How do you make a Gif Accessible?

How do you make a Gif Accessible? The question came up after I sent off a Gif of some teenage Caucasian boys flashing gang signs in a wannabe fashion. I am always amazed at the world’s Gif library and do wonder what later generations will think of it and us. But I had to ask myself how would I make a Gif accessible? 

I was recently introduced to Haben Girma’s newly released book; Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law. I’ve been supporting the NYC DOE with the accessibility mandates to comply with the Civil Rights Office Agreement Case Number 02-16-1175. This has provoked me to start asking questions about accessibility and changing my habits. I’ve admittedly found the official rules a bit difficult to decipher. And if you ask one person involved with accessibility another person will have a different answer. Thankfully there’s a plan to untangle some of these rules and questions about them. We currently use the W3C's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). We will be moving toward Silver Standards, “not a bullet but a level”. Silver is aimed to standardize things much more succinctly so we can all be on the same page. 

For me questions still come up. Admittedly earlier in the week I had to google how to make an emoji accessible. I wanted to write 😉 which is semi-colon parentheses, ;). I wondered if a screen reader would read it as “winky face”. It was a hit and miss depending on what screen reader and how the emoji was created. So I googled how to make it more accessible. For one thing we describe emoji’s when we are trying to be accessible. So the pink heart is “pink heart”. And smiley face is “smiley face”. And poop is “chocolate ice cream”. Okay. Fine. It’s “poop”. But we can add these details through a particular accessibility comment in the HTML called Aria aria-label=“poop” in the tag of the emoji would make the screen reader say “poop”. If you have a screen reader installed here’s your chance to make your computer say “poop” 💩

But back to the Gifs. How do we make something so culturally relevant accessible? Videos have closed captioning and images have alt text. A Gif is somewhere between. (I’m going to also need to test if the screen reader says “jif” or “gif”) but just like images they need descriptions. Alt text will allow you to provide a description. Well that was a simple answer to a curious question. 

But wait! Gifs are not inherently accessible!

Gifs loop and have a frame rate which could create a blink in the range of less that 3 times a second which is known to produce seizures. They can be distracting because they go on forever and auto start. You can't stop them since they have no controls. So how do you correct this? The easiest way is to make it a movie. I groaned when I read this. Because I include Gifs in my training slides frequently because they just repeat without the user having to press play. I do want to rebel here but I recognize I would just be disenfranchising millions of people from accessing my materials. If it’s between aesthetics to avoid the cultural shift of clicking play and keeping knowledge from many who need and want it…? Let’s shift our culture. I can’t promise I’ll never use another Gif (and there are ways to make them loop no more that 5 times) but I’ll aim to provide videos with controls stating there is no audio and users should click play along with providing alt text. 

Google App Maker

Andrew Stillman of AmplifiedIT took some time to run through an overview of Google's App Maker. If your are looking to dig in here's Developer documentation.

Andrew Stillman bearded speaking in to a mic held by a hand as he types on a laptop.
First lets go over what it's not:
  • A replacement for the Forms to Sheets workflow. App Maker works with a login on the domain. So a public facing App is not a thing here. A Form would be a better choice to collect things like Parent Emails. 
  • A Mobile App maker. My instinct when I hear App is a mobile solution. This is geared to Web app workflows.
  • A no code solution. As slick as it is with drag and drop, autocomplete and GUI it does require knowledge of coding. Specifically HTML, CSS, Javascript and by extension Google Apps Script. 
  • App Maker is similar in ways to Access, or FileMaker Pro. You can work with related data tables and events. 
  • The data can be organized and displayed by user type in some really slick looking Googley ways. 
  • It's a Low code environment so can be worked with by anyone with some computational skills. 
  • Integrates with the G-Suite system through coding including the directory to provide a level of security to the data being worked with. 

But what it is an can be makes it powerful for any environment with a lot of data flow and systems management.

App Maker allows the creation of some really great workflows and automations. SignUps, Permission Slips, Admissions, Book Reports and more become a customizable operation. These things can be developed or even better reach out to AmplifiedIT to develop it for you or just walk you through the process.

