Learning Technology Coach Podcast

S2E3. Using Your Learning Management System to Create Accessible Learning Experiences

May 18, 2023 Dr. Brittany Singleton Season 2 Episode 3
Learning Technology Coach Podcast
S2E3. Using Your Learning Management System to Create Accessible Learning Experiences
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Featuring Dr. Brittany Singleton - Academic Affairs Manager, D2L

Dr. Singleton provides strategic leadership, guidance and support for the development of innovative programs in the teaching and learning realm in both the K-12 and Higher Ed verticals.  Her experience focuses around holistic student development, instruction, mentorship, and programming for diverse student populations. 

In this episode, learn how D2L is reshaping the future of education by helping institutions develop personalized learning experiences, driven by the belief that everyone deserves access to a high-quality education. Discover the benefits of incorporating accessibility features in courses that can improve comprehension and retention, boost engagement and motivation, and create a warm and welcoming environment for students. 


The Learning Technology Coach Podcast is a CITL production.

Speaker Key:
JA      Javad
TI      Timilehin
BR    Brittany
SP     Speaker

JA |
Hello, everyone, my name is Javad.

TI | And I am Timilehin, and welcome to the Learning Technology Coach Podcast.

JA | This is where we engage with instructors to discuss various accessibility tools.
TI | The challenges they face while implementing them.

JA | The technologies they use.

TI | Plus, a whole lot more. Hello, everyone, and welcome to today’s episode of the Learning Technology Coach Podcast. My name is Timilehin and I am here with my very good friend and co-host Javad in the Memorial University Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning production studio. Hey, Javad, how are you doing today?

JA | Thank you, Timilehin. I am very good, life is good. Just trying to be a responsible adult these days. But it’s not as much fun as being a reckless teenager. What about you?

TI |
Well, I’m good too, thank you. Today we will be looking at how technology has helped improve accessibility endeavours in our education. What’s great about technology in education anyway? Now you can watch a lecture in your pyjamas from the comfort of your bed. Isn’t that exciting?

JA | That’s so true. I don’t know about the exciting part, but that’s so true. It’s like we are living in the future.

TI | Absolutely. And not even that, but technology has made learning more accessible for everyone. With closed captioning, screen readers, all the features, people with accessibility needs can now easily access educational materials.

JA |
That’s true. And I know it’s not just about the people with accessibility needs who can benefit. Even people without accessibility needs, they also can take advantage of these features. For example, closed captioning that you mentioned is great when you want to watch a video in a noisy environment and can’t hear the video or audio.

TI | Absolutely.

JA | Or even when you want to learn a new language.

TI |
Yes. And you know what’s really cool? Accessibility features can actually benefit all students. For instance, if you’re with me and I am using a text-to-speech feature or tool, you can listen to everything I’m listening to. Also, especially if we are using the same educational material, don’t you think so?

JA | That’s true, that’s a great point that you mentioned. It’s like accessibility features are superheroes of education saving the day for everyone.
TI | I like that analogy, superheroes.

Well, and do you know what’s even better? With the growth of online learning, accessibility features are becoming even more important. Online classes need to be accessible to everyone regardless of their physical or cognitive abilities.

JA | Yes, that’s so true. And as technology continues to advance, we can expect even more innovative accessibility features to emerge. It’s like possibilities are endless.

TI | I totally agree. Accessibility features have truly revolutionised education, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

JA | Me too. I’m so excited to see what future can bring us.

I think accessibility features and technology, they can help each other. When it comes to teaching and learning, which is all this podcast is about, one of the main challenges is how to make the course content accessible for everyone. It’s where technology comes in. It’s a game changer when it comes to making education more accessible and inclusive, especially for people with accessibility needs.

TI | That’s so true. We are super excited to share an interview we had with Dr Brittany Singleton, the Academy Affairs Manager at D2L.

She’s an expert on the field of accessibility and talked to us about the accessibility agenda of D2L and the learning management system also known as Brightspace. She also gave us some insight on how this is changing the learning management system.

JA | So, if you’re ready to learn more about this important topic, kick back, relax and turn up the volume, because we’ve got a great interview for you.

Welcome back to the studio. Accessibility features in educational systems and platforms are incredibly important for ensuring that the students with accessibility needs are able to fully participate in learning experiences. Accessible design allows all students to access and interact with course content regardless of their individual abilities. I think one of the reasons why accessibility features are so important is their inclusivity.

Today we have the pleasure of being joined by Dr Brittany Singleton from D2L. Timilehin, could you please introduce our esteemed guest to our listeners?

TI | I always have flair for doing such things. Yes, Dr Singleton is the Academic Affairs Manager at D2L, and she’s also an Adjunct Professor at Belhaven University. She has a Bachelor of Art in English from Tougaloo College and a Master’s and Education Specialist degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from Mississippi College.

