4 End-of-Year Tech Tips to Prepare for Summer

Summer break is nearly here! But before you slip on your flip flops and hit the beach for some well-earned rest and relaxation, take some time to review these timely tech tips geared toward helping you get your digital devices and resources in order. That way, you can return to the classroom next fall feeling well-organized and prepared to guide a new class of eager learners.

Each of these tips comes to you from one of our savvy team members. Don’t skip over tip #4! It can save you a lot of time and effort this summer.

Tip #1 – Archive your Lessons and Reflect

From Stacie Tefft, LTC Instructional Technology Coach

Before you shut your laptop and check out for the summer, consider taking some time to archive some of your most successful digital lessons from the current school year. This can include downloading resources, saving links, and creating folders on your Google Drive so that you can easily pull from those lessons during the next school year.

While you’re at it, add a few notes to your lessons reflecting on what went well and what could be improved upon next use. That way, you can concretely assess your lessons’ performance without forgetting a crucial detail or takeaway over the long summer months.

Tip #2 – Clean Out your Digital Desk

From Anne Kasa, LTC Instructional Technology Coach

No one works well at a messy desk. Despite that, many teachers head out for the summer with a jumble of documents, videos, and images floating around their digital workspace.

Save yourself the hassle of needing to straighten things out in the fall by tidying up now. That can include organizing files worth keeping into easy-to-navigate folders and trashing any extra files that are adding clutter to your Drive or on your desktop.

If you’re worried about tossing something you might need later, now would also be a good time to set up a reliable backup system for your mission-critical files. Whether you manually backup your files on a regular basis or set up an automated backup process, you’ll be happy to know you have a second option if your device is suddenly upgraded or replaced over the summer.

Tip #3 – Turn on Two-Factor Authentication

From Jen Leban, LTC Instructional Technology Coach

Anymore, it feels like you can’t scroll through teacher Twitter without seeing a handful of stories about schools struck by cyberattacks. Ransomware attacks in particular are on the rise, with Albuquerque (NM) School District and Lincoln (IL) College making headlines for the scale of their respective attacks.

Cyber attackers are often looking for a quick and easy way to access a school’s network. One way you can deny them access to your files and your district’s private networks is by utilizing two-factor authentication (2FA). This method ensures only you can access your devices, including while you’re away on summer break.

Here are a few more cybersecurity tips for teachers if you want to do more to keep your school accounts and data safe.

Tip #4 – Check with your Tech Director

From Matt Jacobson, Online Learning Coordinator

As the school year winds down, take a moment to check in with your building or district tech director. They may have a list of customized recommendations that can help you prep your devices for the extended break ahead.

For example, your district’s tech team will likely run software updates and other assessments on your devices while you’re away. To help them readily access your devices, be sure to follow their requests for recording your passwords. While that may go against conventional wisdom about writing down your credentials, it can be a major help to your hardworking tech team.

More End-of-Year Tech Tips and Resources

Between grading finals and holding end-of-year celebrations, you probably have plenty on your plate right now. If you can take some time out of your busy schedule to put these tech tips into action, you’ll thank yourself when the new school year rolls around. After all, it’s hard to beat returning to a safe and tidy digital classroom!

Looking for more tips and resources for closing out your school year strong? Check out this handy Flipgrid we created showcasing even more end-of-year tech tips from the LTC staff – including a quick primer on archiving (instead of deleting) your Google Classroom classes.

Teacher license renewals are also coming up over the summer. If you’re still looking for quick PD to fulfill this cycle’s requirements, drop in to one of our free, self-paced online courses. Classes on Google Drive, Microsoft OneNote, and more are open now through June 10.

Lead the Conversation! Submit an IETC 2022 Proposal

A new location, a new structure, and a renewed commitment to in-person professional learning.

It’s all happening live at the 29th annual Illinois Education and Technology Conference (IETC) and we want you to lead the conversation.