Andrew said it best, "Sheets and Forms have gotten us this far but App Maker is the next step." We all have those systems we are trying to improve, simplify or automate. App Maker makes this a real possibility without having to shell out the funds for software. It's collaborative and relatively inexpensive. $15 gets you started on the low end for a GoogleCloud account and gives you a change to play. From there your creations can scale up for various environments. I'm excited to explore more and create some better workflows.

Check out the
App Maker Bootcamp

Slide Object Order: a new Add-on for Slides

Demonstration of object layer ordering in Google Slides using the Add-on Slide Object Order

In today’s point and click, touch or voice activated world we often disregard the importance of tab order. Tab order allows us to use the keyboard to move from screen element to screen element. It’s most frequently used in data entry positions where speed is a factor. But what if you had to rely on tab order for daily access to content? Some folks with various impairments do. 

Often when we think of accessibility we relate it to society members who have grown up with some impairment. While this is an area of accessibility needs it’s not every case. If you struggle to put a user of this technology in mind I suggest thinking of someone aging in your life who may be hard of hearing or struggling with sight. Users of accessibility tools don’t need to have been born with an impairment. In fact if we were to make everything accessible we’d all benefit. Those wheelchair ramps help us also push strollers and carts easier. 

Some Accessibility features rely on the tab order for navigation. If you use a screen reader you would tab through elements to hear them read. Switches use the same sort of feature tabbing until the item you want to access is highlighted and then accepting the highlight. Technology makes many things which were out of reach to some accessible. But we can still do better. 

While working in a Google Slide deck regarding accessibility, myself and Earnest Poole, @eapoole identified that we could not easily change the tab order of elements. First, the tab order on a slide is attached to the layers of objects, z-index, the further back the earlier the tabbing experience. The z-index is an integer determining the back-to-front layers of digital items. We always have a first or back image. The furthest back image is always a z-index of 0. As we add elements the z-index increases. We theoretically can add an infinite amount of objects but will always have a starting point of 0. 

How does this play out when creating a slide deck? Well most of us use z-index to layer images on top of each other. It’s a visual effect which can create appealing slides. We have four choices when working with objects in a slide. 
Arrange Order Menu from Google Slides

  1. Move an object to the furthest front area or z-index of ∞; “Send to front”
  2. Move an object forward one z-index; “Bring forward”
  3. Move an object back one z-index; “Send backward”
  4. Move an object to the furthest back area or z-index of 0; “Send to back”

What we don’t see is the order position each element is currently in. If we move them so they are overlapping we can get a sense of the order. We could also see it by tabbing through them. But there’s no way to see the order for a laid out slide. Until now… 

As Ernest and I were talking about the order of elements on a slide it became obvious we needed an Add-on to help us with what we were doing. We are building a number of slide decks around accessibility and want to be able to walk-the-walk. We needed a tool to not just show us the layers but also allow us to more easily manipulate them. For this I’ve created the Add-on Slide Object Order.
Slide Object Order icon

This sidebar Add-on will display the objects on a slide as an abstract with each object stacked on top of each other. The bottom of the stack would be the first of the tab order. Order numbers are listed to the left to better identify the tab order. Each listing can be dragged to reorder the layer and tabbing on the slide. The change in order on the sidebar automatically updates the slide. 

While exploring this issue and creating a solution we identified a need for the tab order not linked to the z-index arrangement of elements. It’s currently not an option because it would be a fully different integrated system to what is already in place. It would require programmers to build a new layer of things to the Slides platform. It’s a real need if we are going to make things truly accessible to all. Why break up the z-index and the tab order? Let’s say you create a shape an put it on your slide, maybe a rectangle. And then you put your photo on top of the rectangle. The first element tabbed to will be the rectangle you created and then your photo. To get your photo as the first thing tabbed to you would have to change to z-index to less than the rectangle putting your photo behind the shape. The more effective but lesser known trick would be to group the photo and the shape. This would then link them together with the same tabbing/z-index. 

We need tools for creating proper accessibility. No one wants to be left out. When I think about accessibility in the classroom I’m not just thinking about my students but also about the people that care for them. That primary care giver who is a grandparent with cataracts and needs a screen reader to tab through and hear the material they are supporting their student's understanding of. We all benefit when things are accessible. And if we can make accessibility tools more accessible we need to do so. 

