E-learning for Government : Ask the right questions

Lisa WaitLisa Wait has held key roles leading national digital education initiatives for government. She knows how challenging yet rewarding it can be to run a project that will be under the spotlight – especially if you’re responsible for public state-wide or national e-learning. That’s why it is so important to ask the right questions at the very beginning, which can be tricky when you don’t know what those questions are. Have you thought to ask these questions?

With which technical standards does the e-learning solution need to comply?

Answer: Find out what delivery system will host the e-learning solution.
In government you are likely to be using a Learning Management System (LMS) or a Web Content Management System (WCMS). Check with the business unit responsible for the LMS or WCMS for the standards to include in procurement documentation, including any standard operating environment and supported file formats.

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0 Level AA) apply to all online government information services (external and internal) including e-Learning content. Information for WCAG2.0 and government departments and agencies can be found on the Digital Transformation Office website and guidance on implementation can be found at the E‑standards for Training website.

Credits: Question Mark Cookies 3, by Scott McLeod

Are there any government policies I need to know about?

Answer: This answer will depend on the scope of the e-learning project.
Procurement policy
guides any government project requiring purchasing of goods and services. Privacy policy needs to be considered if you plan to store end user personal details. If your e-learning project requires hosting, your department/agency will have a position on security and solutions such as cloud hosting. Explore relevant government policy with the business unit responsible for ICT and consult your legal team for advice on any risk management strategies required.

What about copyright?

Answer: Commonwealth or state copyright is generally used by departments and agencies. Consider if Creative Commons (CC) licensing might be applied. A CC license is ideal for e-learning resources designed to be customised and shared by end users such as schools, TAFEs and the community sector. One example of a Creative Commons license is BY NC SA. This refers to accreditation (who the work was BY) for non-commercial (NC) use which must be shared-alike (SA) – that is under the same licence. A CC license such as BY NC SA protects intellectual property and branding, yet enables ‘free for education’ flexible content. More information about Creative Commons licensing in government can be found on the Creative Commons Australia website.

Copyright Agency Licensing (CAL) exemption notices could also be considered. This means that copyright fees will not be collected from the use of the e-learning resources that your department or agency publishes.

What quality assurance processes do I need to put in place?

Answer: e-Learning content can be checked in-house.
This process will require someone who has the time to work through every screen including all interactions. Documentation of any issues needs to be thorough.

What type of testing needs to be conducted?

Answer: Consider contracting an external testing company to conduct technical testing to ensure compliance and as a risk management strategy. Compatibility testing needs to be conducted on each of the different browsers, platforms and devices defined in the technical standards. Functional testing will check the resource works as planned. Testing for WCAG 2.0 compliance will ensure that the e-learning resource is accessible.

What are the ‘whole life’ costs of the e-learning project?

Answer: The project cost will include the price of goods and services and should factor in maintenance, future enhancements and transition costs (at end of life). You may also need to include external testing costs, licensing and hosting fees.

Who do I need to ‘friend’?

Answer: Make sure that you have good working relationships with your Procurement Manager, LMS/WCMS and other stakeholder colleagues. For complex projects have an early meeting with your legal advisor.

So take a deep breath…

And get the ball rolling. We now have the questions to ask and the best foundation on which to build our projects. What is holding you back? Lisa is here to help.

OZeWAI Accessibility Conference highlights

OZeWAI - Australian Web Adaptability Initiative

Since 1998, the OZeWAI conference has brought together people from all over Australia and the world to share experiences and advances in web standards, with an emphasis on inclusivity and accessibility. Over the last few years delegates have met in facilities among the beautiful trees on Latrobe University’s Bundoora campus in Melbourne’s north east. This year the conference ran from 8th to 10th December and was sponsored by Web Key IT, Digital Accessibility Centre and Media Access Australia.

Jacqui van Teulingen, Director of Web Advice and Policy at the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) delivered the keynote asking the question “Are we there yet?” referencing the National Transition Strategy deadline that had the goal of all Australian federal government websites being WCAG 2.0 Level AA conformant by the end of 2014. While progress has been made, the ambitious goal was not met but there has been a significant cultural shift, and the “Digital by Default” strategy is expected to continue the trend towards inclusivity.

This was followed by an update on W3C/WAI, ISO and GPII (Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure) activities from various contributors, then how universities are tackling inclusion and accessibility with representatives from LaTrobe University, Melbourne University and Monash University.

