Policy & strategy Resources

Rich media on your VLE – an accessible policy?

Hands holding a mobile phone with a video on the screenOn the face of it, it would seem a simple elegant accessibility solution to require transcripts for all audio resources on your virtual learning environment and transcript/subtitles for all video resources.

However, this is an area where “unintended consequences” can lurk around every corner. For many learners, video IS the accessible alternative format – an alternative to the standard text offering. Having too high an expectation could simply result in lecturers deciding not to use videos with a consequent reduction in accessibility for many learners. Alistair McNaught explores the issues…

Some principles

These are some of the suggested criteria that might inform any policies: they are based on overarching principles such as

  1. Take a pragmatic approach that seeks to maximise opportunities whilst minimising barriers.
  2. Focus on things that demonstrably make a difference to learners whether they have a disability or not.
  3. Tailor the expectations to the skills and responsibilities of the individuals. Expect more from e-learning professionals than from video-savvy teaching staff (or students). But expect more from the latter than from those uploading a video for the first time.
  4. Use workflows efficiently. When making a video, create a script to work from then use the script as the transcript.

These are suggested criteria to consider in any policy. They will help streamline practice and make sensible decisions that should have broad support from staff and learners.

Availability of information – is the media new information or just a new medium?

  • Is the video itself an alternative format for existing text content (for example explaining what is already explained in the text)? If so it is arguable that making an alternative format of an alternative format is a little redundant
  • Can the video be controlled without a mouse? If a blind or motor impaired learner cannot start the video independently your investments in subtitling et cetera will be wasted.

Nature of content – what do they need to know and how can they get it?

  • What are the key teaching points in the video? For many learners, a bulleted summary of the key teaching points will be a lot more useful than a multipage transcript.
  • Do the visuals supplement the narrative or work independently? When the audio information effectively replicates the visual information – for example on some instructional videos – there may be little need for additional text descriptions.

 Risk factors – what is the likelihood of somebody being disadvantaged?

What is the risk of a disabled learner being disadvantaged by lack of an alternative format for the multimedia content? The need for alternative formats is high for content with:

  • high longevity – videos you intend to use for the next few years, and therefore will be exposed to lots of learners.
  • a high-stakes context – eg contributing towards assessed modules and likely to impact on results.
  • large and not necessarily knowable audience (eg online audiences such as Moocs)

By contrast, videos from this term’s  geology field trip that are pertinent only to this cohort of 30 students, none of whom have sight or hearing difficulties will hardly justify staff time being invested in subtitling et cetera.

Who makes the decisions?

The tutor is often best placed to decide whether the key video content is best offered as a bulleted summary, a subtitled video or a full text transcript since it will depend on the purpose of the video within the planned learning activities. Each of these alternatives can benefit all users. Transcripts or key point summaries allow cutting and pasting, easy text searching and the checking of ambiguous spellings/dates etc.

Scene description for blind learners is a specialised activity and is best done on a case by case basis with expert support from UKAAF.

In summary

These are broad brush considerations open to improvement and amendment. The critical balance to encourage is the use of multimedia in an ‘accessibility aware’ way that recognises (i) that multimedia can be an accessibility solution in itself even without further work and (ii) that appropriate accessibility support – whether summaries, subtitles or transcripts – benefit all users.


2 replies on “Rich media on your VLE – an accessible policy?”

Having recently produced some videos, they are time consuming as it is and I agree that having to add subtitles would make it even more onerous and would put many off. I have used the notes from PowerPoint slides as a script on occasion and using Camtasia on Windows it allows you to add these as subtitles. Whereas using the subtitles facility on YouTube required considerable revision. The importance of balancing the value of the video and the value of the transcript is important and we need to make sure that we do not prevent busy academics making use of media rich delivery whilst still making it accessible. Realism is key.

Absolutely – one of the things we encourage is that institutional policies on accessibility take account of creators, users and context. Creators – for example expect more from an elearning developer who should be doing these things regularly enough that their workflows and skills should make additional accessibility requirements relatively trivial.
Users – if you’re putting together a fieldcourse revision summary for a group of 30 students – none of whom has a need for captions – it would make sense to spend 5 mins on a text summary of the main teaching points (benefit all users) rather than 55 mins on captioning that adds value to none of the target users.
Context – if, on the other hand, the same fieldwork video was going to form a resource that was going to be used in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) as part of the institution’s outreach/marketing then the highest level of accessibility would be required because you don’t know the audience. Same applies if you want to use it for the next 5 years of the course and you don’t know future students.

As you say realism is the key because you want to ensure that people move on in their practice and if you set goals unrealistically high (so they are no longer ‘reasonable’) people just ignore them and you’re worse off.

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