Making Blogs and Websites Accessible

Blog creation is an integral part of my Teaching and Learning with Technology course. It is through creating a blog that students are able to demonstrate to me their ability to effectively incorporate technology in a meaningful and pedagogically sound manner. Their blogs function as a digital portfolio that includes images, text, an edublog, and other artifacts they have created such as presentations. This is often a challenging project for students, but one they find very rewarding in the end.

I have now been teaching this course for 2 years, and have had 8 different classes of students. In teaching this course, I am part of an amazing team of instructors with whom I plan. Each year we get together, reflect, and brainstorm for the coming year. As you would expect, things are always changing and improving – very fitting for a technology course!

In preparing for this year’s get together, there is one element of blog creation that I would like to see addressed – accessibility. The Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services explains that “Web accessibility benefits millions of users with disabilities, but it also benefits people without disabilities, like people using a slow Internet connection or people with changing abilities due to aging.” The Ministry provides a detailed list of how to make websites accessible.

In this blog, I have referred to the standards as outlined in Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 to guide my creation and design. This blog is created on WordPress, which has over 200 blog themes/templates I could select from. The blog template is the design and layout – essentially the building blocks to which you add your own content. When selecting my template I wanted something that was accessible. Sadly, there was only one theme I could find that was identified as accessible and meeting the requirements of the Web Accessibility Initiative. This theme is called Blaskin, developed by Per Sandstrom. I feel this is unfortunate that there is only option for blog creators who want accessible content. Ideally, should not all themes be accessible? Should this not be the standard? It is my hope that WordPress and WordPress theme creators will make this a priority. In the meantime, I will continue using Blaskin as my theme and continue with accessible blog creation.

These are issues and conversations I hope to bring forward into my course.  It is my hope that if accessibility is part of blog creation in the course, teacher candidates will develop it as part of their teaching and learning with technology. It will not been seen as an addition or imposition, but rather how technology is approached – in an accessible manner.

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Creating a Closed Captioned (CC) Video with Camtasia 8

This post is a follow-up to my discussion on closed captioning (CC) and video creation. I developed an action plan for gaining more knowledge and skills for created closed captioned (CC) videos. Below are the results!

Learning how to create closed captioned (CC) videos has been a rewarding experience that has furthered my skill set and prompted deep critical reflection. First of all, I wanted to learn more about closed captioning (CC) and how to complete it effectively. I was fortunate to find a variety of resources online that were very useful (e.g. see Create ADA Compliant Captions, National Captioning Canada, and Web Captioning Overview). Next, I had to select a program to create a video with closed captioning. I made use of online reviews, product descriptions, and free trial downloads to select a program. I chose Camtasia 8 because it has a built in captioning function which is American Disabilities Association (ADA) compliant. TechSmith (Camtasia creators) outline how to create ADA compliant captions:

One to three lines of text appear onscreen all at once, stay there for three to seven seconds, and are then replaced by another caption.

Timed to synchronize with the audio.

Do not cover up graphics and other essential visual elements of the picture.

Require the use of upper and lowercase letters.

Use a font similar to Helvetica medium.

Have good resolution.

Include not more than 32-characters-per-line.

Camtasia 8 is a program that I am familiar with, but have never used myself. I selected it because of its reputation of being a quality tool that is used by many professionals. I also selected it because of it is ADA compliant. Therefore, when creating captions for a video Camtasia’s software would guide me in ensuring I was creating appropriate captions. I saw this as guided practice! Since I had never used Camtasia before, I had to begin with learning the key features of the program that I needed for this exercise – screen capture, recording narrative, adding captions, and creating a title page. This was possible through the Camtasia tutorials available on line. I selected a topic for my video – completing effective internet searches – and began creation! Overall, the software was quite intuitive and I was able to reference the tutorial videos as needed to troubleshoot. The only real challenge I encountered was in caption creation. I initially tried  to use the speech-to-text function that converted my voice narration into text captions. However, the captions were entirely off! This was because I had not trained the program to recognize my voice. As a result, I spend time listening to the video again and rewriting all the captions. Therefore, on the to do list is to train the program for my voice.

Below is my first Camtasia 8 video that features closed captioning (CC). Enjoy!

Note: I used the free trial of Camtasia 8 complete this project. You can access a 30 day free trial here. Camtasia 8 usually retails for about $299. My text goal is to try something similar using Jing, a free screen capture and video creation software.

Making Videos Accessible with CC (Closed Captioning)

Tutorial videos and movies have been important tools for my teaching and learning with technology. Tutorial videos function as a resource for students outside the classroom. Videos and movies also assisted me in creating a flipped classroom – in which assignments and “homework” are completed in class and instruction occur at home – by students access to the information to be learned in a visual and engaging manner. When the students came to class, we had a quick review of the instruction that occurred at home and transitioning right into completing assignments (after addressing any concerns or questions).

The technology tools I most often used for video and movie creation were Microsoft Movie Maker and iMovie. These were tools I was accustomed to and readily had access to. I was never formally taught how to use these programs, but with some trial and error, use of YouTube tutorials, and working alongside colleagues I developed a good working knowledge of the programs. The videos were providing effective instruction for the flipped classroom, and students greatly enjoyed it. Simply stated, I was a happy instructor.

