Online courses should not introduce barriers to equitable experience, nor should they introduce barriers to access of materials. Ordinarily, courses are designed to consider multiple formats and varied modes of delivery to account for a range of student needs and preferences. Careful audits of online course layout, course activities, and course materials are conducted.

This page risks oversimplification for the sake of exigency. Please keep in mind you already have many weeks of close engagement with your students, allowing you to know your students and their needs. The many adjustments you have already made to accommodate and improve learning in your face to face classes are, in essence, accessibility improvements. It is in that spirit we proceed online. Here are a few best practices that are likely to have the greatest overall impact for all of your students, and especially those for whom working online may present additional challenges.

Unclutter your course. This may mean being attentive to consistent file naming conventions and giving meaningful names to Google Drive folders. This may mean using the heading features of Microsoft Word and Google Docs to better organize your documents. It likely means crafting especially explicit emails with bolded section headings and greater-than-typical attention to organization. Ultimately, within your course and with each communication, make it easy to get to things. Within those things, make it easy to locate information, and be as concise as possible.

Think atomically. Divide large amounts of information into manageable blocks. Label them clearly, and allot plenty of white space around them. Use titles, headings and other document formatting to enhance readability and clarity. Whenever possible, present information in a linear format and avoid the use of tables. Use columns sparingly.

Enhance readability & ensure audibility. Use sans-serif fonts, and assure high-contrast between text and backgrounds. When recording, be mindful of ambient sound in the background. A few interruptions (like a doorbell, a siren, or a phone’s ring) aren’t necessarily the most important consideration when recording audio. High amounts of background noise (like a running air vent, a humming light fixture, or a poor microphone’s buzz) throughout a recording is a bigger problem to manage in advance.

Avoid unnecessary transitions and animations in slides, and choose a simple, high-contrast slide template. Especially avoid automatic (timed) advancement of slides, and permit the viewer as much control over the operation as possible within any particular slide presentation software application.

OCR your readings. When providing readings, ensure that any .pdf documents you share, or any photocopies you make, have Optical Character Recognition (OCR) performed. This means there is a searchable text layer within the file, in addition to the image of the words on the page. If you cannot search within your .pdf document, it does not have OCR performed. Please reach out to Digital Learning and/or ITMS staff to determine how to OCR your documents.

Caption your media files. All media recordings, audio files and videos, should be auto-captioned. ITMS has prepared this information on video creation and captioning as well as this best-practices document

Thomas Sciarrino has prepared this video walk-through of how to record video lectures and embed them in Canvas. Here is a helpful video demonstrating how to request captions through the Reach auto-captioning system. Captioning is an important component of accessible online instruction. If you have any questions or require assistance auto-captioning your audio files or videos, please reach out to ITMS and/or Digital Learning staff.

Additional Resources

Didn’t find what you were looking for above? Please email Tim Clarke and someone will be in touch as soon as possible. As always, requests made through the Faculty/Staff Support Desk will be routed to the appropriate person, and these requests are tracked through OIT’s support desk ticketing system.