When creating learning materials it is important to ensure that, in addition to being stimulating and engaging, they are also accessible. It is easier to include accessibility from the start than try to add these features afterwards. There is a wide range of tools available for creating learning content.
Some are designed to help you create full learning objects using a variety of activities and different types of media. Such tools include paid for software like Articulate Storyline and free open source tools such as Xerte. Xerte enables you to create accessible learning objects that include activities like quizzes, drag and drop exercises and interactive images, and use a range of media including images and videos. Find out more about Xerte.
Other tools are for creating and working with specific types of media such as images, audio or video all of which we look at in more detail below.
You may also find our guidance on creating accessible documents and presentations useful.
People with a range of accessibility needs can benefit from good images used effectively - there is guidance on using images in teaching from Jisc Digital Media. Images can simplify complex information and help learners see trends and patterns more easily. Photographs, maps and flow diagrams can often summarise something that would need many words to explain.
Images can have a variety of uses in teaching and learning, from supporting text in documents to stimulating class discussion or showing evidence of achievement. You can use PowerPoint to animate images, or (alongside free software) to create animated gifs.
To ensure they are accessible, you should check that they are suitable for colour blind users. Photographs need to clearly show the object that is being illustrated. It is good practice to provide alt text for images when they are being embedded within a word document or web page. This not only means that the image is correctly labelled for other users but it makes the author think clearly about what purpose the image is serving within the document.
Images can be captured via camera, inbuilt software, PowerPoint exports or third party tools. They can also be obtained from the Google image search, the Xpert attribution tool or from repositories such as Jisc Collections. Images from third-party sites need to have appropriate copyright permissions.
Providing resources in audio format allows people to listen to information whilst engaging in other activities such as commuting. Audio files are particularly helpful for people with print impairment and it can increase their comprehension and confidence. People with hearing difficulties can also benefit as they can use headphones to cut out background noise and turn up the volume as required. People with concentration difficulties may find it easier to listen to information than to read it. Read about using audio in teaching and learning from Jisc Digital Media.
Any audio file you create should always have a transcript or a written summary for the benefit of any deaf learners. A summary of the main teaching and learning points can be very helpful, particularly for those whose English is not strong.
There are a number of tools you can use to create audio files. Audacity is free and relatively straightforward to use for creating and editing sound files. The Robobraille service converts text to a variety of formats including audio and DAISY, a specialist text and audio format for people with visual impairments. Robobraille is free for non-commercial use. Jisc Digital Media have a useful guide to editing audio.
Alternatively you can install free text-to-speech software such as Balabolka or DSpeech - there are some good quality free voices available such as Jess and Jack in England, Heather and Stuart in Scotland and Gwyneth and Geraint in Wales.
Video can benefit a wide range of learners, especially those who do not learn effectively from text alone. There are guides to using video available from Jisc Digital Media, including information about how videos can add to the learning process, and a lot of technical information. If you are filming your own video, and you follow good practice guidelines for lighting, sound and use of tripods you can improve accessibility for people with sight or hearing difficulties. Screencapture software allows you to record what is happening on your computer screen and record audio explanations, which can be a useful way to create instructional videos.
Remember that the format and file size of the video can have an impact on how accessible it is. If it won’t download quickly and easily onto a mobile device many learners will be excluded.
It is always better to write a script no matter how short your planned media is likely to be. It gives you a chance to practice and edit it. Writing documents and writing to be read out loud are very different and what may look wonderful on the page could sound stilted and lacking in rhythm when spoken. Read the script out loud. Don’t start to record until you are fully happy with it. If you then use the script you have a ready made transcript or easily edited one in case of sudden ad-libs. Media should always have some sort of text alternative to enhance or provide substitute information.
Decide how you are going to illustrate each aspect of the script and write a shooting script (also known as a story board. This may be simply a list of images or headlines but it helps to write them down.
Once you have created your videos, Jisc Digital Media have guidance on editing them effectively. Videos should always have captions or at least a transcript, to enable those who cannot see the video to access the information it contains. Whether the transcript needs word for word text or a summary of the key teaching points depends on the teaching context. People using assistive technologies are likely to be working more slowly so providing them with a long, word-for-word transcript may be a barrier in itself.