Problem Document Format: PDFs and Accessibility

PDF Icon with a sad face.

In the past PDF (Portable Document Format) was considered a great format for delivering documents online. By their nature the PDFs can be viewed and look the same on different devices. However, with the increase in viewing content on mobile devices and the welcome new focus on accessibility, PDFs have come to pose a substantial challenge. Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) like the University of Sussex’s Canvas online study platform, are filled with PDFs which were not created with accessibility in mind and which don’t meet legal standards for accessibility.

There are three key elements on which documents of all formats commonly fail to meet accessibility standards: 

  1. missing or irrelevant text descriptions for images, 
  2. lack of headings and lists for structure, 
  3. poor colour contrast.

There are other issues which we cover in our digital accessibility toolkit but for this post I’ll focus on these three.

These issues are not immediately apparent when looking at a PDF. Take the following two examples. The first is a PDF with text descriptions and headings. The second looks the same but is an image of the former document embedded in a PDF. A visually impaired viewer confronted with the second example would not be able to access the content at all. 

Does it need to be in PDF format?

The first thing to consider is whether your material needs to be presented in this format. There may still be reasons for creating a PDF as the format is more ‘locked down’, which some may see as desirable. However, if you can provide information in a Canvas page it is likely to be more accessible on a larger number of devices and certainly easier to update and change.

Creating accessible PDFs

If you do want to use a PDF, next we’ll look at some ways to do this. One likely route for creating it is from a Word Document or PowerPoint. 

Preparing your document

The accessibility of your final PDF will depend on the accessibility of your source document so it is important that before creating a PDF you add correct structure such as heading styles and lists, and make sure that images have alternative text (alt text) before converting to PDF. You can find guidance on adding structure, alt text and using appropriate colours in Microsoft Office documents in our Digital Accessibility Toolkit so I won’t cover that in more detail here.

Once you are happy you have made your source Word or PowerPoint accessible, select File > Check for Issues > Check Accessibility, to run the accessibility checker. This can help to guide you to be sure you haven’t missed anything.

Converting to PDF

Both Word and PowerPoint give you the option to save as PDF (Select File > Save as Adobe PDF). However, with Word don’t save straight away. Select Options and make sure that Convert Word Headings to Bookmarks is checked.

Correcting existing PDFs

Before starting on this topic it is important to remember that placing a PDF of a journal article or section of a book on your module site is likely to be a breach of copyright. Readings should be added to your online reading list. If you are unsure how to do this, please contact the library for further guidance. If you have an existing PDF that you created yourself you can correct it using Adobe Acrobat. This is available free to all University of Sussex staff.

Recognisable Text

In the example above the second PDF was rendered inaccessible because it was an image which had been converted to a PDF. You can easily check if text is recognisable in a PDF by trying to select it by clicking and dragging your cursor over the text. The words should be highlighted. If the text is not recognisable, Acrobat has a useful function.

  • Select Tools > Enhance Scans
  • Then, from the menu at the top select Recognize Text > In This File
  • Finally select the blue Recognize Text button.

You should now be able to select the text in the document.

A screenshot showing the Enhance Scans tool being used to recognise text in a scanned image.
Recognising text in a scanned image.

Adding Alternative Text to images

Once your file is open in Acrobat, select Tools > Accessibility to view the accessibility options.

Selecting Set Alternate Text then OK highlights the first image in the document and gives you a box to add a text description. It’s worth noting you also have a checkbox to mark the image as decorative. If the image provides no purpose other than aesthetics, check that box and a text description is not required.

Select the forward arrow to move on to the next image and repeat until all images are done, then select Save & Close to finish.

Adding some structure

Next, select Reading Order from the accessibility options. This should number the sections of the document so you can see the order in which they would be read by a screen reader. 

You may see now that what you had thought was a heading has been lumped in with other text.

PDF with content highlighted. Images have been identified and show with alternative text. A heading has been identified as a paragraph.
A PDF displaying the reading order of the document.

