion,
  • Syllabus quiz to ensure students have read it (also practice test proctoring software if utilized in course), and
  • Poll practical experience on the course topic to better understand students’ prior knowledge on the subject and drive instruction to meet students’ needs.

This aligns with UDL’s Checkpoint 7.3 to provide a welcoming course climate and predictability of tasks (CAST, 2018).

Content Delivery

The lecture, demonstration, or direct instruction of a skill is a passive learning event unless students are provided ways to interact with the content. Consider using EdPuzzle, PlayPosit, or Camtasia Studio to engage learners while watching a video lecture or demonstration with questions to answer before preceding to the next segment. The former two premium tools provide instructors with learner analytics such as level of engagement, successful attempts, and grades.

Instructional strategies. Strategy selection depends on various affordances and constraints such as time and resources. For example, an activity-centered lesson is based on an interactive task and requires collaborative tools and student groupings. Content-centered lessons are passive tasks where the student generally only interacts with the content, the exception being discussions of content. Experience-centered activities require a hands-on approach to developing something or serving/working with others. The learner-centered activity provides the learner with more autonomy over their pursuit of knowledge and includes metacognitive actions for self-regulation of learning; the affordances and constraints for this type of activity are highly dependent on the task.

Overall, the best practice is to utilize a variety of instructional strategies to address learner preferences through multiple means of engagement and expression for the UDL. Here’s a list of online instructional strategies for each type.

Activity-Centered
Content-Centered
Experience-Centered
Learner-Centered
Analysis of case studies

Critically review an article

HyperInquiry* team project

Academic controversy** assignment

Develop a book trailer on topic

WebQuest

 

Pretest/Posttest

Write a literature review

Complete modules on topic in computer-adapted program

Write essay

Make a presentation

Discuss content with peers and instructor

 

Develop questionnaires

Develop a personal model of topic

Participate in a simulation

Develop a workshop

Develop a wiki on topic

Produce a podcast on topic

Develop a how-to guide on a procedure

Write a blog post on topic

Serve others as a mentor, tutor, or volunteer on topic

Curate an art exhibit

Peer-review of papers or projects

Students create m/c questions for review

Design a project

Evaluate a program

Write an autobiography of your interaction with topic

Complete self-evaluation

Develop a personal learning network

Capture reflections in journal, audio, or video

Curate digital books and articles on topic for lifelong learning

Notes. *HyperInquiry is like a Webquest but at a deeper level of inquiry (Dempsey & Litchfield, 2001). **Academic controversy is a debate where students eventually take both sides of an argument.

Learning strategies. Learning strategies are ways students can engage with the course readings and other content to monitor their learning. Cognitive learning strategies include concept mapping, mnemonics, overlearning, metaphors, and similes. Embed these learning strategies into your instructional activities to build students’ brain schema on the topic and its relation to other subjects for long-term memory. Share this list of cognitive strategies with students. The difference between cognitive and metacognitive being concreteness versus meta-awareness respectively. Most students are likely familiar with structurally cognitive ones such as concept maps but may not be familiar with the others. Share this student learning organizer of metacognitive strategies. Tying learner strategies to your instruction will make it more inclusive.

Discussions

Discussions can have well thought out open-ended questions provided by the instructor, student-generated questions, or no questions at all. For example, one instructor has had great success without providing questions in his online discussions. Instead, he tells students the purpose of discussions and that they’ll find suggestions for these by listening to his podcast or video lecture for that unit. To increase engagement in larger online courses, the University of California recommends short targeted discussions, role assignments, and subdivision of course material to get the students talking and keep them on task.

Roles. Provide structure and student agency to discussions by assigning roles (e.g., starter, responder, wrapper) and rotating those roles during the course. Additionally, this will prevent the same students from posting first and everyone else waiting to reply. Student-moderated discussions provide SP to the online COI. See blog post on how to plan for an online COI.

Media. Use the audio or video recording features to share responses besides the text-based option to provide novelty and multiple means of representation. Ask students to provide a visual created by the student that illustrates their learning along with their reflection. See Google Drawing illustrating a students’ understanding of reading regarding semiotic domains. This provides both TP and SP for the online COI. The exchange of media will close the psychological distance between you and your students.

Monitor. For equity, a best practice is to create a matrix of teacher-student interactions to track your response efforts over the course of the semester. Monitoring your discussion posts will curtail various biases and ensure consistency. Use a spreadsheet to do this and include personal information shared in the ‘Getting Acquainted’ discussion to provide a more personalized context for meaningful interactions with each student.

