In 2016 Miriam Edwards lead a body of educational design work titled ‘Creating an Accessible MBA through Universal Design.’ This post has been created to share some of the key insights arising from the project.
This investigation into accessibility is based upon the Master of Business Administration (MBA), an entirely online course which includes a non-compulsory face-to-face introductory workshop. The MBA is a flagship course, attracting a diverse range of students. It includes 4 core subjects:
MBA504: Accounting and Financial Management
MGT501: Management Theory and Practice
MGT510: Strategic Management
MKT501: Marketing Management
These subjects were part of the Faculty of Business’ Online Course Innovation (OCI) project, which saw each subject within the Faculty redesigned for online delivery. Although this process involved moving from print to online, no specific allowances were made for students with disabilities. These subjects include a range of media and various teaching strategies aimed to engage students. As a result, it is appropriate to examine the MBA in order to better understand accessibility issues within the University’s online courses.
What was worked on?
At the time of writing the report, i2 weekly module topics for three of the four MBA core subjects have been rebuilt using i2 Organisation sites (MGT501, MGT510 and MKT105). The aim of this is to illustrate what accessible i2 content might look like. This work included reformatting text to include styles (headings, subheadings & paragraphs), images have been captioned and given meaningful names as have urls directing students to readings. Because this project did not include involvement from lecturers, no new content has been written. Rather, recommendations around inclusive design have been noted throughout the existing content. This includes things such as transcripts for videos and explanations for illustrations and diagrams. Lecturers teaching within MGT501 and MGT510 during 201660 were informed of this work and given the revised content, which they used in their teaching.
How did the MBA core subjects stack up?
The review of existing content within the core MBA subjects highlighted several issues. Each subject site had weekly topics created within i2 (content areas including module folders and pages). MKT501: Marketing Management also included interactive Captivate lectures with built-in quizzes. These Captivate lectures were embedded into the weekly module pages. Captivate does have an accessibility feature within the software. Although, these lectures would not be considered accessible in their current format as there is no transcript or captioning. It is unclear as to how vision impaired students would complete the built-in quizzes. Further investigation into the appropriate use of Captivate would be needed.
A major concern within each subject is non-compliance to WCAG 2.0 web standards within the i2 content areas (see Appendix A: Summary of MBA Core Subjects Accessibility Issues). None of the content within the core MBA subjects would have been considered accessible. In fact, students relying on screen readers would struggle to navigate module pages and locate online readings. Other barriers to accessibility within the content of these subjects include:
- Videos with no transcripts or captioning
- Text not formatted into paragraphs, headings, subheadings
- Audio (mp3) with no transcript
- Navigation which is inconsistent
- Navigation which is complex
- Links to online readings which are not meaningful, such as ‘click here’
- Pop-ups (which block screen readers)
- Diagrams and illustrations with no alternative explanation (a screen reader will simply identify this information as an image)
- eReserve readings are provided as image based PDFs
A variety of media is included in the content areas of the MBA core subjects as shown in Table 2. These items are critical components within the weekly topics. In their present state these items prevent the subjects from being considered accessible for several reasons including:
- hearing impaired students are not provided with transcripts or captions
- vision impaired students relying on screen readers would have difficulty in navigating through much of the content
- vision impaired students relying on screen readers would gain no information from images, diagrams, complex tables or ereserve readings
Table 2. Materials included in the MBA core subjects i2 content, which could raise accessibility issues.
|Other videos –
(ie. mini lectures)
(Illustrations or photos)
|Diagrams and/or complex tables||eReserve|
*MKT501 Captivate ‘interactive lectures’ excluded from this data.
Teaching practices within the MBA core subjects raised concerns regarding accessibility. In accordance with Faculty policy, lecturers within each of the four subjects actively engaged in both asynchronous and synchronous dialogue with students. To do so they relied heavily on the i2 Discussion board and Online Meeting (Adobe Connect) as shown in Table 3. Both of these technologies present challenges to students with a hearing or vision impairment.
I2 Discussion board
According to Disability Service staff, the i2 Discussion board is accessible but, it is not user friendly and requires face-to-face training with a student to be partially useable. In August 2015, three CSU staff tested the Discussion board using three popular screen readers, JAWS and NVDA on PCs, and VoiceOver on a Mac. With each screen reader navigation was difficult. Advice was sought from the University of Newcastle who have been using Blackboard for many years. The Assistive Technology Officer responded with, ‘All instances of students who use Jaws or other screen readers who had to use the discussion board have been changed to the student doing their own summary of the topic and emailing it to the course coordinator.’
