Friday, April 17, 2020

Accessibility: COVID-19 journal #1

Screenshot of one of my classes (unfortunately a few missed).
Due to coronavirus, my school went completely online on March 16. Luckily we saw the possibility of going online about the week before we actually did, so I was able to brainstorm with my students about ways we thought we could still keep learning from a distance. My school uses Canvas LMS, and one of the things I tested with my students was the Conference feature, which I never really had a use for since we always met in a traditional face-to-face school setting.

As we went online another thing I realized was that, although I've taught online and hybrid courses before, I still had this nagging feeling that I wasn't utilizing enough of the affordances of this new online environment. So I joined the MAET Mini-MOOC: Remote Teaching. Turns out I've got a lot to learn.

One of the things I've learned more about is making our online work more accessible to everyone. Introduction to Web Accessibility by WC3 is one of the many great resources I've come across. Just as curb cuts benefit people in wheelchairs and also people pushing baby carriages or dragging luggage, accessibility online also benefits all users. including transcripts or using subtitles with our videos not only benefits people with auditory disabilities, but also works for people who want to watch a video but are in an environment where it's best not to listen to audio.

As encouraged in the MAET Mini-MOOC, I'm implementing accessibility features like text styles and heading styles in the transcript below this video I put together for anyone who might want to use the Conference feature in Canvas.

Using Conferences in Canvas

Starting a new conference call 

Click on the Conference link. Click on the New Conference.   First decide who's going to be in on this. Is it the whole class or just some members. Think about whether you want to enable recording for this, for posterity or for students who won’t be able to be there. Let’s call this "Conference test" and let's think about how long we're going to make this. In this case I'm just going to make it 30 minutes and that seems like enough, so I'll click Update. Then I get the screen where I can click Start and we've just started the conference right now.

About the audio 

The first screen you will see is how you want to join the audio. I always am going to choose the microphone. But realize the students see this screen too so that you may only want them to listen only or use a microphone. And realize they can also join using your phone. I'm going to click allow for my microphone. Then there's an Echo test. In this case I could hear my own voice so it was echoing, so I’m going to click Okay it was echoing. Then after that we're ready to go. The next thing you notice is there's a mute button and unmute button. That's really important because I think we want the students and ourselves not to pick up distracting background audio.

About the chat 

Next you'll notice there's a chat that's taking place there. That is a public chat and you can see the students are filling up the chat with their wisdom, and we could use that in a lot of different ways. These students were just testing this feature out for me, FYI they are a lot more articulate than that.

Set your status 

You can also see that if you click on your own avatar you can set your status. There are things you can do like raise your hand. You can signal that you're away from the computer for a second, you can say that you're confused, or sad, or happy or things like that which seems like useful information for people in the rest of the conference to know about you.

Shared notes 

Another feature you'll notice over on the left side, below messages and above users, is the shared notes feature, which I have to say is a little distracting at times because everybody can write in that document at the same time. So sometimes they’re overwriting each other. If you're wondering how many notes that panel can hold a student tested it and found that the entire script of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith actually can fit in there. So there doesn't seem to be a limit to the number of notes students can add or teachers can add to the shared notes.


You and your students can see each other, so you can turn on your webcam and share that. I am turning on my webcam right now and the students can also join so if you want to be able to see them, it’s possible.

Screen sharing 

The last feature that I think is really useful is to be able to share my screen. In this case let's say I wanted to give some feedback to a student who has a piece of writing. I can use screen sharing with them and I could in Canvas annotate the document, or we can just have a discussion about it. Sharing your screen is another feature that's worthwhile.

End meeting 

Now it's time to end the meeting, so I'm going to go up to the top right of the screen, and click End Meeting. I'm going to say yes. The last thing that the students can do, and you can do, is give feedback on the meeting, so you can all give some stars and some comments.