- Teaching Support
- Provost's Advisory Council on Instructional Excellence (ACIE)
- Teaching Support A to Z
- Faculty Development
- Teaching and Learning Consultants
- TA Services
- New TA Orientation
- Individual Consultations
- Teaching Practicum
- TA Handbook: The Teaching Assistant Experience
- Welcome Message from Vice Provost Sbragia
- Introduction to the Handbook
- Teaching and Learning Principles
- Course Design
- Build on Teaching and Learning Principles
- Select and Order Course Materials
- Develop Your Syllabus
- Things to Do Before the First Day of Class
- Course Planning Timeline
- Course Delivery
- Evaluating Students
- Test Construction and Scoring
- Planning Your Test
- Writing Test Items
- Test Administration
- Scoring Objective Tests
- Scoring Essays and Problems
- Labs and Problem Sets
- Essays and Term Papers
- Evaluating Participation
- The Logic Of Grades
- The University Grading System
- Test Construction and Scoring
- Creating an Inclusive Learning Environment
- Working with Distressed and Disruptive Students
- Teaching with Technology
- Evaluating Your Teaching Skills
- Developing a Teaching Portfolio
- Elizabeth Baranger Excellence In Teaching Award
- Teaching Portfolios
- What Makes Teaching Work?
- Educational Technology
- CourseWeb/ Blackboard
- Classroom Services
- IT House Calls
- Rich Media Production
- iTunes U Support Services
- Classrooms with Technology
- Blackboard Mobile Learn
- Educational Technology Services
- University Services
Home › Building Accessible Online Courses
This summer we reviewed our online courses to evaluate their compliance with accessibility standards for students with disabilities and to establish proactive strategies to improve our development processes. Our ultimate goal is to support all students of Pitt Online with media-rich courses that are developed in a way that allows maximum access. We were fortunate to have an employee from Pitt’s Disability Services Office, Gabe McMorland, help us with this venture! Our results were surprising and we learned that there are a number of easy steps we can take that will drastically improve our course accessibility. By viewing our development work through a different lens we now see our work in a whole new light. Below is a letter from Gabe (posted with his permission) about his experience this summer:
Thanks again for bringing me on to Pitt Online’s accessibility design project. I’ve learned so much this summer, and it’s always a pleasure to work with such motivated, creative people. As a blind person and recent Pitt grad, I know firsthand how frustrating accessibility barriers can be to students – and also how challenging it can be for professors and disability support staff to find effective solutions to these issues. Online courses allow us to craft a learning environment where all course content is accessible from the moment that students are enrolled in a course, and I was glad to see that this was Pitt Online’s goal at the start of this project.
As a blind student, two of my most fundamental accessibility resources came directly from my professors themselves. First, I would always sit down with each professor at the start of term to discuss all course activities, materials, and assignments so that we could think up solutions to unique access challenges early on. Second, I needed professors to be as verbal as possible when presenting visual lecture content. Sometimes this was as simple as remembering to use proper terminology in lecture instead of only pointing to lines of text on a PowerPoint slide, but I was lucky to have professors whose clear, vivid explanations of economics graphs or sociological map data allowed me to follow complex content without slowing down the rest of the class.
Our work this summer thoroughly expanded my understanding of the learning process itself, and this perspective is certainly just as valuable as my deeper knowledge of HTML standards and assistive software. I was struck by two exciting possibilities as we conducted extensive best practices research and interviewed Pitt students with various disabilities to understand how our courses can serve the full spectrum of student needs. People learn in such uniquely personal styles –remember, learning disabilities are the most common disability reported by students-- and, conversely, there are so many ways to impart the same knowledge from one mind to another. As with any new critical lens, examining the specific needs of disability communities can stir up fresh realizations about course design and result in a better experience for all students.
The take away advice I offer anyone pursuing genuine accessibility in education is that accessible design requires ongoing dialogue between students, faculty, and instructional support staff. Students must express their needs, faculty must be intimately involved in the creation of richly informative alternative content, and we must all push to discover ever more effective solutions.
I’m excited to see this process taking root at Pitt Online, and I look forward to seeing what this grows into. By setting a strong example in accessible education, we can establish our school as a leader in this movement.
Thanks again, Gabe
Thanks to Gabe for his wonderful work this summer and for being so patient with as we viewed our courses in new ways. Gabe also came up with the following recommendations, which we hope you find helpful as well. After extensive best practices research, interviewing students with disabilities, and reviewing twenty Pitt Online courses, some key findings were:
- Assuring accessibility is less a set of rules governing what you can or can’t do, than it is a creative approach to ensuring that all students have equal access to course content.
- Opening entire courses to students at the start of term allows students to discover accessibility challenges unique to their own disability scenario well in advance, so there is ample time to find solutions. While Blackboard is an accessible learning management system, the materials we upload into Blackboard are not always accessible.
- Using consistent predictable design and labeling makes our courses easier for all students to understand, but this is especially important for students who find online navigation cumbersome because of a physical or cognitive impairment. This also allows students to efficiently discover any accessibility issues unique to their needs.
- Adding alternative text or “alt text” for all images, charts, and graphs allows the screen reading software used by many vision impaired students to read text descriptions, , but is invisible to visual inspection. Faculty expertise is integral to writing text descriptions that are meaningful and relevant to learning objectives.
- Understanding the limitations of supplemental websites and online tools can be helpful in selecting course content, and preparing alternative solutions if a student is not able to use a specific online resource. Unfortunately, many websites, software applications, and online tools are not yet accessible.
- Creating lectures that are universally accessible to all students includes providing transcripts for audio content and closed captioning for video recordings. Students appreciate that the transcripts are searchable for key words.
- Achieving genuine accessibility requires ongoing dialogue between students, faculty, and instructional support professionals.
We hope you find this helpful and please let us know if you have questions about our project this summer or you’d like to learn more about ways to make online courses accessible – firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, please check out Gabe's Jaws demo.
Holly, Erik, Barbara, Dean, John, Lorna and Gabe
Learn about the Blackboard course management system.
CIDDE can help you design (or rethink) courses, interact online with your students, add compelling graphics to your classroom presentations, prevent plagarism... and more.