We saw presentations discussing social media and cloud computing accessibility, and a presentation from Andrew Arch on the beautifully meta subject of a standard for standards writers, describing what they should consider to incorporate accessibility in their standards. Yes, my brain exploded.

Mark Rogers of PowerMapper gave a demonstration of screen readers, and shared their fantastic screen reader comparison resource. See which screen reader supports which web technology (eg ARIA, CSS, HTML5 etc) in which browser, what caniuse.com is to HTML5, the PowerMapper Screen Reader compatibility matrix is to screen readers.

I was privileged to present the E-standards Accessible HTML5 Media Player, developed by Sean Norrey at Kangan Institute. I spoke about a little of its history and gradual enhancement which culminated in it winning the Deafness Forum of Australia’s 2014 Online Captioning & Digital Innovation Award. Of course, technology was waiting to bite me (despite my extensive sacrifices to the demo gods), and the projector’s screen resolution interfered with my demonstration.

This was followed by a session on accessible documents including Leona Zumbo introducing Vision Australia’s Document Accessibility Toolbar for MS Word, and Rosemary Spark and Rebecca Stringer Krein talking about training in MS Word accessibility.

Miran Choi, visiting from Korea, presented her work in accessibility requirements for language learning using text-to-speech technologies, and was followed Leona Zumbo introducing the study of the PDF format undertaken by Vision Australia for AGIMO. Mark Rogers also spoke about the WCAG Sufficient Techniques.

An interesting session on natural search user interfaces was presented by Ying-Hsang Liu from Charles Sturt University’s usability lab: “User-centred design and evaluation of information retrieval systems”, including trials of an alternative pointing device (literally – a glove). They used FaceLab’s EyeTracker to identify where people look for information: top left wins again.

Scott Hollier, Gian Wild and Dan Craddock discussed ongoing problems with PDF use. Dan shared stats on PDF use from the Consumer Affairs Victoria site which showed 0.18% of publication views were PDF downloads vs 99.82% page views. When the argument “but what about the aged?” was raised, retirement village stats did show a difference at 0.82% PDF downloads vs 99.18% page views. Andrew Downie gave his perspective on the Alternative Text conundrum – a picture tells a thousand words (but not to screen reader users, those with limited vision, a cognitive disability or a slow connection). Alt text is essential – afford it the same importance as the image.

The elephant in the room—cognitive disability—was the subject of the next session. There are two million Australians who identify as having a cognitive disability, which by the way does NOT equal an intellectual impairment. There is assistive technology for those with cognitive disabilities, but problems arise when trying to explain how it can be used.

The last session was by Gian Wild who described which accessibility-focused activities to perform at which stages of a website development, with a reminder to include periodic reviews after launch. Gian was followed by Justin Brown of Edith Cowan University, who spoke about the accessibility attributes of content management system authoring environments.

The conference finished up with the OZeWAI Annual General Meeting, discussing the possibility of holding next year’s meeting in Canberra and electing the office bearers for 2015. Presentations are expected to be shared on the OZeWAI website soon.

E-standards media player wins accessibility award

2014 captioning awards

The E-standards Accessible HTML5 Media Player has won a Deafness Forum of Australia Captioning Award under the category of Online Captioning and Digital Innovation. The award was presented by Natalie Collins of Media Access Australia and accepted by Bronwyn Lapham of eWorks at the Deafness Forum of Australia awards ceremony in Sydney on 31 October.

About the awards

The captioning awards encourage better quality, frequency and wider use of captions. Captioning is the text version of speech and other sounds on, for example:

  • television
  • DVD
  • Internet video
  • cinemas and theatres
  • public places, like museums.

Captions make entertainment and other information available to people who are hearing impaired or Deaf by showing dialogue and descriptions of other sound as text overlaid on video or audio. Educators see further benefits from students being able to read the written word as well as hearing it.

About the media player

Fundamentally, the development and provision of the accessible media player means that web-based video can be made accessible to hearing impaired, low vision and compromised mobility audiences at no extra cost. The media player grew out of a National Vocational Education and Training (VET) E-learning Strategy funded Emerging Technology Trial. Sean Norrey of Kangan Institute tendered for funding to define a way of adding closed captions to web-based video. The aim was to make that process easy so that VET practitioners could conform to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines V2.0, as recommended in the E-standards for Training, one of the national initiatives managed by eWorks.

