AI Chat Prompt or Web Search? They’re Not the Same

Good AI Chat Prompts Are Not Good Web Search Terms, and Vice Versa. Except When They Are.

Lots of people seem to be conflating uses of Chatbots with uses of Search Engines.

For fun, I asked Photosonic (kin to Chatsonic, from Writesonic) to create an image for this post. The prompt was: Chatsonic and Google Search in an arm wrestling match. The result was “interesting.”

The more I play around with ChatGPT and other AI chatbots, the more clear it becomes to me that there is a big difference between using a chatbot compared to using a search engine.

For example, in a previous post I asked 4 chatbots to give me a list of the best books about President Chester Arthur. Several of the 21 results provided (almost half) were fictitious either in whole or in part (wrong author, wrong title, or both). Asking the same thing in a search engine will provide you only with real books, usually recommended by real people who have curated a list of their favorites, and with links to buy the book if you’re interested.

Another good example is when I asked the chatbots about the performance of the San Diego Padres in the 2022 MLB playoffs. A web search would have returned lots of info about who the Padres beat (the Mets and Dodgers! Yay!) and who they lost to. 😦 But the chatbots are pretty lousy at current or recent events, so they just made stuff up.

On the other hand, when I prompted ChatGPT and others to write quiz questions for an accounting topic, or to write a letter of recommendation for a former student, or to write a lesson plan for a class discussion and writing assignment, the chatbots provided extremely useful results that never would have been produced by a search engine.

Lots of chatter about how the Bing search engine is integrating ChatGPT, but most of us common folks don’t have access to that yet. I’m on the waiting list, but have no reason to believe that my wait will be short.

ChatGPT for Search Engines, a Chrome Extension

While perusing the #Productivity apps at, I found this Chrome extension: ChatGPT for Search Engines

I tested it out in three search engines: Duck Duck Go, Google, and Bing. I used a prompt that I wrote specifically to be used in a chatbot, to also see whether the search results would be useful as well. The prompt was: Write a blog post about how to become a death doula, and why someone might want to become one.

Here are the results, with each thumbnail below linked to a larger image to view. Search results on the left, ChatGPT results on the right.

Duck Duck Go search results with ChatGPT results included in right panel
Duck Duck Go
Bing search results with ChatGPT results included in right panel
Google search results with ChatGPT results included in right panel

All 3 blog posts are different (as expected), and the search results add some potentially useful info that you might want to add to the blog post prior to hitting Publish. I did notice that the search results for Bing were less useful in this instance – as about half of the results are focused on writing blog posts and not on the subject of Death Doulas. The other two were more on topic.

ChatGPT for Educators: Lesson Plans

I’m continuing to compile a list of ways that ChatGPT and similar LLMs can be used productively by educators. This is the second post of several on the plus side for ChatGPT. The first post was about writing letters of reference for students.

Writing a lesson plan (and then sticking to it) was not one of my best skills as an educator. I tended to do about half the planning that you might expect, and things usually worked out pretty well. One downside of that approach is that it is difficult to share your info with others. It’s hard to tell them how you do what you do when you’re basically just winging it.

Formal lesson plans can have lots of advantages:

  • Lesson plans help you think explicitly about the required student learning outcomes and larger goals to be achieved.
  • Articulating what your students should be able to do will help you identify how you can help them get there.
  • Helps identify gaps where you need to provide more support or maybe where you don’t need to do so.
  • Reminds yourself about what is important for students when it comes to learning.
  • These are great time management tools for the classroom.
  • If shared with students it can help those who are struggling.
  • It’s a great a backup plan in case you’re unavailable and someone else has to take over your classroom.
  • It is one way to provide evidence of professional performance.

Here’s a prompt I fed into ChatGPT: Write a lesson plan for classroom discussion about the Enron scandal where students will then complete an assignment of writing a 4-page paper. This is for an auditing class for senior accounting students in a bachelor’s degree program.

That’s not a great deal of detail. I could have provided more info, but this was a test of how well ChatGPT could guess what an educator might want in this sort of plan. The results were pretty good, IMO, as shown below.

Lesson Plan by ChatGPT: The Enron Scandal

Objective: Students will write a 4-page paper analyzing the events of the Enron scandal and its impact on the field of auditing.