Assignments

Highly effective tasks are those which are situated within the actual task (authentic or simulated) or end goal for your course for near transfer of information to long-term memory. This is in contrast to far transfer tasks that are related but not exact. Situated learning occurs through different modes of co-participation based on situational factors (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Learning in one situational context may not transfer to another unless it closely mirrors it and the learner is properly prepared; therefore, authenticity is crucial to the learning situation (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989).

Groupwork. Student-led projects provide student agency in the design of their own learning. Provide the parameters, team roles (e.g., team leader/organizer, researcher, writer, & presenter), and peer evaluation forms to ensure everyone participates fully. Include expectations for group grade such as everyone provides proofreading of assignment prior to submission. Encourage student groups to set up their own ground rules for group meetings and task sharing. Monitor group work by asking to be added to the document workspace such as a shared Google folder.

Presentations. As for hybrid courses, maximize the face-to-face meeting by asking students to present their work to each other during seminar sessions in their level one courses. This is referred to as flipped learning when you use class time for student activities instead of teacher-centered activities. For fully online courses, students can share their media presentations (e.g., narrated PowerPoints saved as MP4 files, podcasts, video projects) with other students in a media hosting site that allows students and teachers to provide feedback, as well as tags, titles, and captions.

Assessments

How can students demonstrate mastery besides multiple-choice tests? These are still useful for testing recall. However, to engage the learner in higher-order thinking skills, we should provide alternative assessments such as project-based learning, essays, portfolios, performance, products, and presentations. These don’t need to be end-of-term projects. Formative assessments can be formal or informal (practice tests, digital exit tickets, polls), which serve as comprehension checks and subsequent student feedback during the course. This is in contrast to summative assessments that test your cumulative knowledge on a topic at the end of the term. Formative assessments promote fairness by gathering evidence of students’ understanding throughout the course, which can be used to better inform/modify your instructional practices to meet students’ needs.

Testing is a learning event. Consider setting tests for multiple attempts to help students achieve mastery. This triggers new learning and/or review of content, as students revisit content for answers. Tolerance for error in course assignments also makes it more inclusionary. To prepare for a test, ask students to use the free tool PeerWise to create questions on the topic of study for each other to answer. Some instructors ask their students to submit questions for actual tests. In this scenario, students develop questions from the content according to its structure and importance.

Feedback & Guidance

Learning requires differing feedback loops offered at intervals throughout the course, hopefully, with just-in-time guidance. Feedback can come from intelligent tutors through computer adaptive programs, instructors, teaching assistants, peers, and subject matter experts from the professional field. Formats for feedback loops vary from discussions, recommended edits on a paper, rubrics, and assessments.

Rubrics. Rubrics establish the criteria and scale for various tasks such as discussions and assignments and make the expectations explicit. Rubrics provide consistency and speed with grading. Some electronic rubric features allow you to provide feedback at the criterion level and for overall performance. Additionally, you can tag your departmental student learning outcomes to these rubrics to help students understand why the task is important.

Scaffolded instructional feedback. Scaffolding instruction provides content in meaningful and manageable chunks of information. This entails providing visuals for structure, context, direction, and just-in-time definitions. For example, segment a lecture at viable points and ask reflective questions. For writing, break large tasks such as research papers into point-based phases of the writing process (e.g., outline, literature review with five citations, rough draft, final paper). Consider the UDL and design for tolerance for error by providing space to practice (e.g., mock interviews/comps/presentations, tutorials, simulations).

Peer feedback. It’s critical to provide guidelines and criteria for peer feedback tasks. This involves establishing roles, a clear project description, rubric, and instructions for tools used. For writing, assign a peer review of draft papers utilizing MS Word tracked changes or Google Docs suggested edits. Instructors can request access to the documents for review.

Conclusion

In summary, for active learning, students need the following:

  • Preparation for learning events,
  • Situated learning environments for near transfer,
  • Planned multimodal interactions that are cognitively challenging,
  • Cognitive strategies,
  • Feedback loops, and
  • Metacognitive strategies to monitor their learning.

Review your understanding of active learning with this interactive reader developed by the UCLA Librarian, Douglas Worsham (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

References

Brown, J., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated cognition and the culture of learning. Educational Researcher, 18(1), 32–42.

CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org

Dempsey, J. V., & Litchfield, B. C. (2001). Surfing below the surface of the Web: HyperInquiry. In B. H. Kahn (Ed.), Web-Based Training (pp. 229-234).  Englewood Cliffs, NY: Educational Technology Publications.

