In addition to the accessibility of your materials, consider other types of access. Students may not have the money to pay for good internet access or be in an area where it is available. Use the lens of ‘if you can’t reach it, it doesn’t matter if it is accessible.’ Therefore, any item you work to make fully accessible should be reachable by underrepresented tech audiences and poorer individuals.
- Students want to access and work on their studies using their mobile devices; making materials that are quick to download or may be viewed on almost every device benefits you and the student.
- Not all documents are created equal. Access and accessibility go hand-in-hand. Knowing how to choose the best file types to use for your product helps you, your students, and your colleagues.
- How to choose the best file type to reach your whole audience with the least amount of data used to access the materials essential to your course and their learning.
We are educators and makers. Knowing how to create quick-to-load, easy-to-access materials is valuable for everyone. Students need to receive course materials in order to engage with them. Make files inexpensive for students to get in terms of data, bandwidth, and time.
Illustration includes tips for helping your students engage more easily with video, and why specific file types are best for text, images, and audio.
Access to Materials
As you make items to meet accessibility standards consider ways to reduce student costs. The basics of making products less costly to the student are easy. Your effort comes in applying these steps to all items in the course during development. Not knowing how our students are accessing materials means our best approach is to make items easy and quick to access from any device.
Lower the cost of and increase access to materials by:
- Making them
- Using common file types
- Reducing the storage size of materials
- Breaking up content into chunks
- Being an advocate
Making your materials.
Your lectures, writing, and voice are unique. Provide crafted items to your students whether you are teaching online, face-to-face, or in a hybrid manner. Your work will be specific to your audience and cost them less to use.
While drafting your materials list focus on how you can help students engage with each product. Each item should help the student work toward the course objectives aligned with your department, their degree, or certificate program.
Practice using accessibility checkers.
Many tools have accessibility functions built-in. Practice using them. In Microsoft Word or Google Docs use mark-up and heading sizes as given in the tool. Check your work as you go; don’t wait until the end. Once you have a document that is accessible use it as a template. The same is true of your module layout or text items within the learning management system, use proper HTML heading sizes appropriately: H1, H2, … H3, and so on. Don’t skip H1 if you don’t like the way the setting looks. Change the setting.
If your campus does not supply or recommend specific editors look for open-source items. Ask your peers what they use. Various tools exist for each type of product you create. WebAIM, web accessibility in mind, is one of my favorite sources for information and tools. https://webaim.org/resources/designers Use the one that works best for you. Your time matters.
Once you make your collection of videos, screencasts, documents, audio, and text for a unit check each item. You gain efficiency with each accessible item you craft. As you learn you discover items to double-check. Common document problems include missing titles or skipped heading sizes. I use Google Docs for much of my work and a browser add-on to help me make edits to improve accessibility. Yet, I routinely check exported tagged PDFs with Adobe Acrobat to catch additional issues. https://www.grackledocs.com
If you love composing in Word and have a Google account you can try this add-on. Go to drive.google.com or choose +New > File Upload or drag your file into the window. Choose Add-ons > Get add-ons and search for Grackle. Get quick help checking and modifying docs, sheets, and slides for accessibility.
Use Easy-to-Access Formats
Deliver content in the most accessible formats. Choose a file type most students can open, and use the type best suited for the product. Students may not have access to Microsoft Word, PowerPoint or Adobe Photoshop. Save files in the widest accessible format. For example, most everyone who has a web browser may open a PDF. However, HTML—a web page—may be easier to make and quicker to load depending upon file size. Furthermore web browsers have tools built-in for students with low or no vision to use. If a PDF isn’t required, don’t make one.
Increase Student Engagement by Improving Access
There are many ways to absorb content; I ask students to read video transcripts and make notes while watching the video. Reading and writing engages the student in a different way. I want students to engage with the course content. The videos are captioned and I add hyperlinks to the transcripts.
