2006 Conference General Sessions

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INTRODUCTION TO ACCESSIBLE INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY IN EDUCATION: A WEBCOURSE

Presenter #1
Jeff Witzel
AccessIT, University of Washington
Box 357920
Seattle WA 98195
Day Phone: 206-685-4181
Fax: 206-543-4779
Email: sesame@u.washington.edu

Presenter #2
Mark Harniss
AccessIT, University of Washington
Box 357920
Seattle WA 98195
Day Phone: 206-685-0289
Fax: 206-543-4779
Email: mharniss@u.washington.edu

In this session, we describe the design, development and use of Introduction to Accessible Information Technology in Education, a comprehensive webcourse on accessible IT. This presentation covers recent expansions of the course, as well as a discussion about recent facilitated sessions and the challenges of presenting a course about accessibility via a distance-learning medium.

 

In this session, we describe the design, development and use of Introduction to Accessible Information Technology in Education, a comprehensive webcourse on accessible IT. This presentation covers recent expansions of the course, as well as a discussion about recent facilitated sessions and the challenges of presenting a course about accessibility via a distance-learning medium.

           

What is information technology? How can it be made accessible? Are there laws that govern access to information technology? Many people who are involved with information technology implementation find these questions confusing. The National Center on Accessible Information Technology in Education (AccessIT) has addressed this need for guidance by developing a free online course that provides an introduction to accessible information technology in education.

 

To determine what gaps exist in the target audience's knowledge regarding information technology (IT), the faculty and staff at AccessIT first interviewed people who give presentations on IT across the country. This information was used to focus the course as it was being developed. The course was then written by content experts (mostly faculty and researchers at the University of Washington). Each component of the course, including lessons, interactive content, and review questions, was designed to be as accessible as possible.

 

To ensure accessibility, faculty and staff at AccessIT performed extensive usability testing. The course was tested by people who use screen readers, screen magnifying programs, alternate mice, and other types of AT, as well as by people without disabilities. The course was then released to a limited audience, who gave feedback on each lesson and the course as a whole. The course was revised based on the results of the usability testing and user feedback. After all this testing and revision, the course is now ready to be released.

 

The course is called Introduction to Accessible Technology in Education, and consists of nine lessons with many interactive features. Lesson One addresses basic issues, such as the difference between information technology and assistive technology. Once the basics are covered, Lessons Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, and Seven cover accessibility issues (problems and solutions) and relevant laws for web design, distance learning, software, self-contained, closed products, telecommunications, and multimedia. Lesson Eight explores how laws such as IDEA, Section 504, and the ADA apply to accessible IT in education. The final lesson provides an overview of approaches to and strategies for influencing information technology accessibility policy in education, and examines sample policies. Interactive features include streaming video, hypothetical case studies, and review questions that allow students to review and evaluate their understanding of lesson concepts. For example, Lesson Two—Accessible Web Design contains streaming video clips that demonstrate barriers to web accessibility from the perspective of a user who is blind, and ways the websites can be corrected. Lesson Eight—Accessible IT and the Law, contains two hypothetical case studies that describe situations in which accessible IT could be provided, encourages students to think about possible solutions, then discusses two possible outcomes for each case study.

 

An additional three lessons have been recently added to the course as well.  Lesson Nine-IT Policy in Education, provides an overview of approaches to and strategies for influencing information technology accessibility policy in education, and examines several sample policies.  Lesson Ten-Producing Rich Media for the Web, provides a basic overview of requirements and accessibility challenges for presenting rich media content to students via the internet, and offers a detailed approach to coordinating the production of this content amongst various technologies.  Lesson Eleven-Accessible File Formats, provides a discussion of the pros and cons of various file formats that are currently in use to disseminate instructional materials via the internet, and examines various technical considerations necessary to maximize accessibility.

 

This course is recommended for anyone who wants to learn more about accessibility issues that relate to information technology and related law and policy issues in education. This includes teachers, administrators, policy makers, and anyone else who is interested.

 

In this session, we will discuss the content, design, and accessibility of the course itself. We will show various course elements and discuss how the course could be used to develop the knowledge and skills of individuals who make decisions about procurement and use of information technology. We will also share our experiences with offering this course in a facilitated format, including the challenges presented when presenting a distance-learning experience across a wide array of assistive technologies, all in real time.

 

The course opened October 1, 2004, and individuals interested in taking the course can register at: http://access-it-online.info/webcourse

 

Interested parties can also contact AccessIT at accessit@u.washington.edu .


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