During a meeting at work today, we discussed some of the unique challenges disabled students face when using Zoom for synchronous learning. A couple of examples:
- In Zoom (and other platforms), the screen sharing is inaccessible to screen readers so the instructor would need to share that content in some other way, there are difficulties for Deaf/HoH students with translation or transcription.
- Even if everything is made accessible, the exhaustion of having to decipher barely visible body language, the lack of eye contact, difficulty with lip-reading, etc. all create a huge mental load. For anyone using assistive tech, it can be even more daunting - for example, a screen reader reads everything going on in the chat as it happens, so if that is active it distracts from the spoken conversation and exhausts the listener.
I'm wondering if anyone has run into accessibility issues with synchronous sessions. If so, how were they resolved (if at all)?
Thank you for bringing up the topic of synchronous sessions being a challenge for people with hearing and visual difficulties.
Synchronous sessions are also a challenge for learners whose first language is not English. For our online English classes in Japan, we use a Moodle subtitle plugin called Cloud Poodll that uses AI to automatically create subtitles in a video in a few seconds for uploading later. This is the fastest way I've seen captions being created correctly.
The easiest way I can think to include Deaf/HoH in the synchronous sessions with the technology available today would be to have students field their questions in advance and then have a tech assistant quickly create the subtitles so the students can access the recordings with subtitles after class with as little delay as possible.
The Center on Accessible Distance Learning (AccessDL) at the University of Washington has a ton of information on making online courses more accessible. I had the pleasure of attending a symposium with the director and founder Sheryl Burgstahler a few years ago on a visit to Japan. She is very passionate about helping make online learning more accessible. Her email is in the information I've linked to her name.
Does your institute add captions to video recordings to enhance accessibility?
I am a huge fan of Sheryl Burgstahler. She has done a lot of great work and made many of her resources available under Creative Commons license. Part of my Master's work focused on universal design for learning and I strive to make the resources I create accessible. I recently completed a course offered by Ryerson on web accessibility auditing. It was a little beyond my technical comfort zone but I picked up a lot of tips and tricks.
I often work with faculty to help make their content accessible. I always steer them away from synchronous learning because the barriers seem significant. If they are using synchronous tools, I try to encourage them to make sure that students are able to access the content in other ways as well and do not have to rely on what was presented synchronously to be successful.
How accurate do you find Cloud Poodll? When I create videos I find that machine capturing has about an 85 percent accuracy rate and that's in cases where I am speaking slowly, clearly, and only for a short period of time. I have seen machine capturing go terribly wrong with technical language. In my experience, once the AI involved in capturing goes wrong the accuracy degrades quickly.
Great to hear you are a fan of Sheryl Burgstahler as well, and thank you for championing accessibility of learning.
At the same seminar, I learned that 12% of the student base (20,000) at the Open University of the UK are studying thanks to OU institution-wide accessibility policies.
I feel we're getting higher than 85% accuracy most of the time. It depends on the vocab you are using and on the speaker and on the audio hardware (less so these days actually). Some editing will be required by Cloud Poodll as well but allows us to create accurate captions quickly for students to study the day after as I am doing in this course. Justin offers a free trial.
Here is the reply I received from Justin at Poodll.
Hi Briana - good question about accessibility - its something our team at BCcampus value and practice. Most web conferencing tools - including zoom an collaborate - have a closed captioning role that the moderator can assign in the beginning of the session. Its live - and for a slow typer like me it would be intense as a captioner - but it would make it more accessible for HoH. We can try it in one of the sessions if you like. Also, when you record a session you can download it and then upload to a hosted media tool like kaltura that has an auto caption option. Then the recording becomes a (more) accessible resource.
If you are screensharing then the best practice accessibility wise is to describe the screen verbally - so that way it shows up in the captioning and it helps with those that cannot see.
Here is a link for part of our accessibility toolkit: https://bccampus.ca/2019/02/12/accessibility-toolkit-multimedia/. Here is the colloborate ultra info on closed captioning (includes a video): https://help.blackboard.com/Collaborate/Ultra/Moderator/Moderate_Sessions/Live_Closed_Captioning
Hope this helps - I'm still learning about accessibility every day.
Thanks for the information.
Since the shift to online learning, I have found myself the go-to person in my department for captioning and chaptering videos so I have a pretty good handle on the technology. In my reply to Doug, I noted that the accuracy rate can be problematic, especially for longer videos or sessions that involve technical language.
I suspect the challenges for accessing synchronous learning extend far beyond deaf and hard-of-hearing participants. When I think of my own learning in such environments, I find that I have a hard time paying attention to what is being said while also participating in the chat. And because I am also on my computer I often find myself looking for resources, emailing, responding to Teams messages, etc. instead of being engaged with the presenter. When I attend f2f learning environments, I am engaged, I pay attention, I very deliberately avoid my phone and other distractions. I am not sure why that is not the case with online synchronous learning. I suppose the physical distance creates an additional social distance that frees me to disengage. Yikes!
I suppose the physical distance creates an additional social distance that frees me to disengage.
You raise a good point about having a hard time paying attention in synchronous sessions -- and I hope (expect) this topic will come out in the questions about facilitating this week and next. I don't think the issue is the social distance, but a problem with lecturing. Just moving your lecture program online doesn't work because learners are no longer "captive" as in f-2-f as you note and distracted by other things.
In long lecture-type synchronous sessions, I often find my mind wandering at times too. I think everyone does. Tony Bates describes this point well (and gives some tips) in Chapter 12.3 in his book. Right now not everyone has the time to redesign the course but I do believe if we focus on less lecturing and more engagement activities in synchronous sessions learning will increase.
