In Jan 2019 EHU acquired a new technology called Blackboard Ally to help improve the accessibility of content within Blackboard, in line with UK legislation.
Ally not only provides staff with an accessibility score and guidance on files uploaded to Blackboard but also provides the files in alternative formats.
Alternative formats provide greater opportunities for everyone to access the information they need in the way they need or want it. With alternative formats all students can meet the same learning objectives using resources that are built to target the needs of the individual student. For example, students have converted lecture slides to audio, listening to them during their commute and to help them revise.
In the past the advice was to upload your materials to Blackboard as PDF’s to aid viewing on mobile devices. Since then, technology has moved on and advice has changed. It is easier and quicker to upload an accessible document in its original format, such as a Word document or PowerPoint. In its orginal format, students can then choose to download a version of the document that’s right for their own learning style through Ally Alternative formats.
We are often asked if students are using this feature? Yes they are!
Our students are now accessing the resources that you upload to Blackboard in a variety of formats, between Sept 2020-Jan 2021 there has been a total of 19,600 downloads across 1,952 courses.
The two most popular alternative formats that students have accessed is ePub and Tagged PDF:
The ePub alternative creates a digital publishing file that can be viewed on mobile devices. ePub files are responsive, this means they will automatically adapt to the screen size of your device. With an ePub you can take notes, adjust the text and background settings and create bookmarks.
You want to read content on your tablet, eReader or phone.
You want to adjust font size and background colour.
You want to highlight content, take notes, and bookmark important pages.
You want to be able to copy, paste, and search text.
You study on your commute and want to take your study materials with you
A Tagged PDF uses tags and elements—such as paragraphs and headings to add meaning to a page. It aids screen reader users as it adds structure to documents.
Tagged PDF might be useful if:
You want to be able to copy, paste, and search text.
You want to use text-to-speech and adjust the speed of the speech.
You use a screen reader.
Ally alternative formats are automatically generated from the original source document and this is why it is so important (as well as a legal requirement) to make the content you upload accessible. See our wiki pages for help & support with creating accessible content.
We have also scheduled a range of sessions that focus on accessibility:
Build Accessible: Making Documents Accessible – Wednesday 17th March (1pm-2pm) – Thursday 22nd April (12pm-1pm) – Wednesday 2nd June (1pm-2pm)
Build Accessible: Importance of accessible formats and accessibility software (Blackboard Ally) – Friday 19th March (12pm-12:30pm) – Friday 9th April (12pm-12:30pm) – Friday 7th May (12pm-12:30pm)
This government regulation* is an extension of the Equality Act 2010 and is benchmarked against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 AA (WCAG 2.1 AA Standard). Its purpose is to ensure that public sector websites’ content is accessible for all users and can be used with the most common assistive technologies, including screen magnifiers, screen readers and speech recognition tools.
It is particularly important to be aware that content that is published after 23rd September 2019 must meet these guidelines and any video or audio content published after 23rd September 2020 must include captions and transcripts.
This short blog contains information on the resources that are available to you to enable you to make your content compliant.
*Further information can be found at the end of this blog article – See ‘Further Reading’.
The Learning Design Exemplar – Quick and simple support materialcreated for you
To enable and support staff in their use of learning technologies, the LTD Team have developed The Learning Design Exemplar – A quick and easy-to-use information resource located within each staff members’ Learning Edge (Blackboard) course list.
We’re pleased to also announce a brand-new section – ‘Inclusive by Design’ – in response to working towards achieving accessibility requirements to benefit our students.
This section has been created to serve as a quick resource to guide you through the various techniques, tools and functions that can be used to create accessible content.
Remember: Think “Build Accessible“.
In less than 15 minutes of video guides, this section covers the following topics for making your content compliant:
How to quickly caption your recorded content
Quickly add captions to your Collaborate sessions and videos through the use of Panopto and making them compliant with accessibility requirements.
Using the Ally tool in Blackboard, how it scores the accessibility of published content and documents and how improvements can be made quickly.
Accessibility Quick Wins
7 Best Practice tips to quickly make sure that your documents are accessible for all users.
These techniques and tools can be used to evaluate and improve existing course material accessibility for your students and further material is included to review topics in greater detail.