Dweck, C. (2009). Developing Growth Mindsets: How Praise Can Harm, and How To Use it Well. [Presentation]. Paper presented at the Scottish Learning Festival, Glasgow. Retrieved from http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/video/c/video_tcm4565678.asp

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education 2(2-3), 87-105.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Quality Matters™ Higher Education Rubric, sixth edition. (2018). Maryland Online, Inc. Retrieved from https://www.qualitymatters.org/sites/default/files/PDFs/StandardsfromtheQMHigherEducationRubric.pdf


Sandra Annette Rogers, Ph.D.

Teacherrogers Products
Pre-K, Kindergarten, First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Higher Education, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Staff, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com

Accessibility Policy for Postsecondary Distance Education

Note. This is specific to the Schoology learning management system and other technologies and protocols we use on our campus. It’s based on the policy that I used at my former workplace for my instructional design graduate assistantship, the University of South Alabama’s Innovation in Learning Center. I recently added the use of headers, which was missing from that policy.


The logo has the word accessibility with four icons on it: eye, hand, ear, and brain.
This Accessibility Logo was created by Christy Blew of The University of Illinois on behalf of the EDUCAUSE IT Accessibility Constituent Group.

Accessibility Statement for Distance Education

The U.S. federal laws require online course accessibility for persons with disabilities. Follow these basic guidelines for compliance: Section 504, 1973 Rehabilitation Act and Section 508, its 1998 amendment to include Electronic and Information Technology, and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 and 2.1.

  1. Provide a hierarchy in the headers of your documents, course pages, and websites.
  2. Describe images and hyperlinks with an alternative text.
  3. Do not use coloring as the sole indicator of meaning.
  4. Use san serif fonts for online text.
  5. Check and repair all portable document formats (PDFs) for accessibility.
  6. Caption all video and provide transcripts for audio.
  7. Provide students with disabilities the prescribed accommodations, as needed.

Headers

Persons with visual impairment use screen readers to hear the content on your online course or website. They can also tab through the headers to get an overview or to find specific content. To distinguish headers from paragraph within the text, use the Paragraph tool in the rich text editor to create Heading 1, 2, 3, et cetera. Avoid creating headings from paragraph delineated text by making it bold and increasing the font size.

Images

Alternative (alt) text helps students that use assistive technology (e.g., screen readers) as their learning accommodation. For example, screen readers such as Microsoft’s JAWS (Job Access with Speech) read the description aloud to the user with vision impairment. Make sure you concisely provide alt text for each image in your online course so that students will hear and learn about the images shared. This includes images on a course page or within a document or multimedia presentation (e.g., PowerPoint, Word, or PDF). For Schoology, currently, you cannot add the description for the image during upload. Add it afterward by selecting the image in edit mode. For PowerPoint 2016, follow this pathway to add alt text: Right-click image > Select Format Picture > Select Alt Text. For PDFs, use Adobe Acrobat Pro XI to add alt text to images. This software allows you to edit PDFs and is available in the Faculty Development Center.

Hyperlinks

When you add links to Schoology, it asks for the name of the link to display and the URL. Provide the specific name of the website instead of a confusing web address, also known as the URL (Uniform Resource Locator). The exact name of the website will aid all learners in understanding where the link will take them. Additionally, assistive technology (e.g., JAWS) will read aloud the long URL if you do not give it a name. Imagine listening to an entire URL reading: “h-t-t-p-s-semicolon-forward slash-forward slash-shc-period-schoology-period-com-forward slash-home.” This would cause extra cognitive load on the listener. Here are good and bad examples:

Use of Color

Color-coding presents a problem for visually impaired students, as they will not be able to access the meaning of particular coloring of text for emphasis (e.g., red text conveying importance, etc.).  Simply add the word or words to convey the meaning such as Important.

Fonts

Sans serif fonts are recommended for online text to provide accessibility. Sans serif fonts do not have the ‘hats and shoes’ on certain letters that serif fonts include. Fortunately, Arial, which is a sans serif font, is the default for Schoology. Avoid using serif fonts because they may waver and become difficult to read on low bandwidth or poor Internet connections.

PDFs

Are your PDFs readable? Conduct a word search within the Find box of a PDF for a word you see in the document. Type Ctrl+F if you don’t see a Find box. If you receive the message, “No matches were found,” then the document is a scanned image, which cannot be read by persons who use assistive technology. Use Adobe Acrobat Pro XI to repair unreadable (scanned image) PDFs. Remember that this software is available in BL12. Here is the pathway to fix your PDFs with Adobe Acrobat Pro XI: File>Action Wizard>Create Accessible PDFs> Action Step #5 is the Accessibility Checker.