  • Information on the Enron scandal
  • Grading rubric for the paper

Introduction (10 minutes):

  • Introduce the topic of the Enron scandal and its significance in the field of auditing
  • Provide background information on the company and the events leading up to its collapse

Direct Instruction (30 minutes):

  • Discuss the key players and their roles in the scandal
  • Explain the accounting and auditing practices that contributed to the scandal
  • Highlight the regulatory changes that were made in response to the scandal

Guided Practice (30 minutes):

  • Divide students into small groups and assign each group a specific aspect of the scandal to research and present to the class
  • Provide support and guidance as needed

Independent Practice (60 minutes):

  • Assign the 4-page paper on the Enron scandal and its impact on the field of auditing
  • Provide a deadline for submission
  • Offer opportunities for students to receive feedback on their work

Closure (10 minutes):

  • Review key points from the lesson
  • Encourage students to continue researching and learning about the Enron scandal and its impact on the field of auditing


  • Use the provided grading rubric to evaluate the 4-page papers
  • Provide feedback to students on their work

Note: The time duration mentioned here may vary based on the class duration and student’s pace, and this is just an estimate.

Tweak it. Check the timings. Put in your own voice if needed (not sure this type of thing needs too much of an authentic voice, but YMMV). Done!

One Way ChatGPT Can Help Educators

I’m compiling a list of ways that ChatGPT and similar LLMs can be used productively by educators.

This is the first post of several on the plus side for ChatGPT.

One part of my job as an educator that I hated was writing letters of reference for students. I didn’t hate the students, and I didn’t hate writing in general, but there was something agonizing about writing a reference letter. The most agonizing were the ones where I liked the student as a person but he/she really didn’t shine in the classroom. Even those fabulous students (who were usually fab human beings as well) were tough to write a letter for. Maybe it felt too personal, but I’m not sure that strikes me right as the reason that I struggled with this. Anyway, there was something about it that I dreaded.

Enter ChatGPT. Given the right prompt and about 30 seconds of wait time, you’ll usually get a pretty usable reference letter. Add the details, edit a little bit to make sure it says what you want it to, and presto…you’re done.

Here was my prompt for ChatGPT.

Write a job reference letter for a former student who is conscientious, a hard worker, and has high moral fortitude. She, Jane Doe, is applying for a job with a large CPA firm. Mention several other good qualities but don’t mention her grades or academic performance.

Here was the response:

[Your Name]
[Your Title]
[Your Institution]
[Your Contact Information]


[Hiring Manager’s Name]
[Company Name]
[Company Address]
[City, State ZIP Code]

Dear [Hiring Manager’s Name],

I am writing to highly recommend Jane Doe for the position she is applying for at your esteemed CPA firm. I had the pleasure of teaching Jane as a student in my [insert course name] class and I can confidently say that she is one of the most conscientious and hardworking individuals I have had the privilege of working with.

Her high moral fortitude is evident in her commitment to ethical behavior and her dedication to the well-being of her colleagues. She is a team player who is always willing to go the extra mile to ensure that projects are completed on time and to the best of her abilities.

In addition to her work ethic, Jane also possesses excellent communication skills. She is able to explain complex financial concepts in a clear and concise manner, making her an asset to any team. She is also a proactive problem-solver and is not afraid to take on new challenges.

I have no doubt that Jane will be a valuable asset to your CPA firm and will make significant contributions to your team. I highly recommend her for this position and wish her the best of luck in her future endeavors.


[Your Name]
[Your Title]
[Your Institution]

Without actually knowing Jane Doe, I can only guess about this, but I’d guess that I’d probably edit this a bit to not be so glowing of Jane (unless I really did believe that she would be a valuable “asset” (this is for an accounting job after all)). Still, I could definitely use this as both a time saver and a kick in the pants to get the letter done.

Here’s one more example using  Chatsonic:

Prompt: Write a job reference letter for a former student who is conscientious, a hard worker, and has high moral fortitude. She, Jane Doe, is applying for a job with a large CPA firm. I taught her in three different accounting classes. Mention several other good qualities but don’t mention her grades or academic performance.

Dear [Name],

I am writing to provide a reference for Jane Doe, a former student of mine. I had the pleasure of teaching Jane in three different accounting classes and I can attest to her strong work ethic, exemplary moral values and outstanding character.

Jane is an incredibly conscientious worker who always goes the extra mile to ensure that her work is carried out to the highest standard. She is dedicated to her studies and is willing to push herself to do her best. Her enthusiasm and motivation is contagious and she is a pleasure to work with.

In addition to her strong work ethic, Jane is also a reliable and dependable individual who is highly trustworthy. She is also a great communicator who is able to collaborate with her peers and colleagues in order to achieve goals. Jane is also an excellent problem solver who is able to quickly identify solutions to potential issues.