It’s quick and simple to find:
Simply search for “Learning Design Exemplar” within your course list on Learning Edge (Blackboard) and the course will display in your results:
And that’s not all…
Have you wondered how to go about using breakout groups in your Collaborate sessions but don’t know where to start?
Are you unsure about that particular setting for your Turnitin Submission Dropbox?
Do you need to know how to quickly add captions to your Collaborate session recordings?
It’s all in the Learning Design Exemplar!
Each section provides information and bite-size video guides for the most commonly used learning technologies ranging from Blackboard and Collaborate to Panopto and other tools:
The accessibility of content within the government regulations is benchmarked against the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.1 AA (WCAG 2.1 AA Standard) and the content’s ability to be used with the most common assistive technologies, including screen magnifiers, screen readers and speech recognition tools.
Published on the UK Government webpages this standard follows four design principles for published content – It must be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust.
Making sure that your content is recognisable to users by the senses that are available to them.
Making content perceivable includes practices such as:
Providing accurate captions and transcripts for audio and video content.
Ensuring content uses a clear and sizeable font.
Making sure that content can be navigated and read by screen readers by ensuring that it is structured logically, does not use images of text and contains Alt Text to describe images and their meaning.
Follow best practices for use of colour contrast.
Does not use colour alone to convey the meaning of words.
Making sure that your content can be navigated by the chosen method of the user.
Making content operable includes practices such as:
Making sure that the content can be navigated purely by keyboard.
Not using blinking or flashing content, and allowing the user to play, pause or stop content containing movement.
Using descriptive page titles, headings and page links so that the user knows how to navigate the content and where a link will take them.
Making sure that your content is easy for the user to understand.
Making content understandable includes practices such as:
Using plain, concise language and avoiding figurative language or phrases that the user may not recognise.
Making sure that the document or content is consistent and can be followed easily, allowing for it to be predictable for the user.
Explaining any abbreviations or acronyms that are not widely known or in common use.
When using a form, making sure that each field within the form is labelled visibly and meaningfully.
Making sure that your content can be interpreted reliably by assistive technologies and web browsers.
Making content robust includes practices such as:
Ensuring that content uses valid HTML – This can be supported through the use of content editors, such as the content editor within Blackboard.
Following accessibility best practices, such as use of Alt Text for images and Header Rows for Tables, to allow the content to be navigable by assistive technologies.
Before we break for Christmas, take a look at three new sessions that are available for staff to book onto. These sessions specifically focus on moving your teaching online and incorporating some new technologies.
Wakelet is a content curation platform that allows staff and students to save links, share videos, social media posts and images. With Wakelet you can organise your content into private or public spaces and collections, allowing for easy distribution and collaboration. This session aims to provide staff with an introduction to Wakelet, including how to get started, create collections and curate different media types.
Wednesday 9th December (1pm-2pm)
OneNote: Creating Digital Escape Rooms
Escape rooms are highly engaging and experiential team/individual events that are designed to put your creative problem-solving skills to the test. In the digital age it is important that remote teams and students are still provided with these fun opportunities. Can you breakout of this virtual escape room?
OneNote, part of Office 365, is a note-taking program that allows you to get organised in online notebooks. You can divide it into sections, add pages and then insert text, images, videos, tables and more.
But OneNote is much more than just an online notebook and can be used creatively to design engaging and interactive materials for students. This session aims to demonstrate how you can use OneNote to create digital escape room challenges.
Tuesday 15th December (1pm-2pm)
Are we YouTubers?: Using Flipgrid and Microsoft Stream as video-blogging tools for students
YouTube is one of the most popular social media platforms, with nearly 2 billion users. Some recent statistics show that 500 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute and we watch over 1 billion hours of video a day! These numbers are key in showing us that we live in a society consumed by videos and multimedia (not to mention how much time we spend binge-watching on Netflix too).
As a result of COVID-19 the importance of video has surged to the forefront, a key way in allowing us to connect, learn and share ideas. This session aims to consider the impact of online learning and question our use of recording software. How do we record lectures? What methods do we implement to facilitate successful sessions/meetings? How do we make our online sessions and videos engaging?