To identify a heading click and drag your cursor to draw a box around the heading text. The text should show a purple border.

Next, select the relevant heading level from the Reading order panel.The main heading for the document should be Heading 1. Headings need to be nested, so Heading 2 is used for sub-headings, then heading 3 for subsections under Heading 2.

It can get more complicated

I’ve tried to keep things simple here but many of you will have documents which are far more complicated than this with maths, tables and complicated reading orders. If you are unable to make your documents accessible please do consider what other ways you can make this information available to students, for example as Pages in Canvas. Do visit our Digital Accessibility Toolkit to get more information on making your materials accessible.

If you have any questions or require further guidance, please get in touch with tel@sussex.ac.uk

 

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Posted in Accessibility, digital skills

Focus on Panopto: Notes and Bookmarks

Recorded lectures are a useful resource for students and Panopto offers some great tools to help make the most of them. In this post we will be looking at Notes and Bookmarks. 

Notes

Making notes as you watch a Panopto recording via Canvas is easy and has several additional benefits over making notes on paper. This functionality is not currently available on the Panopto apps for Android and iOS, but can be used when students watch recordings from a browser.

  • Notes linked to the video. Notes which are typed into Panopto as you watch and listen to a video are time-stamped so that they are linked to that moment in the lecture. Later, you can click on a note to take you back to that part of the recording. 
  • Search your notes. Panopto notes are searchable, so if you need to find that note about a particular concept you are revising it is easy to do. Just go to the Panopto Recordings folder in your module and use the search box at the top of the screen. If you go to the Panopto app (Android and iOS) you can even search across all your modules at once.
  • Download notes. You can also take a copy of your notes out of Panopto by downloading them as a text file. That can then be copied and pasted into another program such as OneNote or Word.
  • Share notes with peers. If students want to collaborate on notes with peers they can create a Channel which others can join to add and/or view notes. 

This guide from Panopto shows how you can take notes then edit, delete, download and share them. 

Bookmarks

Panopto bookmarks are a great way to create a list of the parts of recordings that you want to refer back to later. You can add a bookmark at any point in a recording you are watching via Canvas and search bookmarks across all the recordings you have access to. This functionality is not currently available on the Panopto apps for Android and iOS.

To add a bookmark when you are watching a recording, click the Bookmarks tab and type in a few words to remind yourself what this bookmark is. The bookmark will be time-stamped and linked to that moment in the recording.

Screenshot of the Bookmarks area in Panopto

To see and search all your bookmarks you can click the ‘See all your bookmarks’ link from within any recording. This guide from Panopto shows you how to Create and Access Bookmarks.

If you have any queries about sharing your Panopto recordings or would like to discuss how you might use Panopto to enhance your students’ learning please contact tel@sussex.ac.uk.

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Posted in Panopto

Alternative formats made easy with SensusAccess

The University of Sussex prides itself on being an inclusive education community, indeed inclusion is one of the five core values of the University’s Strategic Framework. Building on wider institutional efforts in this important area Technology Enhanced Learning and the Library have come together to licence a new online service to aid digital accessibility – SensusAccess.

Available to all staff and students of the University, SensusAccess is a self-service tool that enables users to upload and convert digital files into a range of alternative formats. The solution is particularly helpful in providing a means to convert inaccessible documents such as image-based PDF files to a more accessible format.

The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 came in to effect on the 23rd of September 2019. The new regulations set out stringent accessibility standards that must be met by all Public Sector Bodies, including universities. Content on websites, mobile apps and hosted on online study platforms such as Canvas must comply with accessibility standards. Public bodies must publish accessibility statements detailing any known accessibility problems, provide access to alternative formats where necessary and detail how users may report accessibility issues. Developing awareness of accessible design and supporting accessible content creation is therefore crucial to both ensuring inclusivity and meeting legal obligations. 