Now’s your chance to take part in this year’s illuminating conference by submitting a session proposal. Presenting at IETC comes with great benefits, as well as the opportunity to share your unique perspectives with over 800 educators, administrators, and technology professionals from across the state.

Together, we can shape the next generation of future-ready students. To do that, we need your voice in the conversation. Submit a session proposal for IETC 2022 and get ready to step on stage at one of Illinois’ preeminent edtech conferences.

Here’s what you need to know before submitting your IETC 2022 proposal:

New Location, Same Future-Focused Learning

IETC is a rich environment for sharing diverse perspectives from across the education spectrum. As such, educators of all stripes – including teachers, administrators, IT professionals, and more – are encouraged to submit a proposal and support their peers as they expand their professional horizons.

To make that happen, IETC is putting down roots at a new location – the Bank of Springfield Center in the heart of our state’s capital. We’re also embracing a new expanded format with keynotes, workshops, and breakout sessions spread across all three days of the conference.

Taken together, this year’s attendees will have more reasons to take part in the full conference while also taking in all of the local history and culture downtown Springfield has to offer.

Presenter Benefits

Every year, IETC attendees walk away with a wealth of knowledge and connections that will serve them well back in their home district. When you choose to become an IETC presenter, you’ll gain extra benefits that make sharing your voice worth your time and effort.

This year’s presenter benefits include:

  • Waived conference fees (lead presenters and workshop presenters)
  • Continental lunches (lead presenters, co-presenters, and workshop presenters)
  • A conference swag bag filled with goodies (workshop presenters)

Presentation Strands & Formats

This year’s presenters have two options for sharing their knowledge and insights, including:

  • 50-minute general breakout session
  • 110-minute immersive workshop session

Prospective presenters will also have the chance to speak on a broad slate of relevant edtech topics, including technology integration strategies, engaging instructional practices, digital tools and resources, and emerging edtech trends.

Be sure to visit our conference website for a full list of this year’s strands and substrands:

  • Instructional Design and Delivery
  • Computer Science and Conceptual Thinking
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Online Tools, Apps, and Resources
  • Technology Planning and Evaluation
  • Educational Policy and Leadership
  • Digital Equity
  • Technology Infrastructure
  • Technology Management

Submission Deadline

Prospective presenters must submit their session proposals by May 27, 2022 to be considered for a session slot.

Share Your Voice at IETC 2022

Illinois’ edtech community is eager to dig deep into the tools, resources, and best practices that power today’s tech-powered classrooms. IETC is your opportunity to share your hard-earned wisdom and take part in the ever-evolving conversation about the role of technology in education.

But don’t wait! Submit your IETC 2022 proposal today and lend your voice to the growing body of knowledge surrounding edtech’s future.

IETC 2022 registration is also opening soon. Sign up for notifications to be the first to know about this year’s exciting in-person gathering.

Share What Works in Digital Literacy @ #DigLitCon

Mark your calendars! The LTC-hosted Digital Literacy Conference is returning this fall, offering teachers, administrators, technology coaches, and library media specialists a focused opportunity to discover what works in teaching digital literacy.

Right now, we’re searching for educators like you with proven experience teaching digital citizenship, media literacy, digital ethics, and more. Consider submitting a proposal and joining this year’s team of standout presenters!

Digital Literacy Conference 2022 FAQ

What is DigLitCon?

Digital Literacy Conference was created to meet the needs of Illinois’ K-12 teachers, administrators, tech coaches, and library media specialists as they strive to utilize effective digital literacy strategies and resources.

Now in its second year, DigLitCon continues to offer a unique opportunity for digital literacy stakeholders to gather together and discover new tools, instructional practices, and connections. Last year, over 150 participants from Illinois and abroad walked away with the skills and knowledge needed to foster a new generation of productive, ethical, and empathetic digital citizens.

Who Can Submit a Proposal?

All K-12 educators, tech coaches, and library media specialists with experience teaching digital literacy concepts are encouraged to submit a proposal for DigLitCon. Those selected will have an opportunity to lead a 50-minute virtual session on September 16, 2022.