This session will specifically refer to and demonstrate two key platforms that are powerful video tools – Flipgrid and Microsoft Stream.
In response to supporting staff with digital technologies and staff development, we have developed a new initiative called LTD Q&A.
These informal Q&A drop-in sessions are aimed at supporting staff with digital teaching and learning tools, digital technologies and staff development. For example, come along and ask us a question about Blackboard Collaborate, Microsoft Teams, PowerPoint, Vevox, Padlet, Turnitin and more …
These drop-ins are a great opportunity to ask a question in a supportive environment, engage in discussion and share best practice with your colleagues.
Today I’m going to discuss badges, and nope, not the ones which are worn and collected by boy or girl Scouts, I’m talking about the digital type, though it would be wise to point out that digital badges are actually somewhat modelled after this type of Scout badging system.
Similar to a physical badge, which signifies the completion of a task or an acquired skill level, digital badges can be used to visually display a wide variety of skills and competencies online. Digital badges also take principles from video game design as they can be used as a reward for completion of a task or a means to unlock additional tasks (that must be completed in sequential order).
So, now that we know a little more about what digital badges are, why would we want to use them in higher education? Well, there has been a significant amount of research over the past ten years. With interest in how digital badges expand online student motivation, engagement, tracking, and an overall sense of achievement and recognition. Throw all of this in the mix and then add a pinch of the current world climate and we have a fairly strong basis to enhance our virtual learning environment (VLE) with the use of digital badges.
As an institution, we utilise Blackboard as our VLE, which means every member of staff has the option to incorporate digital badges into their courses. Although one major detail that I need to make clear is that Blackboard’s offering of digital badges is officially referred to as ‘Blackboard Achievements’ – that’s probably really important to point out.
So, whenever you hear the term digital badges and blackboard – all you need to remember is the ‘Blackboard Achievements’ tool.
So “how do they work”?
Firstly, with the Blackboard Achievement tool, you can designate a multitude of different criteria for issuing digital badges to students directly from each of your courses. Essentially the achievements tool allows you to create and then define any “triggers” or actions that students must complete in their course to be awarded a badge of your design. Some of the common activities that can be used as “triggers” are:
Having students use the “Mark as Reviewed” feature for any content or learning module
Obtaining a specific grade on an assignment or test
Posting to the discussion board, a blog, wiki, etc…
Having a high level of attendance within an online register
As well as giving students a rewards-driven incentive to learning. Digital badges in Blackboard also improves the use of the ‘Performance Dashboard’ tool, which gives staff more detail into online student engagement and tracking.
When badges are created and used within a course, it will enable students to see which badges they have earned and what is required to receive additional recognition. Here all students can gain insight into the following:
Developing a rewards-driven incentive for learning
Using the badges as a framework, to encourage them to explore and participate more
Give more understanding into learning progression to defined competencies so they can see what they need to do to achieve more
For more information about using Blackboard Achievements please use the following videos and resources:
An updated, easier-to-use, more powerful Content Editor will be available from 5th November within Learning Edge (Blackboard).
The Content Editor, if the term doesn’t sound familiar, can be found in many places across Blackboard such as when you create an item, folder or blank page or when formatting text in a discussion board, wiki, journal or blog. You may also use it when sending emails or announcements out.
There are many new, improved features and it has also been updated to work better when using a small screen such as on a smartphone or tablet. Help with making your text and content more accessible has also been built in and is easy to check.
Let’s take a look at some of the improvements and new features:
The plus button is where you add external materials into your content. This may be files from your computer or from the Content Collection, Panopto Videos, Images or even resources from a cloud service such as OneDrive or Google Drive.
The Content Editor is more accessibledue to higher contrast icons and menus, and the removal of pop-ups improves the experience for screen reader users. A new accessibility checker helps authors make content more accessible while they’re creating content.
Authors can now share formatted computer code snippets using the Display Computer Code button – great for Computer Science staff and students!
Copying and Pasting content from websites, Word and Excel is massively improved. You can now easily remove extra HTML but retain basic formatting.
And to check everything is looking how it should, use the Preview button to take a peek at the finished thing.
