I'm usually not one to write too many blog posts, and I really debated the best place to put this. As Ally is an accessibility tool it could have certainly gone in the accessibility group (and beginning my community college career in DSPS I do have a soft spot for UDL and 508/ADA compliance--so important for student success), but this has more to due with implementation and challenges regarding our processes and complexity of getting a tool of this scope in-place at a multi-college district with over 50k FTES. I do believe this is more applicable to this Higher Education group, as there are specific challenges that we face in our environment that may not be as applicable to some of the other sectors. Also, please forgive me as I've left some of this intentionally vague so that I don't identify any specific folks at our district, as everyone is wonderful to work with here.
To begin, we had a subgroup that I was part of that was charged with analyzing which potential tools we could adopt in order to enhance accessibility for students, and after looking at a few options it was determined that our best path forward was to explore Blackboard Ally. We piloted Ally for a semester, and after positive feedback from the small testing group we then signed a 3 year contract. The thinking was that after using the tool in a somewhat limited capacity with that small group it was found to be valuable, and we could then begin an opt-in rollout to specific courses where faculty could use the tool the first semester (where we could provide additional training and use those experiences to develop additional resources), then roll it out to all courses the following semester.
The main complexity started when we began to look as a District at how the content that Blackboard Ally identified as needing some level of remediation, was in actuality going to be remediated. Looking at the sheer amount of content that we need to remediate, it is a daunting task. As I mentioned above, we're a pretty large district, with four colleges and over 50k full-time equivalent students. Looking back at just one semester of content that Ally identifies, we can see almost 800,000 pieces of content. While the course numbers are a bit inflated as we create a course shell for every section, the content number is fully accurate regarding what's in Canvas.
This leads me into the challenge that we are still facing, and why we have had to delay our rollout--simply that we need a comprehensive plan on how this content is going to be remediated. Right now we have courses that have content in them that is not fully accessible, and we can see that in the account level reporting. We are not looking at or evaluating the course specific accessibility reports, though they are available. The challenges is that content was there before we implemented Ally, as it is there now with Ally implemented, the only difference is that we can't preach ignorance or pass the buck when we have reporting that shows we do have inaccessible content.
We are now having to somewhat on-the-fly come up with plans on how to help faculty remediate content. Many of the courses we have are fully online (and fully developed) and have been taught and continually have evolved for years. When there are hundreds of pieces of content, each of which can take between minutes and hours to remediate, there is just too large of a burden to expect faculty members to fully remediate the content themselves in a timely manner. We are evaluating options such as hiring more faculty coordinators at each campus to help with remediation, hiring district-wide instructional designers to remediate content, having stipends available to faculty for content remediation above their regular teaching load, etc. With four colleges and so many decision makers needing to be consulted and the ultimate decision needing to be negotiated with faculty, this process is not something that is able to be accomplished in a week or even a month. It is critical we get this done for students, as they need fully accessible content, but there are so many considerations that need to be made it is quite the process.
In closing, the main reason for making this post was to inform others regarding the challenges that are presented once you begin identifying inaccessible content. Hopefully you have a good experience using whatever tool or solution that your institution chooses, and I just want to make sure that those charged with making those decisions consider the implications when they choose to implement their solution. Having a comprehensive plan regarding how to remediate content is very valuable.
Thanks for your time reading this.