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A Guide for Spartan Ally

Improve the accessibility and usability of your content

Spartan Ally is a D2L/Brightspace integration that automatically scans course content for common accessibility issues and provides feedback to help faculty gauge the overall accessibility of their course, along with step-by-step guidance for fixing issues.

While Spartan Ally is designed to promote accessibility and student success by improving course content, it can also be used to scan and improve non-course related documents and files. The Alternative Format function can also help generate accessible versions of your original files for download and distribution. If you would like to incorporate Ally into your office workflow simply create a D2L dev course or community and upload your files to have them scanned by Ally.

Continue reading to explore the basics of Spartan Ally or jump to a specific section using these links: 

Ally helps make your course experiences more accessible by providing:

  • On-demand alternative formats of common file types for all learners.
  • Instructor-specific reporting and feedback to help improve content accessibility and usability.
  • Institution-wide reporting to help gauge ADA-compliance and to provide metrics for identifying training and support opportunities.

Watch a short introduction video for Ally for D2L/Brightspace


Training and Support

With help from faculty participating in our pilot program, we have developed a “Spartan Ally” Self-Help resource in D2L to provide just-in-time support as you become more familiar with Ally and accessibility best practices (Faculty Note: You will need to self-enroll the first time in order to participate): https://apps.d2l.msu.edu/selfenroll/course/1157621

Spartan Ally Lunch and Learn sessions will be held weekly starting August 19th. To register for a session please fill out the Spartan Ally Lunch and Learn registration. Group training sessions can be requested through the MSU IT Help Desk, number and email listed below.

For additional questions and support, contact the MSU IT Help Desk at (517)432.6200 or email IThelp@msu.edu.

A Note About the Name

Ally was developed for use on multiple Learning Management Systems (D2L, Blackboard, Canvas, and Moodle) and is now integrated into the MSU D2L environment. This product is licensed through Blackboard Inc. as "Blackboard Ally", however, in an effort to avoid confusion and/or concerns that may be caused by the Blackboard name we will refer to this new tool as Spartan Ally.

Accessible Content is Better Content

MSU courses are full of diverse students with unique learning abilities. Providing them with more accessible original content and multiple formats, such as HTML for improved reading on mobile devices, Electronic Braille for use with assistive technology, and Audio for learning on the go, means they can choose how they interact with your course materials.

Alternative FormatsAlternative format button, capital A with a down arrow to the right

Ally automatically scans your original content, determines what accessible formats can be created from that content, and performs a series of steps to generate new accessible file types. These alternative formats are available for download to you and your students through a link/icon to the right of each file. Your original files are not be affected by this process and remain available as the default content.

Ally generates alternative formats for the following file types:

  • PDF
  • Microsoft Word and PowerPoint
  • OpenOffice/LibreOffice files
  • Files/Pages created in D2L
  • Uploaded HTML files

Alternative file formats created by Ally include:

  • Tagged PDF
  • OCRed PDF (only available for scanned PDFs)
  • HTML (web page)
  • MP3 (audio file)
  • ePub (for reading as an e-book)
  • Electronic Braille
  • BeeLine Reader 

Accessibility Scores green dial accessibility score indicator

Ally automatically checks for accessibility issues in your new, existing, and updated course content, then assigns each item an accessibility score based on the number and severity of the issues. These scores are represented by a numerical scale, from 0% to 100%, and a colored gauge with a low, medium, or high tag.

Note: Typically, when uploading new or updated content, you should see your accessibility score within 15-90 seconds. This may take longer if your content is complex, or if you have a lot of course content and it is being assessed all at once.

File Types

Currently, Ally checks the following types of files for common accessibility issues:

  • PDF files
  • Microsoft Word files
  • Microsoft PowerPoint® files
  • OpenOffice/LibreOffice files
  • Uploaded HTML files
  • Image files (JPG, JPEG, GIF, PNG, BPM, TIFF)
  • Pages created within D2L

Ally Indicators

Ally runs in the background on your course and provides feedback automatically as part of your normal course workflow. You will find the Ally indicators to the right of each content item, in the menu area of each individual content page, and within the Course Accessibility Report. Clicking any of these indicators will take you to the Instructor Feedback Panel where you can find step-by-step instructions for improving the accessibility of your original file.

Red half circle dial with needle pointing to the lower left Needs help! (0 to 33%)

Half circle orange dial with needle pointing straight up A little better (34 to 66%)

Half circle green dial with needle pointing to lower right Almost there (67 to 99%)

Half circle dark green dial with needle pointing to right Perfect Ally score (100%)

Course Accessibility Report

Accessed through the Ally Report menu item, your Course Accessibility Report provides an accessibility summary and overview of your content at the course level. Specific areas of the report include:

  • Overall accessibility score for the course
  • A breakdown of course content by file type
  • Two quick links for remediating content: 1. content with the easiest issues to fix and 2. content with the most severe issues
  • A list of all files with accessibility issues (grouped by issue type and severity)

Course accessibility report showing the overall score, quick links to fix easiest and most severe issues, and list of content with issues." title="Course accessibility report showing the overall score, quick links to fix easiest and most severe issues, and list of content with issues.

Instructor Feedback Panel

The Instructor Feedback Panel provides a preview of your document with highlights identifying instances of the current accessibility issue. It also lists the file's accessibility score, gives links to detailed explanations, and step-by-step instructions for fixing each type of issue.

Instructor feedback panel showing preview of the document, accessibility issue explanation and links to instructions for fixing the issue and for uploading the corrected file.

Ally for Student Success

Looking for course content that fits your learning needs, fits your busy schedule, and that can be accessed on your device of choice? The Alternative Formats function in Spartan Ally is here to help by generating multiple downloadable file formats for each piece of content in your D2L course site. To access the different file types, simply click the Alternative Formats icon (capital A with a down arrow) to the right of the original file, choose your preferred format, and click the Download button. Depending on file size it may take a few minutes to download. Please note, the quality of the alternative formats is highly dependant on the quality of the original file, so check the original file if something doesn't look right.

Find a Higher Quality Alternative

The readability of course materials can affect your comprehension and study practices. If you notice the original course file is a scanned PDF that you can’t highlight, copy-paste, or keyword search, try the OCRed PDF for an editable and easier to read document. Or if the font of the original file is hard to read, download an ePub copy that allows you to customize the font and contrast in your favorite ePub reader.

Enhance your Understanding

Did you know when you engage different senses - like reading a text and listening to a text - that you activate different parts of your brain, which can enhance your understanding? Try reading the Tagged PDF first and then listening to the Audio MP3 for review. Or, if you are struggling to understand the text, you might try listening and reading at the same time.

Improve your Time Management

With your busy schedule, maximizing your time on task and study opportunities can help with reaching your learning goals. Download the HTML version to use on you mobile device, this content is responsive to your screen size and allows quick convenient access whenever you find a moment of down time. You can also listen to the Audio MP3 when on the go or just working around your dorm, house, or apartment.

Become a Better Learner

Think about the best format for your learning context and objectives, and include multiple formats in your study process. Keep a journal of the formats you use leading up to an exam, paper, or other assignment to discover your preferred methods of interaction with course content. For more information on Ally's alternative formats, check out: https://tinyurl.com/AltFormatsStudents opens in new window