Hyperlinks: If you copy and paste or type a full hyperlink (for a webpage) into the new content editor, it automatically converts it into a clickable box with the webpage title and details! Of course, if you just want the text you can still just type the text and create the hyperlink in the usual way.
The best thing is that if you copy and paste a link from YouTube for example straight into the text area it will automatically convert it to a playable video window! It couldn’t be easier!
More details about the changes can be found in the following documents:
This month, we’re pleased to announce the return of Qwickly+ to our Blackboard environment. For all previous users of the tool, you’ll be happy to hear that you can now post announcements and content to multiple courses again. However, we all know technology tends to shift and adapt over time. In this case, you can expect some excellent improvements to the latest version (details below). One major change worth mentioning is the title of the tool. From this point onwards, Qwickly+ is now known as Qwickly Course Tools.
To find Qwickly Course Tools, head down to the ‘Tools’ section on the Blackboard home page menu then select ‘Qwickly Tools’.
Qwickly Course Tools empowers users to post announcements, documents, weblinks, cloud files and Blackboard calendar sessions in one central location within Blackboard. This also gives users the ability to post the same item or announcement to multiple courses at one time, providing all users with time-saving resources by simplifying tasks that need to be done repetitively in each course.
Post Announcements*: Notify Blackboard users from all of your courses with important information e.g. cancellations or schedule updates.
Distribute Learning Content: Share any resources and content to single or multiple courses within one click.
Create Blackboard Calendar Events: Inform students of events that cascade across multiple courses like office hours, scheduled Collaborate or study sessions.
Cloud Documents: Add content directly to multiple courses straight from cloud storage repositories (OneDrive, Google Drive and DropBox).
*Note: Announcements posted using Qwickly Course Tools will be stripped of any formatting – paragraph breaks, bold, italics, etc.
To learn more about how each tool works, please use the Qwickly guide HERE.
If you would like any further information about Qwickly Course Tools or other learning technologies, please contact your Learning Technologist via Ask LTD
From 14th September Blackboard will use the new front page navigation, known as Ultra Base Navigation. The videos below provide an overview of the main changes and new menus you will see from either the staff or student point of view. Please take a little time to familiarise yourself with these quick overviews which are on average a minute long!
When you first login to the new style navigation, you will see a welcome message to scroll through and then you will be taken to the Courses list which will always be the first page when you log in. The first video below explains how you can filter and favourite courses….
As communicated elsewhere, from 14th September, we will all be using new Ultra Base Navigation in Blackboard. Here is a brief summary of the main changes, while further information will be appearing on this blog in the coming weeks.
What is Ultra Base Navigation?
It is a new easy to use fixed navigation menu that lives outside of courses. It includes links to new pages such as the Activity Stream, Institution Page, Calendar, etc. that provides quick access to the most critical information from all your courses. Your courses will not change! They will look and operate exactly as they do now.
What will change for users?
The Courses Page will be the first page you see once logged in. It lists all courses in which the user is enrolled. Users enrolled in many courses may find the list a little unwieldy at first, but there are new course search and filter options. Users should favourite the courses they access most frequently so they appear at the top of their list.
The new Activity Stream identifies upcoming and recent events in the user’s active courses. You can see what’s new in all your courses and jump directly into course activities from the list. See Blackboard help for more information on theActivity Stream.
The Navigation Panel is now on the left-hand side of the screen and provides options for accessing individual courses, or viewing information or notifications related to all courses in one location.
There is a new Institution Page, with links to selected university resources or services. This replaces the old tabs across the top of the page.
Blackboard actively notifies users about due dates, grades, submissions and more. Your Profile page is where you can more easily manage the Notifications you receive and how. These notices are posted in the Activity Stream page or sent by email.
Watch out for further details, support and guidance in the coming weeks!
Before lockdown and the onset of social distancing, classroom teaching was the norm with just a few innovators willing to experiment with technologies that are truly immersive and engaging.
Covid-19 and Social Distancing has meant we all have to think differently and about ways of delivering exciting and engaging taught sessions. When normally we would be rubbing shoulders with each other, on campus or journeying together on a shared learning experience such as a field trip or an on-location workshop. The new norm is working at distance and from home, for many of us.
