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

#F*ckOffFacebook

In December 2018, I finally left Facebook. There are several reasons why I stayed as long as I did, including:

  • A couple of private groups where I found value connecting with either family members or educator friends.
  • A few distant friends (who are real friends not just “accept my friend request” friends) who I’ve been able to reconnect with, including a few college buddies.
  • And that’s about it.

Those reasons weren’t good enough, as the scales kept tipping further and further against the Bookface.

Bookface photo of woman with a magazine obscuring her face

Facebook, because time isn’t going to kill itself.

The main reasons why I left include:

  1. The bastards cannot be trusted.
    • Donald Trump. FB significantly helped bring this plague upon America. See Cambridge Analytica if you don’t believe me; and Russian trolls, and Fake Election News (not of the Trumpian Fake News variety), and more.
    • Most recently, it was disclosed that “Facebook allowed Microsoft’s Bing search engine to see the names of virtually all Facebook users’ friends without consent, the Times reports. It gave Netflix and Spotify the ability to read users’ private messages. It allowed Yahoo to view real-time feeds of friends’ posts, despite the fact it publicly claimed to have ended that kind of snooping years ago…” (lots of good/bad stuff at The Ringer)
    • “Facebook News” isn’t The News, and cannot be trusted.
    • Hacked! Login credentials for 50 million users were stolen in September 2018.
    • If you aren’t familiar with the many other FB scandals, this article gives a great summary of their plethora of distrustful behaviors. My faves are:
      • In May, at a congressional hearing it was noted that Cambridge Analytica, under the direction of Steve Bannon, sought to “exploit certain vulnerabilities in certain segments to send them information that will remove them from the public forum, and feed them conspiracies and they’ll never see mainstream media.”
      • Reports in April indicated that “Facebook granted Zuckerberg and other high ranking executives powers over controlling personal information on a platform that is not available to normal users.”
      • In October 2017, Facebook expanded their engagement with Republican-linked firm Definers Public Affairs to discredit “activist protesters.” This was the whole “let’s imply that Facebook critics are anti-Semitic and somehow link the protesters to George Soros.” Oy.
      • the “view as” feature exploited for 50M users – reported Sept 28, 2018.
      • In July, blocked people became unblocked.
      • As reported by Vice News in October, “Facebook’s political ad tool let us buy ads “paid for” by Mike Pence and ISIS.”
  2. Zuck is creepy. His company is creepy. I’m creeped out by them.
  3. Time Suck. Not wondering what I’m missing on FB is surprisingly liberating. I still have several other time sucks, but FB is no longer one of them.
    • The signal to noise ratio on FB is low. Really low. The amount of time I spent sifting through the bullshit to find a few nuggets is depressing to think about. Using more trusted sources for reading material is far more productive.
  4. I learned to hate the fakeness of it all.
    • Fake birthday wishes from people who wouldn’t otherwise say a word to you if FB didn’t tell them that hey “It’s Barry’s Birthday, help him celebrate!” Gag me. These gestures lost all meaning for me – even to the point of being negative communications rather then positive.
    • Fake outrage over every little stupid thing.
    • Fake enthusiasm about the minutiae of life. Seriously people, 99% of what you post just isn’t that interesting – same goes for 98% of my former posts.
    • Facebook should be renamed Fakebook. So fake. Bigly fake! SAD!!!

      Fake Zuckerberg protester in London

      Avaaz protest in London ; 04/26/2018 – Flickr – PD photo by Rob Pinney

  5. FB definitely caused me more angst than joy. Some examples:
    • A friend of over 40 years who pissed me off nearly every day with his nasty political posts.
    • Relatives that I stopped liking once I got to know them better.
    • All the untruths shared as truths – maybe mix in a fact checker once in a while.
  6. This could be a never ending list. But I’d rather end it.

Several months earlier I deleted the FB Messenger app off my Android phone, amid reports of serious violations of personal privacy. If it wasn’t a spy, Messenger would be a reason for me to stay on FB instead of leaving. But alas, it definitely cannot be trusted.

FB has about 2.4 million active users in Q4 of 2018. That’s all fine and good, but I think I’ll align with the 5.2 million humans worldwide who aren’t aren’t in The Book.

I thought I would suffer from F.O.M.O. (the Fear Of Missing Out), but so far I think I’m experiencing J.O.A.F. (the Joy of Avoiding Facebook).