Blackboard acknowledge accessibility issues within the Discussion board stating, ‘The complexity of the messages page in the Discussion board still requires significant improvement to work with assistive technology tools. Viewing collections of messages (For example, all messages from a specific user or all unread messages) can somewhat improve the experience for users but it is likely that training will be required for users to be successful’. (Blackboard, n.d.)
CSU Disability Service staff notify Subject Coordinators when there is a student with significant vision impairment enrolled in a subject, informing them of the issues within the i2 Discussion board. The lecturer is notified that an alternative method of interaction is required. They are also asked to not use the Discussion board as a means of sharing new study material or any information relating to assessment.
In 2016 it was discovered by the Disability Service staff that CSU have implemented an Adobe Help dialogue box when students enter an Online Meeting for the first time. This Flash pop-up window is inaccessible, presenting two selection options: ‘do not open again’ and ‘close’. As the details in the window are not read out, the student is completely unaware of the open window in focus when entering the meeting room. The solution proposed by DSL was for someone to sit beside the student and close the box. This is not a satisfactory solution and further investigation is taking place between Disability Service staff and DSL. For Online Meetings to be accessible to a student using a screen reader, the pod layout must be considered.
A student who is deaf or significantly hearing impaired is disadvantaged as they are unable to participate in an Online Meeting unless prior arrangements for a live captioner are made. Currently, efforts made to accommodate hearing impaired students happen after each online meeting. The Subject Convenor must give ‘Host’ rights to Disability Service staff so they are able to get to the Meetings>Recordings dashboard within Adobe Connect. They then make an offline copy of the meeting and organise transcriptions.
Testing has been conducted using casual staff and external professional captioning organisations. The plug-in captioning pod was used for the transcript, however the external company could not gain access to the plug-in captioning pod to broadcast unless significant changes were made. The external organisation suggested using the note pod, however if was found to be character limiting over a one hour meeting.
Table 3. Teaching Practices within the MBA core subjects
for synchronous communications
|I2 Discussion board
for a asynchronous communications
|MBA504||6 sessions recorded, URL shared via Announcement||Forum for each module, general questions and exam revision|
|MGT501||3 of the 4 sessions were recorded with urls presented in a table within an i2 page||Forum for each topic –appears as if they were not made visible, as ‘Main subject forum’ had all postings plus those in the Library help forum|
|MGT510||6 online meeting sessions recorded and shared as ‘items’ in a content area||Weekly forums as well as assessment-related forums|
|MKT501||4 sessions focussing on assessment-related information, recorded with URL posted in i2 page||Weekly prompts directing students to specific forums,|
Assessment strategies are quite traditional within the MBA core subjects. Nine of the twelve assessment tasks involve writing either a report or essay and submitting via EASTS. There is only one exam. Students are rewarded for ongoing forum contributions within one subject. Although this is a minor assessment, it could be problematic for reasons stated previously.
MGT501 is the first post graduate subject for many of the students. As such it is appropriate to embed introductory library tutorials within the weekly content and assessment strategy. Students are expected to work through an online library tutorial and then take a multiple choice quiz using the i2 test tool. The accessibility of the tutorial content is somewhat unclear as much of the content seems to be in tables. An investigation into the accessibility of library materials and training resources goes beyond the scope of this project and should be addressed in a University-wide accessibility audit. Although, the 10% online quiz is considered accessible. In fact, Disabilities Service staff have no record of any CSU student with a disability reporting issues relating to i2 online quizzes. The ability to adjust time limits for students taking an online quiz is seen as a valuable feature within i2. Overall there has been increased accessibility within Blackboard Tests and Quizzes as compared to the Sakai Test Centre.
Table 4. Assessment strategies within the MBA core subjects
|Assessment 1||Assessment 2||Assessment 3||Assessment 4|
|MBA504||20% students (groups) review financial statements. report by individuals. (2,000 words)||20% Sustainability report framework
2 hours plus 10 min reading.
|MGT501||10% Online library quiz||45% Management or Sustainability essay (3000 words)||45% Ethics Leadership essay (3000 words)|
|MGT510||40% Strategic analysis report||60% Strategic analysis report|
|MKT501||15% Corporate objectives, approaches to marketing, short essay (600 words)||35% Market segments and decision making report (2500 words)||40% Evaluating strategy and recommendation
Barriers to accessibility can originate during the preparation of study materials, throughout the teaching session and within assessments. Lecturers are adopting a variety of pedagogical approaches and various technologies while at the same time, trying to be responsive to student needs.