What Topics will be Covered at DigLitCon?

“Digital literacy” is a broad concept, made up of numerous individual competencies that empower an individual to skillfully engage with digital spaces. That’s why this year, prospective speakers are encouraged to submit presentation proposals that fall under one or more of the following strands:

  • Information & News Literacy
  • Computer Literacy
  • Visual Literacy
  • Media Literacy
  • Ethical Uses of Digital Resources
  • Digital Communications
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Digital Tattoos & Online Privacy

Full descriptions for each strand can be found on the DigLitCon homepage.

Submit a Session Proposal Today!

If you’re passionate about digital literacy, DigLitCon wants to hear from you. Submit a proposal today so that your peers across Illinois have the opportunity to learn from your perspectives on this evolving field.

Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE): Is it worth all the hard work?

This blog features contributions from the LTC’s Lisa Schwartz and Holly Kelly

Earning new badges, certifications, and micro-credentials can do wonders for your professional career. Not only do they bolster your career prospects, but they also offer you an opportunity to step out of your comfort zone and grow your capacity as an educator. They also offer an opportunity to practice patience, discipline, and dedication as you work through the application process and put what you’ve learned into practice in the classroom.

While there are a lot of self-paced certification options out there, one that many educators overlook is the Mircrosoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) certification. That’s a shame because the program is tailor-made to help educators learn, grow, and connect alongside a community of like-minded professionals, regardless of what platform or apps their district utilizes.

After recently completing our own MIEE journey, we’ve repeatedly been asked the same question – is this Microsoft-centered certification worth it? Again and again, we’ve had the same answer: yes! Even if your school primarily uses Google or Apple products, MIEE has a lot to offer you as a growth-focused educator.

Here are 8 quick reasons you should consider earning an MIEE certification:

8 Reasons You Should Earn MIEE

  1. Grow your professional skill set – MIEE isn’t a Microsoft beginners course. Through it, you’ll learn next-level methods for utilizing Microsoft apps to engage today’s learners.
  2. Challenge yourself – Everyday, we ask our students to challenge themselves so that they can grow intellectually and emotionally. We should do the same for ourselves, and MIEE’s multi-step certification process is a great way to step out of that comfort zone.
  3. Build mentorship capacity – You aren’t the only one who benefits from MIEE. Your fellow teachers can learn a lot from you when you share what you learn during the certification process.
  4. Grow your network – While working toward MIEE, you’ll have the chance to connect with fellow educators from all across the country. Even after completing your certification, you can turn to those connections for advice and support as you work through the latest educational challenge.
  5. Bolster your resume – No matter your career goals, a recognized certification like MIEE can be a major boon to your future prospects. It can even help you advance your career in your current position, including through promotions and new leadership opportunities.
  6. Maintain your learning mindset – After teaching for a few years, educators sometimes get comfortable with their present edtech utilization. MIEE can rekindle your old learning mindset and show you how much potential some of today’s most versatile apps offer.
  7. Access exclusive offers – MIEE status comes with added perks, including access to special offers for partner platforms like Book Creator and Buncee
  8. Attend MIEE annual summit – All MIE Experts also get tickets to the annual MIEE and SCS Summit, both held at Microsoft HQ in Redmond, Washington.

Our MIEE Journey – 1 Big Takeaway

We learned a lot during our journey toward earning our MIEE certification, including how to harness Microsoft’s Education Transformation Framework. But above all else, we learned the importance of accountability when striving towards this major certification.

Like many educators, we knew that our time and motivation for earning this certification would be strained by our day-to-day workload. Luckily, we also knew that we would be more motivated to stay on track if we had some accountability built-in to our application process. So, we decided to become accountability buddies, setting aside time on a regular basis to check-in with each other and support one another towards our shared goal.

Accountability can be the key to earning MIEE, in particular. The MIEE journey involves multiple learning paths and a full application process, so it helps a lot to have someone at your back who can encourage you to keep moving forward.

Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert Q & A

Here’s a few more questions often asked about the MIEE certification and application process. You can also learn more about MIEE on Microsoft’s website.

What is MIEE?

Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert or “MIEE” for short is a program that recognizes educators around the world who are using Microsoft technology to enhance student outcomes and change the face of education. After completing certain prerequisites, individuals may nominate themselves for MIEE status, which comes with numerous benefits including access to a massive network of fellow Microsoft experts.

Are there prerequisites for MIEE?

Yes, prospective applicants will need to complete several prerequisites in order to earn MIEE status, including:

  • Become a Microsoft Innovative Educator by completing two hours of coursework from Microsoft’s 205 courses and 32 learning paths.
  • Become a Microsoft Innovative Educator Trainer by implementing what you’ve learned to mentor other educators
  • Apply for MIEE, including completing an exam that tests your knowledge of Microsoft education tools and submitting an artifact of your prior work

Do I need to complete an exam for MIEE?

Yes, MIEE applicants must pass an exam that tests applicants on their understanding and implementation of Microsoft’s learning tools. This exam consists of multiple choice, order sequence, and long answer questions.

When is the deadline for MIEE?

The 2022-2023 MIEE application window opens May 15, 2022 and closes July 15, 2022. More information can be found on Microsoft’s MIEE resource page.

Start on your own MIEE Journey Today!

With this year’s MIEE application window opening in just under a month, now is a great time to grab an accountability buddy and start your own MIEE journey.

The LTC is here to support you along that journey. If you have questions about the MIEE process, feel free to reach out to two of our team’s current MIE Experts – Holly Kelly (hkelly@ltcillinois.org) and Lisa Schwartz (lschwartz@ltcillinois.org). You can also connect with other prospective applicants and fellow Microsoft users over on the LTC Community.

3 Ways You Can Add Digital Accessibility to Your Classroom Today

Many of the digital learning tools adopted over the past several years are cementing themselves into everyday learning. While this has opened new avenues of engagement for many students, those with cognitive or physical disabilities have not received nearly enough attention when it comes to their digital access needs.

As it stands, some digital learning tools and communications are not effectively accessible by default. Fortunately, there are numerous ways that teachers like you can make their classroom’s digital content more inclusive for all learners.

Here are three ways you can begin making your digital learning content more accessible today:

Review Contrast

Contrast refers to the visible differentiation between any two graphic elements, including between text and a background. Contrast can be impacted by several factors, including text size, font choice, font color, and background color.

Without proper contrast, users with low vision or a vision impairment (such as color blindness) may struggle to fully engage with the on-screen content. To prevent this, content creators should strive for a suitably high level of contrast (4.5:1 or higher) across all digital text and graphics.

Here are a few keys to remember when working to maximize your content’s contrast:

  • Use a large font size – 18 point or larger text contributes to a higher contrast ratio. Text as small as 14 point may be used if it is bold.
  • Utilize an effective color combo – Because color deficiencies are diverse, no single color combo can be prescribed as “accessible” in all situations. Instead, content creators should focus on maximizing luminance between any two elements and providing user-controlled tools for adjusting foreground and background colors.
  • Use standardized fonts – Thin or decorative fonts can contribute to low contrast. Always use fonts with a proven track record of digital readability, including Tahoma, Calibri, Helvetica, Arial, Verdana, and Times New Roman.

There are several tools you can use to analyze contrast in your existing digital content, including this free color check tool and this standalone app.

You can also read more about contrast through the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) online accessibility guideline documentation.

Add Meaningful Link Text

As with alt text, link text provides users with additional information relating to a link’s purpose. This allows them to make an informed decision about following that link without the need for additional context. In particular, link text can make web pages more navigable for individuals with certain movement impairments, cognitive impairments, or visual impairments.

Effective link text can be implemented in several ways. The first is through adding a preceding text description that makes the link’s purpose fully clear. Consider the following example:

“Learn more about registering to vote at Illinois’ State Board of Election website.”