For a while, I too was caught up in all the social sharing, thus limiting my ability to be present and live in the moment. It’s easy to start viewing everything we do with the lens of our phone camera. I’m over the need to constantly report on my life rather than living it. Except maybe here on this blog – like the good ole days.

I still want to be connected with most of the people who were my Facebook friends. It’s a bit sad to think that deleting this one connection might turn out to be the end of any communications with a friend or family member. But it seems that if our relationship is more than Facebook telling us that we’re friends, then our friendship will endure. Almost all of my former FB friends know how to get in touch with me via many different technology options. And I know where they are, too.

Using Voicethread in Education with an Eye on Accessiblity

In a previous post, Mea Culpa – Accessibility Concerns of Using External Tools in the LMS, I mentioned the This web-based tool has passed the accessibility testaccessibility concerns that come from using many of the popular external tools (Web 2.0 tools, if you will) inside the LMS. I previously posted about the accessibility issues with Slideshare and also the poor accessibility record of Prezi. This post is a bit more positive, because I’m highlighting a tool that has made major steps forward on the road to a11y.

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. Learn more about sharing VoiceThreads.

Below is a link to an example Voicethread created by an educator and her students. It was easy to embed the Voicethread into Brightspace, but WordPress (this site) doesn’t play nicely with embed code. Click on the image below to view the Voicethread.

Voicethread example for education

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

More resources:

Voicethread also offers a series of higher ed webinars “to improve your pedagogical use of VoiceThread or plan a group viewing of an archive with your colleagues to stimulate an engaging professional development event on campus about teaching with VoiceThread.” The webinars are presented by Michelle Pacansky-Brock, a Voicethread evangelist and an eLearning professional educator.

Accessibility Concerns of Using Prezi in Education

In a previous post, Mea Culpa – Accessibility Concerns of Using External Tools in the LMS, I mentioned the accessibility concerns that come from using many of the popular external tools (Web 2.0 tools, if you will) inside the LMS. I previously posted about the accessibility issues with Slideshare. One tool that has become a darling of the edu crowd is Prezi. For this post, I’m not concentrating on the uses of Prezi within the LMS, but more generally at the a11y concerns with using Prezi in any way in education.

Accessibility of web-based tools in education. This one failed the test.Prezi is almost completely inaccessible to students with disabilities, particularly low-vision and no-vision students (and faculty, of course). Prezi admits as much, and currently don’t seem to have any concrete plans of addressing this shortcoming. In their own words:

Regarding a request for a Voluntary Product Accessibility Template (VPAT) from Prezi; “I’m afraid we don’t currently have a VPAT for Prezi. Prezi is not ADA compliant.Prezi Community Forum, October 8, 2014

” I also did not want to be misleading and say “We’re working on a solution right now” when we clearly are not.” Prezi Community Forum, March 30, 2011

“However, we are working hard to make the Prezi website fully 508 compliant. For example we are experimenting with a nice transcript outline for presentations to let our users get a clue what is inside the presentation.” Prezi Communty Forum, March 5, 2010. Notice that this comment is almost five years old, and they have now enabled the possibility of a transcript, but have made very little progress to date to address the many other accessibility concerns with Prezi. Their actions (lack thereof) are speaking louder than words.

I haven’t used Prezi for a couple of years, until I created a new presentation (and a new account altogether) for use in this post. Similar to the Slideshare presentation from the previous post, I created a sample Prezi presentation about Jekyll Island, Georgia.

Screenshot of one of my old Prezis - you can no longer embed a Prezi  in WordPress.com, such as this site. Click the image to visit the Prezi site.

Screenshot of one of my old Prezis – you can no longer embed a Prezi in WordPress.com, such as this site. This Prezi was created before they added the transcript feature. Click the image to visit the Prezi site.

Here is a partial list of the a11y problems that will be encountered when trying to view a Prezi via assistive technologies:

  • “Text” (in appearance only, apparently) written in a Prezi is not readable by a screen reader program.
  • It’s not possible to add alternate text to any images that you include in your Prezi.
  • You cannot tab through a presentation, which is standard operating procedure for keyboard access. Tabbing through the links on the Prezi will result in completely skipping over the presentation frame.

