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Moodle and MyPortfolio

Everyone with a space in Moodle has an obligation to ensure that it is accessible. Similarly, MyPortfolio content should be as accessible as possible.

Moodle, Turnitin and Blackboard Ally

UCL has acquired a new technology called Blackboard Ally that runs within Moodle to provide alternative file formats for students and accessibility guidance for staff. Ally will be available for the 2019-2020 academic year.

Ally uses machine learning to convert the files uploaded to Moodle into alternative file formats. Students will be able to choose to download a file from Moodle in its original format or an alternative format for example as an Mp3 audio file, braille formatted file, or tagged PDF. Alternative formats will only be as accessible as the original source file. You should therefore always ensure you follow best practice when creating your original file.

Additionally, Ally provides staff with an accessibility score and guidance for common files already on Moodle and new files as they are uploaded. Ally's guidance should be used in conjunction with the guidance provided by Digital Education.

Visit UCL's staff guide on Blackboard Ally to find out more.

In terms of the built-in components of Moodle, such as the course Format, Pages, Labels, Forums, Assignments, etc. Birkbeck for All – Moodle & Turnitin Tutorials provide comprehensive guidance on using these tools in an inclusive and accessible way. Following this guidance will also ensure compliance with the UCL Connected Learning Baseline and help you use Moodle to better engage with and support your students.

The Moodle accessibility tool allows staff and students to customise the appearance of the Moodle platform. For example, a student could change Moodle's colour scheme to green text on a black background, increase the default text size, and choose to automatically Bold text. 

Assignments marked in Turnitin's Feedback Studio may not be accessible to those who use a screen reader to access feedback.  These can instead be downloaded in PDF format.

When you add files (e.g. Word documents, PowerPoint slides, PDFs etc.) to a Moodle course you need to ensure that they, too, are accessible. Visit the Creating accessible content page for links to guidance on doing this.

Course Formats

The format we choose for our Moodle courses, how we organise the content and how we label that content has a very large effect on the student experience.

The four main course format options in Moodle are:

  • Topics,
  • Collapsed Topics,
  • Tabs,
  • and Grid.

Each of these have things to consider in terms of presentation, ease of navigation and accessibility.

These are summarized in the table below:

Course FormatConsiderations
Topics: Good for short coursesCan become the scroll-of-death if there is a lot of content.
Collapsed Topics: The most accessible and easy to navigate of the course formatsNot the most visually appealing.
Grid: Probably the most attractive of the formats but also one of the more problematic. 

Suitable images need to be added for each section.

By default, the topic contents show as a pop-up box. Unfortunately, this box cannot be 'seen' by screen readers so the contents become completely inaccessible. You need to adjust the settings so each section appears as a page.

Tabs: Tab headings are seen as links by screen readers. Can be visually clean and easy to navigate.Avoid multiple rows of tabs and sub-tabs. Visually cluttered and difficult to navigate. All the tab labels would be read-out by a screen reader.

Making the Grid format more accessible

Screenshot of grid format pop-up box showing section contents

By default, the topic contents show as a pop-up box. Unfortunately, this box cannot be 'seen' by screen readers so the contents become completely inaccessible.

You need to adjust the Course layout option to Show one section per page.

Course layout settings - adjust to Show one section per page

The pop-up box no longer appears but you will also see the overview content as well as the section content.

A screenshot of a Grid Format with pop-up removed but General contents showing

To remedy this, you also need to change the Section 0 on its own page when out of the grid and on a single section page to Yes.

Screenshot showing adjustment of course format setting Section 0 on its own page when out of the grid and on a single section page

When a section is selected it will now only show the section contents on the page.

A screenshot of a Grid format topic where the bottom course section setting has been set to Yes

More about Tabs format

The tabs format can be easy to navigate and visually appealing if you limit the number of tabs to two rows.

A screenshot of a course in Tabs format, with only 2 rows of tabs

But, it can very easily become difficult to find content if you exceed this. It is also recommended that sub-tabs are avoided as this adds an additional level of complexity when trying to navigate the course.

A screenshot of a course using Tabs format where there are4 rows of tabs and 6 rows of sub-tabs

Collapsed Topics would be an easier to navigate course format. Additionally, consider restructuring the content so that you can make use of the Lesson or Book activity types in Moodle.

Labelling sections and organizing content

As Moodle will be the main hub for students’ learning activities it is important to label each section/topic in a meaningful way. This needs to be in a way that will help students find the correct content throughout the term and when they revisit to revise.

For instance, a topic might make more sense in the longer term than a week number or date, or you may choose to use a combination of week numbers and topics.

You also need to consider how you have organised the content. Where possible, store everything for the same week/topic in the same section so students don't have to hop between sections to find things and risk missing something. Equally, when naming, resources Week 1 – Lecture 1 is not very meaningful in the long term. Whereas, Week 1 – Intro to Geology pt1 will be.

MyPortfolio

MyPortfolio is the name UCL gives to the open source e-portfolio application typically known as Mahara. It has a different ethos from Moodle in that it is a wholly student-led environment. A MyPortfolio user controls who has access to items and information that they uploaded and created in MyPortfolio. Hence, Student users must share any work they do in MyPortfolio with their Tutor users otherwise their tutors won’t be able to access and mark it.

Consequently, students as the chief creators of content on this platform should make it accessible if they intend to share it with their tutors and/or anyone else. To this end, the guidelines they should follow are in line with those given to anyone creating a blog or a website.

To check portfolios (or other web pages) for inaccessible content you may use WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind). It is a browser plugin that lets you check web pages for inaccessible content and guides you on what to do about it.

You may also try out NVDA (Non-Visual Desktop Access), a screen reader (software used by people with severe visual impairments), on your web pages to see for yourself if the screen reader can make sense of them.

MyPortfolio users with disabilities or special needs can find information regarding Mahara’s level of compliance with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) and advice for screen reader users in: 2.9. Mahara and accessibility.