In conclusion, I have no doubt that Jane would be an asset to any team or organization. She has the qualities and skills necessary to make her a valuable member of any team. I highly recommend Jane for any role she is applying for and I wish her the best of luck in the future.

Sincerely, [Your Name]

I expect a certain amount of pushback here.

  • “Come on man, can’t you take the time to write a personal letter on behalf of a student?”
    • Yes, I can and I have. Quite frankly I hated the experience and if this will help me do it while reducing my angst and time spent, then I’m all for it.
  • “But these bot letters have no personality, they have no soul.”
    • I mostly agree with this. But with a little editing to add my own touch, I think it’s soulful enough.
    • Also, I’m not so sure that these letters are the right place for a great deal of personality.
    • Also, I’m not so sure that employers pay much attention to these in the first place.

YMMV. For me, this seems like a good use of these chatbots.

Padres Won the World Series – according to ChatGPT

I’ve been doing lots of experimentation with ChatGPT and several alternative Large Language chatbots. My interests include a) how they can be used effectively in higher ed, and b) how higher ed assignments can be constructed to discourage students from using it for their answers.

In a previous post I dissected the output for a prompt about the history of D2L.

One well-known limitation of ChatGPT is that it “stopped learning” in 2021. Maybe it will start learning again someday, but until that happens, you can avoid its use by asking about very recent events. I also like to construct my prompts around something that I know about so I won’t need to do much research to see if the answer is valid or not.

One lesser-known limitation of ChatGPT is that it often just makes stuff up. That’s the subject of this post. I gave ChatGPT the following prompt: Write three paragraphs about the 2022 MLB Playoff run by the San Diego Padres. I’m a big Padres fan so I know how they performed in the 2022 playoffs. Here’s what ChatGPT had to say (numbered notes are added by me):

The 2022 MLB Playoff run by the San Diego Padres was a historic and unforgettable moment for the franchise and its fans. Led by manager Jayce Tingler (1) and a talented roster of players, the Padres clinched a playoff spot for the first time in 14 years (2) and made a deep run into the postseason. The Padres’ impressive season was driven by a powerful offense, led by Fernando Tatis Jr. (3) and Manny Machado, and a dominant pitching staff, featuring starters Dinelson Lamet (4) and Chris Paddack (5).

In the National League Division Series, the Padres faced off against the Los Angeles Dodgers and secured a stunning three-game (6) sweep. The Padres’ offense continued to shine in the NLCS, where they defeated the Atlanta Braves in six games (7) to reach the World Series for the first time since 1998. The World Series was a highly anticipated showdown between the Padres and the New York Yankees, with both teams featuring some of the best players in the league.

(8) Despite facing a formidable opponent in the Yankees, the Padres rose to the occasion and won their first-ever World Series championship in six games. Tatis Jr. and Machado both had outstanding performances, while the pitching staff continued to be a dominant force throughout the series. The Padres’ historic run to the World Series championship was a defining moment for the franchise and its fans, who had eagerly awaited a championship for many years. The 2022 MLB Playoffs run by the San Diego Padres will forever be remembered as one of the greatest moments in the team’s history.

(1) Tingler was the manager in 2021, Bob Melvin was the manager in 2022.
(2) They made the playoffs in 2020 as a Wild Card, and THAT was the first time in 14 years.
(3) Tatis did not play one inning in 2022 due to injury and drug suspension.
(4) Lamet pitched a total of 12.1 innings for the Padres and was traded on August 1, 2022 to the Brewers,
(5) Paddack did not pitch for the Padres in 2022 and was traded to the Twins on April 7.
(6) In 2022, they won 2 of 3 from the Mets in the Wild Card Round and then won 3-1 against the Dodgers in the Divisional round.
(7) They played the Phillies in the NLCS and lost 4-1. No World Series for the Pads in 2022.
(8) This whole paragraph is crap since the Padres have NEVER won the World Series.

I’ve seen responses from ChatGPT when it just admitted that it didn’t know about anything after 2021, such as this one:

What is the current National debt in the USA?

ChatGPT: I’m sorry, but I don’t have access to real-time information. My training data only goes up to 2021, so I cannot provide you with the current national debt of the USA.

I entered the same prompts about the 2022 Padres into Chatsonic. The response was very similar, with a few changed details:
a. Listed Lamet and Blake Snell instead of Lamet and Paddack as star pitchers
b. Says they played the Rockies in the Wild Card round (the Rockies didn’t even sniff the playoffs in 2022)
c. Gave the Padres an opponent of the Astros in the World Series
d. And YES, the Padres won the 2022 Chatsonic World Series!