She has a doctorate in Educational Leadership and Administration from Tennessee State University. And she also holds a certificate in women’s entrepreneurship from Cornell University. She must love university education. She is an effective and resourceful education professional with over 15 years of experience in holistic student development, instruction, mentorship and programming for diverse student populations. That’s a big profile, Brittany.

Welcome to the production studio of the Centre for Innovation of Teaching and Learning at the Memorial University. How are you doing today?

BR | I am wonderful and I’m glad to be here to join you all to talk about accessibility today.

TI | Awesome. We can feel the excitement over there.

I actually want to start by making this, just as well informing our listeners, that Memorial University has been using Brightspace which was developed by D2L for many years for delivering our courses. And so, we are a big fan of your company and we are so excited to have you here. And then we would like you to introduce us to that company. Our listeners might not know about D2L, what D2L does, what your roles are in the company. We just want to know everything about D2L in a short way.

BR |
Absolutely. So D2L, which stands for Desire2Learn, is a global learning innovation company founded by our CEO John Baker in 1999. We help to reshape the future of education and work through transforming the way the world learns. So, we are leading the way into the era of personalised learning, driven by the belief that everyone deserves access to a high-quality education regardless of their age, ability or location. We also believe in going from disruption to innovation.

So, through our learning management system Brightspace, which is a single system for teaching and learning, we established and provide a trusted partnership through providing highly personalised learning that is engaging and connecting. We also provide automation and personalisation at scale through an integrated ecosystem that provides actionable data. So that’s a little bit about D2L. As you previously stated, I am the Academic Affairs Manager here. So, in this role, I provide strategic leadership, guidance and support for the development of the innovative programmes in teaching and learning in the realm above K-12 and higher ed verticals.

I also work closely with the sales and marketing team to produce webinars, blogs and podcasts as well. So, it’s such a pleasure to be here with you all today.

JA | Wonderful. Just to add something to what Timilehin said, D2L is not just being used in Memorial University. And as far as I know, it’s one of the fastest growing technology that’s being used in mostly North America and globally around the world. And it’s really interesting to note that the CEO John Baker, that you mentioned, he’s actually from Newfoundland, I don’t know if you knew that.

BR |

JA | But let’s not deviate from our topic. Accessibility can have millions of definitions. The definition of accessibility can vary depending on the perspective of different individuals all around the world. How do you see accessibility from the perspective of an instructor and as a senior tech administrator?

BR | So, when I think of the term accessibility, I immediately think of access for all.

So, accessibility in education is about creating equable learning experiences to support the needs of diverse learners. More specifically, accessibility provides these diverse learners with the ability to access activities, information and environments through assistive technology and other resources. Being a former educator and also working in this role now, it’s so interesting to see exactly how our company provides the accessibility to students. So, we always think with the learning in minds who provide the equitable learning experience.

TI |
Awesome. So, we can see that D2L is doing a lot to make sure that the platform is accessible to learners. But I want to ask specifically, are there accessibility guidelines or standards that D2L uses or follow to ensure that its platform is accessible to users with diverse needs? And how does the company stay up to date with evolving accessibility? We know that accessibility issues are coming up every day, and things are evolving every day, so what is your company doing to stay up to date?
BR |
So, we’re committed to reporting on the accessibility of Brightspace openly and transparently. We view accessibility as an opportunity to continually improve user experience in our solution. We report in our WCAG 2.1 checklist and Section 5 of VPAT, which is based on our work with the community of access of technology users through our accessibility partner. And consultations with our client-led accessibility interest group.

We also have a mature accessibility programme, where our product process is closely guided by the most up to date standards. So, our accessibility program is cross-functional which means each team takes ownership for accessibility in their own work. And when exceptions are raised as high-priority software defects, we will have a team that work together to take an approach to fix those defects. At D2L it’s not merely a checklist, it’s commitment to empower and engage individuals and their learning goals.

We align our product process with accessibility criteria contained in the way of content guidelines as previously stated. And we publicly report our performance against this assessed criteria through different levels and checklists.

TI | Awesome. So, does this mean that D2L has a team dedicated to accessibility in the company?
BR | Yes. So, our best practices are also built in our design and development process. So, we work with a team of individuals who have accessibility lead partners that look at these things and make sure they function as they should.

TI |

JA | How does D2L involve its users with accessibility needs in the design and testing of accessibility features? Both Timilehin and I are learning technology coaches here, and on daily basis we are dealing with instructors and we are trying to help them overcome their challenges. What are some common challenges that instructors face in making their course’s materials more accessible? And how does D2L help address these challenges through its platform features or support resources?

