Accessibility in higher education, focus in University of Montana

Laura Orozco
23/05/16
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Missoula, MT, United States

For the University of Montana, innovation and accessibility go hand in hand. By working with Moodlerooms and the Moodle Accessibility Collaboration Group, the institution strives to provide an online learning management system that is accessible for all students, including students who are assistive technology users.

Located in Missoula, the second largest city in Montana, the University of Montana welcomes around 13,000 students to programs covering various fields of knowledge, ranging from the humanities and the sciences to forestry and health. The university offers these programs through fully online, blended, and face-to-face courses. Any course with an online component uses the learning management system, Moodlerooms, for the delivery of electronic content.

Marlene Zentz, Senior Instructional Designer y Accessibility Specialist en UMOnline de la University of Montana. Foto: AFP Tommy Martino.
Marlene Zentz, Senior Instructional Designer y Accessibility Specialist en UMOnline at University of Montana. Photo: AFP Tommy Martino.

In addition to facilitating communication between professors and students, supporting document sharing, and providing online working spaces, the Moodlerooms learning management system also provides new accessibility features that improve the learning experience for all users, including students with disabilities. One of the major improvements has been the development of an accessible Advanced forum. Forums provide opportunities for online discussion, and Moodlerooms created the Advanced forum to be fully accessible and then made it available to the open source community. According to Marlene Zentz, UMOnline’s Senior Instructional Designer and Accessibility Specialist, “The Advanced forum now allows all students to easily participate in online discussions and fully understand the meaning being conveyed there. The forums we were using prior to the Advanced forum had both usability and accessibility barriers that posed major problems for screen reader users”.

Moodlerooms also created a new “born accessible” course theme called Snap that makes it easier for faculty to create accessible online course content. This accessible course theme is responsive and intuitive for students to use. Moodlerooms has released this development to the open source community as well, for Moodle 2.7 and above.

These improvements are in part a result of the collaboration between Moodlerooms and the University of Montana. UMOnline accessibility specialists Aaron Page and Marlene Zentz both worked with Moodlerooms to provide usability testing and accessibility perspectives on the Advanced forum and the Snap theme. Page himself is an assistive technology user so he is able to test prototypes with his screen reader and provide highly valuable user information to product developers.

Moodlerooms also created a new “born accessible” course theme called Snap that makes it easier for faculty to create accessible online course content. This accessible course theme is responsive and intuitive for students to use.

The University of Montana and Moodlerooms were also instrumental in creating the Moodle Accessibility Collaboration Group (MACG), an international group formed during the summer of 2013 to improve the accessibility of core Moodle. Core Moodle is the foundational open source system that Moodlerooms and many other Moodle partner systems are built upon so accessibility work with it is critical. The Moodle Accessibility Collaboration Group now includes individuals and universities from around the world and continues to welcome others to participate the group’s efforts.

So far, the learning management system changes and improvements at the University of Montana have had a positive impact in the student community and also among faculty. According to Zentz, “The university has found that products designed with accessibility in mind from the beginning have a better ‘look and feel’ and work much better for all students, including students who are using assistive technologies to successfully complete their degrees in higher education”.

Zentz también ha trabajado para proporcionar más información sobre el acceso a otras universidades en todo el estado de Montana. En 2013, Fundó el Montana Accessibility Interest Group (MAIG), que se reúne virtualmente el primer viernes de cada mes. Durante estas reuniones de una hora, los expertos en accesibilidad de todo el país presentan temas que van desde los subtítulos hasta una computadora alternativa a textos alternativos para imágenes complejas y mucho más. Los participantes pueden incluir otros estados y otras personas interesadas en la accesibilidad para la bienvenida a estas conversaciones.

 

Source:

* Marlene Zentz – Diseñadora Instruccional Senior y Especialista en Accesibilidad de UMOnline – Universidad de Montana

Photography:

* AFP Tommy Martino

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