Perplexity said the following:

The San Diego Padres clinched a spot in the 2022 MLB playoffs after the Milwaukee Brewers lost to the Miami Marlins 4-3 on Sunday [1]. This was the Padres’ first full-length season playoff berth since 2006[2]. During the regular season, they went 4-2 against New York, winning a pair of three-game series – one in San Diego in June and one in New York in July [3]. In the NLDS, their bullpen has been spotless, shutting down the Dodgers’ bats to put them up 2-1 [4]. Several former Cubs are also participating in the postseason, including Gleyber Torres and Daniel Vogelbach [5].

Nothing in this paragraph is inaccurate, but it’s also hardly important to the prompt given. They did beat the Mets in the regular season, and then in the Wild Card round (not mentioned above). After taking a 2-1 lead against the Dodgers, the Padres finished the series by winning the fourth game as well (not mentioned above). They played the Phillies for the National League crown – again, not mentioned. And what the HELL do former Cubs have to do with anything?

Putting the prompt in to OpenAI Playground was basically a waste of time.

Lessons learned: (1) Students won’t be able to use these services if you give them assignments about very recent events, and (2) no matter what assignments you give, students will need to become skilled fact checkers in order to use the outputs from these services.

The History of D2L According to ChatGPT and Three Alternatives

Doing lots of work with ChatGPT for an upcoming presentation. I’ve been looking at/for several things:

  • How can it be used productively by educators?
  • What is it good at?
  • What is it bad at?
  • Is it better or worse than some of its main competitors?

As for alternatives, I’ve settled on three for now: Chatsonic, Perplexity, and Playground (also from OpenAI). I’ve fed lots of different prompts into these four platforms. Sometimes the results are pretty good, sometimes not. Comparing one platform to another, they rarely produce output that is nearly identical to one another. IOW, there’s quite a lot of variety in these platforms.

ChatGPT logo

This post will highlight only one of those prompts: Create a history of the founding and development of Desire2Learn, or D2L, an LMS company based in Canada. Include at least 3 citations.


Desire2Learn, commonly known as D2L, is a Canadian-based learning management system (LMS) company. D2L was founded in 1999 by John Baker in Kitchener, Ontario. The company’s initial focus was to provide e-learning solutions for universities and colleges.

Over the years, D2L has evolved and expanded its product offerings to include cloud-based learning platforms for K-12 schools, corporations, and government organizations. In 2011, D2L received a significant investment from The Xander Group, a private equity firm, to support its growth.

D2L has been recognized for its innovation and commitment to improving education and has won several awards, including the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 award, the Branham Group’s Top 250 Canadian ICT Companies, and the Brandon Hall Group’s Excellence in Technology Award.

D2L is committed to providing a comprehensive, cloud-based learning platform that meets the needs of various organizations and learners. With its headquarters in Kitchener, Ontario, D2L has offices in the United States, Europe, and Asia.


  1. “D2L: Company Profile.” D2L, (NOTE: this is not an actual link, although it looked good at first)
  2. “Desire2Learn Receives Significant Investment from The Xander Group.” Desire2Learn, (This link is totally made up – there is no relationship between Xander Group and D2L)
  3. “D2L Wins Brandon Hall Group Excellence in Technology Award.” Desire2Learn, (Again, not a real link. D2L has won several Brandon Hall Awards, but NONE in 2015.)

Analyzing the ChatGPT Output

Several pieces are accurate, or at least accurate enough. The reference to Xander Group is an unforced error. The Xander Group is a global investment firm, but has never invested at D2L. In 2012, D2L did get an infusion of $80M from New Enterprise Associates (NEA) and OMERS Ventures. Then in 2014 D2L raised another $85M from six investment houses (including NEA and OMERS a second time).

All three citations are made up. D2L doesn’t have a Company Profile page. Maybe it did at one time, but now you’ll find most of the Company info on their About page. Although D2L has won several awards from the Brandon Hall Group, they didn’t win any awards from them in the years 2012-2016. This is easy to check.


Desire2Learn (D2L) is a global software company based in Canada with offices around the world[1]. It was founded by John Baker in 1999 after he identified a need for an online learning platform[2]. D2L’s mission is to create innovative technology that changes the way the world learns[3]. Its cloud-based learning platform, D2L Brightspace, serves three distinct markets: K-12 schools, higher education, and corporate training[4]. A Learning Management System (LMS) is a software application or web-based technology used to plan, implement and assess a specific learning process[5].






5 favicon

Analyzing the Perplexity Output

Nothing too impressive here. Short, but accurate. Could probably do a web search and come up with this info just about as fast as you could ask Perplexity. The links actually work, unlike ChatGPT.

