CoP Spotlight – Ally for Brightspace
As part of the Spotlight Series, Emma Mescall contacted a number of the existing Communities of Practice already established here at UCD about how they came together, their function, the objectives and how the changes brough on by Covid affected them.
This profile was provided by Ryan Teevan, Senior Project Manager Educational Technology Services & Catherine Murphy, IT Project Manager, Educational Technology Services on behalf of Ally for BrightSpace
Ally for Brightspace was introduced in 2021 as a joint project between UCD IT Services and UCD Access and Lifelong Learning (UCD ALL). Ally is an accessibility advisory tool which integrates with Brightspace to improve the accessibility of content for students.As part of the roll out of Ally in Brightspace, the project looked for early adopters to work with us in order to better support the roll out across the University and assist in understanding training and support requirements. Ally automatically scans the content within Brightspace and provides ratings and recommendations to make the content more accessible.
The project team wanted to engage the pilot group ensuring that key messages were delivered consistently but also provide a space for peer to peer support and acknowledgement. A call for participation went out to the University community and we got approximately 45 individuals to sign up to form part of the pilot group for summer 2021.
The project set out a number of mechanisms by which we would communicate with the pilot group
- A number of information/group sessions held via Zoom
- 1-1 support via drop in clinics
- Standard support via email and phone
- Google Community
We set up the UCD Ally for Brightspace User Group with the intention that it would support the work being undertaken, and provide a single point where individuals could go to review communications, support documents and could also ask for help or provide some assistance to their peers in issues they might be having. We attempted to manage this via the labels that individuals could post under (see figure 1).
In order to manage the membership, we manually added the pilot group to the community using their email address and had it as a closed group, so it was contained for the specific purpose of the early adaptors/pilot group only.
In order to get people used to going to the community we tried to avoid email communication and only posted updates within the community. Another community had posted a handy video on how to turn on notifications so we shared that with the group and advised them to ensure they had notifications on. As part of
the pilot group, we had allocated a number of tasks for the group to complete and within this, we had an item around posting one thing that went well for you and one thing that surprised you when using Ally within your module.
The project team had created a number of support documents based on the top accessibility issues identified by Ally, and for the duration of the pilot group, we posted one of these weekly on a rotational basis to keep the community going and promote best practice in relation to accessibility. (see figure 2).
The intention of the group was agreed and understood by the project team, and we had hoped for engagement within the google community, however we ran into a number of challenges.
- Not everyone had used google communities before and as such some members did not have accounts within google communities so we couldn’t add them and required them to sign up.
- You cannot manage if people get notifications from the community
- From an oversight point of view, you are relying on individuals to “like” or “comment” to understand engagement on posts etc.
- People were reluctant to post/share their experiences etc
- People were unfamiliar with Google Communities and the project’s focus was on trying to get individuals up to speed using Ally within Brightspace and creating accessible content for students, not teaching people how to use Google Communities, or promoting it.
Overall, this group was set up for a specific purpose and to attempt to complement the other engagement options available to the early adopter/pilot group. It was something we wanted to try as a project team, and understood that it was not a long term solution, it would be used for the 3 months engagement with this group. The group is no longer running as it was only used for this element of the project and is not seeking membership.
From a project management perspective and engaging stakeholders, aspects of this google community worked how we intended, however it is not something we have adopted within our practice of rolling out educational technology projects for the moment, as it is difficult to understand the engagement levels within the Google Community and it was felt by the project team at the time, that in order to be successful and for the peer to peer support to work, you would need more buy in from the group, whereas the posts tended to come from the project team mostly, with some input from the pilot group. It may be something we look at again in the future however.
If you are interested in knowing more about Ally in Brightspace, you can visit our webpage here, or we have support documentation for staff and students on the IT Knowledge base.