Ally arrives: what you need to do

Ally arrives: what you need to do

From the 4th May, 2021, Moodle will acquire a slightly new appearance, thanks to a new feature called ‘Blackboard Ally’. You can read more about what Ally is, and how it benefits students. Here are the important things you need to do when Ally appears.

1. Tell your students about Ally

It may take a few days for Ally to appear across all of Moodle, but when it does, the primary benefit is this: students will be able to download much of the content on Moodle in alternative formats. Ally extends Moodle by giving learners more control and agency over the materials uploaded to Moodle. Students can learn more about Ally on the UAL Studying Online webpage.

2. Don’t be alarmed by the Ally ‘Dials’

In addition to the ‘Alternative Formats’ feature, the ‘Accessibility score’ – displayed only to staff – provides feedback on the digital accessibility of the adjacent document (Figure 1).

Screen capture of Moodle showing the Accessibility Score menu beside a link to a PowerPoint file. A pop-up images shows that the accessibility score of the file is 'medium'.
Figure 1. In Moodle, the Ally Accessibility Score displays to staff as a coloured ‘dial’ beside supported files

If you discover many low-scoring dials, this may feel like an indictment of your Moodle course, but it is not! You should be reassured that the overall accessibility of Moodle content across LCC is high: above 70%.

Some improvements to documents can be made easily via the Ally interface. For example, if you have uploaded and image without a text description, you can insert this directly, resulting in an instant increase to the Ally score for your course (Figure 2).

A detail of the Ally interface showing a warning that an uploaded images does not have an alternative text description. The interface includes a filed for an image description to be entered.
Figure 2. You can improve the accessibility of some elements quickly and easily, directly in the Ally interface.

Although you can’t turn the dials off, you are not obliged to reveal these scores to students. If you are showing your students Moodle in a live session consider switching your Moodle viewer role to ‘student’ before screen-sharing (Figure 3).

The Moodle 'user' menu, showing the option at the bottom to "Switch Role to.."
Figure 3. You can switch role to ‘Student’ before you screen-share: this means nothing intended for staff only will be displayed.

3. Don’t worry about ‘fixing’ everything immediately

We recognise that some Moodle content may not yet be fully accessible, and this is made clear in the Moodle Accessibility Statement. So, despite what Ally reveals, there is no expectation that staff will resolve all the accessibility issues at once. Even Ally is unsure about how to resolve some of the more complex issues.

Staff should regard the Ally information as an holistic diagnostic tool, rather than an urgent ‘to-do’ list. Let Ally alert you to more accessible approaches to creating and publishing learning materials. But do not place on yourself the unrealistic burden of remediating all previously published content.

4. Learn from Ally

Blackboard Ally gives you in-context explanations about the key attributes of accessible documents. Ally also gives instructions on how to create them. As well as the accessibility score beside each supported file, staff can also review the Accessibility Report for their entire Moodle course or unit: look in the Moodle ‘Nav Drawer’ for the link. Spend some time exploring all these features of Ally so that you can learn how to make your web-based content more accessible.

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