In this example, the text description preceding the link adequately describes what the user can expect to find if they follow the link.

There are also more ways to effectively implement link text, including through embedding clarifying information. Learn more about these methods, as well as other link text considerations, on the W3C’s online accessibility guideline documentation.

Utilize Accessibility Tools and Evaluation Methods

While implementing digital accessibility is an imperative, it can be challenging for a teacher alone to accomplish alongside their other responsibilities. As such, both individuals and institutions are encouraged to make use of proven accessibility evaluation tools whenever possible.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) maintains a database of over 100 accessibility evaluation tools, which can be used to assess everything from color contrast to ADA compliance. While the LTC does not endorse any of these tools, this collection is a great place to start if you want to better understand how digital accessibility both looks and operates.

For more information on digital accessibility auditing (including W3C’s evaluation methodology), visit their Assessment hub.

Taking the Next Step Toward Digital Accessibility

Everyone in education has a role to play when it comes to making digital learning content accessible. With the right knowledge and skills, you can ensure that your digital learning environment is inclusive and that all of your students, regardless of disability, have the opportunity to fully engage online.

The Learning Technology Center (LTC) is here to support you toward those goals through our free resources and knowledgeable statewide team. Contact us to learn more about how your local RETC can help your classroom bolster its digital accessibility. You can also discover three more ways to make your digital content more accessible on our Blog.

The LTC also strives to keep K-12 school districts up-to-date on the latest state and federal accessibility guidance – including Illinois’ new online learning tool accessibility mandate. Legal briefs and analysis of these standards can be found on our Accessibility hub.

Bring Computer Science to Your Students with Code.org Trainings & Free Curricula

Right now, computing is one of the fastest growing and highest-paying professions in the United States. Supply for these technically-skilled jobs cannot keep up with demand, with over 23,000 CS-related positions in Illinois alone going unfilled in 2019. With an average salary of $84,000, today’s students have a real opportunity to succeed if they enter this field, but only if their teachers today can lay the right groundwork.

However, inexperience teaching CS skills and concepts remains a challenge for many Illinois K-12 teachers. Fortunately, Code.org provides a wide array of curricular resources for educators of all experience levels to choose from — including four full curricula geared toward elementary, middle, and high school students. 

Using these curricula, new and seasoned CS teachers alike can provide age-appropriate CS learning experiences to their students. In turn, Code.org’s curricula can help Illinois districts meet new state-level CS learning mandates while preparing their students for a fruitful future in the computer science field. 

Free Computer Science Curriculum from Code.org

CS Fundamentals

Audience: Elementary students (K-5), ages 4-11

CS Fundamentals lays the foundation for computer science learning with a blend of online and “un-plugged” non-computer activities. Students learn computational thinking and problem-solving skills as well as the basics of programming and digital citizenship. 

This curriculum’s flexible framework also makes it ideal for a variety of elementary classroom implementations, including as part of a weekly lab, library activity, supplemental math/language lesson, or regular classroom schedule.

CS Discoveries

Audience: Middle and high school students, grades 6 – 10

Using the groundwork laid in CS Fundamentals, CS Discoveries introduces middle and high school students to a variety of computer science concepts, including programming, physical computing, user-centered design, and problem-solving. Over the course of this curriculum, students use their bolstered CS skills to create unique projects using the online Web Lab, Game Lab, and App Lab. These labs give students the opportunity to learn web, game, and app development through a hands-on approach that deepens learning beyond rhetorical lessons. 

CS Discoveries is also mapped to the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) K-12 Standards, making it a great starting point for educators interested in using evidence-based curricular content. The CSTA K-12 Standards were also used as a blueprint for Illinois’ new Computer Science Standards, meaning this curriculum can be used to efficiently meet this new state-level teaching mandate.