BR |
We’ll work closely with our clients to develop comprehensive solutions that are flexible to the individual needs of the institutions. So, for instance, you are all at the Memorial University, so we work specifically with your team there to make sure we’re providing what specifically you all need. And we’ll work with the instructors and the learners. We’ll offer products that make it easier for you to navigate and understand and respond to learning materials and activities using assistive technologies that support their needs.

When we talk about accessibility, we think about barriers that are faced when using these products. So, the result of unmet needs that prevent a person from fully participating in these aspects of society. So, we make sure that we have on board the framework to provide a frame of reference for conversations about accessibility. We have a framework that we have created in collaboration with TPACK, that’s called Technology Content Pedagogy Community Framework.

And this allows as previously stated with the framework that was created by Punya Mishra and Matthew Koehler in 2006. So, we envision the online space as one that encompasses all of these layers together to make sure that we are meeting the needs of specific learners. So that when they are faced with these challenges or the instructors are faced with these challenges, we have course materials that are accessible for everyone.

TI | How does D2L ensure that instructors are aware of the accessibility features and options available in the platform and provide training or support to help them create accessible course content?

BR |
So, at D2L we have WCAG Accessibility Lab. So, within this lab, instructors are able to go in where we showcase our philosophy and practice. So, usually we host an in-person accessibility lab that started for the first time at FUGE in 2019 in Kissimmee, Florida. So, it features hands-on experiences with assistive technologies and much more.

But we’ve also created a website to host information and resources related to the accessibility lab. So, in the accessibility lab we have content as a Brightspace course with virtual hands-on exercises. So, this course is housed in D2L’s Accessibility Academy in the Brightspace Community Learning Centre and it primarily has resources for clients. But some courses by Accessibility Lab are offered for everyone, not just instructors. The lab shows those features of Brightspace that meet the sensory, physical and cognitive needs of the users.

So, the first thing is, the Brightspace interface is designed to be perceivable through a variety of sensory modalities. So, learners can choose the modality that works for them, such as vision, hearing, and or touch with accessibility technologies where required. The controls in Brightspace are designed to be operable through a variety of physical modes. So, learners can choose the mode of interaction they wish to use, again going back to speech, switch control or touch according to what works for them and their assistive technologies.

And then the interface and content in Brightspace are designed to be understandable to users across different cognitive levels. So, learners can choose the assistive technologies that they want to use to replace for their capabilities.

TI | I’m very happy to learn that this is not just about instructors and that learners also have power, so yes. Thank for that answer.

JA | In that regard, how does D2L ensure that their accessibility features are compatible with assistive technologies that are usually used by users?

For example, those with screen readers, I don’t know, the manufacture software, and all the other alternative input devices.

BR | So first, the technologies that are underlined by Brightspace are engineered to remain robust enough to work seamlessly on a variety of existing and emerging devices. So, learners can choose to learn with ease of using any device such as a desktop, laptop, tablet or a phone at any time, at any location. So, we strive to provide everybody with a consistent and reliable user experience.

From the corporate strategies to organizational culture, accessibility touches everything we do at D2L. We have a mature accessibility program managed by, once again, our accessibility lead who is a certified professional in accessibility core competencies from the International Association of Accessibility Professionals. With our 15 years of experience in the field, we also have several researchers, designers, developers, testers, product managers and solution engineers at D2L who serve as accessibility matter experts.

So, together they work on sustaining a culture of inclusion across our company. We live and breathe accessibility by design, so we capture the sphere behind accessibility standards and legislations. This means we design to help or overcome permanent, temporary and situational constraints that might cause a barrier to digital access. Our products are designed to be perceived, operated and understood by learners regardless of their disability.

We make sure our products work well with a variety of assistive technologies such as, like you said, screen readers, screen magnifiers, switchbacks devices and force-operated inputs. As a learning innovation company, our goals are to deliver a comparable user experience for everyone.

JA | What about different devices or, let’s say, different operating systems? Is it going to be working with all types of platforms or is it just going to be mainly focused with PC or Mac users?

BR | No, you can use it across any type of platform anywhere.

So, if you have a desktop, a tablet or a phone, you can use it anywhere.

TI | Great. So, we’ve talked about what you do, we’ve talked about what D2L is doing. But let’s get down to Brightspace, which is the learning management system itself. So, what are the accessibility features that D2L has on Brightspace for people with different needs, including auditory, visual, motor, cognitive, any kind of need that you can think of. What kind of accessibility features can we find or anticipate to find on Brightspace?

BR | So, our designers build and maintain design patterns and components with accessibility consistency in mind. Our developers also build accessibility into their web components they create as building blocks for product development. And then they have accessibility tests that are integrated into the unit testing and integration testing protocols with developers. So, they’re training equipped with state-of-the-art automated accessibility tools.

