Accessible Online Learning

Be Proactive: Creating An Accessible Online Learning Environment Using Blackboard

JoAnna Hunt, Design Strategist – Blackboard Learn
Jennifer Pope, Copy & Compliance Editor – Northeastern University
Ke’Anna Skipwith, Instructional Designer – Northeastern University
Stephanie Weeks, Vice President – User Experience, Blackboard Academic Platforms

This session highlighted how Northeastern University is being proactive in building accessible online course content; along with the latest accessibility features in Blackboard Learn and Collaborate products. An accessible LMS + accessible faculty course content = student success.

Barriers to accessibility:

  • Lack of knowledge
  • Lack of Time
  • Challenges with the LMS
  • Lack of Awareness

 Biggest knowledge gaps:


 Some accessibility features in Blackboard Learn:

  • New accessible calendar.
  • Much easier to understand and navigate the discussion boards.
  • Skip links allow users to skip over major navigation sections (such as the course menu) and jump directly to the most relevant content. Skip links are available to both keyboard only and screen reader users.
  • The Quick links tool allows a user to quickly locate any heading or section within any page in the Blackboard Learn application and jump directly to it.
  • Test availability exceptions is a set of new settings on the Test Options page, available only after the test is added to a content area. Select one or more groups of students and make a number of exceptions to the already established availability settings. Exceptions can be used to provide an accommodation to a disabled student, or provide accommodations for technology and language differences.

Why be proactive in creating accessible online course content:

  • Saves time
  • Minimizes course disruption
  • Reduces cost

 Northeastern University’s approach:

  1. First step is mandatory two week training in which the instructor becomes certified.
  2. Second step is readiness / quality
     (2×2 rule – 2weeks of course material ready 2 weeks before the course begins).
  3. Third step is ongoing support for faculty. Instructional designers assigned to faculty members for one-on-one support.

The follow are examples of being proactive in creating universally designed and accessible online course content at Northeastern University:

  • Use descriptive text and alt text.
  • Use CC and/or print transcripts to benefit all students with text reinforcement.
  • Use of the note section in Bb Collaborate Voice board.
  • Provide text based lectures in additional formats such as a PowerPoint that has the material chunked into sections.
  • Use the notes section in PowerPoints to provide additional information.

Can Twitter microblogging lead to higher retention?

Cheryl Boncuore, Academic Director at Kendall College in Chicago
Aurora Dawn Reinke, Assistant Professor at Kendall College in Chicago

Kendall instituted an experiment with faculty to implement social media in pedagogically sound ways. The college allowed the use of social media in class and beyond; tied use to institutional mission, programmatic learning outcomes and class objectives. They conducted the experiment with 10 professors, used 13 hashtags, and 276 students.

Kendall learned from the microblogging experiment that it is a great way to…

  • Prompt student research.
  • Connect with leaders in the industry and build relationships.
  • Engage students and faculty (some students that may not normally talk in face-to-face classrooms, may feel comfortable using social media instead).
  • Affirm student knowledge (followers, retweets, favorites).

Lessons learned and what Kendall will do differently next time…

  • Provide more training for students and faculty; how to use hash tags and mention use.
  • Explain to students better the advantages of using Twitter; only takes a few seconds, short, and to the point.
  • Don’t assume all Gen Y students are not afraid of doing it “wrong.” Encourage them to participate without fear of being penalized for not tweeting correctly.
  • Do not use Twitter to remind students of homework as it will result in a negative reaction from students.

Tips to integrate Twitter into your class…

  • Come up with a list of topics for hashtags to use in tweets and find reliable information.
  • Have students follow you (the instructor). The instructor may also want to also follow the student. Encourage students to create a professional (not personal) account.
  • Encourage students to find great resources and share URL.


Students felt more connected with instructors, peers, and those in the industry.

Useful Twitter tools…

  • Twitonomy analytics is a tool used to see statistics on students’ twitter accounts (number of tweets, replies, retweets, mentions, and even the devices used).
  • is a social media dashboard to manage and measure your social networks. It allows faculty to schedule tweets and have multiple feeds.
  • is one of many sites used to shorten URLs to help meet the limited 140 characters.

Use #teachwithtwitter so that we can learn from each other.

For students using assistive technologies, Easy Chirp is a third-party web-based Twitter interface. It is a web-accessible application meaning that it’s optimized for disabled users.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 193 other followers