Blackboard Ally

Finalist category: Inclusive Design Award


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Finalist, Inclusive Design Award, 2019

Blackboard Ally focuses on making digital course content more accessible and helps institutions create a more inclusive teaching and learning experience. Blackboard Ally is a unique solution that integrates seamlessly into the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and works directly within the workflows that students and instructors already use.

Traditionally, most educational technology providers focus on the accessibility of the platforms themselves while the content has often been a black box. This represented a clear and very important gap that stood in the way of providing an inclusive learning environment for all students. Blackboard Ally aims to remove that gap by focusing on the content within those systems. Blackboard Ally was developed to help institutions understand and tackle the accessibility of this course content in a way that benefits all students. One of the driving forces behind the creation is the belief that accessibility should not be connected only to disabilities.  Accessibility should be about providing better access for everyone and improving the quality of the educational experience.

Blackboard Ally works in three specific ways:

Alternative Formats – Blackboard Ally runs instructor course materials through an accessibility checklist that checks for common accessibility issues. Using advanced Machine Learning algorithms, Ally will generate a range of alternative formats such as Audio, mobile-friendly HTML, ePub, electronic braille and translated versions for the instructor’s content and make these available to all students in the course. These alternative formats provide an immediate more accessible starting point for the student, and give students a choice on how they want to consume their content. In the last year, Blackboard Ally was used by students to generate almost 2 million alternative formats.

Instructor Feedback & Guidance – using the insight gained from its accessibility checks, Ally will also provide instructors in-context feedback about the accessibility of their course content and guidance on how to fix the identified accessibility issues. This is aimed at raising awareness around accessibility with instructors, and helping them make their content more accessible. In the last year, Blackboard Ally helped instructors make over 500,000 course content items more accessible.

Institutional Reporting – Blackboard Ally provides an institution-wide course content accessibility report that allows for deep insight and understanding into how the institution is performing and evolving from a course content accessibility point of view, which is the first time that institutions have been able to get a comprehensive overview across all of their course content. This can help the institution track progress and identify next steps in further improving the accessibility of their course materials.

Blackboard Ally follows a very user-centred design process, incorporating user feedback and UX testing. The team partners with experts in the field of accessibility and invites feedback from users with specific accommodation needs to ensure they continue to build a product that makes a lasting impact.

Over 550 universities and over 4,000 primary and secondary schools around the world have adopted Blackboard Ally. The platform has processed over 500 million content items across 20 million courses. It continues to help institutions check for accessibility issues and offer the guidance and reporting necessary to make improvements that directly improve the course experience.

The team believe that no other service is as comprehensive in its approach to help create a better digital environment for everyone. Inclusive design has helped create a product that helps others incorporate a more inclusive way of thinking into their own processes. Blackboard Ally is a tool born from inclusive design and continues to champion the value of a more inclusive way of thinking to support a better learning experience for all.


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