Student Engagement: Ensuring Accessibility for All

Smiling student wearing headphones and taking notes.
Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

When designing and delivering online education there is a strong focus on engaging the learner. In order to remediate the effects of teacher and student being separated in time and space, the course content needs to be as engaging and interesting as possible.

This becomes even more true as the interest and motivation of the student decreases.

It is natural for teachers to seek out professionally produced digital content to add to their course in an attempt to make the course more engaging and interesting.

Ironically, this content for creating student engagement can sometimes create accessibility problems.

Learning Tool Integration (LTI)

There is a class of technology available for online learning that enables powerful extension of your LMS’ capability. It can bring third-party content into the LMS and tightly integrate it with your content.

Utilizing internet-based computing, it is easy to add engagement to your course through an LTI module that integrates content and interactive functionality.

These LTI technologies are often created for faculty who want to add engaging and interactive content to their course without the hassle of learning HTML or digital design.

With an LTI module, additional menu items can even be added into the menu of the LMS, and affect the core functionality of the LMS.

Unfortunately, a lot of LTI modules and other content that is created for enhancing the engagement of online courses is designed with sighted mouse-using individuals in mind.

Before you integrate third-party digital content, it is a good idea to perform a basic accessibility test and make sure you aren’t setting the stage for an accessibility drama to unfold.

Accessibility Considerations for LTI and Third-Party Content

When considering the accessibility of new technology for your online course, it is wise to start with a quick and simple keyboard test to weed out the obvious accessibility dead-ends.

Even though it is a quick and simple test, you still need to be thorough and ensure that all critical functions are keyboard accessible, at a minimum.

However, even if the content passes the quick initial test, that is not all the testing you need to do. Ultimately, you need to ensure that the content and technology can pass WCAG AA criteria for accessibility.

Quick and Simple Keyboard Testing

Install the LTI or content pack into your development course and make sure it is activated and working.

Using the standard keyboard commands for navigating and interacting with digital content, use the keyboard to navigate and interact with the content/technology you are evaluating.

Consider the following issues:

  • First, identify how the LTI or content pack will integrate within your course.
  • Does it add any menu items?
  • Does it add any options within an internal form, activity, or toolbar?
  • Can you navigate to the new interface items with the TAB key?
  • Does the LTI or content pack follow a logical order when you consider it’s sequence among the other elements you can TAB to?
  • If applicable, can you use the ARROW and SPACEBAR when you would expect them to be available options?

Now that you’ve ensured a basic level of keyboard access, we can expect a basic amount of accessibility. This simple level of testing will disqualify many of the worst LTI modules and content packs that are inaccessible.

If you can answer yes to the above questions, then your LTI or content pack is on good footing so far, but it’s still too early to get happy.

We’ve only done a quick check so far, a basic inspection to make sure there are not giant obvious gaping accessibility issues.

You still need more detailed data in order to determine the accessibility of the LTI or content pack. Following are some additional considerations to keep in mind as you continue testing the LTI or content pack for accessibility.

WCAG 2.1 AA

You will need to ensure the LTI or content pack satisfies the Section 508 requirements for electronic technology and information as well as meeting the WCAG 2 AA criteria.

This is where you should seek some assistance from your instructional support team, or hire a qualified accessibility professional to assist with more in-depth testing and a thorough accessibility audit.

Usability

In addition to an accessibility audit against the Section 508 and WCAG 2 AA criteria, a usability test is the ultimate test for whether or not the LTI or content pack is going to be accessible and truly usable by all students.

An individual with a disability who uses Assistive Technology every day can provide essential insight to help answer some of the following questions:

  • Does the LTI or content pack provide an advantage for students that is not possible for students with certain disabilities?
  • Is it inherently inaccessible to certain individuals for some reason?
  • Is there an equivalent academic accommodation you could provide?

As a responsible educator you are given a lot of deference in terms of deciding the instructional value of these things. Now you have the essential skills to make a more responsible choice for your students when selecting content to enhance their engagement.

Thanks for reading!

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