In recent years, many Further and Higher Education Institutions have developed Virtual Learning Environments, or VLEs, to engage staff and students in continuous learning. Used well, this can be a valuable resource to enhance learning, but how can inclusivity and accessibility be guaranteed? This blog post addresses some of the key features of VLEs and the challenges the education sector faces in ensuring equity of access.
The University of York recommends that technology should be used to enhance rather than replace learning, teaching and assessment, but that it is the responsibility of academic staff rather than students to ensure accessibility for all. Students with disabilities may benefit more from an appropriate range of media made available on the VLE than just taking notes in lectures. The Higher Education Academy (2017) remarked that inclusivity in education should remove barriers in order to enable participation whist avoiding direct or indirect exclusion. VLEs can provide students with 24-hour access to their course, opening doors to more flexible approaches to learning include home study.
The issue of accessible websites following the EU Directive 2018 was recently discussed in another blog post. In the same way, the education sector needs to ensure that VLEs can be accessed in a variety of ways, with or without a mouse, and provide access to documentation in a wide range of formats. In fact, the way VLEs are used is as important as the technology itself.
The University of Edinburgh offers this advice to make VLEs more accessible:
- Avoid using colour and sound as the only means of conveying information.
- Avoid moving, flashing or scrolling text.
- Use informative error messages that clearly signpost next steps for users.
- Ensure tooltips are enabled by default so that a written description of an image appears when the cursor/mouse is hovered over it or the user tabs through to it.
- Make sure settings such as font size, typeface and background colour can be customised using simple shortcuts.
- Ensure any content is compatible for use with assistive technology such as screen-readers and word prediction software.
- Clearly signpost users to online help facilities across the whole VLE.
- Avoid time-limited access to content as it may take a disabled user more time to finish using it.
Other useful tips include:
- Using file naming templates consistently for all parts of the VLE.
- Making key contact information easy to locate and navigate.
- Group key areas such as learning and teaching materials together under a single navigation heading.
- Regular checks of the VLE content and design to make sure only up-to-date folders and information are provided.
- Where possible, avoid making significant changes to the design and/or navigation of the VLE part-way through courses, modules or teaching programmes. If this cannot be avoided, ensure full support and notice is given to all.
Given the rise of technology in our everyday lives, it makes sense that the Further and Higher Education sector embraces the role of VLEs in supporting all students. Everyone can benefit from the good technical support and consistent learning experiences they can provide. Just as many businesses and public sector organisations have an intranet or network from which employees can access shared files and information. Colleges and universities can use their VLEs to ensure equity of access for every student.
With over 25 years’ experience of providing specialist transcription services to the education sector. Connect is ideally placed to help you ensure that the resources provided on your VLE are fully accessible, meeting UKAAF recommended guidelines and ISO standards. Contact us today here for more information on our services.