Ensure your Word documents are accessible before you save them as a PDF. Microsoft has accessibility checkers that will highlight any issues in your document. Within Word 2016, select the following pathway: File > Info> Check for Issues > Check Accessibility. Then fix issues such as missing alt text for images. See Adobe Accessibility Quick Reference Card for information on earlier versions of MS Word that you may have at home. Currently, our campus has MS Office 2016 on its computers.

Media

Caption video files and transcribe audio files. Closed captioning is the preferred format (instead of open captions) so the user can turn it on or off according to their needs. If you do not have your media captioned, at the very least, provide a script until you caption the video. However, transcripts do not provide equal access to media files because the words and images from the video are not in sync to enhance meaning.  Audio files or podcasts must include a transcript.  For narrated PowerPoints, transcribe the audio in the note’s section of each slide.

Captioning Key, funded by the National Association of the Deaf and The Described and Captioned and Media Program, provides a document on specific quality assurance guidelines for closed-captioning. They mention several free captioning services.  Our current practice is to upload media to YouTube and use their auto-captioning service and then correct inaccuracies. Ask the instructional designer for the how-to guide on how to set up an unlisted YouTube channel and the video tutorial on how to correct automated captions on YouTube in your video manager account. We also provide the video software production/editor tool, Camtasia Studio 9, which incorporates closed-captioning. The instructional designer can train you to use it.

Providing accommodations in Schoology. In Schoology, you can assign assignments or tests to individuals when you create them. Reuse your existing assignment or test by saving it to your Personal Resources in Schoology. Then bring it back into your course as a new test with a different name. We suggest naming it with ‘Extended Time’ in the title so students know they are receiving the accommodation. Go to the Schoology test settings to add the prescribed accommodations. Warning: Do not reassign the mainstream test to an individual in Schoology, as it will disappear the test scores of the other students. Instead, instructors should make a separate assignment or test for the student(s) with accommodations.

Publishers’ accessibility statements. As a best practice, online courses should provide accessibility statements to the publishers they use (Quality Matters™ Rubric Standards, 2014). This will help those who need access to alternative text files and/or eBooks from publishers, as well as other alternatives to interactive products for adaptive technologies used.  Visit the Instructional Design LibGuide on Accessibility where I provided a list of publishers’ links to their accessibility statements. Please inform the instructional design team to update this accordingly.

References

Section 504, Rehabilitation Act. (1973). Office of Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management. United States Department of Labor. Retrieved from https://www.dol.gov/oasam/regs/statutes/sec504.htm

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. (2019). WC3 Web Accessibility Initiative. Retrieved from https://www.w3.org/WAI/standards-guidelines/wcag/


Sandra Annette Rogers, Ph.D.

Teacherrogers Products
Pre-K, Kindergarten, First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Higher Education, Adult Education, Homeschooler, Staff, Not Grade Specific - TeachersPayTeachers.com

Universal Design for Learning

Accessibility_Logo
Logo by Christy Blew of the University of Illinois for Educause, 2012

ORIGIN

Universal design (UD) refers to the consideration of the needs of persons with disabilities in regard to physical spaces and objects. This concept has since grown into an initiative for education called the universal design for learning (UDL). The original Principles of Universal Design (1997) are equitable use, the flexibility of use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size and space for appropriate use. See the UD poster. The Center for Universal Design described it as a design that doesn’t need adaption for persons with disabilities in perceiving the content or operating the program (1997).

UDL FRAMEWORK

The UDL framework recommends that educators provide multiple means of engagement (why), representation (what), and action and expression (how) (CAST, 2018). The ‘why’ addresses the affective domain of learning (i.e., attitudes, emotions, & feelings) to sustain students’ interest and subsequent persistence; CAST refers to this as ‘affective networks’. The ‘what’ addresses the information processing of content for the cognitive domain for learning (i.e., knowledge & intellectual skills) for comprehension; CAST refers to this as ‘recognition networks’. The ‘how’ addresses both cognitive and psychomotor domains; CAST refers to this as ‘strategic networks’.