Last month, I was reading online about other video creation tools – I was excited to try something new and expand my skill set. I viewed a video on YouTube, and noticed closed captioning on the bottom of the screen. I stopped and asked myself – Why haven’t I been including closed captioning on my videos? In that moment, I was shocked that this had never crossed my mind. In my technology and teacher training, this was never covered and I never thought of it. I had never worked with a student who required this – or had I simply never known? As an instructor, Universal Instructional Design is the model to which I ascribe and my goal is to respect and support all student learning. Meanwhile, I had never consider closed captioning for my videos!

I must admit that in this moment, I was extremely embarrassed and ashamed. However, I plan to take this moment and make it into a catalyst for personal growth and improved teacher practice. I have determined a course of action for professional development:

  1. Personal Reflection: What is my understanding of closed captioning? Why had I excluded this from my personal practice of video creation? What insight does this give me into barriers that exist for individuals with disabilities? How can I improve my teacher practice?
  2. Knowledge: Develop an understanding of closed captioning that includes the history, current use, guidelines, and best practices. Determine how closed captioning can improve accessibility, and find effective models to learn from.
  3. Application: Create a closed caption video.
  4. Assess: Assess the process of creating a closed captioned video. Was I able to create a quality product? What were my strengths? What were my weaknesses? Did I face any challenges? What is my next step in the plan of action?

As an educator, I am always learning, growing, and reflecting. Even after 8 years of postsecondary education it is clear I still have more to learn! Developing action plans can help me take action to further my own learning and improve my teacher practice. I will post soon with the results of learning about closed captioning!

Pinning!

I will admit I was slow to join the Pinterest trend. My first introduction to Pinterest was through my best friend who was feverishly planning for a wedding. Every few minutes she added a new pin of wedding up dos, invites, flowers, decorations and photo ops. As I scrolled through Pinterest, and heard rave reviews from friends, I couldn’t quite find something that interested me. It appeared to be mostly weddings, cooking, and fashion. So I quickly abandoned Pinterest and moved onto other social bookmarking sites.

Then came fall 2012 and time and time again I heard my students (those I instruct and TA) speaking about Pinterest. The simple mention of the word Pinterest often elicited shrieks of joy and exuberant conversation. One day in my technology course a student asked me why we weren’t using Pinterest in the class? Afterall, the course was about engaging student interest and clearly they were interested in Pinterest. Good point! I spent that weekend on Pinterest, but approaching it much differently than before. This time I donned my teacher hat and explored how this tool could be re-purposed for education. There were so many ways – virtual class bulletin boards, news curation, all about me boards, brainstorming, and much more!

Soon I went from no interest in Pinterest, to incorporating it in various meaningful ways. At Brock University, I delivered a workshop for faculty on how to use the tool in various content areas. Attendees were given the opportunity to create their own Pinterest board and engage in discussions about how it could be used in postsecondary teaching. As a Teaching Assistant, I created Pinterest boards for my students on a variety of topics including educational quotes, literacy instruction, class management, and educational technology. However, my favourite activity (and that of students too!) was using Pinterest to create all about me boards. The students in my technology course were asked to pin 5 things that represented something about them. As the instructor, I reviewed the boards, commented on their pins, and added additional pins that they may find interesting. I incorporated this activity as a way to learn more about my students. I found this necessary because in a course with 25 students and a duration of 10 weeks, I often did not get to know my students as much as I would have liked to. All about me boards were a way to gain knowledge about their interests and goals and incorporate them into the course. Also, being able to pin to their boards and comment, gave me the opportunity to interact one on one about topics that mattered to the students personally.

My experience with Pinterest in the classroom emphasized to me:

  1. That new social technology tools can be re-purposed for education in meaningful and authentic ways.
  2. Incorporating student interests is important.
  3. Educators must keep an open mind and have a willingness to try new tools.

If you are interested in learning more about Pinterest or how to use it in education I have a tutorial and instruction sheet available online. Have fun pinning! 🙂

Welcome!

Hello! Welcome to my website. I am currently living in St. Catharines, where I work at Brock University as a research assistant and sessional instructor. I have successfully defended my Master of Education thesis, and I am looking for a position in postsecondary that allows me to support student learning and create more inclusive environments for students with disabilities. During the last three years, I had the great experience of being both a student and instructor in a postsecondary institution. Occupying these two roles at once has encouraged me to reflect on my own teaching and learning. It is my goal to meet the needs of all students in a respectful, effective and pedagogically sound manner. The purpose of this website to is provide resources and information for postsecondary students and educators. It is also my goal connect with others and engage in dialogue about how to improve student learning in postsecondary. So please feel free to email me, or add comments within the blog.

I am in the process of developing this blog, and will be continuously updating – so stay tuned for more! I hope that everyone – educators and students alike – will find this blog useful. Please feel free to contact me with any ideas or resources you’d like to see covered in the blog.

All the best,

Caitlin Munn

caitlin.m.munn@gmail.com