SensusAccess provides a means for individuals to convert digital content to a format that best suits their need, including ebooks (EPUB, EPUB3 and Mobi), audio (MP3/Daisy) and braille. Uploaded files are processed and the converted output is emailed directly to your inbox.

SensusAccess is available to all members of the University of Sussex community through Canvas and can be accessed from the Help menu.

screenshot of link to SensusAccess in Canvas Help

Students and staff can also access SensusAccess from the Library website.

screenshot of SensusAccess on Library website

Accessible design benefits everyone. In recognition of this, the promotion of digital accessibility and inclusive teaching practices has been, and will continue to be, a priority for Technology Enhanced Learning. 

In academic year 2019/20 we will build on recent activities which have included a guest article by Dr Lara Montesinos Coleman from the School of Global Studies on the topic of ‘Effective pedagogy for students with Specific Learning Difficulties’; an invited seminar with guest expert Dr David Sloan from The Paciello Group, who provided invaluable guidance on how individual digital content creators can ensure their resources are optimally accessible; a blog post highlighting the Accessibility Checker functionality within Canvas; and a series of professional development workshops for academic staff on ‘Designing engaging and inclusive presentations’.

SensusAccess represents our next step on this journey and an important new tool in our effort to reduce accessibility barriers for everyone in the Sussex educational community.

References

The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 (2018). Available at: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2018/852/contents/made

Government Digital Service (2019), Understanding new accessibility requirements for public sector bodies. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/accessibility-requirements-for-public-sector-websites-and-apps

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Posted in Accessibility

Focus on Panopto: Quizzes and Discussions

Panopto brings some superb features for improving engagement with your students, two of those features are Quizzes and Discussions which will be the focus of this blog post.

Quizzes

Panopto allows you to create quizzes which can be set to appear to viewers at predetermined points in the recording. There are four types of questions you can add to quizzes:

  • True / False –  questions with answers that are either true or false.
  • Multiple Choice –  several answers present, but only one answer can be chosen as correct.
  • Multiple Select – several answers present with multiple correct answers. 
  • Fill In The Blank – questions that require users to fill in answers to the question. The prompt will ask for the correct answer to be provided.

Quizzes allow you to gauge students’ understanding and comprehension of the materials they are viewing. Panopto allows you to view the results of quizzes, including which questions students got right or wrong and what percentage of students chose a particular answer, in this way quizzes can serve as a method of informal formative assessment.

Students can also review quizzes after they have taken them to see which questions they got right or wrong. This can allow students to gauge their own understanding of a topic and identify knowledge gaps. If you use the option to to add feedback comments on the answers students can be informed as to why their answer was right or wrong. 

Quizzes can also increase student engagement with recordings. Breaking up long lectures with activities increases the chances that students will remain engaged and pay attention to the entirety of the recording. 

For further guidance on quizzes please see the Panopto Quiz guidance page.

Discussions

Discussions are a feature within Panopto that allows students to engage with and discuss their opinions and thoughts on a Panopto recording which anyone else with access to the recording can view and respond to. Comments are time stamped so they are linked to a particular point in the recording.

Screenshot of a Discussion on a Panopto recording.

This can be helpful if students wish to ask others for help or to know what others thought regarding part of a recording. Teachers can also engage in this discussion by replying to comments. It’s possible for teachers to moderate discussions as well, with the option to delete any comments if necessary. 

For further guidance on using discussions please see Panopto’s How to Use Discussions in Videos.

If you have any queries about Quizzes or Discussions in Panopto recordings or would like to discuss how you might use Panopto to enhance your students’ learning please contact tel@sussex.ac.uk.


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Posted in Panopto

Collaborative assessment: Group submissions in Canvas

Canvas features a range of useful tools that facilitate group and collaborative work between students. These tools include collaborative Pages, Collaborations – online shared Google Docs or Office 365 documents, and Canvas Groups. In this post we are going to focus on Group assignments in Canvas.

