Sunday, August 27, 2017

5 Easy Ways To Make Your Digital Content Accessible To Everyone

Reaghan is my oldest daughter and about to start third grade. At 2 years of age I noticed she wasn’t talking much and when she did talk you couldn’t really understand what she was trying to say. After talking to her pediatrician it was decided to have her evaluated for her speech. She spent countless hours working with a speech-language pathologist for nearly 5 and half years. She now enters third grade with great speech and more confidence.

While she was in speech therapy she would have to do what other kids in her classroom would have to do. Practice reading out loud. She had tremendous anxiety over that. I knew she was a strong reader but she had a very hard time being understood. Fortunately, she had very understanding teachers and accommodations in place that allowed her to read more one-on-one with the teacher.

As educators we understand that students have a wide range of abilities and disabilities that we must take into account when we teach. For some, we must extend the lesson for students who can go beyond the content. For others we need to differentiate and make the content more accessible to accommodate for a disability.

However, these accommodations must extend beyond the classroom. As classrooms and digital spaces become more ubiquitous educators must understand how the content they create and put in these online spaces must be made accessible for all. And it not just for those students in the classroom. It's for other students, parents and the community as well.

One area I have been working with many districts across the U.S. is accessibility. Specifically website accessibility. There is a movement to ensure that the content that is created by schools and districts can be accessible by anyone, no matter their ability or disability. And the law is on their side. Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1998 says that schools that receive federal funds must adhere to specific standards of website access.

It is the responsibility of every person who maintains a digital presence for their students and community to ensure that all members of that community can access the content. Not everyone will access that content the same way or complete a task like a form fill the same way. So we have to ensure we have those accommodations are in place to make sure that can be done.

Sure, but you’re an educator doing the best they can to ensure that all students in your classroom learn to the best of your abilities. Now I’m telling you that you have to worry about the content you put on your website must be accessible as well? Forget it you might say. Don’t. Making content accessible for your website is not that difficult. And often there isn’t anything extra you have to do.

5 Easy Ways To Make Your Web Content Accessible For All

Colors and Fonts-The design of our digital spaces help define who we are and the content we are posting. I was a science teacher so I would use more science themed designs on my website. Design is also something important to think about when it comes to accessibility. First with colors, it’s important to look at the colors you use to make sure the contrast between 2 colors isn’t overwhelming or washed out. You want to have a simple contrast that is easy for the viewer to read. Second, let’s talk about fonts. It’s very important to use sans-serif fonts like Arial, Verdana, Tahoma, Georgia and Palatino. Serif fonts like Times New Roman are ok but could cause screen readers to error because of the spacing between the letters. I regularly get asked about Comic Sans. Comic Sans has been shown to help readers with dyslexia. While technically accessible, it should be avoided as it can have irregular spacing which, again can cause screen readers to error.

Tables-When I was a District Instructional Technologist I had to teach teachers how to update their webpages. Many would get frustrated trying to get the content on the page looking perfect. Tables to the rescue! We could create a borderless table and the content would be nice and centered and looking good. The problem with tables is they must have a complete set of labels for every cell, header and row. Well if I am creating a table for my content labeling may not be practical. If you are going to use tables be sure you have a way to add those labels in. And if you don’t have to, it’s best to avoid tables all together.

Alt Text-Go to you class, school, or district home page. Odds are there are many images on those pages. Images help tell stories and are powerful as a communications tool. But imagine for a second you have a visual impairment. Those images shouldn’t be any less impactful because one can’t fully see them. Screen readers are a popular tool for those that have a visual impairment but still need to navigate webpages. Screen readers rely on the HTML that makes up the page to tell it what to say. When it gets to an image the screen reader needs Alt Text to tell the viewer what that image is of. If you put a picture up of a football game and the alt text simply says “football game” that doesn’t help tell the story of that image. Alt Text needs to be descriptive so that the screen reader can fully tell the view what that image is of. Any time you put an image on your site there should be a way to add Alt Text. Don’t just ignore that. Fill it out so you can fully tell the story you want to tell with that image.

Videos And Closed Captioning-Many teachers use video to supplement learning or are using it to flip the classroom. A major consideration for posting videos on a teacher website or other site that parents and/or students are using is they must have closed captioning enabled. No matter if the video content was created by the teacher or pulled from another source, closed captioning must be enabled. This may seem daunting considering the amount of original content that could be created and posted via video but it doesn’t have to be. If you are uploading your videos to YouTube take advantage of their automatic closed captioning. There are also several free services that will caption your videos as well. Either way this is something simple that you can do so that everyone can enjoy your videos.

PDFs-When more and more content was moving to digital formats, PDFs became the defacto way to post documents that allowed them to be view on any device. And it’s true. Pretty much any device (tablet, laptop, mobile phone) can open a PDF. However, PDFs aren’t accessible and there are a lot of them out there posted on class, school and district webpages. Programs like Adobe Acrobat (the full version) can create fully accessible PDFs. Microsoft Word also allows for the saving of documents so that they are accessible. One of the easiest ways to avoid having to create accessible PDFs is to avoid using them all together. Create content so that it appears on the webpage rather than having to be downloaded. This content is much easier to be made accessible. If you must create PDF’s to post download this guide to learn how you can do it easily.

I know Accessibility isn't a new flashy tool or device that folks like to read about. However, it is important to every educator posting digital content that content be made so anyone can access it. We all have a responsibility to ensure the content we post is accessible.