CS Principles

Audience: High school students, grades 9 – 12

As students move on to high school, they can explore deeper computer science applications with CS Principles. This rigorous, engaging, and approachable curriculum is designed for all students, regardless of whether they’ve participated in prior CS coursework. In it, students deepen their computational-thinking skills through inquiry-based activities, many of which help them understand the growing impact of computing tools in our society.

Like CS Discoveries, CS Principles is aligned to the CSTA K-12 Standards. Whatsmore, this curriculum is also aligned to the AP Curriculum Framework. As a result, students who participate in this College Board-endorsed curriculum will be well-prepared to take the AP CS Principles assessment. 

Computer Science A

Audience: High school students, grades 9 – 12

Computer Science A (CSA) is a brand-new curriculum from Code.org that introduces experienced high school students to the skills they’ll need to excel in college and careers. Over the course of this curriculum, students learn the essentials of software engineering and object-oriented design while also working with industry-standard programming languages like Java.

Currently, CSA is recommended for students who have completed CS Principles or CS Discoveries and are interested in learning more real-world applications for their CS skills. CSA participants will also be able to earn college credit by taking the AP Computer Science A exam, with which the CSA curriculum is aligned. 

Computer Science PD Opportunities with Code.org

Many teachers have never written a line of code, much less taught computer science to others. Code.org has recognized this experience gap and made it easier to grow your CS teaching capacity in the near-term. In particular, Code.org offers its annual Summer Professional Learning Program to help students grow their CS teaching proficiency and discover the best methods for integrating their several CS curricula.

As a Code.org Regional Partner, the LTC has the pleasure of hosting a full slate of CS professional learning cohorts during summer 2022. Illinois educators can participate in these cohorts for little-to-no cost and walk away with the skills, knowledge, and confidence needed to make high-quality CS learning a mainstay in their classroom. 

Here are the Code.org-sponsored CS workshops and cohorts currently scheduled for this coming summer:

CS Fundamentals Workshops

Code.org offers two CS Fundamentals professional learning opportunities that vary depending on teacher’s needs.

First, a one-day, introductory workshop designed to help elementary educators explore the CS Fundamentals curriculum. During the workshop, participants get a hands-on introduction to computer science pedagogy and an overview of best practices for integrating the CS Fundamentals curriculum. 

After that, teachers can move on and take part in the Deep Dive workshop, which is geared toward teachers who have already started teaching CS Fundamentals but are looking for a deeper understanding of implementation strategies. Best of all, both workshops are available to Illinois attendees free of charge.

Learn more about upcoming CS Fundamentals workshops on our Code.Org Professional Learning Hub page.

CS Discoveries and CS Principles Summer Cohorts

For both CS Discoveries and CS Principles, teachers have the opportunity to join a cohort of peers and participate in a year-long professional learning experience. 

The program kicks off with a five-day summer workshop that prepares teachers to implement the Code.org curriculum in their classrooms. Afterward, teachers participate in quarterly workshops throughout the following year to ensure they have the support and guidance needed to fully implement their new curricular resources.

UPDATE March 22, 2022: This year’s CS Discoveries and CS Principles workshop locations have been announced!

CS Discoveries will take place July 25-29, 2022, at the Courtyard by Marriott Chicago Arlington Heights/South in Arlington Heights, IL. Learn more and register through Code.org’s professional learning portal.

CS Principles will take place August 1-5, 2022, at the Parke Regency Hotel and Conference Center in Bloomington, IL. Learn more and register through Code.org’s professional learning portal.

CSA Cohort

To support the rollout of the new CSA curriculum, Code.org is offering a new type of summer program to interested educators. This program starts with the same five-day summer cohort as previous programs and continues with year-long implementation support on a quarterly basis. Then, participants are invited back the following summer for a two-day workshop designed to help curriculum users assess their progress and make plans for even deeper levels of curricular integration.

The inaugural CSA cohort will take place this summer in Bloomington, IL, from June 13-17. To learn more and apply, visit Code.org’s professional learning portal.

Supporting Computer Science Education

This is an exciting time as Illinois K-12 schools move towards providing all students with opportunities to learn computer science. It is, however, a process and the LTC is here to support you as you grow your personal CS teaching capacity.

