Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, college instructors were forced to radically rethink their teaching methods and publish more instructional materials online. Experts point out that the trend of online education will continue after the Covid-19 pandemic.
Faculty struggle with the technical nature of making their course material ADA compliant, i.e. “accessible” for students who use assistive technology. As part of their preparation, educators currently attend technical workshops on accessibility compliance to understand why and how to make their documents accessible for people with disabilities.
For video and audio content, there are several competing solutions to help faculty create captions and transcripts including Youtube, Temi, Otter, Sonix, Trint and Rev. However, faculty still need support making their documents ADA-compliant.
Our team focused on the syllabus--the document that outlines all course requirements for students. The syllabus serves as the contract between the faculty and the student, and the syllabus is an integral part of every course across all disciplines, and it is mostly text-based.
We interviewed 12 faculty with different levels of experience with technology. The following insights were developed through individual interviews with higher education staff and faculty during the Spring of 2021.
- ADA compliance does not fit in naturally with the current process of making educational documents
- Instructors need help structuring syllabi, and instructors need assistance to make documents accessible- education and technical support.
- Because it's the law, it puts a lot of pressure on professors (potentially decreasing empathy for why it is necessary).
- Overall it feels overwhelming, in addition to an already challenging transition to online instruction because of Covid-19.
Our project was guided by the following question:
How might we provide professors with a positive experience creating ADA compliant syllabi that integrates into their current routine and sets up faculty for success?
Our team aligned around the idea of creating an “Syllabus Builder” web application. The aim of the solution was to help faculty create ADA compliant documents without a steep learning curve.
Elements of Syllabus Builder
We broke the syllabus content down into three parts: (1) logistical course information, (2) content required by the college/university, and (3) instructor generated content. For Co.Lab, we focused on creating a strong proof of concept for the first section of the syllabus--the logistical identifying data for the course/instructor.
Using our custom web application, teachers can upload their syllabus content, save and then export an ADA compliant syllabus. With over 4,000 institutions of higher education nationwide, Inclusive Syllabus Builder has tremendous growth potential. It can also be adapted for use by all entities subject to ADA standards. Using our product reduces potential ADA liability while also providing vital support that will serve all students with or without disabilities.
Product Manager Learnings:
Through the Co.Lab experience, I learned so many principles and strategies, but most importantly, I learned the process of developing products with a remote cross-functional team. The development of this project was driven by talking with customers every week.
We inched closer and closer to creating value for our users only because we consistently asked users along the way.
My main takeaway from working on Inclusive Syllabi was learning how to integrate agile and collaborative processes with the team, in addition to holding a UX framework. The way product teams function today, is a UX experience in itself.
Additionally, in this project, we got to conduct three rounds of usability testing, and for me it helped to highlight how much the principles of human behavior and centering the needs and perspectives of the user lead the design process, down to the smallest details. The users facilitate the roadmap of the design from the initial wireframes or foundations of the product, to the color scheme and placement of each micro-feature, and the usability testing, user interviews and other research processes, really bring this roadmap to life.
I am a new, self-taught developer and my goal with Co.Lab was to learn how to collaborate and function within a Product Team.
My 6-week experience taught me how to properly work in an Agile environment and what the responsibilities are for each member of the team. I also learned that during product development there are a multitude of parts shifting at the same time. For this reason, communication and organization is key to keeping team progress moving forward.
Overall, I'm so thankful to the Co.Lab team for providing me the opportunity to learn how to collaborate with a Product Manager, a designer, and another developer to create a real-world product.
As the Front-End Functionality Developer for Inclusive Syllabi, my key takeaways from this project was transforming my team’s collaborative solution design into code as well as properly assimilating to team’s dynamics for a more productive overall experience. The process of properly developing a coded-up solution can get extensive yet rewarding.
In this project, accessibility was the constant problem we as a team were trying to solve. Being able to utilize and combine the wide variety of customizable NPM packages available made it much more feasible to devise a solution. The team’s collective effort and support through clear communication played a major role in setting up a much more desired work environment and a comprehensible solution.
Full Team Learning
Our team learned that the accessibility space is complex and requires continued research and development. We are proud of our ability to develop a working proof of concept in such a short period of time.
Please reach out to any of us, using our contact information above, if you would like to start a conversation about our product or our process.