On the plus side, there have been a few enhancements that help lessen the accessibility issues with using Prezi in education; including:

  • You can now use keyboard shortcuts (instead of only mouse movements) to create a Prezi, although you have to be able to use a mouse to turn them on (off by default).
  • The transcript feature is a minor improvement, however there is no way to edit the transcript, or export it or embed it along with an embedded presentation. You have to enter the text into the Prezi in the order that you want it to appear in the transcript. Anything that you add as an afterthought will be at the end of the transcript, even if it is at the beginning of the presentation. Prezi spokespeople say that the transcript is to “support search engines,” not users with disabilities.
    • If you look at the transcript in my Jekyll Island Prezi, you’ll see that the text is out of order. I would have to re-create the presentation from scratch to get the transcript correct.
  • You can add an audio track to a Prezi, which would enhance accessibility for students without hearing disabilities. You can add audio narration at specific points in your Prezi. The audio files will start when you reach the chosen point in the presentation and stop playing when you move away from that place in the Prezi.

So, maybe you love Prezi and have no plans to stop using it for providing course content to your students. That’s your choice, but I believe you also need to (or should) make another choice; and that choice is to always make an alternative presentation that is equivalent in content and fully accessible to students with disabilities.

Are you interested in some classic examples of things that are incongruous? How about the over 1,000 Prezis that have been created about web accessibility. Here is one particular example, where the suggestions for making web content accessible are quite good, except that you can’t do most of them when working with Prezi itself.

Barry Dahl is solely responsible for the views and opinions contained in this post. No other association with any legal entity is implied or real.

Accessibility Concerns of Using Slideshare inside the LMS

In my previous post, Mea Culpa – Accessibility Concerns of Using External Tools in the LMS, I mentioned the accessibility concerns that come from using many of the popular external tools (Web 2.0 tools, if you will) inside the LMS. One tool that I frequently have recommended over the years is Slideshare. Here’s a video that I put together back in 2007 about using SlideShare inside the LMS (D2L). That was then, this is now.

Accessibility of web-based tools in education. This one failed the test.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 (a11y), 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 a few a11y issues with using Slideshare:

  • PPT slides are converted into images. There is no way to attach alt text to the slide images in Slideshare. Therefore, you must include all pertinent information in text format for each slide (methods described below).
  • Although a transcript is created by Slideshare, the transcript is not ported over with an embed of the slides in another site, such as in the Content section of the LMS. Students would need to navigate to the original page at the Slideshare site in order to access the transcript, and then they have a lot of other stuff to navigate through before reaching the transcript (thinking from the perspective of a student using a screen reader such as JAWS).
  • The transcript only includes those things that are in text format in the original PPT slides. In other words, if you use images in your PPT slides, there is no information at all about those images in the transcript in Slideshare, unless you describe them in your text.
  • You can embed a YouTube video (should it be captioned? Yes, but many are not) into a Slideshare presentation, however, I cannot see how a student using a screen reader would be able to operate the video controls which are now inside the Slideshare frame.
  • For a few years, Slideshare had an option to add an audio track to narrate your slides. Although I never checked it for a11y, it potentially could have been a boon to students who could listen to the narration. However, Slideshare removed this “Slidecast” feature during early 2014.

I’m cognizant of the move in recent years to more of a “Zen” approach to PPT slides – with heavy emphasis on images and minimal text. This approach is great for live presentations, but not so great if the slides are going to be shared for asynchronous viewing. Zen-type slides will only cause greater issues for sight-impaired students due to the lack of explanatory text. For my work-around examples, I’ll go with heavy imagery in the sample slides.

So, if you’re going to use Slideshare for delivering course content to your online students, how can you do so with an eye on accessibility? Here are a couple of work-arounds.

  • All important information about each slide needs to be made available to students in text form, probably in the Slideshare transcript.
  • Method one is to hide the text behind the images on the slide, with the resulting text appearing in the Slideshare transcript.
  • Method two is to use the Notes field in the PPT program to put all the info needed for full learning. Then convert the PPT into a PDF, with the Notes Pages selected as the saved format. This then puts the Notes into the Slideshare transcript.

For illustrative purposes, I’ve made a simple four-slide presentation using PowerPoint. I have then uploaded two versions of those slides to Slideshare, with the embeds shown below.

Method One. The Slide Title holder is placed on top of the image and formatted for readability for sighted students. The explanatory text is hidden behind the image which will then populate the Slideshare transcript. After embedding the slides into the LMS, I would also copy and paste the transcript from Slideshare into the LMS content page.