We also partner with third-party accessibility testing companies for our accessibility research for design consultation and user testing to recruit users via their cloud-based platform from a community of people with disabilities using a variety of assistive technology, I’m sorry. But through Brightspace, we offer tool-based testing, we have colour contrast testing, we have screen reader testing, screen magnifiers, manual accessibility and user-based testing. So, those are some things we offer for clients.

JA | Okay, great. Here in Memorial University, we like to get feedback from both our instructors and our users. And where we are working in CITL, we have a dedicated place that users and instructors, they can come and say, hey, we are looking for this specific feature. How can we overcome this issue? And usually, we give them some kind of advice as, you can do this and that. What about D2L? Is there any way for you guys to get feedback to improve your products?

BR | Yes. So, we have a team, like previously stated, that works together to make sure that we have the needs that the clients are needing to be met. But we have an accessibility team where you can reach them at accessibility@d2l.com. So, if you’re having any issues with the accessible content, you can reach out to them, give the feedback and we find a solution forward.

But like I previously stated, we build a partnership with the clients, so it’s not just where we say, hey, take the product and use it. It’s a partnership throughout the process, so if you have any issues, you’re able to reach out and say, hey, this is not working, hey, we need this, hey. And we give that feedback and say, okay, well this is what can do for you to fix that issue that you’re having.

JA | Great.

TI | Awesome. So, I’m assuming that many things have changed, maybe this was not what D2L was in the last ten years.

Do you have any specific changes that you have observed over time, maybe in your role, that you say, okay, because of this information that we’ve retrieved from our users and then we are trying to get something better across to them. So are there things or new changes that you have seen over time?

BR | Yes. So, we meet quarterly with the accessibility team. We’ve nurtured an active accessibility interest group for over ten years. So, this open form of accessibility enthusiasts and persons with disabilities and the organisations that use our software, they meet with everyone every month to discuss the topics of collective interests and connects the [unclear] at other times.

But we also have a quarterly meeting of our accessibility advisory board, drawing from customers who care deeply about accessibility to explore these things that you’re talking about. So, we’ve leveraged what is changing. Of course, with us being a business since 1999, there have been a plethora of things that have changed over the 20-year span. So, we want to make sure we are changing with the times. So, if you need some new screen readers or you need the assistive technology, we’re making sure that we’re acclimated to that.

And we’ve leveraged partnerships with accessibility folks and entities such as ReadSpeaker, or Techskip, Bongo, Ally, SensusAccess and Kaltura to enhance the inclusion of those education ecosystems. To serve those diverse needs and disabilities.

JA | Right on. And I guess for the last question, what will be your take-home message for listeners?

BR |
So, the take-home message that I have for listeners is to foster a healthy learning environment. It’s important to ensure access and participation for all learners. So, educators can actively support students in receiving a high-quality education by implementing those frameworks such as technology, content, pedagogy and community, I’m sorry, the framework that we implement. You can adopt strategies such as inclusive design and universal design of learning, develop empathy towards learners facing barriers and truly understand the role that personalised access and participation plays in education.

TI |
And that’s it, our listeners. We want to appreciate Dr Brittany Singleton, the Academic Affairs Manager of D2L for joining us at the Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning production studio. Thank you, Dr Singleton.

BR |
Thank you both for having me today, it’s been such a pleasure to join you both here today.
JA | Wow. That interview about accessibility tools in D2L was fantastic. I mean, the way she was talking about all the different features and tools available for making more accessible features for students was just mind-blowing.

I think what really stood out to me was how passionate the interview was. And she really knew her stuff and seemed genuinely excited about the impact that those features can have on student lives. It was very inspiring for me. Timilehin, what about you? What is your big learning moment?

TI | Well, I have a couple of them. I mean, let me begin with when she made a powerful statement that went straight to my soul. That at D2L accessibility simply means access for all. I mean, that was big for me. And then she went on to say that it’s an opportunity for all to improve.

I mean, this is not just about the students or the instructors. Even down to us at the Centre for Innovation in Teaching and Learning as learning technology coaches, I began to see that this is for everyone to improve. Being how we are, being transparent. Being transparent about what we need, being sincere with what we can offer and all that. So that was really good. And then she closed it all on striving for a healthy learning environment. That’s beautiful, and that’s it.

JA |
Exactly. It was one of the most informative interviews that we’ve ever had.

TI | Yes. And until the next episode for our viewers, we are saying thank you. I remain Timilehin.

JA | And my name is Javad.

TI | Bye-bye.

SP | The Learning Technology Coach Podcast is a CITL production.


Episode Introduction
Guest Introduction
Introduction to D2L
Defining accessibility
Staying up to date with evolving technology
Working with users to develop solutions
D2L training and support for instructors
How D2L ensures accessibility features are compatible with assistive technologies
Collecting feedback from users
Working with interest groups
Fostering a healthy learning environment
Summary - Big Learning Moment!