It is clear that a proactive approach must be implemented in order to ensure students with disabilities can access online study. Responsibility for this must be shared among academic and professional staff. This will require the guidance and support of professional staff from the Office of Students. Advice from the University’s Web Strategy Office, Exams Office and Library will also be beneficial. It is recommended that a working party be formed to develop strategies relating to three key areas of accessible online learning and teaching. These are:
- Applying universal design standards to the production of materials prior to teaching,
- Training, support and appropriate technologies for lecturers to teach inclusively, and
- A specific focus on assessment strategies
These three areas have similar intent to the activities listed in the CSU Disability Action Plan 2016-2019 (CSU, n.d., p. 15) with an added emphasis on assessment. This is based on the belief that disability may only become an issue at assessment time.
- Applying universal design standards to the production of materials prior to teaching,
Responsibility for applying universal design standards to i2 study materials should be given to DSL. The creation of i2 content (content area, module pages, items) in compliance with WCAG 2.0 standards would make such materials accessible to students with a disability. This in itself is not difficult. Much of the required work is around formatting text to include tags (html labels for items such as headings and captions). No additional investment in software or hardware is required to do this. Web accessibility testing tools are available for free and listed on the CSU Accessibility website. A link to this information is found on the bottom right-hand corner of each CSU website.
Training for DSL production team members (educational support coordinators, educational designers and others) could be provided on campus by Vision Australian representatives. Information relating to these resources has been noted in the Faculty Accessibility wiki page (FBJBS, 2016).
Creation of accessible i2 content would obviously need to be completed prior to session. As such it should be incorporated into existing production routines. In some instances DSL production staff will find materials such as complex diagrams or illustrations that cannot be made accessible without input from the academic.
The creation of DSL media prior to session, should be produced with accessibility in mind. In the case of video, this may mean creating English Closed Captions. The inclusion of any script used during production could serve as a transcription.
- Training, support and appropriate technologies for lecturers to teach inclusively
CSU staff expert in the area of disability, could provide professional development sessions to raise awareness regarding accessible teaching practices. Lecturers teaching into courses in which students have requested alternative formats, would greatly benefit from such professional development opportunities. A targeted professional development program would raise awareness at Faculty and School levels and allow lecturers to anticipate potential problems. An initial first step towards the University becoming fully accessible would be to provide professional development in Schools were known registered students with a disability are enrolled.
Certain educational technologies require immediate consideration. The current CSU Disability Action Plan specifically names Online Meeting and CSU Replay as technologies used to facilitate accessibility (CSU, n.d., p. 15). Because of this, attention should be given to the use of these technologies to ensure this is true. If either is deemed inaccessible, alternative technologies should be identified. Since Discussion boards are used extensively within i2 teaching sites, it is vital that this tool is also evaluated for accessibility and guidelines developed. This will involve input from Blackboard.
Methods for creating transcriptions should be investigated. This will benefit both Online Meeting and CSU Replay users. A cost analysis of external transcription services should be undertaken. Trialling of desktop solutions such as Dragon Naturally Speaking software could prove effective. Some Australian Universities, including ANU, have a Dragon Naturally Speaking enterprise site license for staff and students. This is an interesting solution as it potentially allows everyone to create accessible artefacts.
Lecturers who demonstrate exemplary practice should be recognised. Subjects designed and taught with accessibility in mind should be showcased. Educational designers and Inclusion, Student Liaison Officers could nominate academics each session. This would be another way to raise awareness and promote cultural change.
- A specific focus on assessment strategies
Students who have been able to work at their own pace, perhaps using assistive technologies, face new challenges with assessments such as exams. Up until this time, a student’s disability may be unnoticeable.
As lecturers and educational designers continue to devise new strategies around formative and summative assessment practice, providing alternative format or accommodations becomes more complex. Just as in the case of study materials, assessments are involving more media and technologies. Students can no longer expect to simply be submitting essays and sitting traditional exams.
As a result, consideration should be given regarding accessibility in conjunction with current assessment initiatives including authentic assessment, peer-assessment and eAssessment. Discussions should include staff from the Exams Office as well as DSL, Online Learning Model Lead: eAssessment and Inclusion, Student Liaison Officers.
This investigation presents a small snapshot into the potential experiences of students with a disability who opt to study online. Obvious disabilities such as hearing and vision impairment are referred to. A wider investigation into different disabilities and their impact upon learning and teaching both online and face-to-face would be beneficial.
Recent trends relating to CSU students with disabilities and the number of subjects impacted show a disproportionate shift. This report suggests that this is due primarily to the move from print to online delivery, although teaching practices and assessment strategies are also a factor. Providing rich, engaging online learning which is also accessible, presents complex challenges. Due to the broadening range of educational technologies and variety of pedagogical approaches, a proactive accessibility strategy must be developed. This report builds on several claims made within CSU’s current Disability Action Plan by suggesting a three pronged approach addressing production, teaching and assessment. Ultimately this will foster the cultural changes necessary.