Cobra Learning - Organizing your course accessibly
Organizing your course accessibly
All people learn differently. It can be difficult to organize your course in a way that supports the learning needs and styles of all users. Your learning materials need to effectively engage, educate, evaluate, and accommodate diverse learners. It can help to meet these benchmarks if you follow a few design decisions:
- Setting clear course expectations
- Set flexible time limits and deadlines
- Provide alternative learning materials
Setting clear course expectations
For many students, an online course marks a big change from a traditional classroom. This change can be even more challenging for students with physical or learning disabilities, as they can feel disconnected from their instructor and other support systems. Cobra Learning provides course designers with flexibility in how they set up and organize content, however it can still be daunting for students who rely on assistive technologies to navigate the environment, find course materials, and find and complete assignments.
To help your students effectively use your online course, consider the following design guidelines:
- Use the Course Homepage to help familiarize your students with your course content.
- Create an announcement on Course Home that introduces yourself (the course instructor). Include contact information and encourage students to contact you if they have concerns, questions, or additional needs.
- Include your course syllabus as an announcement or provide a link to your syllabus on the Course Homepage. Make each item in the syllabus a Quicklink to the actual item in your course. Quicklinks provide a navigation shortcut to important content and helps students with learning disabilities clearly see how course content relates to course expectations.
- Include a Announcements topic on the Course Home that highlights some of the personal tools available to students, such as Preferences and Class Progress.
- Build redundancy into your course by repeating course information within different tools. For example, you can include all course syllabus information in the course calendar, and include information on how much a quiz, discussion topic, or assignment is worth in the description of the syllabus entry for the content item. When course expectations are clearly communicated in the course design, students can focus on learning content.
- Set up a clear hierarchy in your course content using enumerations. In Content settings, set up enumerations so that the course structure is easier to navigate for users of screen readers and students with learning disabilities.
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Make flexible time limits and deadlines
- In some cases, course designers may put users with learning and physical disabilities at a disadvantage without intending to. Usually, disadvantages result from users not having enough time to complete tasks or not having appropriately designed resources. Consider using the following best practices to organize course materials:
- To encourage user participation and reflection, use Discussions instead of instant messaging tools. Instant Messaging can be difficult for users with visual, motor, or learning disabilities because they require users to quickly process and respond to information, using technology that doesn't match their needs. Discussions areas give all users time to reflect. If you use instant messaging, be aware that some users may need an alternative solution such as phone or face-to-face contact. Also consider how accessible the instant messaging interface is for the tool you are using. The Instant Messages tool in Cobra is specifically designed to be accessible by keyboard and screen readers.
- Provide readings and assignments well in advance of deadlines so users can work ahead and prepare. Many students need the time to organize extra help and to read through the content more than one time. Use conditional release settings to release course content by module, and make sure you provide enough time to complete each component.
- Be aware of the limitations that timed examinations place on students. Traditional examinations usually have a time limit in which students must prepare their responses. This can be difficult for students with learning or physical disabilities as they often need more time to articulate or record their responses. Consider whether strict time limits are necessary for your course material. If time limits are required, ensure that students are aware that they can request extra time.
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Provide alternative learning materials
To improve student engagement, one of the most effective course design decisions you can make is to offer course materials and assignments that appeal to more than one sense. For example, the same material can have an audio, video, and text component. (NOTE: Blackboard Ally is integrated into Cobra and will provide this option by default for students). This type of redundancy helps engage students with different learning types, reinforces important concepts, and ensures that users with physical disabilities can access content in a suitable format. Consider adopting the following best practices:
- Use Content for readings and course material. It is easier for assistive technologies to interpret HTML code than application-based files such as Microsoft Word. When creating HTML content, follow web content accessibility standards.
- If you are scanning documents to use as course content or using PDF files, use optical character recognition (OCR) to ensure that documents with text can be read by screen readers. Also consider adding tags to your documents to ensure that screen readers can navigate more easily. For more information about PDF accessibility, see webaim.org/techniques/acrobat.
- If your readings and lecture materials contain many graphics, tables, videos, or audio recordings, provide a text-only alternative. Text-only material should supplement, not replace, other delivery methods. Videos, graphics, and audio files are a great way to generate interest in a topic, present material from different perspectives, and help students with learning disabilities through redundancy. Make the text-only alternatives easy to compile for print so that all the students can use them as study aids.
- Allow students to demonstrate learning through different assignments associated with the same grade item or competency activity. For example, students might have the option of a written reflection, a recorded interview, or a slide show presentation.
- Set up your discussion areas to encourage peer-to-peer support. Regularly review information in the forums and adjust your content according to the needs of the group.
- Use the Equation Editor in combination with written descriptions of mathematical formulas. Although the Equation Editor supports accessible equations through MathML, these standards are not supported by all browsers or assistive technologies. Written descriptions help all students interpret what they need to complete the equation.
- Use a vertical layout for quizzes so that only one answer or concept appears on each line. Screen readers more easily interpret the order of the material, so most students can more quickly interpret their options. A vertical layout also reduces formatting issues when a student adjusts text sizes.
- Do not convert Microsoft PowerPoint presentations to images if you have any visually impaired students. Screen readers are not able to read the content of the images, and learners are not able to resize the text or graphics. PowerPoint slides are converted by default; on the Create File Resource pop-up page you need to turn off the Convert Word documents to HTML and PowerPoint slides to images option. As an alternative, you can make it easy for learners to request copies of the original content, and the learners can adjust and print them.
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