Assessing Practical Accessibility in Online Courses Based on Local Conditions

Assessing Practical Accessibility in Online Courses Based on Local Conditions

Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 32
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7528-3.ch016


Another approach to exploring online learning data is to see what is not there or what is absent. One use case for this is “practical accessibility” or the accessibility accommodations in online learning courses (or learning objects). This chapter includes a review of the current extant literature, a close-in analysis of several dozen real-world courses (in static format) through an instructional design/developer lens, in service of the following objectives: 1) the drafting of an initial instrument that may be used to assess the accessibility level of an online learning course or digital learning object, 2) the identification of the most common accessibility issues in online courses at a Midwestern university (based on a sample setoff online courses), and 3) the identification of a model course with full or near-full accessibility and seeing what may be learned from that and from specific accessibility accommodations that may be beneficial in other contexts.
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Online courses themselves are a type of online learning data, and they may be observed in static format (without live learners in the course) or in active format with live interactions. These courses may reveal learning sequences, learning contents, assignments, assessments, instructor presence, and other insights. Such course shells also reveal what is not there or the absence of particular elements—such as accessibility mitigations—that should be there. Designed accessibility is a product of structured information, coding, closed captioning, alt-texting, and other elements, and these depend on various technologies, from authoring tools to open-source auto-captioning systems to online learning systems.

Based on a review of the extant literature, the drafting of an evolving instrument to assess online course accessibility, a close-in analysis of several dozen real-world online courses in higher education (with that instrument), the author aspires to identify the most common accessibility issues in online courses at a Midwestern university, and identify a model exemplar course which is as accessible as possible—in order to glean insights to promote broader accessibility in online learning. One of the first steps in appropriate retrofitting of inaccessible online courses is to know what is missing, so that those issues may be addressed. Ideally, online courses and digital learning objects are designed and developed and built correctly early on, and proper tools are used to increase the efficiencies in closed captioning audio and video and simulations. This work focuses on “local” site-based realities and practical approaches to online learning accessibility, to add value to the instructional design approach. The need to be practical means that the approach has to be reductive, actionable, understandable (even to non-specialists regarding accessibility), effective, learner-centered, and aligned with applicable federal and state accessibility laws and school policies. If this is done right, instructors and course designers will not start down costly paths in their instructional design and development and teaching, or if they have, they can retrofit the online course and learn new ways of engaging. If done right, this information will mitigate the sense of a lot of extra work in an often “unfunded mandate”. Certainly, as others have noted, faculty members need to “show a positive attitude toward disability, promote inclusive practices using alternative methodologies, make curriculum adaptations, use new technologies and be trained in attending the needs derived from disabilities” (Moriña, Cortés-Vega, & Molina, 2015, p. 91).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Non-Keyboard Input Devices: Various assistive technologies that enable people to interact with and use a computer through eye blinks, air blowing, thoughts, and other types of expression.

Live Events: Occurrences that are occurring in real time.

Section 508: An amendment to the U.S. Workforce Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that requires web, electronic, and IT accessibility for all people who have disabilities.

Alternate Design: Variations on design to enable increased accessibility.

Closed Captioning: Timed text that is presented synchronously with video and audio.

Accessibility: The state of being consumable by people who experience disabilities.

Cognitive Processing: A process which involves perceiving, learning, and thinking.

Assistive Technologies: Various devices, software, and technologies that enable people with disabilities to perform a variety of “activities of daily living” (ADL); includes adaptive devices.

Communication Access Realtime Transcription (CART): A live transcription method to accompany live events.

Versioning: Creating different forms of a digital learning object.

Keyboard Shortcuts: Unique key combinations that result in particular actions on a computer.

Transcription: A written record of audio and video files (often including speakers, what is spoken, timing, and other data).

Universal Design: An approach to general design to be as inclusive of people (of all capabilities) as possible, based on seven principles (equitable use, flexibility in use, simple and intuitive use, perceptible information, tolerance for error, low physical effort, and size and space for approach and use).

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