Monday, June 22, 2015

CoSN's Austin CTO Clinic

A number of years ago I was very active in CoSN.  I was a member of the Emerging Technologies Committee and lead and contributed to a number of that group's publications.   Then as income dropped and CoSN raised dues, I dropped out.   But, I'd seen the announcement looking for presenters for this year's CTO Clinic which is run through the Texas CTO Council so I applied with a session focusing on access (no surprise) for online learning and websites.   CTOs have a range of responsibilities depending on their institution.

Session was accepted and presented to a small audience last week.  The slides are at the end of this post.

There were about 300 registrants for the event, and I saw some good sessions.  In some respects this is an organization very much like TxDLA.  They depend on vendor support and vendors play a prominent roll.  CTOs do have some say in budget matters and may have a substantial budget.

One of the general sessions was presented by folks from the Texas Association of School Boards focused on salary compensation for all the folks that might work in the information/instruction technology area.  There was a comparison between industry and education and generally industry was paying more, but not for all positions and not for all areas of the state.   Of course one needs to be a member of TASB to get the details.  One of their interesting components of the presentation was the Hot Tech Jobs in 2015-2016.  They identified Security, Mobil Device Management, and Network Management as the three sectors with significant growth.

So, my session was after Lunch the first day, and it seems like that's a time when folks are doing other things.  That said, I had a half-dozen attendees and we had a good discussion.  Not all the information was greeted warmly, but that's to be expected when some folks find out they have some problems they didn't know they had.   This session is just an updated version of the other slides.

If this had been a higher ed audience I would have added the Atlantic Cape Community College legal settlement.  That will be another post.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Justice Department Joins Suit Against Miami University of Ohio

Today Inside Higher Ed posted an article stating that DoJ has joined with a student in a suit against Miami University of Ohio claiming that the University selected software that was inaccessible to students with disabilities.

The interesting thing, in the article, is the list of software listed in the DoJ complaint.
The department’s proposed complaint lists a number of vendors whose software it found to be inaccessible. In addition to the university’s website, video platforms Vimeo and YouTube, and word processor Google Docs, the complaint also lists course work management software from LearnSmart, Pearson, Sapling, Turnitin, Vista Higher Learning and WebAssign. The companies have contracts with many colleges and universities, so it is unlikely that Miami is using products not broadly found in higher education.
What makes this list more interesting, is the fact that some of the software listed are widely used -- not just in higher education, as pointed out in the article, but also in K-12 institutions.

Since DoJ can't go after the software vendors directly, I think this listing is an attempt to get the institutions to pay more attention to the legal issues and take potential legal action into consideration when making purchasing decisions.

Note however that this suit has not yet been settled.  But, DoJ has a pretty good track record when it comes to winning these battles.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Should Accessibility Factor Into Determining Award-Winning Online Courses?

USDLA just announced their 2015 Awards this week.

In the press release they say:
The USDLA Awards were created to acknowledge major accomplishments in distance learning and to highlight those distance learning instructors, programs, and professionals who have achieved and demonstrated extraordinary results through the use of online, videoconferencing, satellite and blended learning delivery technologies.

"This year's USDLA Awards recipients represent the finest examples of online courses, best practices, and leadership in our field.  The depth and breadth of the USDLA membership allows us to engage with leaders from higher education, K-12, industry, military, and government who daily demonstrate the power of distance learning.  We are so very proud and excited to be able to recognize this level of excellence," said Mrs. Elaine Shuck, President of USDLA.
When USDAL asked for award nominations I looked at their criteria and was unable to find any reference to criteria ensuring the nominations met legal accessibility requirements.  This is, as you know if you read this blog, an important issue, especially for those awardees in K-12 and higher education.  I wrote to the USDLA awards committee asking about accessibility criteria, and suggesting that it would be embarrassing for USDLA to give an award to an organization for a course or program that was subsequently found to be in non-compliance with basic accessibility legislation.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly,  I never did get a response from USDLA.  Now the awards have been announced and at least one award-winner in the K-12 category is a company that has been identified in OCR compliance reviews as being one of the providers of content that was not fully accessible.

OCR does not identify the courses that were found to be  non-compliant, nor do they indicate how many of courses is use were compliant versus the ones that were not.  It is possible that there was only one course not in compliance.  It is equally possible that many or all the courses provided by that particular vendor were not fully accessible.

Did USDLA recognize a course that does not meet the legal standard for accessibility?  

USDLA has a Quality Standards Certification that includes: Comply with legal and regulatory requirements of its jurisdiction. And since USDLA is international, that wording is appropriate, It would have been nice if the awards criteria said the same thing.