In order to create group assignments in your Canvas module you will first need to set up student Groups. Groups are effectively a ‘mini module’ within your Canvas module site which provide students with their own tools for collaborative work. To find out more about Groups see our previous post Canvas Highlights – 2. Groups and to learn how to set up groups see How do I automatically create groups in a group set? or How do I manually create groups in a group set?

Once your student groups are created you can then move on to setting up your group assignment. To do this first go to Assignments in the module menu where you can create a new assignment. For Canvas assignment students can submit a range of content including any type of file, video or audio recordings, or a website URL. You then simply tick the box to indicate ‘This is a group assignment’ and select the Group Set that you have previously created.

screenshot of assignment settings

Students would then choose one group member to submit on behalf of their group, with Canvas applying this submission to each member of the group. You can then provide feedback and a mark on this one submission rather than marking the same piece of work four or five times, saving you time when marking. Once marks are released, this mark and feedback is then provided to all members of the group. If needed, for example if there is a peer marking element in the assessment, you can choose to assign marks individually to each student. 

There are a number of different ways that this type of assessment can be used, this could be:

  • Formative group work – students can submit draft work or formative tasks throughout a module, for example this could be weekly tasks associated with that week’s readings.
  • Summative group work – this could include group projects, reports or recorded presentations. Please remember that these marks must also be formally entered into Sussex Direct. 
  • Submission of additional/supporting documents – for example slides to accompany a face-to-face presentation.

If you would like additional information about Groups and group submissions in Canvas  these guides will be useful:

You can also contact tel@sussex.ac.uk if you would like further help or would like to discuss a specific idea that you have.

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Posted in Canvas

Power up your pedagogy with podcasts!

decorative image

In this blog post I’ll be introducing the concept of podcasts and talking about how they can be used within a teaching context.

What are Podcasts and how can they be used in teaching?

A podcast is an episodic series of audio recordings usually organised around a subject or theme, falling somewhere between a radio show and a blog. As a medium podcasts are immensely popular among young adults (15-24) with one in five now listening to podcasts regularly at least once a week. If you haven’t listened to a podcast before, you might like to try Impacted – a podcast created by the University of Sussex looking at the impact that research can have on the world or TEL: US – The Technology Enhanced Learning team’s own podcast. 

The format of podcasts along with their ease of use, low barrier to entry and the ability to share freely with others means they can be a great teaching tool. You can create your own podcasts for your students to listen to as well as getting students to create their own podcasts as learning artifacts.

Convenience is one of the major strengths of podcasts, for students that may have little free time podcasts are a godsend in that they can be listened to anywhere and whilst doing other tasks, perfect if you are a student stuck on a bus, doing chores around the house, in the gym or whilst stuck at work. Audio formats are much easier to consume in day to day life.

Some examples of the types of podcast content that could be created by a teacher for students to consume are:

  • Flipped learning materials. Create a podcast as a supplemental resource that can be listened to before a lecture or seminar.
  • Revision materials. Create podcasts recapping particular areas of a module.
  • Field reports. If you are attending an event, conference or trip why not create a field report based around what you are doing and learning for students to listen to.
  • Interviews. Get together with other academics or prominent leaders in your field to record a podcast for your students.
three characters sitting around a table with a microphone

Of course podcasts don’t just have to be made by teachers, one of the most effective ways that podcasts can be utilized is to have students create their own podcasts focused on themes or areas that they have studied in the module. These podcasts can then be shared with other students. Asking students to create their own podcasts:

  • Gives students a chance to cement their knowledge of a topic by engaging with the material through the creation of an artifact.
  • Enables students to learn valuable digital skills such as audio recording and editing, as well as improving vocal and communication skills in terms of explaining information succinctly and comprehensively.
  • Could be used as an alternative to presenting. This can aid inclusion particularly for students who may feel anxious or uncomfortable about speaking publicly in front of others but who could be more than happy to record a podcast that others could listen to instead.
  • Is fun and engaging. Being involved in both making and listening to podcasts boosts the chances that students will engage with the process of learning. 
  • Can be useful for accessibility. Podcasts could be an alternative for those who may find written resources difficult, such as students with Dyslexia.
  • Is a great way to share learning. Every group that creates a podcast can then share it with the wider class, in this way knowledge can be rapidly shared through peer learning.