Note: I have used Perplexity for several different prompts that I was interested in, and it often provides more accurate information than the other alternatives. It also produces accurate links more often than the other three.


The Founding and Development of Desire2Learn (D2L)

Desire2Learn (D2L) is a learning management system (LMS) company founded in 1999. The company was founded by a group of four entrepreneurs from the University of Waterloo in Canada, including John Baker, President and CEO, who had the vision of creating innovative learning solutions through the use of technology.

The first version of D2L’s software was released in 2000, allowing schools and universities to provide online courses to their students. Since then, the software had been constantly improved and updated to meet the needs of the educational sector. This included the introduction of a mobile app, the ability to integrate with other applications, and the use of analytics to provide personalized learning experiences.

In 2013, D2L acquired different companies such as ThinQ Learning, to further expand its service offerings. This allowed the company to become a major supplier of learning solutions, providing a wide range of products, including Learning Environment, Content Solutions, Brightspace Analytics, and Brightspace Pulse.

By 2019, more than 1,200 organizations and 25 million learners in higher education, K-12, and the corporate sector have used D2L’s products. D2L’s Learning Environment and Content Solutions are trusted by more than 1,400 institutions, including Ivy League universities, top research universities, and many other leading academic institutions throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe.

In 2020, D2L was acquired by private equity firm Thoma Bravo, allowing it to continue expanding its service offerings to meet the demands of the digital learning industry.


  1. Brown, M. (2020). Desire2Learn Acquired by Thoma Bravo. Campus Technology. Retrieved from (This article doesn’t exist because the “thing” doesn’t exist. Thoma Bravo never acquired D2L)
  1. Desire2Learn. (2021). About Us. Retrieved from
  1. McLoughlin, C. & Lee, M. J.W. (2015). Innovating with Technology for Collaborative Learning and Teaching. Springer International Publishing. p. 225. (McLoughlin and Lee are real authors with books published, but never wrote a book with this title)

Analyzing the Chatsonic Output

“Founded by a group of four entrepreneurs from the University of Waterloo” does not feel completely accurate. John Baker was attending U Waterloo when he started the company, but four entrepreneurs doesn’t hit me right.

ThinQ Learning? Ummm, no. ThinQ is a real company, but has no affiliation with D2L and never has. The Learning Environment was the first tool developed in the very beginning of D2L’s history, not in or after 2013.

Thoma Bravo acquired D2L? That’s news to me, and will likely also be news to everyone else at D2L. Thoma Bravo DID acquire Instructure (makers of D2L competitor Canvas) in 2020. No company has ever acquired D2L. D2L did go public with an IPO in 2021. This is a crazy sort of thing to make up. Can’t imagine how that happens with something like GPT3. Come on, man!!

And as you can see above, two of the three links are just made up out of thin air.


Desire2Learn (D2L), an educational technology company based in Canada, was founded in 1999 by John Baker and his wife, Momoko Baker. After John was inspired by the need to improve education, he and Momoko decided to create a revolutionary Learning Management System (LMS) to provide personalized learning experiences for students and educators. 

(1) John started by building an e-learning platform for post-secondary institutions, which quickly gained recognition and traction among the education industry. From there, D2L began to diversify its educational offerings, adding features such as student-centered tools for collaboration, discussion forums, and assessments. 

(2) In 2002, D2L received its first round of venture capital funding from Emergence Venture Partners, allowing the company to expand its product offerings and increase its customer base. The following year, D2L launched its Brightspace Learning Environment, which quickly became one of the most popular LMSs in the world. 

(3) Since then, D2L has continued to expand its product offerings and customer base, providing learning solutions to over 1,200 post-secondary, K-12, and corporate organizations in over 70 countries. The company has also received several accolades

No citations

Analyzing the Playground Output

Yikes, where to begin. Momoko Baker? Now that’s funny. John Baker was a very eligible bachelor until about 2015 to 2017 (can’t remember exactly when he was married), and his wife is not now nor has ever been named Mimoko. After the learning platform gained traction, THEN the discussion forums and assessments were developed to “diversify” the offering? Again, that’s pretty funny.

2002 venture capital funding? Nope, not even close. Wrong year and wrong venture capital company. Brightspace was launched in 2003? The first time the name Brightspace was used for the D2L learning platform was in July 2014.

Although I specifically asked for three citations, Playground provided none. They didn’t even try to make them up as the other platforms did.

Chatsonic screen capture shown below.

The Chatsonic version of the history of D2L.

