VoiceThread Universal and Section 508 Accessibility

VoiceThread Universal is an accessibility project that our team has been working on and we’re very excited to release the public beta. VoiceThread has been an accessibility aid for many users and many communities of users, but it has always had a major weakness; it did not work with screen-readers, so vision-impaired users had a hard time participating in these conversations. We’re now introducing a version of the VoiceThread application that is specifically designed to not only work well with screen-readers but, much more importantly, work well for the people who use screen-readers.

Many websites and online tools use an “add on” to gain compatibility with screen-readers, simply allowing the page and its elements to be read aloud. This means that screen-reader users must listen to volumes of useless information before they can navigate and participate in the space. VoiceThread Universal is a version of the the VoiceThread application designed specifically to be beautiful to the ear with navigation, instructions, and tasks are stripped of superfluous elements, whether visual or textual. Concise, clear, and efficient is the goal for the experience. Read more about our thoughts on Accessibility.

In the coming months we’ll be gathering feedback as we build improvements. Please help us out by adding your criticisms and suggestions on this Forum post, or by emailing them to accessibility at voicethread.com.

VoiceThread Repository for Moodle 2.0

We have finished our new Moodle module for repository support. The Moodle Repository module allows easy access to VoiceThreads to post on your Moodle site. A listing of created VoiceThreads will appear in the Moodle file picker, and a link will be created for your selected VoiceThread.

This module is useful for obtaining links to your VoiceThreads, and it is planned to be integrated into current and future Moodle modules from VoiceThread.

For more information, please visit LMS Integration.

M/5 Commenting: Simple Powerful Presence

A new version of VoiceThread now allows people to browse entire collections of media while making a single unbroken comment. These new M/5 Comments feel a bit like screencast only they’re much smaller in file size, and more importantly, they are delivered to your audience in a richly interactive space. This powerful new feature requires neither instruction or training. You are simply free to navigate from image > video > to document > to presentation slide > or any of 50 different media types without breaking your narrative comment. Watch the following 2-minute video showing how this new feature works.

Updated Modules for Moodle 2.0

We have updated our Moodle Embed, Assignment, and Authentication modules for compatibility with Moodle 2.0. The Moodle Embed and Authentication modules are also compatible with 1.9; however, the Assignment module should be chosen that corresponds to the version of Moodle you are running (1.9 or 2.0).

To learn more, please visit our LMS Integration support page.

Authentication Integration Choices

A common question for new VoiceThread schools, districts, colleges and universities is “How should we do authentication integration”? There are often many options, with their own pluses and minuses.

Let’s start with the easy decision: If you have Shibboleth in production, particularly if you already are federated with inCommon, you should do Shibboleth SSO. It’s a tool built for the purpose, and it offers a very secure platform with a great deal of flexibility. Even if you only have a subscription for part of your organization, Shibboleth is an option as long as membership in that part of your organization is visible as a Shibboleth attribute.

If you do not have Shibboleth, then the question becomes more complex. If you have Moodle and all users have access, Moodle SSO can be a good route, particularly if you want to drive more students and and teachers to use Moodle. For Moodle, the scope of the Moodle instance (school-wide, district-wide, etc) must match the VoiceThread subscription. If Moodle usage isn’t universal and is unlikely to become universal, LDAP (Active Directory, eDirectory, OpenDirectory, rfc2307, etc) is also a good option. Like Moodle and Shibboleth, we support LDAP over a secure transport (SSL), and have a great deal of flexibility on attribute mappings. For LDAP, we can restrict access based on groups or OUs, for subscriptions that don’t encompass the entire organization.

VoiceThread also has a built-in internal authentication system, which you can manage by uploading CSV files containing user data. For many smaller organizations, or organizations without any one central authentication system, this can be an excellent option.

Finally, we have an external authentication system where you can write your own Single-Sign-On tool. This is cross platform (sample code is all in PHP), and provides an option for schools with unusual / non-standard systems that don’t want to do CSV uploads.

Penn State University & VoiceThread

Penn State University (PSU) has integrated a customized version of VoiceThread’s communication platform in an effort to provide a seamless collaborative environment for its staff and students. PSU user accounts are automatically authenticated into the platform, providing instant access to VoiceThread.

The integration was developed in close partnership with PSU’s Educational Technology Services group, whose white paper and support portal provide remarkably clear and helpful guidance for new student and faculty users.

We would like to sincerely thank PSU’s ETS group for their hard work and high standards, which will ensure an excellent experience for their community of users.

Upload improvements – complex PDFs

We have made recently made some improvements to our upload process, to accommodate PDF uploads with more than 65,536 individual shapes in a single PDF. This is primarily caused by how PowerPoint renders high complexity backgrounds (i.e. complex patterns instead of a simple color or a bitmap / picture). We still recommend simple backgrounds for the best user experience, especially since extremely complex PDFs can still take 20-30 seconds per page to process.

VoiceThread Status

We have a new twitter feed, twitter.com/voicethreadIT. This is solely for system status information, and we will use this to announce any maintenance or issues that result in user-visible slowdowns or downtime. As always, we have highly redundant infrastructure and strive for zero downtime, but there are occasionally changes needed for long-term stability, performance and growth that result in brief outages or slowdowns.

Moodle Integration Resources

All of the documentation for our Moodle LMS integration modules is now online. Please go to the LMS Integration About page for more information. Take a look at the embedding, assignment and authentication modules, and see what they can do for your organization!

Please note that we only support Moodle 1.9.x at this time; we do plan to port to Moodle 2.0 once it has been released.