For every generation there will be something radical that changes the way we view the world around us, like a movement, event, a moment or an advancement, be it technological or otherwise. The Corona Virus is devastating, having a profound effect on all our lives. And yet isolation has, for many, brought people much closer together. Working from home, relying on technology to stay connected with each other, to the weekly ritual of clapping key-worker heroes for keeping us safe and to those keeping the country moving has, for many, been an inspiration.
Arguably, less devastating but by no means less impactful, for me and those of my generation, was the battle for supremacy between Betamax and VHS video cassette “Tape Wars“. We all know how that ended! Being able to record TV programmes, purchasing the latest movie rentals from the corner shop whist at the same time, buying the family groceries for the weekend, was a revelation!
Before video was seen as mainstream in education, the viewer experience was one of, large group viewing events, and live broadcasts. Those of us of a certain age will remember watching educational programmes or significant events on an oversized television, that had to be pushed in to a large assembly hall, on a trolley, by the Head Master or Caretaker, whilst you and your fellow pupils huddled together on a cold wooden floor.
With the advent of video, academics began to add recordings to their taught sessions, taking control of when to show videos that, in some cases, they had recorded themselves, usually on a VHS or Betamax tape cassette. Video recordings could now be linked to the topic and used as important viewing, aimed at supporting learning and following sessions for added context and explanation.
The latest video technology allows us to immerse ourselves in a whole new world and enjoy a completely different viewing experience.
Today’s immersive technology has the potential for delivering new and exciting spheres of learning. Academics are beginning to take advantage and are already deploying content such as 360-degree video into the taught curriculum, as an essential part of the student learning and experience.
Here at Edge Hill University academics are encouraged to explore 360-degree VR technology. Students can learn new skills, be introduced to real-world scenarios and conditions that they wouldn’t otherwise come across, because of, either an impairment or until graduating.
Andrew Whittle (Programme Leader – Policing Degree) talks about how this technology is helping students on his courses come to terms with the complexities of being a Police Officer in today’s modern Police Force. Andrew and his team take students through real-time scenarios, where they are faced with a crime scene, with real challenges and clues for solving the case.
The English, History and Creative Writing Department has partnered up with the country’s oldest repertory theatre, Liverpool’s Playhouse Theatre, formally the Star Music Hall. The Department has worked with the University’s Learning Services to produce several recordings, including a series of 360-degree videos, artifacts and learning resources based in and around the building. Interviews with theatre staff provide a rich knowledge base, from which students can explore and use for research and course work.
Professor Paul Ward (Head of English, History and Creative Writing), talks about his vision of using technology such as 360-degree video on his programmes. Students studying English, History and Creative Writing, will explore and engage in more innovative ways of working. Paul also explains the importance of internal and external collaborative relationships, such as those his department has with Learning Services and the recent partnership with Liverpool’s Everyman and Playhouse Theatres.
Take a virtual tour of The Liverpool Playhouse Theatre, listen to Allan Williams’ (Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse Theatres, Learning Manager) commentary. Control this short video in every direction as you move through the recording toward and into the Liverpool Playhouse Theatre, situated on the eastern side of Williamson Square, before entering the auditorium views of the stage, stalls, circle and gallery space (transcript).
Inclusion and enrichment
Being able to challenge students with real-life situations and scenarios is increasingly possible. A major benefit of 360-degree video is inclusion, students can now access and experience challenging environments during lectures or from the comfort of their own home, anywhere they have access to the internet and at the click of a button.
360-degree creation can be as simple as using an app on your mobile device or with a standard 360 camera. Edge Hill University’s staff can call upon state of the art resources and expertise (Media Production Team). Developing external, collaborative partnerships, such as those forged by Faculties with local agencies, for example, North West Police Forces, NHS Hospitals Trusts and the creative arts industries, including Liverpool’s Everyman and Playhouse Theatres, contribute to enriching student’s experience and ultimately their learning.
Being able to explore immersive content that allows us to decide where to go, in storytelling isn’t new. However, with the latest video production techniques, it’s possible to move between spaces, access environments that might otherwise be too remote, activate portals (hot-spots) to more information and enter new unexplored realms that help tell the story on a number of levels.