Friday, June 26, 2015

VoiceThread: Accessibility Improvements

Today, I shared a brief presentation about VoiceThread with 150+ faculty from the California State University system at the CSU Course Redesign with Technology retreat, sponsored by the CSU Chancellor's Office.  Here is a resource page I created for my presentation on which you'll find lots of goodies, including a VoiceThread to try out for yourself, and links to details about what I will discuss below.

Accessibility is an important part of evaluating new technologies for education. Both the interface of a digital environment and the content it presents needs to be accessible to all learners. In my teaching experiences, VoiceThread has supported the needs of my students with cognitive disorders in ways the traditional Learning Management System environment (text-dominant) has not.  Cognitive disabilities (like dyslexia and dysgraphia) are the most prevalent forms of disabilities (or learning differences) in higher education. Each brain is wired differently. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework designed with these differences in mind. Using VoiceThread in the design of a learning ecosystem supports the principles of UDL:
  1. Provide multiple means of representation
  2. Provide multiple means of expression
  3. Provide multiple means of engagement
I often wonder how college completion rates would change if students' learning environments were more supportive of the different needs of our learners. You can read more about my perspectives on this topic here.

In recent years, VoiceThread incorporate some valuable features in support of inclusivity for all users. These include the development of VoiceThread Universal, an html VoiceThread interface that supports screen readers (like a back door) through which any VoiceThread can be accessed and the ability for a user to add closed captions to central media videos shared on a VoiceThread slide. This month, several more features were released to improve the overall accessibility of VoiceThread for all users:
  1. A VoiceThread viewed on can now be navigated using a mouse. Click here for a list of keyboard shortcuts (I've started using many of these already and find them very useful).
  2. Audio and video comments can now be closed captioned. Essentially, VoiceThread now provides a "CC" icon that appears within the comment bubble, as the comment plays. Just click that icon and you will be prompted to upload a caption file (accepted types include: DFXP, SRT, SAMI, SCC, SBV). That's the easy part. The tricky part is creating the caption file! Click here to view the process I used to caption the audio comments in this VoiceThread.  If you have a streamlined process/better option, please share!
  3. I don't think this one is new, but it was new to me! I learned how to create a share link that would open a VT directly in VoiceThread Universal (the screen reader accessible version VoiceThread).  The process involves located the share link for the VoiceThread and tweaking the URL a bit.  The key is locating the numeric identifier in your VoiceThread's URL and adapting the structure of the URL. The structure for a link is:  The structure for a VoiceThread Universal link is:
  •   Here is an example:
I understand more captioning features are in the works at VoiceThread, but I don't have details about this yet. This feature is a big step forward and I look forward to more steps!

While I'm at it, I should also share that an updated (and much improved) version of VoiceThread was also released for iOS and a new Android app is also available.
I hope this helps!

For more information about VoiceThread and accessibility, click here.

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