High-quality textbooks and ancillary materials can complement teaching and help students meet course outcomes. External websites with dynamic, adaptive, and engaging applications can be great tools to enhance course content. Upon first review, materials may appear easy to use and compliant, but it’s important to take a closer look to ensure accessibility.
Before adopting any publisher/vendor content, consider the following:
Is the content accessible?
Federal law requires that higher education institutions receiving federal funds make all instructional materials accessible to students. If the college offers classes that use publisher content, then that content needs to be accessible. Overall responsibility for accessibility lies with the college because the college is choosing to use the materials. If barriers to access exist, faculty will want to develop an accessibility plan to ensure all students can achieve the course's outcomes to the best of their ability.
Questions to ask, and request in writing, when considering publisher products (prior to purchasing/licensing)
- Are all videos captioned and audio transcribed?
- Is content accessible via a screen reader?
- Are all activities navigable and usable by a student using only a keyboard?
- Does the vendor have a VPAT or WCAG 2.0 AA compliance statement that can be reviewed?
What technical supports are offered by the publisher?
Support for publisher products is best provided by the vendor. While many state 24/7 support is available for students, it’s good to clarify what type of support is offered. Good questions to ask include:
- Is the help desk answered 24/7?
- Does the student need to submit a request via email? If so, what is the turn-around time?
- Do they have live chat? And what times is that staffed?
- Ask for the tech support number to add to the syllabus.
Are there additional costs?
Cost is usually covered in the discussion when evaluating texts. Students are thrifty, so they will often try to find additional ways to save money on material costs. Often, the publisher price is based on a bundle of the text and the ancillary material. If a student wants to buy a used text, they may find that the unbundled access code is more expensive than the bundled version.
In the context of student costs, one thing to consider is the ongoing cost of the material. If access is a short-term license, what is the cost to a student who needs the material for more than one term? Or wants to keep the material for future reference? Many newer licenses make it cost prohibitive for use beyond one term. And lastly, what value is lost to students who are unable to sell back their text once the term is over?
Does the publisher material use accessible technology?
There are a few key questions to ask regarding the specific technology used:
- Does the product require a plugin? (e.g. Flash, Java, etc.) If so, students will likely have problems. Desktop browsers are dropping support for plugins and most mobile devices don’t support them at all. The best advice is to avoid plugins altogether.
- Must students and/or the college install additional, specific software on computers in order to use the product? If this is the case, contact your campus IT person to discuss the requirements. They can help you make sure software gets installed on campus computers before your class starts.
- Does the product work on mobile devices? Today, students use phones for just about everything, including classwork.