Project Based Learning with Daily Tracking

Gif of forms to a maze game development

How do you capture the day to day tracking of project based learning? What even is project based learning are why would I do it?

Let’s face it. A high stakes test to measure the education level of our students doesn’t tell us everything. Our students are trained to take these tests to make us look good. Much of the material on these tests will only later be used in Pub Quizzes. And if you played the game of school well you were always a sought after teammate.

But what about real world day to day skills? Are our students really interested in learning those facts for the test just to learn them? At the heart of project based learning is the “Why?”. Why are we learning this? The learning is the central focal point to get to complete a meaningful project. The why can easily be answered by students when the project is meaningful to them. ie Why are we studying fluid dynamics? Because we're building a sailboat.

We can also think beyond a project and aim for a problem with no easy answer. Large global problems are great but we also need to identify realistic scopes with our students. If we were to solve global warming we'll need to work with students to identify if we were going to tackle it for a class, a school, a community and so forth. What level is reasonable? You and your class my find you can reach further than you anticipated.

Students learn best when they are engaged, and interested in what they are working on. Project based learning identifies a big project or problem to work on from various subject areas. It's not a single classroom methodology. It can work this way and has been done but it's not the most effective. Ideally the problem or project is looked at from various content areas to provide knowledge and information. Sometimes it's the most unlikely sources which inspire innovative changes. The more collaborative a team of educators are in discussing their student's experience the more effective project based learning can be.

What would this look like? Here's a sketch of an idea. Students are tasked with some project. Let’s suggest they are going to develop a self sustaining food source for the entire school. Students then focus various subjects into exploring the problem and executing solutions. Literacy can revolve around non-fiction text about self sustained farming. Throw in a chapter book in which the protagonist has to survive in some environment. History topics can stay on track with the aligned time period with a lens always over-hanging asking where did they get their food from? Science is easily brought in from physics through chemistry and biology. Math is necessary for creation and measurements. Arts provide aesthetics and get the creative parts functioning. Physical education can be far more about the physical doing (ever moved a bunch of dirt?).

But how do we track the work done day-to-day? It's not the end product describing the learning that happened it's the process that came before. The successes and failures are to be celebrated equally. The reflection on what has happened and recognition of self contribution is the greatest reward. So shouldn't we capture everything for later review?

I've previously captured student work using two forms. One for when they enter the class. I used it to focus them on the task ahead. and one when they exit class to capture what they did and when they intend to do. In order to further support this daily capturing I created some code that will combine the two forms so I can look at a student's daily efforts. I also created a way to send the captured information to individual students. They become the creators and owners of their data and progress. Students can look at what they have done and reflect on the process. It's key in the forms to have balanced questions so they align vertically when read on a spreadsheet. The exit form has one extra question capturing a photo or screenshot of what was done for the day.

You can access the materials for yourself here. Make a copy of the Forms and the Log file and place it in a folder of your choosing. Besure your forms are linked to the spreadsheet appropriately and you should be good to go.

When working this way the educator becomes the facilitator. they are no longer the only person in the room with the answers students are expected to work to solve problems on their own. The educator is there to support and direct learning. I've experienced a need to collect formative feedback while facilitating. To do this I created a drop down menu which feeds a spreadsheet I can monitor. You can see and modify the sample called Demo. The Spreadsheet key in the Tools>Script editor section will need to be modified for a spreadsheet you have edit rights on or simply one you make for yourself.

The code in these documents is fully modifiable by you. I've left some comments to help in understanding what it does. I do hope it helps someone in the coming school year. You can access the Google Apps Script Code by going to the Tools menu at the top and selecting Script editor. 

Five Things To Do After Every Conference.

Three photos of Google Innovators being goofy with props.
My life has changed. Whether I admit and recognize it or not I have experienced a large shift in my world. I can feel the change deep in my core. This has happened thanks to ISTE.

It’s not the workshops or the Expo that has changed my life. Those pieces have been profoundly inspirational. I specifically went to gather information and resources. What I walked away with are connections. 

I recently found out I was accepted into the London 2019, #Lon19, Google Innovator cohort. I’m thrilled to have this experience. There is a large number of UK folks in the cohort. Only a handful are from North America. Thanks to ISTE I was able to connect with four of them. 