During the Fall semester of 2020, a student in CS101: Computers and Society asked for the video transcripts in one file. In a brief telephone conversation, he explained how an 11-minute video took several hours to download before he could watch it. Students benefit most from a small file because download or throughput speeds can paralyze progress. The student’s idea was simple and cost-effective: paste the transcripts into a document to export as a PDF. The PDF at 233 kilobytes (kb) for 48 pages was easy to make and send.
Other ways I could have made the videos cheaper to use range from quick: showing students how to change the playback resolution—thus the download size—to more time-intensive: downloading the videos into a folder and compressing it. Sending this zipped file or providing it via a shared drive benefits each student.
Figure 1. Video with playback resolution options displayed. Lower resolution uses less data to view.
Videos are great, captioning essential. Your course content can be reinforced by reading and note-taking. If you cannot caption a product you feel must be included provide a transcript. Verizon Media polled 5,616 US consumers and found “80% of consumers are more likely to watch an entire video when captions are available.”  Students may live in areas or in circumstances with little or poor Internet access. Help your students study with the sound off if they need to. Provide captions.
Choose the Best File Type
Not all documents are created equal. Access and accessibility go hand-in-hand. Alaska’s low-bandwidth issues compare with those of areas across the US. Many providers and products act as if everyone has access to 5G or high bandwidth. The same amount of text in a Microsoft Word document  can be considerably larger than a PDF or saved as a Microsoft Word document with a different file extension!
Support your audience. Make it possible for them to receive the accessible product. Make course file sizes small enough—thus cost-effective—for anyone to access.
Save Microsoft Word documents as .docx versus .doc to reduce the file size. The newer file type includes steps during the save process to compress the contents. This is true of Excel and PowerPoint files too.
“The newer .docx file type essentially acts as a ZIP file by compressing the contents of the document,… a given .DOCX file is generally far smaller than the corresponding .DOC file would be. This makes storing and transferring/emailing .DOCX files easier.”
When done composing open a new document and copy materials over. Microsoft saves a large amount of extra content like prior versions and revision metadata, just in case you need it. Copy the finished item into a new document and leave the chaff behind.
Audio instead of video.
- Choose audio files over video files when the visual element is extraneous
- Audio files are smaller
Does it have to be a video? Screencasts, podcasts, or audio files may serve your purpose better. Comparison of sizes and ability to access and absorb content.
Graphic types, resolution, and sizes.
Visuals take a lot of space. Treat megabytes used like money leaking from your retirement fund. Reduce the number of images to those you must have. Crop images to focus on the relevant content. Test reducing the resolution. Pixlr X is free and easy to use for these steps.
File types appropriate to the kind of image make a difference in file size. Save line graphs or charts as GIFs for a quality product with a small footprint. Save images with lots of colors or photographs as JPG, JPEG, or PNG. The png type uses lossless compression—no loss in quality—when saving. However, you may have a smaller, quicker-to-load, graphic if you save it as a jpeg. The number of colors used is reduced; the file size can be much smaller. Save both ways, check the resulting size, and decide. You may be surprised at the size savings with little to no quality difference.
We have high-end cameras in our smartphones. You don’t need magazine print quality resolution, 300 dots per inch (dpi), for an image you will use on the web; 72dpi works well. Sample image reduced 85% using pixlr.com.
 McCue, T.J. (7/31/2019), Verison Media says 69% of Consumers Watching Video with Sound Off. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tjmccue/2019/07/31/verizon-media-says-69-percent-of-consumers-watching-video-with-sound-off/?sh=ccec72635d83
 Behl, D., Getz, K. (9/3/2017). What’s the difference between DOC and DOCX files, and which should I use? The Union. https://www.theunion.com/news/business/tech-tips-whats-the-difference-between-doc-and-docx-files-and-which-should-i-use/
 Woodgate, R. (8/24/2018). How to Reduce the Size of a Microsoft Word Document. How-To Geek. https://www.howtogeek.com/361463/how-to-reduce-the-size-of-a-word-document-apart-from-compressing-images/
 McMahan, J. (10/20/2020). Three ways to make your course more accessible. iTeachU.