Transcript pasted below from Slideshare page:

  • Slide 1. Jekyll Island is off the coast of Georgia; one of the Golden Isles of Georgia
    If you’ve never been to Jekyll Island, you need to put it on your list. Beautiful beaches, wildlife, unique flora, and a great deal of history can be found throughout the island. The Jekyll Island Club was founded in 1886 and was a vacation spot for the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts. It is now a luxury resort hotel, and has been beautifully restored. (This is text hidden under the image on slide one.)
  • Slide 2. Majestic “Live” Oak trees are found throughout the 9 mile long island
    The old oak trees on the Island are a sight to see, with Spanish Moss hanging down, often creating a thick canopy. Many of the tree trunks are covered with the beautiful Resurrection Fern. These trees are considered to be “live” oak because they are evergreen; remaining green throughout the winter rather than going dormant and leafless. The Southern Live Oak is the state tree of Georgia. (This is text hidden under the image on slide two.)
  • Slide 3. Driftwood Beach, North End of Jekyll Island
    A special attraction on Jekyll Island is Driftwood Beach, sometimes referred to as the Elephant Graveyard because of the unique formations of the large driftwood pieces scattered along the beach. The trees died over the past 200 years, primarily from beach erosion. There aren’t any real elephant remains there, but the driftwood formations are worth the trip. (This is text hidden under the image on slide three.)
  • Slide 4. Hungry? Try the Low Country Boil
    The shrimp on Jekyll are super fresh and locally caught. Add in potatoes, sausage, corn-on-the-cob, peppers, onions and seasonings; and you’ve got the famous Low Country Boil. Consider eating on the dock at the Rah Bar at the Historic Wharf near the Jekyll Island Club. (This is text hidden under the image on slide four.)

Also, Slideshare seems to be putting the title text AFTER the slide text, which seems weird. I edited the transcript to put the title text in the appropriate spot in the pasted transcript.

Method Two.  The descriptive text is placed into the Notes field in PPT. The Notes View is then saved as a PDF and the PDF is uploaded to Slideshare. Sighted students now have the advantage of seeing the explanatory text, and the transcript provides the same information for sight-impaired students who are using a screen reader program, but keep in mind that unsighted students using a screen reader will not hear any information from the slides & notes in the Slideshare embed. As in method one, the transcript is copied from Slideshare and pasted into the LMS content page so that students don’t have to navigate out of the LMS to the bottom of the Slideshare page.

Transcript pasted below from Slideshare (first slide only)

  • Slide 1. Jekyll Island is off the coast of Georgia; one of the Golden Isles of Georgia
    If you’ve never been to Jekyll Island, you need to put it on your list. Beautiful beaches, wildlife, unique flora, and a great deal of history can be found throughout the island. The Jekyll Island Club was founded in 1886 and was a vacation spot for the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts. It is now a luxury resort hotel, and has been beautifully restored. (This is text put into the PPT Notes field on slide one.)

Overall, this is a lot of work to make these slides accessible when using Slideshare. Although I have been a long-time fan of Slideshare, I’d be inclined to dump it altogether for a more accessible presentation program. Sadly, as we’ll see in future posts, there aren’t many choices for that.

NOTE: for this particular tool, I only looked at the perspective of a faculty member using it to provide slide content to a class of students, not looking at the issues with students using the tool themselves for uploading slide shows, which creates different concerns.

Barry Dahl is solely responsible for the views and opinions contained in this post. No other association with any legal entity is implied or real.

Mea Culpa – Accessibility Concerns of Using External Tools in the LMS

Over the past 10 years or so, my most popular conference workshops have been those involving the use of Web 2.0 tools inside the LMS. I’ve always enjoyed those workshops immensely, and it’s fun to see the light bulbs come on as they discover ways that they can engage their students in new and different ways.

Gravity is a lot like accessibility - it's the lawI gave another one of those workshops in November 2014, and it is probably the first time I’ve done so in the last year and a half. The topic has become a bit dated and I usually had different topics to explore instead. As I was making the recent presentation, it struck me how totally different it was now compared to how it used to be. My focus was completely different, and with very good reason.

There were two things that I focused on that never used to be part of the presentation:

1) Due to browser changes, I now focus on the web sites that that don’t create a mixed content issue when embedding content inside the secure (https) learning platform (learn more here), and

2) Due to a change in priorities, I now focus on the web accessibility issues of using external content inside the learning platform. It is this second point that is the focus of this post and a few additional posts to come.

