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Best Practices and Advice for Designing Course Content

There are a number of studies showing the benefits to student comprehension and retention when educational or instructional materials are composed using Universal Design (UD) principles. What is missing is a set of Best Practices that can guide content developers in implementing UD in their materials without requiring in-depth knowledge of accessibility.

In the next section we discuss common accessibility issues and possible solutions. We map UD principles targeted at creating educational content onto simple, practical Best Practice techniques that will help instructors and course designers create more usable and accessible content by improving the semantics of the HTML code.

It is important at this point to emphasize that these Best Practices are designed to improve the underlying HTML code, the raw material that allows web pages to be read by access technologies, such as screen readers, and which provides the structure and the semantic scaffolding of a web page that improves the way pages are understood by other technologies, such as search engines. However, there is a common misconception that making a web page accessible limits visual designers. This is certainly not the case.

The visual appearance of the content is not constrained by implementing these Best Practices. In fact, not only can the visual appearance still be completely manipulated but the semantics provided in these Best Practices actually give the visual designer more "hooks," more targets for adding styles to control and improve the visual appearance.

Why focus our Best Practices on HTML? HTML is the primary underlying language of the web. It was invented and has evolved to be maximally interoperable. That is, HTML content is understood by all web browsers on virtually all internet-capable devices. And, largely because of this, access technology developers build their software to be able to read and accurately communicate HTML content to the end-user. Thus with well-structured, highly semantic, rich HTML, the instructor and course designer automatically gains the widest potential audience—his/her content "just works" regardless of AT, browser, or device.

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