FIU Online zeros in on accessibility & inclusion

Challenge accepted; fix your content; Blackboard Ally

FIU, along with 113 universities worldwide, participated in the annual 24-hour Fix Your Content Day challenge May 20th to identify solutions in providing a more accessible online learning environment. With digital sources of information now a vital everyday way of life, it has never been more important for such information to be accessible to everyone. For learning materials contained in online academic programs, courses and websites, “access” takes on even greater meaning to ensure that all learners and abilities are carefully considered. In some instances, particular “fixes” are needed to guarantee accessibility and inclusion as widely as possible.  

So, for one day each year, hundreds of universities worldwide participate in Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD) events like the Fix Your Content Day challenge to improve accessibility for all students. GAAD, in its 10th year, focuses on digital access and inclusion, and the world’s more than one billion people with disabilities/impairments.

Fix Your Content Day

Fix Your Content Day, created by Blackboard, a company whose product called Ally integrates seamlessly within learning management systems and focuses on making digital course content more accessible, brings universities together to participate in a competition aimed at improving digital learning for all. This year’s global event took place May 20th and 114 universities participated.

Fix Your Content Day “Content Crew” member

FIU placed among the top 20 universities for the 2021 Fix Your Content Day challenge. Collectively, all universities competing in this year’s challenge accomplished more than 100,000 fixes.

“Every learner’s journey is different. By ensuring course content fits students’ personal needs, FIU Online is making learning more equitable, inclusive and accessible for every Panther,” says Dan Loury, senior product management director for Blackboard Ally. “It’s exciting to see FIU Online deepen its commitment to delivering course content that fits learners’ unique needs, devices and preferences.”

Education for all

Simple additions such as text that describes images, or text documents that can help learners who are more visual learners than auditory learners, can assist students achieve better outcomes through increased accessibility, describes Robert Parhizgari, director of technology services for FIU Online. He explains that the FIU Online instructional design team regularly audits courses in tandem with faculty to ensure best practices and improve communication between students and faculty. 

“Students don’t always choose to declare a disability. But simple fixes such as not using ‘click here,’ but instead, having a more meaningful link, for example, may make a difference for someone on the other side of the computer,” illustrates Parhizgari.

Increased access

“Our mission at FIU Online is to offer all students and lifelong learners greater access to opportunities through online learning,” says Lia Prevolis, interim assistant vice president of FIU Online. “We take that commitment to all students seriously—remaining vigilant for opportunities to improve accessibility and inclusion allows us to continue to honor that commitment.”

The entire FIU Online staff of almost 200 employees embraced the opportunity to fix content during its recent May team meeting. Employees examined more than 100 fully online degree programs, tracks and certificates—a task that required editing and proofing the digital files for more than 5,000 online courses.

Impact on students

“It’s a jumpstart that brings out the competitive spirit, but it’s for a great reason,” offers Parhizgari. “It’s not just a competition, it has a lasting impact on students.”

Parhizgari notes that with the continued growth of online learning over the last five years, FIU Online is constantly examining the impact of its courses to ensure equity and access. He underscores that accessibility is equally important for the wider university student population and points out the university’s recent adoption of Ally, Blackboard’s software auditing program that helps identify course materials that can be improved for accessibility within the online Canvas learning environment.

Accessibility & Inclusion Ongoing efforts

Prevolis highlights that even though there is excitement about FIU’s participation in the 2021 Fix Your Content Day challenge, FIU Online persistently looks for ways to provide excellence in online learning and emphasizes FIU’s No. 1 status for Quality Matters courses.

“FIU Online has been a growing pillar for FIU, which is a beacon of hope for many aspiring learners,” says Prevolis. “It’s about being proactive to ensure all our students obtain the best value in education—this is just another way we are fulfilling our mission to reduce barriers to education,” says Prevolis.

Monica Smith, aka “Mon Wordsmith,” is an FIU Online Content Strategist who can quote AP Style like scripture. She makes full use of her English major (creative writing) and her extensive experience in media (newspapers, magazines, books, PR, video, radio, web). She joined the FIU Online Marketing team in 2017 and provides original web content, advertising, marketing and internal and external communications. A world traveler, she loves to cook.

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