When giving this presentation 5-10 years ago, questions about accessibility would occasionally come up, but not often. Although I don’t specifically remember what my responses were at the time, I do know that they were not adequate. There have always been serious issues related to accessibility for online learning content/activities, but years ago it was easier to blow them off as not being a high priority. These days I consider it to be one of the highest priorities. Yes, I guess I had a revelation about accessibility somewhere along the way.

So here’s the deal. If you are creating course content using an external tool, or if you are having students do required work using an external tool, then it is incumbent upon you to make sure that you are using creative output and/or external tools that are fully accessible to students who have disabilities.

I’m currently wrapping up facilitation of the first offering of the Web Accessibility MOOC for Online Educators (WAMOE). Throughout this MOOC, we’ve focused on creating accessible course content using HTML pages, Word Docs, PPT slideshows, and PDF docs. That’s all well and good – but if you then introduce external tools, you need to make sure that they are accessible too; and many of them are not.

In a series of undetermined length, I’ll examine the accessibility features (or lack thereof) of many of the popular external tools used in eLearning. I’ll probably say it repeatedly, but it’s okay to use a non-accessible tool as long as you make appropriate accommodations for students who are not able to use the tools. For the tools that reduce accessibility, I’ll also give one or more suggestions for a work-around that should be put in place if you really want to use the inaccessible tool.

Another Online Personal Calling Card

I recently took a look at Vizify – another of the many ways to have your profile available online.

Vizify personal page for Barry Dahl

It’s pretty interesting, although I can’t quite do everything with it that I would like to. Still, it has some promise. Click the graphic to view my page.

Another Banana for Picmonkey Collages

For various different reasons, I seem to make a lot of collages out of digital photos. One reason is that I put together the annual yearbook at the local elementary school, and there’s no better way to get lots of kid faces on a page than with a collage. I also take lots of photos at family events and have several family members who beg me to make them a collage of the various shots. So I do. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I know. For those who make them, Picmonkey has good functionality and incredible ease of use.

Picmonkey (see previous post here) has picked up where Picnik left off (after Google bought it and effectively killed it) by releasing their collage functionality within the past few days. The video below shows a short tutorial of most of the features. It’s only slightly different from the Picnik functionality for collages, and I kind of like how they have added the ability to add a box here or there on the fly.

Picmonkey has great functionality, although you can’t yet integrate your photos with Flickr, Picasa, Photobucket, or any similar service. That is one thing I miss about Picnik. The other thing is the ability to load photos into the basket (maybe on Picmonkey it would be a barrel, get it?) where you can combine them together by dragging and dropping onto layers. Picmonkey is free and doesn’t require (or even allow, at this time) users to have an account. Just come and go as you please.

And here’s an example of the finished product. Click image to enlarge.

D2L FUSION over the years

Screencast-O-Matic – Fave Screencasting Tool

Here is a very short demo of some of the features of Screencast-O-Matic.

I’ve used at least 8 or 9 different screencasting tools. Some of the very expensive services are quite good, but if you’re looking for free – start with Screencast-O-Matic (SOM).

Some of the features of the free service:

  1. Unlimited hosting at SOM
  2. 15 minute max recording time
  3. Can record web cam
  4. Publish directly to YouTube
  5. Save locally as MP4, AVI, FLV
  6. SOM watermark on video

For Pro users, I think you get much more than your money’s worth. Besides what’s shown in the video above, other features for a Pro account ($12/yr) include:

  1. Unlimited max recording time
  2. Publish directly to Google Docs (YouTube, SOM, & download)
  3. Publish screen shots (stills)
  4. No SOM watermark
  5. Can password protect videos
  6. Use offline
  7. Add scripts easily
  8. Capture computer audio (if desired)
  9. Adjust maximum frame rate
  10. Insert more video into saved recording
  11. Resize the video
  12. Cut out parts of recordings
  13. Trim around parts of recordings
  14. Add transitions
  15. Change speed up or down

It’s incredibly simple to use. Lots of educators like Jing, but I’d choose SOM over Jing based on functionality.

It’s a web-based tool, but it does give you the option to download an applet that will allow you to make screencasts even when offline (both PC and Mac).

They have been rather prolific at introducing new features to the service. At this rate, they are well positioned to continue to be the leader in web-based screencasting.

