In the current climate that necessitates remote working and transfer to online meetings for many of us we will have experienced the benefits and some of the barriers of live communication. With such a diverse audience with their own access needs and working environment providing meetings in a way that most people can access and engage with can be challenging. Online meetings and webinars offer a real benefit of opportunity for equal access to interact for instance to speak via voice or text. Both our core platform providers Microsoft Teams and Blackboard Collaborate are making significant progress to enable technical access by multiple means for those with specific access needs. This includes access for assistive technologies and keyboard navigation. In addition to a technically accessible platform we need to consider our accessibility practices in running a webinar and how we can impact on access and engagement. The following provides some simple tips on how the technology is best used to enhance the experience for everyone.
Tips for facilitators
Be clear on the plan and objectives
Communicate with participants in advance of the scheduled activity. Provide a clear plan on the session to manage expectations and be clear how participants are expected to engage. Diverse participants can be supported if needs are known before the session and meetings can be planned to provide choice in modes of engagement.
Allow equal access to manage meeting and contributions from participants. When planning your webinar consider inbuilt tools for engagement including; chat, polls and Q&A s. Plan any resources in advance including your slides, screen sharing and websites. To help with managing online interactions have another facilitator in the session if possible. Pre-plan with all facilitators and utalise private chat areas to manage the meeting. You can also provide meeting notes in Teams.
Provide content in advance
Share any slides or essential resources in advance. Share the lesson plan, objectives, or meeting agenda and documentation before a synchronous session. This can allow for questions to be submitted in advance and for any problems accessing resources to be shared. Provide post session resources to scaffold learners and offer clarity on meeting objectives and agreed actions.
Set ground rules for participation
Try to be clear on expectations for participants preferably before the start of the meeting. For example, set ground rules for asking questions and chat area by asking people not to chat when your speaking. The raise hand feature can also be used to manage meetings.
Make sure you can be heard
Don’t skip the audio set up – ensure that you can be heard clearly with sufficient microphone volume. Background noise distractions are significant barrier to some. Use a headset and microphone for clear audio this will reduce background and computer noise. Mute other participants while speaking or ask for microphones to be muted.
Make sure you can be clearly seen
Use video to provide visual cues and non-verbal communication. Being able to clearly see a speakers’ face clearly will help with processing information and emotional cues. Ensure your face is well-lit and close–up, try not to move around too much or cover your face. Some people will need to see faces to lip-read.
Minimise background distractions
To further help lessen visual distractions try and place yourself in a place without background distractions. Further minimise background noise with the blur background feature in Teams. Not only with this reduce the impact of a cluttered background but also reduces the impact of the presenter moving around. The option to set background effects can be found on the ellipsis menu. The background blur feature is helpful to those with a visual impairment and can help those with hearing loss focus on lip reading the speaker.
Ensure you have accessible resources within your webinar. Create accessible PowerPoints and use the inbuilt accessibility checker to help you do so. Design your slides to be inclusive as possible by following accessibility guidelines. To make your slides clearer and simpler you can use the notes feature in PowerPoint to provide further details and share your slides preferably before the meeting.
Keep the screen uncluttered
In addition to keeping presentation resources clear try to not have a cluttered screen space. It will help by not having to many interactions at once on the screen such as chat and polls simultaneously. It will help to plan your sessions in advance and be mindful of the potential impact of responding on the fly by using features or resources not planned. Keeping screen space as simple as possible will be of benefit for those accessing through a mobile device.
Record the session
Always record the session to allow for the content to be reviewed after the session has ended. This will prevent the need for everyone to process all the information within a synchronous session. Anyone can be temporarily disabled by situation factors preventing full participation. Blackboard Collaborate sessions require the moderator to manage recordings all interactions including the chat area will be recorded. Everyone can record a group meeting within Teams, currently Teams does not record one-on-one calls. Team recording are uploaded to the Microsoft Stream service where you can generate automatic captions and a transcript file for your video.
Ask for feedback
Ask for feedback! Can do this anonymously through Forms or Socrative Where an aspect of online meetings or webinars are problematic consider how to provide an alternative.
Following these tips when facilitating online meetings and webinars will be of benefit to all of your participants and essential to some. Did you know there are also some recent developments that will be helpful for everyone to be aware of? The following are especially useful for participants who require resources in additional formats.
Tips for Participants
Covert your file into a format that suits you
Due to the current move to remote working Blackboard Ally have opened the file transformer service to all. This service can convert most Microsoft files into alternative formats including audio and electronic braille.
Try live captioning in Teams
As a participant you will able to switch on live captioning for you own use during a meeting in Teams. The option to turn on live captioning can be found on the ellipsis menu. Auto captioning technology is not totally accurate, depending upon numerous factors you can expect up to 70% accuracy. Blackboard Collaborate does not currently provide live captions.
If you require any further support with online webinars, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org