If you want to learn more about accessibility, the laws, and more ideas on making content more accessible check out the SchoolMessenger Accessibility Resource Center.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Summer 2017 Learning Series-6 Awesome Tools To Try This School Year

For the next several weeks I’ll be sharing posts that you can use for your summer learning. School may be out for many but the learning we do as educators can last even outside the classroom. These posts will take us through Twitter chats and how you can participate in real time or whenever you want. Next we will examine some ideas on how to get the most out of any conference you attend this summer or beyond. We will then move to some non-educational books that you can use to grow as a learner and a professional. From there we looked at Formative Assessment and how easy it is to do today. In the last post I gave you some ideas on how to better engage parents this upcoming school year. Finally we will finish the series by looking at some new and exciting tools to try in your classroom. Each post will offer up some basic information along with several learning challenges you can undertake. Happy Learning!

I’ve done a great deal of traveling this summer, working with districts on School:Home Communications, technology planning and more. And every school and district office I spend time in the scene is the same. Hallways lined with full and empty boxes of new laptops, Chromebooks and iPads that will ultimately end up in the hands of teachers and students.

As students prepare their notebooks and book bags, and teachers prepare their classrooms and lessons, looking at all this new (or existing technology) one could be thinking to themselves what do I do with all this stuff? How do I integrate this technology seamlessly yet effectively to enhance student learning?

There are so many new and exciting tools, apps and sites to discover and use throughout the course of the year. Some, when you look at them, seem great but don’t really offer any substance. While there are many more that go untalked about because they don’t have a large Twitter following or are just brand new. What are the new (or new to you) tools you can use this school year to get the more out of those devices but most importantly, what will impact student learning in positive way?

Here are 6 tools you can use throughout the course of the year to make a difference in your classroom.

I became a fan of Flipgrid after a conference I attended earlier this year used it before the conference to capture what attendees were excited about and afterwards to share what they learned and how they would keep the learning going. Flipgrid is a video capture app that can be used for things like pre-assessment, sharing what we know, formative assessment, and group conversations. Simply create a free teacher account, create a board and invite students to discuss the topic with a recorded video, text or link. No accounts are needed for students as everything is done through a code or link to the board. Here is one I created (that I would love for you to add to) on summer reading. You can also check out this post to learn more about what you can do with Flipgrid.

This is one of those apps that once you use it you will wonder what you did without it. Available as a free app Recap allows students and teachers to simplify the formative assessment process. Students record a short video using their device and then send it to the teacher. The teacher can respond via a video or other comments. Where I think this app really excels is for professional development. Imagine being able to deliver PD and know, in the moment where everyone is in their learning. We can then change instruction on the fly, modeling what we’d do in the classroom. The whole time keeping an evolution of the learning process. I am a proud Recap Pioneer, a program that advocates for the use of the product in schools. Check out this post to see what all is possible with Recap.

I’ve been honest in the past about how I don’t think Flipped Classrooms are necessarily a good idea. That said, using video in the classroom to enhance student learning can be a great idea. Odds are you will assign or use video this year for students. Why not create an interactive lesson with it? That’s where EdPuzzle excels. Content doesn’t have you come from just YouTube. You can use a variety of sources, even uploading your own video. Then you can add check points along the way to ensure students are aligning their learning to your outcomes. As a teacher you can see exactly what student responses are and keep track of everything. It’s a great app to use to do more with those videos we use in the classroom. Here is a great post that outlines how to use it and what you can do with it.

Of all the tools and resources on this list, Book Creator is the newest to me. I was introduced to it by my friend Shaelynn Farnsworth. When she was describing it to me I was getting excited about what could be possible. This app does what it says. It takes the rich content that students create, videos, text, images, and audio to create an interactive book. In the English classroom create a Slam Poetry Book. In the social studies class take that boring report about a country and make an interactive travel book that goes deep. The list is really endless. You could even use it to create a digital portfolio that students can show what they know throughout the school year. Available as an app or a Chrome App you can use Book Creator on nearly any device. Check out this post for more useful ideas and resources.

I’ve been advocating for the use of screen recorded video in the classroom for a long time. The possibilities for students to demonstrate what they know and for educators and leaders to get back time in faculty meetings are truly endless. There have been several programs I have tried and it wasn’t until I landed on Screencastify that I finally found what I was looking for. Available as a Chrome App it’s so easy now to record a webpage for a walkthrough or the desktop for something more. You can even capture your own video and sound. All the recordings go into Google Drive where you can easily share or embed. If you spring for the Pro Plan (which I highly recommend) you can even edit your videos right in Google Drive.

Snapchat is one of those apps that most know about but struggle to find a use in the classroom. I argue is the perfect app to capture those wonderful stories that happen in the classroom everyday. The thing is, not all of those stories need permanency. And since stories in Snapchat only last a short time, it can become a great app for sharing. Using it also helps to show that apps like that can be used for something positive. Using a mix of images and video along with filters and stickers, you can share all those great things that happen every day. Check out this post to see all the other ideas you can use Snapchat for.

I have 2 challenges for you as you start school this year. Commit to trying to use at least one of these apps in your classroom this year. Learn it well, examine the possibilities, try and fail then try again. The second thing is to share your experience. Send a tweet, write a blog post, lead a PLC meeting, share in a faculty meeting. Do whatever you can to share your learning, not only with these apps but everything you learn this year with other educators.

Learn more about being a Tech-Savvy Teacher by reading my post,
6 Areas of Development For Tech-Savvy Teachers.