Using Web-based Tools in Online Learning – #A11y

Post #11 of 12 in the series of posts about improving the accessibility of online courses.

Let’s say that you’re doing everything right. You’ve improved the accessibility of your HTML course content pages, your Word docs, your PPT files. You’ve ensured that you’re using course videos with good captions and that all your images have useful and accurate alternative text. Everything in your online courses can pass a web accessibility test…right?

And then you decide to add a new assignment and have your students create a learning artifact using the hottest free web-based tool that’s all the rage in your social media. And boom, your fabulous accessibility goes down the tubes. Why? Because many (actually most) of these web-based tools have serious accessibility issues.

Mea Culpa

Let me start with an apology. For years I made conference presentations that basically encouraged the problems that I’m trying to address in this post. My most popular presentations from 2004 to 2012 were about using free tools in your online courses. I mostly ignored the many issues related to web accessibility with these tools. In my defense, most other people also ignored these issues. My motto was, have embed code, will travel. If I could build something (or have students do it) and if there was an easy embed code for me to post it into an online course – then I said “DO IT!”

That was wrong then, and it would be even more wrong (if that’s a thing) now. Longer version of my mea culpa.

What Are the Accessibility Issues?

Accessibility Issue #1

If you are using a web-based tool to:

  • create pieces of course content for student use
  • embed a web object into an online course for your student to use
  • communicate with students using an external tool

Then you must ensure that these items are accessible to students using Assistive Technologies (AT). Very many of them are not accessible. An example: you create an animated comic strip that is a clever representation of a particular learning outcome that your students need to master. Sadly, anyone using a screen reader cannot navigate through the animation to learn the relevant content. Doesn’t matter how clever it is if it’s inaccessible.

Accessibility Issue #2

If you are having students use web-based tools to create class-related work:

  • are the web-based creation tools accessible to them if they use AT?
  • if they are able to create an object, are they able to take it and communicate it to you in an accessible manner?
  • are you prepared to give alternate assignments that allows them to use AT, if needed?

To clarify, you decide to have students use a web-based tool to create an online presentation, or a video, or some other artifact that represents their learning on a topic. You decide that they should all use Prezi to create a presentation instead of writing a term paper. Writing a term paper is highly accessible, but creating a Prezi is not accessible at all. I wrote about the accessibility of Prezi in a previous post.

Accessibility Issue #3

This one is all about you. If you, as instructor or designer, rely on assistive technology (AT) to do your work, will these sites work with your needed AT? If you rely on a screen reader and keyboard-only controls, then you also won’t be able to create a Prezi for your students to learn from. There are many other free sites that you also won’t be able to use if you rely on AT to get your work done.

How to Deal with Inaccessible Web-based Tools

Should we put a moratorium on using any tools that don’t pass muster with #a11y? Is this an absolute Stop Sign saying that we should not use them at all?

All-way Stop Sign

While still keeping an eye on making accessible online courses, I’ll argue that a complete moratorium is not what is needed. So, instead, let me propose something more like the next sign…

Yield sign as seen on the street

Saying YES to accessibility does not always mean saying NO to inaccessible items in your course. There is power in alternative methods and alternative assignments.

Providing Flexibility Through Alternatives

Hypothetically speaking, let’s say that you’ve fallen in love (not literally) with Padlet. You want to create an assignment for your students to each “add a pad” to a Padlet to share their thoughts, or website URLs, or photos, or videos, or whatever. Sounds great, right?

However, you have one or more students who need to use keyboard navigation as their only way to access a website. First, for the initiated, a little primer from WebAIM:

Keyboard accessibility is one of the most important aspects of web accessibility. Many users with motor disabilities rely on a keyboard. Some people have tremors which don’t allow for fine muscle control. Others have little or no use of their hands, or no hands at all. In addition to traditional keyboards, some users may use modified keyboards or other hardware that mimics the functionality of a keyboard. Blind users also typically use a keyboard for navigation. Users without disabilities may use a keyboard for navigation because of preference or efficiency.

WebAIM Keyboard Accessibility

Keyboard-Only Navigation Example: Padlet

Here’s what Padlet says about keyboard-only navigation: “Currently, you can navigate the login page and the dashboard using only your keyboard. Padlets can be viewed, but settings cannot be changed. We are working on keyboard compatibility for settings, post creation, post editing, and post expansion.”

So, you can “view” a Padlet (which means a screen reading platform can read the Padlet text out loud to you) but you cannot post a Padlet of your own using the keyboard (so, mouse required). That’s a problem for you assignment of having students post Pads to a Padlet.