The results showed that additional funding was merited to add to the player’s functions, which have been enhanced to include the following features:

  • The person viewing the video has control of the colour and size of captions displayed; both foreground and background colour, and background transparency
  • All functions can be controlled using a keyboard
  • There is support for a timed MP3 file to provide audio description
  • The ability to stream YouTube, so there is no need to host video
  • The ability for the viewer to choose between different closed caption files if the publisher has provided options. This supports alternative languages.
  • The ability to customise the video player interface art—the controls—to fit with an existing website design
  • If the viewer chooses to print the page, a transcript is generated from the caption file. The transcript can have still images positioned at time points defined by the publisher.

The player is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia license. This means it is free for anyone to use as long as the original author and the funding is identified, and if changes are made the player must be published under the same license.

The player is undergoing final testing, but can be viewed on the staging page, and will be available for download on GitHub when testing is complete.

eWorks and E-standards for Training congratulates all of the finalists and winners of the Captioning Awards. We would also like to thank the Deafness Forum of Australia for hosting this important event and Media Access Australia for their nomination.

Accessible video player nominated for captioning award

Hot on the heels of the E-learning Industry Awards comes another prestigious award nomination for eWorks. Natalie Collins, Deputy Chief Executive of Media Access Australia, has nominated eWorks and the E-standards Accessible HTML5 Video Player for a Deafness Forum of Australia Captioning Award.

What are the Deafness Forum Captioning Awards?

2014 Captioning Awards logo

As the name suggests, the Captioning Awards are annual awards for excellence in captioning. The awards encourage better quality, greater frequency and wider use of captions on television, in cinemas, DVDs, theatres, museums, live events, in schools and in public places, including—of course—the Internet. eWorks, as manager of the E-standards for Training, has been nominated under the category of Online Captioning and Digital Innovation.

What is captioning? Why bother?

Captioning is the textual representation of speech and other sounds provided on television and other video screens, including computers. People who are hearing impaired or Deaf need them so that they can access the media, and also receive information such as safety or emergency announcements. Children and students also benefit from seeing the written word as well as hearing it. Oh, and Internet video suddenly becomes discoverable by search engines.

Aren’t all video players accessible?

Unfortunately, no. There is a reason why the market isn’t flooded with fully-accessible video players. Their production requires a lot of research and time to develop and to incorporate accessibility into the technology. Those that exist to date are proprietary, expensive, or difficult to set up. Features of the E-Standards Accessible HTML 5 Video Player include:

  • End user control of the colour and size of captions displayed; both foreground and background colour, including background transparency,
  • All functionality can be controlled using a keyboard,
  • Support for a timed MP3 file to provide audio description,
  • Provision for older web browsers with an accessible Flash object,
  • The ability to stream YouTube, so there is no need to host video,
  • The ability for the end user to choose between different closed caption files if the publisher has provided options (supporting alternative languages),
  • The ability to customise the video player interface art—the controls—to fit with existing website design
  • If the end user chooses to print the page, a transcript is generated from the caption file. The transcript can have still images interspersed at designated time points defined by the publisher.

How did the accessible video player come about?

The project started as an “Emerging Technology Trial” supported by funding from the National VET E‑learning Strategy, and was the brainchild of Sean Norrey at Kangan Institute. The aim was to address the lack of an accessible video player that could be used on the platforms recommended in the E‑standards for Training, which are a set of national technical standards designed to support interoperable e‑learning content and systems in the vocational education and training (VET) sector. Subsequently, additional funding was allocated to bring the player to its current iteration.

What’s the big deal?

Fundamentally, the development and provision of the E-Standards Accessible HTML5 Video Player means that web-based video can be made accessible to hearing impaired, low vision and compromised mobility audiences at no extra cost. It is available for anyone to use under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License. The video player has been reviewed very positively by a number of web accessibility experts.

Well done, eWorks

eWorks is one of Australia’s leading e-learning development, delivery and consultancy organisations, and manages the E-standards for Training for the Department of Industry. The 2014 Captioning Awards winners will be announced at a glittering dinner at Sydney’s Sheraton on the Park hotel, Friday 31 October. Fingers and toes crossed for eWorks!