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Inclusive Design in Online and Hybrid Courses

[Audio by Ally: Download an audio version (MP3) of this article.]

According to the Inclusive Design Research Centre (IDRC), inclusive design is “design that considers the full range of human diversity with respect to ability, language, culture, gender, age and other forms of human difference.” At SHSU, diversity is rich, and it plays a role in making up the fabric of what it means to be a “Bearkat”.

This year, SHSU Online is ramping up Inclusive Design efforts to increase instructor awareness about accessible content authoring and to improve how students engage with their course materials- whether in online or hybrid courses.

Differing Abilities

One area of diversity is found in differing abilities. Currently, there are almost 1,100 students at SHSU with a declared disability. Their academic level is shown below:

Academic Level, SHSU Students with Declared Disability
Undergraduate 979
Graduate 103
Professional 3
Unknown 4
Table 1- Spring 2021 Metrics provided by Services for Students with Disabilities

Tools and Techniques for Inclusive Design in Online and Hybrid Courses

As more students enter the world of online and hybrid education, the need for ADA compliance through Inclusive Design becomes a stronger imperative. Colleges and universities throughout the State of Texas (See Table 2) are adopting tools and building capacity in instructional design to address the accessibility needs of a diverse and growing population.

One critical tool in Inclusive Design is Bb Ally.

Ally integrates into the SHSU Learning Management System (LMS), Blackboard. The tool is built into each Bb course shell, so instructors can use it independently of their course delivery modality. Ally leverages machine learning algorithms to automatically generate eight unique file formats from the instructor original.

Take, for instance, the humble but indispensable syllabus. Once you upload your syllabus to Bb, your students can choose to download it in a variety of alternative format types that help address accessibility barriers with course content. Students can download an audio version of your syllabus, an electronic Braille version, or a Beeline Reader, to name a few.

Aside from increasing accessibility and moving the needle on inclusive course design, Ally renders these alternative file types automatically, upon the student's download request. There is nothing "extra" for the instructor to do but simply upload files in Bb as part of regular course building.

Ally Adoption Across Texas

School Building Vector Graphic 67 Colleges and Universities currently using Ally in the LMS
Students Vector Graphic 452,274 Students benefiting from Ally (based on full-time enrollment)
Computer File Vector Graphic 15,194,452 Files checked for accessibility in 2019-2020 academic year
HTML Icon Vector Graphic 10,567,739 HTML items checked for accessibility in 19-20 academic year
Download Icon Vector Graphic 822,856 Alternative Formats downloaded through Ally in one year
Ally Gage Vector Graphic 189,692 Files improved through the Instructor Feedback in one year
Table 2- An Impact on Inclusive Education Across the Lone Star State

See Ally in Action

To get a feel for how this tool works, you can try Ally in one of two primary ways.

Option 1: Inside Your Bb Course

Go to one of your Bb courses and find an area where you have uploaded a file. Next to the file name, you will see the Ally icon. Click it to reveal a pop-up window with a selection of alternative file types to download.

  1. Blackboard Ally - IconLook for the Ally icon next to file names in your Bb course shell and click:


  2. Select the alternate file type and click Download

    Download Alternative Formats screen grab from Blackboard Ally

Option 2: Outside of Bb, via access to the public-facing File Transformer

Note: This option is for demo purposes only. You do not need to “convert” your files prior to uploading them into your Bb course. Ally will automatically create the alternative file formats as your students download files from your Bb course.

It is our hope that faculty members will work alongside SHSU Online Instructional Designers to increase efforts in inclusive design. If you are teaching an online or hybrid course and are interested in designing for diversity, please contact SHSU Online today!