It’s unusual to have an instant connection with someone. Most meetings and connections are friendly and cordial. However, encountering these members of my cohort was like finding an extended family I never knew I needed. And I use the word “need” because I can’t see moving forward without them. In reality, yes, life goes on, but these connections have enriched so much for me. These connections are not just educational. There is a personal connections sharing stories of families and friends. 

Mindset matters here. We all happened to have a growth mindset and have been excited to connect with each other. This creates a deeper bond. I think it can also be termed as acceptance. We spoke positively and openly with each other. We all have a similar goal in mind which is to change the world. These factors developed a unique and special relationship.

This pre-Academy connection would not be possible without ISTE. The connections extended beyond my cohort members. I met so many people, some fresh faces and others heroes in the world of educational technology. I’m taking away business cards, emails, twitter followers and more. These are the elements I need to continue that human connection. And that human connection is a core of education. 

So what do we do from here? We just had this amazing time connecting and learning. Let’s not leave it there. Keep it going. Those conversations don’t end because the conference ended. Those chats keep going. Here’s some points to help you forge ahead with your goals post conference. 

  • Gather your thoughts. What are your take-aways from the event? Jot it down in a digital searchable platform. Don't for get to check and gather all those resources too.
  • Connect with those you met. Reach out and Identify yourself in a way that can help them remember. Unless you spent days together there is a high chance not everyone will remember you. Provide a recap of your conversation. 
  • Create a plan for yourself. There are likely things you want to accomplish. Build yourself a timeline of when you plan to complete them. 
  • Talk to your colleagues that didn’t go. Even a few minutes of cooler talk can help change things for someone else. You may have seen a saving solution for a problem someone has. 
  • Implement what you have learned. Use at least one tool or technique within a week of your return. It's definitely hard if you don’t have to opportunity but work to create the opportunity for yourself. 

I’m on a bus home. Those group chats created to find my colleagues are still active. I’ll continue to use them to find shared resources and photos. But I have one group chat with four amazing people I’ll see in two weeks. I’m honestly emotional and teary leaving them after spending three days together. I’m working to change my mindset to recognize that I’m about to meet 30 plus more extended family members in London. This is my love letter to those first four and I’m looking forward to the family growing. 

AI and ML in Education

Image of two screens side by side. left with a childish idea of a lake and mountain, the right an AI realistic painting created from the childs image
nVidia's GAUGAN AI image creation
Computer programming as a mandated part of the curriculum began in the UK in 2013. Six years later we are beginning to see other educational regions requiring computer programing in the curriculum. But what about some of the more advanced tool? What about Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI)? We live with intelligent tools daily now. Whether you are shopping online or asking Siri for the time you are connecting to intelligent machines. But we aren’t all discussing how to implement it in the classroom. My mission at ISTE 2019 in Philadelphia was to explore what we are doing with AI and education. Here’s what I’ve taken away. 
We have been asking an entire profession to pick up a necessary skill set by tomorrow. And we need them to do it again. Computer programming in the classroom integrated through various courses is very popular now. Many classrooms are drawn to block-based coding like Scratch or Much of the content delivery can be done through a video tutorial and try it yourself technique. The educator doesn’t need to know much about computer programing just enough about technology to setup a digital classroom. While this is not the most effective way to educate it can get the job done. We need to begin approaching AI and ML topics in the classroom and this may be the way to get a jumpstart into it. 
AI and ML tasks are accessible now more than ever. Educational resources are out there to begin talking about and trying AI. Google has a number of projects which can spark a classroom conversation and exploration on the topic. One of my favorite tools is a visual training demonstration called Teachable Machine. Students can train the system to recognize objects. The concept of data being routed through neural networks is very clear from the visual layout of the website. It can spark conversation on the differences between sensing and perceiving. The extraction of meaning from the images to say a word, show a gif, or play a sound supports student understanding of the concept of perception. This easily integrates into biology curriculum as the human senses are explored. 
Large datasets can be engaged by our students in various ways. Gapminder provides a visually stunning display of over 100 years of data. We can see populations grow and shrink over time as it’s tracked over 6 variables. This timeline motion chart feature brings something to the classroom we would have to make a 100 page graph paper flip book to replicate in the physical world. While this is a goto dataset there are others to explore with classes. The conversation can be around math or history. It all depends on from what angle you want to look at the material. The life expectancy drops from world wars are very clear. 
Life expectancy and income compared overtime

