One-day workshop/training at Blackboard
I have been invited to go to Blackboard in Washington D.C for one-day workshop on August 9. Many members of ProductDevelopment department will be participating in the workshop including the Product Management, UI Design, Engineering, Performance Engineering, Quality Assurance, Technical Communication and others involved in the operational aspects of the department.
The goal is that the members of development groups gain some basic knowledge about the accessibility, assistive technology, illustrating how people with disabilities interact with their systems, and promote the Universal Design Approach as a potential solution.
I will be meeting also in smaller groups with QA, Engineering, and UI Design teams to have more detailed discussion on accessibility problems and the potential solutions for them.
List of Blackboard Contact Team
Here's the list of our contacts at Blackboard as of August 2007:
- Stephanie Cupp, User Experience Manager
- William Murray, User Interface Manager
- Ella Herz, QA Manager
- Andy Jacobson, Technical Communication Manager
- Jason Minkoff, Client Support Manager
Revisiting Blackboard Issues list
Accessibility issues on Blackboard Academic Suite available to the Blackboard Accessibility Interest Group at Blackboard Connections has been visited by Hadi and the Issues list has been updated accordingly.
In our Interest group we have many experts with various backgrounds that we can divide our group into more specialized sub-groups so we can utilize everyone's knowledge and expertise. Here's the suggested sub-groups:
BB World 2007
Presentation and Bird of Feather Session
With the financial support from Educational Technology and Disability Resources at the University of Illinois I was able to attend at the BB World 2007 conference and present a paper titled Good Online Pedagogy is Accessible jointly with another colleague from UIUC.
I was able to participate in the Bairds of Feather session dedicated to accessibility. This was a very interesting session. Click here to view the minutes for the BB World 2007: Birds of Feather session: Accessibility
Expanding our collaboration through out all the development phases
On the side of the conference I was able to meet with many of Blackboard colleagues and discuss the accessibility problems with the product and ways that our group can help. In a constructive meeting and discussion with Stephanie Cupp, User Experience Manager at Blackboard, 3 product managers including Kristin Allen, with whom we worked on GradeBook PDP Project, William Murray, User Interface Manager, Andy Jacobson, the Technical Communication Manager, Ella Herz, QA Manager (I meet with her at a different time and place), and two of my colleagues from Educational technology departments, we agreed on the followings:
- Involvement at the Idea stage: Our Idea sub-group acts and works with Blackboard as an advisory group at very early stage to discuss the new ideas and features that Blackboard is willing to incorporate in their products. The goal is to help Blackboard to evolve to apply Universal Design. This way will we can make sure that the accessibility of the intended technologies to be used is going to be accessible. The relationship between Idea sub-group will be informal and Blackboard is not obligated to consult with Idea sub-group for all projects.
- Involvement in the final phase of PDP projects: Apparently, our involvement in the PDP process is very distracting for the PDP managers because their focus are to get feedback about the introduced features and functions in the new release and potentially additional features and not how to implement those features. The Idea sub-group will be meeting with PDP managers after they finalize all features and functions and before it goes into implementation phase to make sure that the last changes during the PDP process are still accessible.
- Testing and evaluation during the implementation phase: Our Testing group will be testing and evaluating the accessibility of the new development and work with relevant groups at Blackboard to address identified accessibility issues. Blackboard will setup a server for our group and it will be updated frequently to reflect the recent modifications and bug fixes so we can verify the fixes before it goes into production.
- Working with Technical Communication team: Our Documentation sub-group will work with the Technical Communication team at Blackboard to improve the contents and layout of accessibility related materials. Providing Inline instruction incorporated in the application is another factor in improving the usability/accessibility of the product. I am not sure what sub-group should be in charge of this task. Documentation sub-group?
- Working with QA: We have been talking about importance of testing for accessibility at the QA process for long time because they can really catch a lot of accessibility problems before the product goes to the market. Our QA sub-group will be working with the QA department to help and educate them how to test for accessibility.
- Working with Support team: I was not able to meet Jason Minkoff at the BB World 2007 conference, however based on our previous agreement, we need to work with them and educate them about the basics of Assistive Technology hardware/software and the potential accessibility problems related to each disability group. The goal is to incorporate information about accessibility in the support documentations, a typical technical support understand the basics about the accessibility and can route the accessibility related problem to the right person(s) in Blackboard if he/she can not resolve it by himself/herself.
Accessibility on Blackboard Roadmap:
The letter we sent to Blackboard top management has made its points. In one of the big sessions at the BB World 2007, Jessica Finnefrock, VP of product development introduced the Blackboard Roadmap for the first time publicly and since I didn't see the accessibility is not part of the roadmap officially, I raised the question and she appreciated the effort of our group and apologized for not including accessibility in the roadmap and promised to do it effective immediately. So I would like to inform that Accessibility is now a fixed part of Blackboard Roadmap (at least officially) and hope this will remind everyone in that company to think about the accessibility and design with accessibility in mind.
Response from Blackboard on Expanding Collaboration Interest Group Relationship
Jessica Finnefrock, Vice President of Product Development responded very positively on the letter. Click here to view her response to the letter and additional follow up correspondences.
Letter to Blackboard on Expanding Accessibility Interest Group Relationship
Letter has been sent to the following people at Blackboard:
- Peter Segall, President of United States Higher Education
- Jessica Finnefrock, Vice President of Product Development
- David Yaskin, Vice President of Marketing
- City Colleges of Chicago, John H. Dozier, Vice Chancellor of Information Technology & CIO
- Colorado State University, Dr. Patrick A. Burns, Vice President for IT
- Darthmouth College, Malcolm Brown, Director, Academic Computing
- Eastern Illinois University, Michael Hoadley, Assistant VP for Academic Affairs for Technology
- Eastern Kentucky University, Dr. Gene Kleppinger, Manager, Online Learning
- Governor State University, John Stoll, Dean, University College
- North Carolina State, Tom Miller, Vice Provost for Distance Education and Learning Technology Applications
- Southern Illinois University - Edwardsville, Jennifer Vandever, Director, Academic Computing
- University of Illinois at Chicago, Ed Garay, Assistant Director for Academic Computing
- University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, Ken Spelke, Associate Dean for Information Technology and Research
- University of Minnesota, Linda Jorn, Director, Digital Media Center, Office of Information Technology
- University of New Mexico, Debby Knots, Manager, New Media and Extended Learning
- University of Toronto, Marden Paul, Director, Strategic Computing
- Purdue University, David Schwarte