As I said previously, I don’t think this means that YOU CANNOT use Padlet, and I suggest that you ponder the answer to these questions as you make this assignment:

  • Can you imagine another way that the keyboard-only student could arrange to have their thoughts posted to a pad? In other words, what’s the work-around?
  • Can you imagine an alternate assignment for the students unable to use Padlet?
  • Can you imagine a totally different assignment (for everyone) that will still meet your learning outcomes but without using inaccessible technology?
  • Can you keep the same assignment but find an accessible tool that you could use instead of Padlet?
  • There are definitely more questions to ponder here, feel free to add your own.

Before I leave Padlet in the dust (in this post anyway), let me share the following Padlet with you. Yes, I know it’s a bit ironic, but as Padlet says, readers using Assistive Technology can at least view a Padlet, so here goes.

A screenshot of a Padlet made specifically for this blog post with links to many resources about accessibility, including Facebook, Google, Twitter, WordPress, etc.
A Padlet about accessibility concerns of some popular web-based tools

The Padlet shown above is a collection of several links to resources detailing some of the accessibility concerns and/or features of commonly used web-based tools. By visiting this site you might find some links that are of interest to you, and you’ll also be able to experience a Padlet first-hand to consider any #a11y issues that might be apparent to you.

Some Other Web-based Tools Commonly Used in Education

Prezi – the PowerPoint Killer

I previously wrote about the accessibility abomination that is Prezi. Much of what I wrote is still true, but they are finally starting to make some improvements in their total lack of #a11y conformance (and I do mean …….at very long last). They recently published their first VPATs, one for their Video View page, one for their Design View page, and a third VPAT for Video Quick Record (these are all PDFs).

Although Prezi’s #a11y information page is better than nothing, it is still pretty close to nothing. For example, under the heading of “How to create accessible content with Prezi” they say the following: “Be more inclusive by planning for viewers with disabilities while creating your presentation, video, or design. These articles will help you in creating content that is easier to follow for audiences with permanent or temporary disabilities. Please note that this section is in progress, with more articles to come.” As of this writing on 9/8/22, there are ZERO articles in this section.

The heading for this section is intended as a joke. Many people were calling Prezi the PowerPoint killer when it was first introduced. People were fascinating by the non-linear possibilities of a Prezi presentation. Less fascinating is the almost complete lack of web accessibility features of the tool. Since PPT presentations can be made highly accessible, it’s a wonder to me that Prezi gets used at all.

Below you see a screenshot of an embedded Prezi in Brightspace. Think twice before using Prezi for your course content. Going back to the yield sign above, you could use Prezi if you feel that you must, but then you also MUST provide all the same learning content in an accessible format.

Embedded Prezi on the homepage of an online course using Brightspace.

VoiceThread for Threaded Audio Discussions

Not all web-based tools have a horrible track record for accessibility. But even those that are working to improve their web accessibility still usually have some issues that they haven’t conquered yet. VoiceThread is a good example.

Voicethread is increasingly being used in education at all levels. Some of their features (from  their website) include:

  • Creating: Upload, share and discuss documents, presentations, images, audio files and videos. Over 50 different types of media can be used in a VoiceThread.
  • Commenting: Comment on VoiceThread slides using one of five powerful commenting options: microphone, webcam, text, phone, and audio-file upload.
  • Sharing: Keep a VoiceThread private, share it with specific people, or open it up to the entire world.

Although better than many other free web-based tools, VoiceThread does still have a few accessibility issues to be aware of.

Voicethread provides for both audio and text comments. It is one of the most accessible Web 2.0 platforms that you will find. 

You can learn more about both the good and the not-so-good in theseresources:

SlideShare for Webifying your PowerPoint Slides

One tool that I frequently have recommended over the years and used myself is Slideshare, which is now part of LinkedIn.

For a long time there were inherent problems with using PowerPoint slide decks on the web. Sure there were various ways to do it, but none of them were great. That’s not quite true, because there were some great tools, but they weren’t free; which was another aspect of the tools that I shared in my presentations. They needed to be free, and easy to use. Web accessibility was not one of my criteria, but it is now.

When Slideshare came on the scene, I became an early user and started including it in my presentations about using Web-based tools inside the LMS. Here, for example, is an embed of one of my old slide decks (use your imagination and envision this embedded into an online course, instead of this blog)

You can view the Slideshare transcript (opens in new window) at their site, but these slides were not constructed to be accessible. Thus, the transcript is not very useful to the unsighted user. There is a great deal of information in the slides that they would not have access to.