NOTE: I’m a big fan of web-based tools in general, where there is no software download or install. This is a major benefit when working with students and having them capture screencasts of what they’re doing. I’m not saying it’s better than the expensive programs that are out there – but I am saying that it is a great, inexpensive, and easy-to-use screencasting tool.

Invite a Monkey to your Picnik

Many faithful Picnik users were sad to learn that Google will be shutting down the photo editing site in April, 2012. I use Picnik all the time and it was one of the few Web 2.0 sites that I was willing to pay for over the past few years. I gladly paid the $25 annual fee for a Premium membership so that I could access all the tools and also do my part to help them be sustainable. Then it was purchased by Google, and things to started to change. My Picnik account was created five years ago, on March 10, 2007. This screenshot below of the Picnik website was edited using Picnik to add the mirror frame, the text on top of two geometric shapes, and the highlighting of their closure date.

New post 5/2/712: Collage feature added by Picmonkey

Picnik website before closing in April 2012

Google keeps saying that the Picnik tools will be rolled into Google Plus and that we shouldn’t be worried about the future of our photo editing. Maybe they’ll end up with something really great, but so far it is extremely disappointing. Some (not many) of the Picnik editing features have been rolled out in the G+ Creative Kit. This is a seriously crippled version of Picnik, and not even close to what Picnik users are used to having at their disposal. Maybe they’re not done with the Creative Kit, but they don’t seem to be offering much information about what the future of Creative Kit will look like.

Additionally – I really don’t want all my photos accessible from G+, which I assume would mean they’ll be viewable by people in my circles – unless I tightly lock them down – or whatever my privacy options (that’s not intended to be funny) might be for photos on G+.

On Friday, March 9, I received an email from a photo service that I had previously signed up for. Their email said that they were ready for us to start using PicMonkey. It turns out that PicMonkey was developed by some former Picnik employees and they claim it to be “faster, more powerful, and easier to use” (plus “78% more monkey” which I assume is sort of like more cowbell). I don’t think that I would agree with the “more powerful” statement just yet, because not all of the Picnik tools are available, but many of them are. Although the UI is different, many of the tools appear to be direct clones of the similar Picnik tools. Anyone can use PicMonkey and you don’t even need to create an account to get full access to the service. Just upload a photo, edit it, then save it back to your computer. The screenshot below was edited in Picmonkey by adding the matte frame and the text along the top of the frame.

Screenshot of Picmoney from March 2012

Probably because it’s new, PicMonkey doesn’t yet have all the tools that were available at Picnik. These are some of the Picnik features that I liked and used, and that I’m hoping become available at PicMonkey:

  • Integration with my Flickr account (edit Flickr photos then save them back to Flickr)
  • The “History” allows you to open any photo you’ve previously used in Picnik
  • The “Photo Basket” makes it simple to combine photos via drag-and-drop
  • Build a collage of photos (PicMonkey says this is coming soon)
  • “Make a Show” will help you create embeddable slide shows and widgets
  • Getting a photo from a website. Just enter the site URL and choose the photo (keep it legal)
  • Currently, you can’t make an account at all at PicMonkey, which would be necessary for many of the things to work such as integration with other sites, photo basket, and history.

Some of the areas where PicMonkey is a match for Picnik include:

  • All the basic edits (crop, rotate/straighten, colors, resize, etc) are there.
  • Many “Effects” are there: B&W, Sepia, Boost, Tint, Soft Focal, 25 in all (Picnik has 37).
  • Almost all “Touch Up” effects (15 out of 17), including: teeth whiten, blemish fix, red-eye removal, eye tint, cloning.
  • Text tools include 27 different fonts, compared to the Picnik array of 16 basic fonts and 15 premium ($) fonts, and dozens of mostly useless goofy fonts.
  • Overlays include things that I use such as speech bubbles, geometric shapes, arrows, and symbols; but don’t include the multitude of seasonal stickers and other clip artsy sorts of stuff at Picnik (NBD).
  • The selection of digital picture frames is not nearly as extensive at PicMonkey, but all the basic ones are there.

Overall, I’m impressed with the roll out of PicMonkey. I’m guessing that they’ll be busy working to add new features and to make it an even better replacement for Picnik. This is photo editing for the 99% (where the 1% are those Photoshop users who need it and actually know how to use all the powerful tools in it). Now, please give me more monkey.