Initial AccessLearn Survey

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The first AccessLearn group activity was to run an online survey gathering information on a range of topics, including key challenges (technical, organisational, other) in creating accessible online learning experiences.

The survey was conducted in English, using SurveyMonkey, and ran through summer of 2015. Thanks to group members José and Armony, who have produced translations in French and Spanish. We plan to distribute these surveys so that we can find out similarities and differences in needs.

Key findings

In the first part of the survey, we wanted to find out about people’s perceptions of current W3C and non-W3C accessibility standards and their applicability to online learning. This is core to the group, as it’s a W3C Community Group, so ultimately our work needs to contribute in some way to W3C’s standardisation activity.

1. Influence of current W3C Accessibility standards on supporting creation and evaluation of accessible online learning

Method:

  • For each of the four guidelines/specifications listed, participants were asked to rate their agreement with the statement: The following W3C accessibility guidelines and specifications support the creation an evaluation of accessible online learning platforms and resources?
  • Participants recorded their answers using a 5 point Likert-type scale, and optionally with free text comments
  • There were 68 responses (though not all responses gave a rating to each standard)

Positive responses (either ’strongly agree’ or ‘agree’) to the statement that the following W3C standards support the creation an evaluation of accessible online learning platforms and resources were:

  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 89.70% n=61
  • WAI-ARIA 70.15% n= 47
  • Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) 47.76% n= 32
  • User Agent Accessibility Guidelines (UAAG) 33.84% n= 22

Some comments (David Sloan):

  • WCAG is widely recognised as having a very positive impact in supporting accessible online learning. WAI-ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications) is also positively rated, but the impact of ATAG and UAAG is less confidently expressed.
  • WCAG strongly appears to be the most well-known. Several of the supporting comments make reference to its legal significance.
  • Several comments indicated a limited, or lack of, awareness of the other sets of W3C guidelines/specifications, which indicates a less clear picture of W3C WAI’s components of accessibility (to ensure accessible content, we also need accessible content creation tools and browsing technology, including assistive technology, that can effectively present this content). The Web Accessibility Initiative's Essential Components of Accessibility describes this relationship in more detail.

2. Important non-W3C standards for influencing online learning accessibility

Method:

  • Participants were asked "What are the most important non-W3C accessibility standards and guidelines that currently influence online learning? Please list as many as you can think of, in order of importance.”
  • Participants recorded their answers as free text.
  • There were 50 responses.

Most commonly cited non-W3C standard of importance

  • Section 508 (32%, n=16)
  • CAST’s Universal Design for Learning (UDL) (20%, n=10)
  • IMS accessibility specifications (n=6, 12%)
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) (n=4, 8%)
  • TEACH Act (proposed) (n=4, 8%)
  • PDF/UA (n=3, 6%)
  • Section 504 (n=2, 4%)

Below this group was a long tail of standards that received only one response. These included examples of technical specifications, accessibility guidelines, guidelines on curriculum design, disability rights legislation and institution-specific guidelines.

Some comments (DS):

  • The IMS accessibility specifications category included respondents who mentioned IMS specifications such as ACCMD, ACCLIP, APIP and AccessForAll. One respondent explicitly stated IMS guidelines were not current, but it’s possible this referred to the IMS accessible learning applications guidelines published in 2004 and not updated since. The low score of IMS work is interesting, given its complementary role to W3C’s work.
  • Legislation is cited as influential, although in most cases, legislation provides a general driver for “doing something”, without the technical detail of what is and is not acceptable
  • Process standards such as the UK’s BS8878 (1 response) were not commonly cited as being influential.

3. Challenges to providing accessible online learning experiences

Method:

  • Participants were asked to rank the above 6 challenges in order.
  • 58 responses were received.
  • Participants were not required to give every challenge a ranking, so there is an incomplete set of rankings. All respondents who answered this question ranked at least their top 4 challenges, and only 1 respondent did not allocate their 5th and 6th ranking.
  • An additional “other” option was available, with an option for specifying the challenge in free text. 40 respondents gave this a ranking. “Other" was ranked first on 2 occasions.

The most significant challenges were, in order of percentage of responses that ranked the challenge most challenging or second most challenging:

  1. Lack of accessibility knowledge and skills amongst course creators (57.64% of responses ranked 1st or 2nd)
  2. Ineffectual or incomplete institutional accessibility strategy (44.07%)
  3. Limitations of accessibility support by learning platforms (29.31%)
  4. Limitations of accessibility of digital learning resources (24.56%)
  5. Lack of standards focusing on accessible online learning (23.22%)
  6. Lack of clarity in legal requirements (13.79%)

Using mean ranking for each challenge, the order is slightly different:

  1. Lack of accessibility knowledge and skills amongst course creators (2.64 mean ranking)
  2. Limitations of accessibility support by learning platforms (3.31)
  3. Ineffectual or incomplete institutional accessibility strategy (3.36)
  4. Limitations of accessibility of digital learning resources (3.65)
  5. Lack of standards focusing on accessible online learning (3.86)
  6. Lack of clarity in legal requirements (4.48)

Some comments (DS):

  • Lack of accessibility knowledge and skills amongst course creators appears to be the biggest challenge (ranked most challenging by 19 respondents). There’s a certain irony in “lack of education” being considered the biggest challenge to accessible educational experiences :)
  • Ineffectual or incomplete institutional strategy had a relatively large number of low rankings (13 respondents ranked this 6th of 7), but was also ranked most challenging by 18 respondents. So there seems to be a more polarized view on the influence of institutional accessibility strategy
  • A lack of clarity in legal requirements and a lack of standards for accessible online learning don’t seem to be considered too much of a challenge in comparison to others

Other challenges identified in free text included:

  • Financial issues (costs, budget restrictions)
  • Attitudes and perceptions (of responsibility and obligation to take action to improve accessibility)
  • Reactive rather than proactive strategy
  • Third party content accessibility issues
  • Accessibility issues with legacy content (resources, strategy)
  • A definition of and focus on accessibility that is dominated by Western thinking

4. Emerging Technologies: Opportunity or Challenge?

Method:

  • These were two free text questions. The first asked participants to name one emerging technology considered to present the biggest opportunity for accessible online learning. The second asked participants to name one emerging technology considered to present the biggest challenge to accessible online learning.
  • 38 participants answered the “biggest opportunity” question.
  • 42 participants answered the “biggest challenge” question.

Emerging technologies presenting opportunities for accessible online learning:

  • automated captioning tools
  • tools to support creation of accessible online learning resources
  • MOOCs
  • Mobile devices/bring your own device
  • digital textbooks
  • Instant communication systems
  • Personalisation and accessibility metadata; learning analytics
  • modern design/development approaches (e.g simplification of design, responsive design)
  • Universal Design for Learning

Emerging technologies presenting challenges for accessible online learning:

  • MOOCs
  • Mobile devices/bring your own device
  • Video for educational purposes, and processes and tools for captioning video, whether in-house, learner-generated or third-party. Related to this was lecture capture video.
  • Constantly changing LMSs, and resultant loss or change in accessibility support and AT support; the relationship of this to business models of commercial LMS vendors was also cited.
  • Tools for creating accessible STEM resources (diagrams, charts etc)
  • Gamification and edutainment
  • Collaborative content creation tools
  • Wearable technology

Some comments (DS):

  • Some challenges are related to long-standing accessibility issues, which do not yet seem to have been adequately tackled in an educational context
  • Some technologies were considered opportunities and challenges! In particular, MOOCs, mobile devices/bring your own device; and also Google Apps for Education and Flash