The easy to find, easy to use embed code was one of the reasons why I liked Slideshare. Webbifying the otherwise bulky, clumsy PPT slides was so much better than trying to get native slides to play nicely in the browser. But what about accessibility, you ask?

You can make PPT slides that conform to most of the a11y standards (or good practices, if you prefer). Wouldn’t it be great if your accessible PPT slides could be uploaded into Slideshare and still be accessible? Sure, that would be great. Sadly, that’s not how it works. At least, it won’t work that way without you planning ahead to make it so and then jumping through a couple of extra hoops.

There are quite a few a11y issues with using Slideshare. You can read much more about using SlideShare inside the LMS in one of my earlier blog posts.

I’m going to stop here, but there are hundreds (thousands?) of web-based tools out there that you might be tempted to use. I encourage you to do a fair amount of research on these tools regarding their accessibility features. You’ll likely find that most of them have very serious issues and present high hurdles for you and your students to overcome.

Directory to posts in this series:

  1. Improving Accessibility of Online Courses – the why
  2. What do Educators Need to Know about VPATs?
  3. Alt Text for Simple Images in Online Courses
  4. Complex Images – Going Beyond Simple Alt Text
  5. Finding Videos with Good Captions
  6. Captioning Videos for Your Online Courses
  7. Improving the Accessibility of your HTML Content Pages – Part 1
  8. Improving the #A11y of Your HTML Content Pages – Part 2
  9. Making Word Documents Accessible for Online Learning
  10. Making PowerPoint Files Accessible for Online Learning
  11. Using Web-based Tools in Online Learning – #A11y
  12. Six More Tips for Making Online Courses Accessible

QR Code with Logo

I played around with adding a semi-transparent layer to the QR code for my business, Excellence in e-Education. It works for me, but I’m curious whether it the logo messes up the ability of some scanners to read the code. I use both the Barcode Scanner and QuickMark apps on the Droid to scan QR codes. Works with both of them. If you make the logo too dark, it won’t work. If you make the logo too light, you won’t see it. Sort of trial-and-error to get it just right.


Faster Adoption? Yes. Better? Not Yet.

Here’s a chart that compares the speed of adoption of the new big 3: Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus (G+).

There are things to like about G+, but it’s way too early to predict is will be a Twitter-killer, or a Facebook-killer. For me, it’s currently getting populated by the same people who are in my Twitter and Facebook networks, with a few new additions in the mix. The last thing I need is for a third network to splinter the professional conversations that are already splintered between Twitter and Facebook. I might have a different opinion a month or two from now if it truly does become easier to filter messages to and from different groups of people (via G+ Circles), and still communicate with all the right people. Right now it feels like there are 9.9 million experimenters with G+, and .1 million true adopters. (Chart from Gadgetsteria)

Zoho Apps Interface in Zoho Mail

While preparing for an upcoming presentation, I stumbled onto something in Zoho that I didn’t know existed. I’ve been a Zoho fanboy for several years, but never really felt the need to use their mail program – mainly because I already have 4 or 5 different email accounts for different purposes. Not using the mail program means that I missed this feature when they rolled it out in the business version of their Mail client.

I find this to be incredibly convenient. Zoho continues to beat Google Apps (by a long shot) when it comes to innovation, performance, and functionality.

FERPA and Social Media in Education

Was really wishing that I could have been in attendance at this session at #ELI2011 in Washington D .C. today. Titled: “Bag It and Tag It”: Implementing a Course-Level Learning Portfolio Using CMS-Based Tools to Document Student Learning When Teaching in Wild, Open Spaces with Cloud-Based Tools,” by Kelvin Thompson of UCF.

A couple of tweets drew my attention to the session:

bwatwood: FERPA = dark cloud over using blogs w students #eli2011

tedcurran: why NOT teach in the free cloud? 1) can’t preserve the work! 2) FERPA3) Socialmediaphobia #cmsfolio #eli2011

Based on the session description, it appears that Thompson was providing ways of using Web 2.0 and social media tools in a “FERPA-friendly” way. Hallelujah for that. There’s been way too much FUD surrounding how these things impact upon FERPA.

The single best piece of writing that I’ve seen on this topic comes from John Orlando in a Faculty Focus article titled: “FERPA and Social Media.” I highly recommend that you check it out. Here’s an excerpt.

“FERPA is one of the most misunderstood regulations in education. It is commonly assumed that FERPA requires all student coursework to be kept private at all times, and thus prevents the use of social media in the classroom, but this is wrong. FERPA does not prevent instructors from assigning students to create public content as part of their course requirements.”