Multimodal content adaptation is key to equal access to education to avoid having a student wait weeks while you provide a specific accommodation such as closed captioning to a video lecture. Instead, be proactive and have your first introductory video captioned (or audio transcribed) in advance of your course start date. I recently attended a webinar by Dr. Tobin in which he recommended these instructional strategies for UDL:

  • Start with the text. It can serve as the script.
  • Make alternatives available such as a PDF instead of Microsoft Word so they can use the feature in Adobe products to read aloud the text.
  • Allow students to select their type of assessment choice.
  • Break information into small chunks and provide still images for illustration when possible.
  • Set content free. By this, he means to make sure it’s shareable and not tied to your choice of tool/software. Ex. Use an MP3 audio file as the output instead of an Audacity file that students would have to know how to use to play.

Another UDL educational correlation with the UD principles is providing mastery test options or dropping the lowest grade for a tolerance of error in the course. In this way, UDL strategies reduce obtrusive affective filters (e.g., test anxiety) for all learners. It can also reduce cognitive load with the aforementioned scaffolding of content and multiple means of representation.

UNIVERSAL INSTRUCTIONAL DESIGN

There are several efforts to design education with UD in mind. Palmer and Caputo (2003) proposed seven principles for universal instructional design (UID): accessibility, consistency, explicitness, flexibility, accommodating learning spaces, minimization of effort, and supportive learning environments. The UID model recognizes those needs for course design. Its main premise is equal access to education and extends this to all types of learners. For example, all learners can benefit from multi-modal lessons.

The instructional design for the UDL requires out-of-the-box thinking such as the exploitation of intended tool design to maximize learning for all. The following tweet from a UDL advocate provides a specific example of how adaptive technologies designed to accommodate a specific disability can be used by those with other disabilities, anxieties, or temporary health issues.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

UD for the web isn’t only for education. Legal aspects include the web design standards created by the WWW Consortium (W3C) for information technology. They produced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG), which are promoted globally. I use their Web Accessibility Initiative website, as a reference at work. Additionally, US federal laws include policies for equal access to Web-based information and technologies such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Access Board standards. These standards are based on the WC3’s priority checklist.

RESOURCES

Here are a few resources on UD and UDL:

Review your knowledge of the UDL with an H5P interactive reader designed by UCLA Librarian, Douglas Worsham (Attribution: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0).

References

CAST (2018). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.2. Retrieved from http://udlguidelines.cast.org

Palmer, J., & Caputo, A. (2003). Universal instructional design: Implementation guide. Guelph, Ontario: University of Guelph.

The Center for Universal Design (1997). The Principles of Universal Design, Version 2.0. Raleigh, NC: North Carolina State University.

4 Things You Can Do to Make Your Online Course More Accessible

The following suggestions are recommended in meeting the Americans with Disability Act (1990) for distance education.

“No otherwise qualified individual with a disability …shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance… (Section 504, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 794). ” Follow these basic guidelines for compliance and to improve learning for all:

  1. Describe images and hyperlinks with an alternative text.
  2. Use san serif fonts for online text.
  3. Check and repair all portable document formats (PDFs) for accessibility.
  4. Caption all video and transcribe audio.

Images. Alternative (alt) text helps people that use assistive technology (e.g., screen readers) as their learning accommodation.  For example, screen readers like Microsoft’s (MS) JAWS (Job Access with Speech) read the description aloud to the user with vision impairment.  Make sure you concisely provide alt text for each image in your online course. This includes images on a course page within a PowerPoint or Word document. For some learning management systems, it’s not a requirement when adding photos.

Hyperlinks. When you add links to your course, think about simplifying information by providing the specific name of the Website instead of a confusing Web address, also known as the URL (Uniform Resource Locator).  Take into account that the assistive technology will read aloud the long URL if you do not give it a name. Imagine listening to an entire URL reading: “h-t-t-p-semicolon-forward slash-forward slash-secure-period-ecollege-period-com-forward slash-shc”.  This would cause extra cognitive load on the listener. Here are some examples:

The exact name of the Website will aid all learners in understanding where the link will take them.

Fonts. Sans-serif fonts are recommended for online text to provide accessibility. Sans-serif fonts don’t have the “hats and shoes” on certain letters that serif fonts include. This is because serif fonts may waiver and become difficult to read on low bandwidth or poor Internet connections. Schoology provides Arial as the default font, which is sans-serif.  For a complete list of typefaces, see Wikipedia.

PDFs. Are your PDFs readable? Conduct a word search within the Find box of aPDF for a word you see in the document. Type Ctrl+F if you don’t see a Find box. If you receive the message, “No matches were found,” then the document is a scanned image, which cannot be read by persons who use assistive technology. Use Adobe Acrobat Pro to repair “unreadable” PDFs.  It has an accessibility checker that you can run to repair the document.