Creating a podcast

So now you know what a podcast is and how useful they can be for your students, but how would you go about creating one yourself? Creating a podcast is quick and easy and can be made using equipment you very likely already have or that is cheap to procure, so let’s go through the major areas.

Equipment and setup

cartoon microphone

You’ll need something that’s capable of recording sound, but most modern smartphones and laptops have built in microphones which can be used. Otherwise there is a broad variety of cheap microphones available, lapel mics in particular can be helpful as they can just be clipped on and then forgotten about.

Now that you have your equipment you’ll need to use some software to record your podcast. Different programs have different levels of complexity depending on how simple or complex you wish to make your podcast. Here are some suggestions:

  • Panopto – The University’s online media platform can be used for easy recording and editing on both iOS as well as computer device. It does lacks the ability to do any complex editing but works for simple edits.
  • Audacity – A great free open source software available for both Mac and Windows desktop and laptop computers. Has a steeper learning curve but has a wide variety of features and editing options giving you greater freedom.
  • Ocenaudio – Another free open source recorder  available for both Windows and Mac desktop and laptop computers. Has less of a learning curve but also less features.

Recording

cartoon of a mouth

You will need somewhere to record, preferably somewhere fairly quiet, so a busy cafe or the side of a road would be a bad idea, however you don’t need utter silence so any office or quietish area will work well.

Here are some tips for recording:

  • Don’t worry too much about perfection, podcasts can often have a rough and ready feel to them so if you muck up a sentence or use too many um’s or ah’s when talking don’t worry, just relax and keep going. If you do make any truly major mistakes you can always edit out part of the recording later.
  • When going from one topic to another consider leaving a break of a few seconds, this will make your life much easier later when you may wish to edit the recording and move parts of the recording around to be in a different order.
  • Always do a quick test recording before you start recording properly, this only needs to be a few seconds long but you can listen back to it to make sure that all audio devices are recording properly and that you can hear everyone speaking clearly.

Publishing and sharing your podcast 

cartoon of a loudspeaker

The easiest way to share your podcast is to use the university’s online media platform Panopto which allows you to upload audio files for your modules. Any student enrolled on the module will then be able to access your recording.

Students can also share their own recordings either by hosting them on file sharing services such as Box, OneDrive and Google Drive or on collaborative platforms like Padlet.

What next?

I hope this blog post has helped to serve as an introductory look at podcasting and its potential uses in teaching. Technology Enhanced Learning run workshops on Podcasting from time to time so please do keep an eye on our workshops page for more information. 

If you have any further questions or queries or would like help with using podcasting in your teaching at the University of Sussex then please contact the Technology Enhanced Learning team at TEL@sussex.ac.uk

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Posted in Active learning

Dates for your diary! Book now for these great TEL workshops.

Desk with laptop, diary, calendar, clock, notebook, newspaper and coffee.

We have a great line-up of new workshops for University of Sussex teaching staff this semester. Whether you want to explore next steps with Canvas, are looking to make the most of Panopto, our new online media platform, or are wondering what might be out there to take your students’ learning experience in a new direction we have something for you.

Doing more with Canvas

When Canvas was introduced at the University of Sussex over 1000 members of staff attended Canvas Fundamentals workshops and lots of you have read our blog posts about the great features in Canvas. As we move into the second year of Canvas, the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team are offering two workshops that will help you make more of the features available in our online study platform.

Collaboration opportunities in Canvas. Thursday 14/11/19, 11.00-12.30.

This hands-on session will introduce some of the ways that Canvas supports students to work together. Participants will explore the Groups function which allows teachers and students to create ‘mini-modules’ to facilitate group work and  Collaborations where students can edit documents together. Book a place on Collaboration opportunities in Canvas.

