There are a number of general ‘good practices’ that can be followed to enhance the general accessibility of an Interact2 site.
Use of Discussion Forums
Although a well-run and structured discussion forum can greatly enhance the student experience, from an accessibility perspective the discussion forum tool presents some issues for students needing higher levels of accessibility. The way that the discussion forum tool itself works with tools such as screens readers is problematic, and as a result students using these tools can find it difficult to engage with these tools. This means that care needs to be taken in the following scenarios:
- Responding to student queries within i2 – whilst this itself is a great practice, students with accessibility needs might not be able to access your responses in the discussion forum format. It is worth ‘repeating’ this information in other places such as weekly update videos/podcasts/adobe connect meetings, or if it’s significant information, it’s worth using the announcement functionality.
- New content in the discussion forum – in the spirit of the above, as a general good practice, learning materials which might be considered ‘new’ should never be posted only to the discussion forum. Instead, this material should be provided as a content area which utilises the regular design conventions of i2 content such as (learning module/folder/page)
Look and Feel and Accessibility
Generally speaking, the CSS (Content Style Sheet) and standard module and page templates in use within ‘Interact2’ at CSU are ‘Accessible.’ Some things to keep in mind, however, include:
- Font – using a standard style of font will ensure students can easily read text or deploy a screen reader, whilst using ‘black on white’ remains the most accessible colour/background combination. It is recommended to not use red/pink/green text, especially not in combination as this can be difficult for students with vision problems such as colour-blindness, to read.
- Layout – using basic text structures such as paragraphs, headings and subheadings along with appropriate spacing can make it easy to read the text for all students
Although it may seem obvious, the overall organisational design of your i2 site can have a significant impact on the ‘accessibility’ experience for your students. When planning the layout of a site, considering the points below is beneficial.
Generally speaking, the content within most subjects within interact2 will be organised in one of the following ways:
- Assessment Focused – the content a student needs to learn in order to complete an assessment is organised in a series of discrete folders or learning module(s). This may be useful or preferred when students don’t require a strict weekly ‘plan.’
- Week by week – the site is arranged so that there is a clear scaffold of learning content and materials each week. The implication herein, of course, is that any information required to submit an assessment is included in the ‘weekly’ folders prior to the assessment due date.
- Topic Focused- Information is clustered around the ‘big ideas’ of a subject – for example the learning outcomes.
- Adaptively released – sometimes not all content will be available ‘ahead’ of time. In some cases this may be because an ‘Adaptive’ Release functionality has been deployed. Simply put, this is when a choice is made to grant access to certain content based on criteria such as grades, date, membership of a particular group in Interact2 (‘Groups being a specific i2 functionality) or review of content.
It’s important that you take the time to consider the way a student ‘moves through’ the content within the interact2 site for your subject. Whilst it’s natural that a subject design within Interact2 might have a range of ways in which content is organised, keeping in mind aspects such as assessment due dates and expected knowledge and skill needed for an assessment may provide you with a pretty instructive guide for how to present this content. Not taking this time may result in confusion about where content is to be found, placing an unnecessary barrier in terms of accessibility.
Headings and Subheadings
Making use of appropriate headings and subheadings is an important part of improving accessibility, as it allows students using screen readers to accurately determine the different parts of a document – these screen readers recognise the meta data tags such as ‘heading’ and will give it priority and read the page in the ways a human is likely to – i.e. giving the headings greater prominence in a skim read. More generally, it allows all readers to do the same.
Grouping and Presenting Resources – Adaptive Release
It is worth noting that for some students, providing content on an adaptive basis can cause some issues, especially if a delay in content means study plans are interrupted. If you’re wanting to use an Adaptive Release trigger for content within your subject and you feel as though this may present challenges for some students, it may be worth a conversation with an Educational Designer or member of the Assistive Technologies team, so that alternative formats can be prepared ahead of time and presented to students who need these materials in a timely manner.
When organising and structuring content, some common sense approaches always work well. For example, having one page which neatly provides information about accessing Adobe Connect meeting rooms, as well as providing a link to the recording of a meeting, is going to be easy to navigate than a site which stores access links on one page and recordings on another.
Another example of streamlining access is in the use of CSU Replay (Panopto). Whilst students can access all recordings the academic has made available within a subject within the ‘CSU Replay Folder’, CSU Replay videos can also be directly embedded into a content area.
Problems can occur for students where there is:
- seemingly a combination of labels in use
- Labels are used inconsistently or labels for content don’t readily identify what will be within that content section
- When content needed to complete learning activities and assessments is not where it is expected to be (for example, the assessment design calls for use of knowledge presented in a ‘week 8’ content folder but the assignment is due in week 5)
If you can keep the provision of content within your i2 site ‘Consistent, Predictable and Usable’ you’ll greatly reduce the issues for all students, but especially for those with additional accessibility needs as you’ll be making their study easier because:
- Consistent: if you say you’ll post a briefing video each week on a certain time or day, you do it – this is important as the student with additional needs may be highly reliant on that resource to support them through a subject. Not doing so may interrupt their ability to study as they may require more study time per week
- Predictable – this relates to where content is placed and stored – the same type of content is found in (broadly) the same type of spot each week or each topic. This can be drilled down to even the use of a similar look and feel for each (e.g.) module page
- Usable – as noted both in this document and in other sections of this website, providing content which users can engage with is vital – for example, well constructed PowerPoint presentations or podcasts which include decent quality audio, benefit all users but especially those with additional accessibility needs. Beyond this, ‘Usable’ includes provision of alternative formats of learning resources – not only does this assist students with accessibility requirements but makes a site more engaging and interesting for all students.