The level or AI and ML learning our students need to be at when graduating high school as recommended by is high. I agree with their guidelines and I’ve been working to educate myself but I still am about the level of a 6th grader.
Benchmarks for AI in the classroom "What students should be able to do."
Educators need more educational opportunities to be able to understand the emerging technology. Curriculum will be generated by the big tech companies but it’s a necessity for educators to have a bit of a deeper knowledge of the tools than the in-the-box materials provided. We need to know what’s possible in order to integrate the learning throughout our curriculum. The work of Dr. Scott Garrigan can be a wonderful place to start. He is an educator whose interest is in cognitive disabilities. He provides professional development on many topics. He understands the pedagogy and can help support in implementing AI and ML through a curriculum. 

While this is not an exhaustive list of resources they do provide places to get started. 

We will very quickly approach the point that we won’t be able to tell if a computer is speaking to us or a human. Just last year Google Duplex was demoed and is now released. If this is our reality now what will it be when our students graduate? Shouldn’t we begin making the effort to include AI in our curriculum now? We are seeing a scramble to include coding in the curriculum. AI and ML have coding in them but the concepts can be vastly different. If we wait much longer to push this into our schools we will miss the opportunity and fall behind. 

In light of recent political events I was deeply struck by a quote regarding AI: “Whoever becomes the leader Artificial Intelligence will become the ruler of the world.” -Vladimir Putin, 2017. Looks like educators have some work to do. 

Gaming Education

Is education a game where only some understand and play by the rules? Are others even playing the game? Do they know it even exists? Are educators just proliferating a lie of the system to control the masses?
Let’s face it. If we truly wanted all of our students to be successful we would go back to the foundations of what defines success in education and rewrite it all. Around 30% of students in high school pursue higher education in America. While I’m not a believer that this is the only path to success this is often a good indicator. Are the two thirds just getting and buying into the game of school?
I had the opportunity to discuss the topic an more at Philadelphia’s Hack Education at ISTE this week. The bullet point take aways:
  • Shepherds are effective in supporting students.
  • Education needs to take in the whole child
  • Mindset matters
  • The system is broken
One of the points which has crossed my mind and come up in conversations is a bit of a taboo subject in education; education is structured to support governmental management of populations. Even writing about this I find myself hitting a dead-end of thoughts. I have more questions than answers but can clearly see the affect on my students and education as a whole. But really how else do we create a stable society? These are big philosophical questions deserving of long term conversation.
Students need a shepherd to help them through education. For many this is in the form of a parent. But what happens when the parent wasn’t good at the game of school? A Student needs more than a role model. They need some one that can support and help them through the system. Truthfully it’s the system that is broken.
The education game needs to change. I am at ISTE in lectures discussing AI in education and it’s striking how much our students will need to know that they aren’t taught and how much they are being taught that they don’t need to know.
Let’s reimagine what school is. Even the word school. We no longer need to go to a place of learning. Resources are online to help and support us. Perhaps we start to consider education as a personal path to personally defined and coached success. Let’s not define students by a datapoint but recognize that education is more than the core elements we have been teaching.
It’s time for an overhaul of the game. Knowledge is at our fingertips. Our students need the skills to interact and work with the information they can access 24/7. Memorization of facts is no longer a necessity in school.
The idea of a game for school exists because there is a winner; a score. There are rules to the game, though the rules aren’t clearly written down. There are penalties if you break the rules but no one really tells you what they are because they don’t know themselves.
What can education be? How can we measure learning without using a number or scoring? How do we teach with the whole child? How do we heal the wounds education has caused?
Microsoft is supporting schools in transforming education. Gutting what is education  as we know it and redeveloping something else. We need to all pursue an exploration to transform what we know if as education.

How do you make a Gif Accessible?

How do you make a G if Accessible? T he question came up after I sent off a Gif of some teenage Caucasian boys flashing gang signs in a wan...