In my synchronous session next Tuesday evening (26th), I'll be trying to talk less and engage learners too so please attend and see if I can keep you focused :-)
Such an important issue. Our Centre for Accessible Learning, as well as the e-learning team have been working hard to try to figure out solutions to these questions. I agree that the more technical the info, the less accurate tech solutions are. We still have transcribers that work with certain students, but they are being significantly challenged to be everywhere at once.
Accessibility for me is a broader issue and a social issue - many of the students (and employees) have limited home access to powerful computers that can run much of this technology, stable connections and wifi, and with the coffee shops and libraries closed, this has become a much more significant issue. In my credit course at the end of winter semester, when we had to switch to online - 3 of my students had to withdraw because of connection issues and access to technology. We do have student rental of laptops, but that still requires access to wifi. Some were using their phones and I am very concerned about the data charges they ended up incurring, not to even begin to address trying to do a course online on a phone.
Often in a synchronous session, only the person talking has their video on, to minimize delay in transmission and freezing... so again, the loss of feeling of community in seeing everyone's face also adds to the distractions that are around the participant in their home life. Sigh... I wish I had answers to all of these questions.....
Patience - great point about internet accessibility as well. Even if there is OK internet access the social unit (if the person lives with more than one person) may just have one device and the learner may not be able to access that device for a synchronous session. In that scenario a laptop loan might be a help if available. Glad you are considering these important issues.
YES. All week.
We are meeting with applicants now for Fall programming (I work in what is considered to be adult special education), and while we finds many folks in the post-secondary realm focus on audio and visual solutions, we also experience a number of learners struggling with mental health, developmental or socio-economic barriers. We find that web conferencing is welcomed by the majority of our learners so far, who appreciate the personal face to face as we connect in these small sessions, reducing anxiety and getting to know one another, but the quality of the experiences were severely hampered by the sheer volume of challenges that appeared, different in each session - from rotating between Teams, BBCU, telephone and zoom, poor internet connections and students simply not knowing how to get on the call when it required a software download. So like Patience has mentioned, accessibility issues seem as diverse and wide-ranging as the population.
We have often worked with interpreters in our classrooms - would this be a way to assist a learner in a synchronous classroom/meeting, rather than relying on a recording, closed caption and transcripts solely?
from rotating between Teams, BBCU, telephone and zoom, poor internet connections and students simply not knowing how to get on the call when it required a software download.
Yes, indeed rotating between various software does indeed confuse students, especially downloading and installing software. Using a dedicated LMS is easier for students to log in etc and takes less bandwidth.
If you can I would recommend using the MoodleCloud browser site. Moodlecloud includes BigBlueButton video collaboration software, and with the click of one button (Join Now) students can access the site. We use MoodleCloud & BBB for our live 40min English conversations with small groups and had no problems including people joining on Wifi or mobile phones. (Our concern too was the issue demotivating the students and teachers with the technology)
MoodleCloud has a free plan you can use to test out the site, then upgrade to a paid subscription if you want to record the live sessions. BBB is integrated in most LMS systems. https://bigbluebutton.org/integrations/
Moodlecloud with BBB should allow your students to connect to the live sessions without any problems if they can log in. Or have you already solved the problem?
Hi Doug - thanks for you comments!
My institution supports D2L as a LMS, and BBCU is integrated with it. The folks we are connecting with are not actually students yet - sorry if this was confusing. They are applicants. So while we can invite them as a guest to a Collaborate session, because they can't sign in as a student yet, there seemed to be bandwidth issues, so we turned off video - but it still was not a smooth thing. We have been authorized to use Teams as well for these intimate calls, but only about 50% were successful in that the student wasn't overly confused by the logging in process and the need to open up the web based version or download an app. A student begged me to use Zoom with her, so I did, in a collaborative way without the personal details. Shockingly easy. Many of our applicants and students are very familiar with Zoom, as many community support agencies use it for activities. However, it does not meet our institutional privacy needs.
Our intake conversations are the beginning of our connection with our learners, and with each student, we tried to use the best tool for the job, given what their hardware was (hence the software rotation by student, lol).
We are trying very hard to use what our institution supports :) I love many of the features on Blackboard Collaborate Ultra (BBCU), so hoping things will get easier for our learners. On another note, my son keeps advising me to use BigBlueButton as well; as a Grade 10 student online right now, I love seeing his confidence with this tool!
Thanks for your insights, Laura. I am not teaching this semester but I did find that at the end of last semester my students really did appreciate any opportunity to connect in a synchronous way. My kids have also loved every opportunity their teachers have provided for them to meet online. As you said, there are often technological hiccups, but they don't seem to care.
I have pondered about this as well and find that in the current remote teaching environment the need for considering our diverse student population is more important than ever. Beyond those who use resources on campus, we now also have students without computers, without their own room, in different timezones, caring for kids, etc.
I find it useful to approach my own teaching from a UDL perspective. Rather than creating something and then adding access as an afterthought, it is about designing for "those in the margins" which means everyone benefits. When it comes to synchronous activities, I find it most important not to assign grades based on participation or even presence as we might inadvertently assess access to technology. (The same is true for synchronous exams).
I found this post on low-bandwidth option a great starting point to consider what aspects of courses can be moved to other media. Especially when it comes to sharing content, it is important to think about the added value of doing so though synchronous lectures when it is available elsewhere and possibly open. Tony Bates provides useful guiding questions in his book Teaching in a Digital Age.
Thanks Jens - for this golden nugget which I will carry away with me - Rather than creating something and then adding access as an afterthought, it is about designing for "those in the margins" which means everyone benefits.