Quizzes and surveys in Canvas. Friday 6/12/19, 11.00-12.30.

Quizzes and surveys are a great way to give feedback to students on their learning and get feedback from students. Participants in this workshop will explore potential uses for Canvas Quizzes and get started with building a quiz and analysing responses. Book a place on Quizzes and surveys in Canvas.

Other Canvas training and support

We are still running Canvas Fundamentals workshops for new or returning staff and are happy to work with individuals on making the best use of Canvas for their students, so please do contact tel@sussex.ac.uk if you want to discuss options. 

Online media with Panopto

This academic year the university has introduced Panopto as its new online media platform. Many people are now using Panopto to record lectures, but there is much more that you can do with this platform. This semester there are two workshops looking at interesting ways to use Panopto, and as always the TEL team are ready to help individuals explore how they could use Panopto in their teaching – just email us at tel@sussex.ac.uk if you want to discuss options. 

Panopto for Flipped learning. Monday 25/11/19, 10.00-11.00.

Providing online content can be a great way to prepare students for a face-to-face session where problems can be explored and tackled together. Panopto allows for recordings to be made at your desk and for quizzes to be added at key points. This session offers participants the opportunity to learn how this can be used in their teaching practice. Book a place on Panopto for Flipped learning.

Podcasting in teaching: an auditory adventure. Wednesday 6/11/19, 14:00-15:00.

Podcasts are gaining in popularity and are an ideal medium for teaching and learning. Book for this workshop to learn more about podcasts and get started using Panopto and other tools to plan, record, edit and publish a podcast. Book a place on Podcasting in teaching: an auditory adventure.

Exploring further afield

TEL are always on the lookout for interesting ways that technology can facilitate innovative teaching and sharing them with academic colleagues. This semester we have three workshops looking at a range of free options to enhance students’ learning. As well as showing you how to create content with these digital tools, each session will provide an opportunity to consider how they might be useful in your context. 

Flipgrid: video discussions for learning. Wednesday 20/11/19, 13.30-14.30.

Flipgrid is a really fun way for students to share their ideas using short videos. This workshop introduces the free tool which is now part of Office 365 and will get you started creating your own video posts and grids. Book a place on Flipgrid: video discussions for learning.

Teaching games and storytelling with Twine. Tuesday 3/12/19, 10.00-11.30.

Twine lets anyone create learning resources based on scenarios and decision making. This workshop will look at some examples of how this tool could be used and participants will get started creating their own Twine stories/journeys. Book a place on Teaching games and storytelling with Twine.

Make your own Augmented Reality experiences. Tuesday 10/12/19, 14.00-15.30.

If you are interested in Augmented Reality (AR) experiences and the benefits they may offer for learning, but don’t know where to start creating them, then this workshop is for you! Participants will be introduced to some examples and will create their own AR experience. Book a place on Make your own Augmented Reality experiences.

You can read more about all of these workshops on the TEL website. If there is another TEL topic you would like to learn more about please contact tel@sussex.ac.uk.

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Posted in Professional Development

TEL:US Podcast – Digital Discovery Week Preview with Beth Logan

TEL:US Podcast logo.

In this show Dan caught up with Beth Logan from the Library to discuss next week’s Digital Discovery Week. Find out abut the week, the highlights and how you can get involved.

Links:

Digital Discovery Week schedule and booking: 

https://www.sussex.ac.uk/library/about/digital

Beth Logan: https://twitter.com/Hey_Bethany

Dan Axson: https://twitter.com/danaxson

Library

Web: https://www.sussex.ac.uk/library

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sussexlibrary

IT Services

Web: https://www.sussex.ac.uk/its 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ITServices

Careers and Employability Centre

Web: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/careers/ 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SussxUniCareers

Technology Enhanced Learning

Web: https://www.sussex.ac.uk/tel 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SussexTEL

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Posted in Podcast, Uncategorized

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We are the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

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