Description Design for Interactive Learning Resources


This course gives you easy access to an innovative description design framework used and created by experts in description design who design descriptions for highly interactive learning resources.

Interactive learning resources are common, fun, and effective tools that engage learners in the classroom and in remote learning environments. Many of these interactives rely on the visual display. This limits non-visual experiences, and makes many interactive learning resources inaccessible to learners with significant visual impairments or print- and graphics-related disabilities. Descriptions are verbalized text for supporting non-visual access.
This course will show you how to create descriptions, the verbalized text, needed to make interactive learning resources (interactives) accessible to learners who are blind or have a visual impairment (learners with BVI). The course weaves together concepts from inclusive design, web accessibility, and general best practices for description design for non-visual access. The main focus of the course is learning about and using the Description Design Framework created by design researchers at PhET Interactive Simulations.
Through a series of design tasks, each preempted with examples and demonstrations, the course walks you through how to design descriptions for an interactive of your choosing. While prior experience in web accessibility, interaction design, and description is useful, it is not required for this course. We share many examples from our work, and include tips and design patterns that we have created and actively use to describe our highly interactive science and math simulations. If you have an interest in creating descriptions for interactive learning resources, join us in this course. The Description Design Framework helps us take a methodical approach to the challenging task of designing descriptions for interactives, and we want to share what we know so others can design engaging descriptions that support non-visual access to interactive learning resources.

What you will learn

Introduction to Description Design

In week 1 we introduce ourselves, the field of description, challenges for description design for interactives, and most importantly give you a quick walkthrough of the Description Design Framework we have created (and use) to design descriptions for highly interactive learning resources. Before moving on to module 2 you need to decide on what screen reader is appropriate for your use, install it if necessary, and choose an interactive to work on throughout the course. Choose a PhET Interactive from our list of suggestions, choose one from our website, or choose an interactive of your own. Make sure it is relatively simple. Let’s start small and learn big! Description design for interactives is both challenging and fun.

State Descriptions: An Overview and Design Patterns for Static States

This week we define and explore the framework’s State Descriptions: Static States (the descriptions that do not change) and Dynamic States (the descriptions that change to maintain an accurate current state). Inclusive design and web accessibility concepts are woven in as needed as we begin to focus on access for non-visual learners. We cover design patterns 1, 2, 3, and 4, and share examples from our work. You will gain an understanding of the different ways we use State Descriptions to frame and encourage interaction. This week we will also focus on the static side of State Descriptions, defining Static State Descriptions (the descriptions that do not change). The Design Tasks this week focus on analyzing the visual design and using the design patterns and examples to get you drafting Static State Descriptions. You will draft names for interactive objects, draft an introductory summary (or scene summary), decide on the best navigation order, and draft hints and help texts. We have Interactive Description Design Templates that you can use to organize your descriptions, so you are able to share your design ideas with your peers in the course and elsewhere. You are encouraged to use the discussion area to engage with others taking the course, and to submit examples of your descriptions for peer review, so you can get feedback.

State Descriptions Continued: Design Patterns for Dynamic States and Description Design Iteration

This week we focus on the dynamic side of State Descriptions, defining Dynamic State Descriptions (the descriptions that change to maintain an accurate current state), and cover State Description design patterns 5, 6, and 7. We introduce “Qualitative Scales” and provide examples on how to design and document dynamic parameters for dynamic state descriptions. We use examples of the scales we have already designed and encourage you to explore, reuse, and adapt these in your own designs. The Design Tasks focus on analyzing different states of your chosen interactive. You will draft dynamic state descriptions and the associated scales needed for them in the Design Tasks. In the second half of the week we begin to discuss strategies for refinement starting with Design Pattern 7, and then outline aspects of the writing style we embrace in our work. We encourage you to keep your design doc up-to-date and organized as you iterate and work through your ideas. You are encouraged to use the discussion area to engage with others taking the course, and to submit examples of your descriptions to get feedback. In week 5 and 6 we cover more formal evaluation methods.

Responsive Descriptions

This week we change our perspective to what happens when a learner takes action. We define and explore the framework’s Responsive Descriptions: the descriptions that communicate changes to interactive objects as they happen (Object Responses) and communicate simultaneous changes happening to the surrounding context as a result (Context Responses). Taking an interactive perspective is key to learning how to describe “what’s happening as it happens”. Through demonstrations we highlight how Object and Context Responses come together to capture the “relevant changes”. The design tasks challenge you to carefully analyze what changes happen in your interactive as you interact with it, then ask you to draft Object and Context responses. Be sure to review the learning goals of your interactive, and we recommend starting with simple or standard interactions that may even be secondary to the interactive’s learning goals. Once simple interactions are clear focus on the primary interactions – the interactions that are required for exploring concepts that may lead to achieving the learning goals.

What’s included