Accessibility in higher education has become one of the more important topics of discussion among thought leaders and researchers in the teaching and learning fields. And while this conversation seems to be taking place at a higher level, it often leaves those of us on the front lines of instruction wondering what our responsibilities are in making strides toward becoming more inclusive in our courses and teaching.
But there are many simple things we can do as faculty and instructors to help move the needle toward leveling the playing field in terms of accessibility for our students. To this end, over the course of the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing 10 ways we can start implementing accessible practices within our Blackboard courses.
Create intuitive and logical navigation in the main course menu.
Blackboard allows instructors to customize the left-hand navigation menu for each course. However, this often turns out to be a setback to students when the menu does not follow a logical pattern, thus making it difficult to locate the information needed easily and efficiently. Here are two examples of navigation menus in Blackboard:
Notice the example on the left. There is not a clear structure to the navigation that makes it easy for the student to find what is relevant to her current task. Where does she start (there are two course home pages)? Are the assignments in “Assignments” or “Study Plan & Assignments”? What is the difference between “Discussions” and “Messages”? In short, it appears that links were added without much intentionality, thus putting the user in a position to learn how to navigate the site by trial-and-error.
In the example on the right, however, it is very clear and easy for the student to know how to use the site without even clicking on a single link. This is what we as educators should aim for, since this frees up the learner’s cognitive energy to be spent on the learning itself rather than the pathways to the learning.
So, what are some ways we can improve our course navigation menus in Blackboard?
Group menu items by categories, such as “Course Information”, “Learning Modules”, “Assessments and Assignments”, “My Grades,” and “Tools”. This way, students have broad categories that make sense to them, similar to a news website that may structure its main menu by topics, such as “Politics,” “Sports,” “Finance,” “Culture,” etc.
As a general rule of thumb, try not to have more than eight menu items on your main menu.
Additionally, once the student clicks on a menu item, such as “Course Information” or “Learning Modules”, that area should also be structured in a way that makes it effortless for the student to find what she needs.
For instance, in the “Course Information” area, you might have a few sections, such as “Syllabus,” “Course Calendar,” “Textbook Information,” “Instructor Contact Info,” “Help Resources,” etc.
Likewise, in the Learning Module area, keep it simple by having only one folder for each Learning Module, such as “Module 1,” “Module 2,” “Module 3,” etc. Within each Module, try to have a clear plan for how students are to work through the material, such as a “Module Outline” or “Module Task List”.
Finally, each time you add new content to your course, think first where you want it go in order for students to find it as quickly and easily as possible. Having organized your course at the beginning will help you know where each new piece of content should live.
Setting up our courses intentionally and with an eye toward usability allows more students to access the course content and helps them toward reaching course outcomes.
Featured image by: Valentin Antonucci