Emporia State has added a plug-in to Canvas systems called Blackboard Ally to further promote accessibility throughout Emporia State.
“The term accessibility is used throughout the disability community,” said Robert Gibson, director of learning technologies. “Blackboard Ally is designed to plug into Canvas and give faculty these feedback indicators or gauges...for each content item they upload, it tells them if it is very accessible or inaccessible.”
Blackboard Ally or “A11y” is an extension of the existing Blackboard products already owned by ESU. The program functions automatically to create more accessible file formats, such as audio files or seizure-friendly videos.
“Files have to be conformed to certain standards to be used by various disabilities,” Gibson said. “Blackboard will automatically check the files that a professor uploads to Canvas, and it will check it instantly and tell them if it is accessible (according to Web Content Associated Guidelines) or not.”
Gibson said while the semester has just started, there has already been over 1,200 instances of students using the program.
“Students get a different experience with Ally,” Gibson said. “What the students see is called the alternative file format downloads. It automatically creates up to seven different alternative formats for students to use.”
If a certain format of teaching is inaccessible due to a disability, the college is obligated to find solutions, according to Gibson, whether that be adding captions to video lessons or having a file be available in electronic braille.
“(Blackboard) is a very powerful tool,” said Dana Carter, learning designer. “There is a wide variety of interests in disability studies. I think the college is leading the way in a lot of different areas.”
While the program has only recently been implemented, it was brought up to some professors last semester.
“I think this is an example of how AI and technology is making our job as teachers easier by making what we do accessible to all students,” said Seth Lickteig, professor of instructional design and technology. “As technology is rapidly changing, we have to adapt.”
Lickteig’s said he believes teachers should be embracing the assistance of technology, not fighting back against it.
“It is really an antiquated way of teaching,” Lickteig said. “It hurts and it stunts the learning of their students. As a student, if I am comfortable using my device to help me learn, record notes and it’s not a distraction, then it’s a powerful tool to use in our classrooms, and we should be using it.”