Ensure your MS Word documents are accessible before you save them as a PDF.  MS Word versions 2010 and later have accessibility checkers that will highlight any issues your document has. Within MS Word, select File > Info> Check for Issues > Check Accessibility.  Fix issues like missing alt text for images.  See Adobe Accessibility Quick Reference Card for information on earlier versions of MS Word that you may have at home.

Captions. Caption all media. Closed captioning is the preferred format (instead of open captions), so the user can turn it on or off according to their needs.  If you don’t have your media captioned, at the very least, provide a script until you caption the video or audio file; however, transcripts don’t provide equal access to media lesson because the words and images from the video aren’t in sync to enhance meaning. See the list of free captioning services below. A transcript would suffice for an audio file or narrated PowerPoint. I recommend providing the transcription in the note’s section of the PowerPoint.

  1. Captioning Key is funded by the National Association of the Deaf and The Described and Captioned and Media Program. It provides a PDF document on specific quality assurance guidelines for closed-captioning. http://www.dcmp.org/captioningkey/
  2. Amara.org for captioning any video on the Internet: http://www.amara.org/en/
  3. CaptionTube for captioning YouTube videos: http://captiontube.appspot.com/
  4. Subtitle Workshop for captioning any video: http://sourceforge.net/projects/subworkshop/

 

Sandra Annette Rogers, Instructional Designer

My Schedule for SITE 2014 in Jacksonville, FL

Photo of Sandra Annette Rogers
Find me at the conference and say hello!

Four of my proposals were accepted for presentation at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) International Conference in Jacksonville, FL.  I’d love to connect with any of my readers who are also going to SITE. This will be my first time to attend SITE.  I’ll be attending all the presentations on gaming.

Here’s my current schedule for the conference: (All times are Eastern Standard Time.)

1. Poster Session: The Electronic Village Online, An Open-source, International Collaboration for Professional Development,  March 19, 2014 at 5:30-7:00 P.M.

2. Roundtable: How to Make Your Online Course More Accessible, March 20, 2014 at 11:30 A.M. to 12:30 P.M.

3.Brief Paper: Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games for Language Learning, March 20, 2014 at 3:20-3:40 P.M.

4. Brief Paper: Effective Online Communication in Higher Education, March 21, 2014 at 11:55 A.M to 12:15 P.M.

I hope to see you there!

P.S. Here’s my Padlet wall with all my activities: http://padlet.com/wall/SITE2014

iPhone, iPad & iPod Touch Apps for Special Education by Eric Sailers

iPhone, iPad and iPod touch Apps for (Special) Education

Assistive Technology Tools

Are you familiar with assistive technology? Do you have students with disabilities? Here’s a list of assistive tech tools and resources for you and your students to use:

1. Section 508 Checklist: http://webaim.org/standards/508/checklist
Standards for Website content to meet the needs of persons with disabilities based on the U.S. Rehabilitation Act.

2. iSpeech: http://www.ispeech.org/
Converts text-to-speech (TTS) or speech-to-text (STT) for free. You can control the speed of the voice delivery. It catalogs the number of recordings in its library.

3. US Government: http://www.disability.gov/technology/accessible_technology
Provides webinars and updates on the latest technology available or the lack thereof in various situations.

4. Boston College & Boston University: www.cameramouse.org
Assists individuals with limited movement to use their head to direct the mouse cursor. FREE!

5. The Principles of Universal Design (UD), North Carolina State University:  Universal Design poster
These principles will help you create activities and an environment accessible for all learners.

6. Internet Explorer (IE): IE is generally the browser that’s widely used by persons with disabilities because it offers special features to meet their needs.

7. Microsoft Windows: See Accessibility Tools

8. YouTube Channel: They offer an auto-caption feature that can benefits not only deaf users, but also people who watch videos in really noisy places, like airport terminals. The tool will be able to translate captions into your choice of 50 languages. For now, however, auto-captioning works only with videos in English.

9. Apple claims to create its products with accessibility in mind as standard features http://www.apple.com/accessibility/

10. Captioning Key is funded by the National Association of the Deaf and The Described and Captioned and Media Program. It provides a PDF document on specific quality assurance guidelines for closed-captioning.

Additionally, check out the most thought-provoking YouTube video that I’ve ever seen on rethinking the concept and words associated with persons with disabilities called “Opportunity of Adversity” by Aimee Mullins.

Please share your resources for adaptive technology with me, and I’ll post them on this blog and my PLE.

Sandra Rogers