Be sure to check out our growing collection of free CS resources to help your classroom take the next step toward fully harnessing this future-ready content area:

  • Computer Science Education Hub. Here, you’ll find the latest information about LTC-hosted computer science programs, PD opportunities, and resources – including ISBE-approved standards and definitions.
  • Code.Org Regional Partnership Program. Through our Regional Partnership with Code.org, the LTC provides free or low-cost professional learning opportunities for new computer science teachers. Visit this page to learn more about these one-day and year-long programs, as well as for quick access to Code.org’s free K-12 curricula.
  • Computer Science Resource Database. Filterable by type, topic, grade level, and cost, this growing database of curricular resources provides a launching point for schools and educators interested in making CS learning a mainstay in their classrooms.

Illinois’ New Digital Accessibility Law – What Education Leaders Need to Know about HB 26

Effective August 1, 2022, Public Act 102-0238 (also known as HB 26) requires 3rd party curriculum content to achieve Level AA accessibility conformity, as outlined in the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (W3C WCAG).

In conjunction with existing ADA and Section 504 requirements, this new guidance will ensure that all students, staff members, and parents can fully utilize a school’s online media, regardless of physical or cognitive disability.

While solutions will vary from district to district, many will need to take steps over the course of this year to bring their school’s online media into full compliance. This may include assessing common problem areas and making plans to both remedy and maintain those non-compliant elements over the long term.

Before making upgrade plans, district leaders should strive to fully understand what’s being asked of them under the state’s new accessibility guidelines. These following questions should clear up confusion and help you pave a path towards compliance this year.

What is the W3C WCAG?

Created by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) are a set of standards designed to make web content more accessible to people with disabilities. Specifically, these guidelines outline both how an accessible website should appear and function, starting with the basic navigation and continuing upward through perceivable website content (text, images, sounds, etc.).

The WCAG are structured around the following core principles, which inform their practical recommendations. According to the guidelines, all web content should be:

  • Perceivable – Web content should be accessible to a variety of senses, including vision, hearing, and touch.
  • Operable – All navigation elements should be robustly operable, including without the use of a mouse and without the need for specific timing.
  • Understandable – Web content and operations must be easily understood without the need for outside assistance or guidance.
  • Robust – Users must be able to access content with or without the use of assistive technology.

What are WCAG’s Level AA Criteria?

Compliance with the WCAG is based on “success criteria,” which are divided into three tiers – A, AA, AAA. Each tier includes successively more rigorous standards for creating and maintaining robustly accessible web content.

Under HB 26, Illinois K-12 schools are required to achieve Level AA conformance, which includes the following criteria:

  • Contrast ratio of at least 5:1
  • More than one option for locating a webpage
  • Audio descriptions for pre-recorded content
  • Live text in lieu of text on images
  • 200% zoom functionality without the loss of content or function.

This is not an exhaustive list of Level AA criteria. A full list of Level AA criteria (including requisite Level A criteria) can be found on the W3C’s website.

How Can I Make my Web Content More Accessible?

Starting as soon as today, there are several actionable steps school districts can take to bring their web content closer to WCAG Level AA conformance. For example, an assessment team can begin reviewing all of the district’s blogs, social media, digital documents, and other web media to look for these common problem areas:

  • Missing text descriptions – In order for an image to be perceivable by a screen reading device, it must include alternate text or an “alt tag.” These encoded captions describe an image’s appearance or functionality, ensuring that it can be interpreted by someone who is blind.
  • Lack of alternative navigation – Often, important web content can only be accessed via navigation with a mouse. This can create barriers to access for those using an alternative interface devices and users with disabilities affecting fine motor control.
  • Improper color combinations – Web content must use text/background color combinations that provide adequate contrast between differing elements. Otherwise, important content may be difficult or impossible to interpret for users with low vision or colorblindness.
  • Missing or incomplete video captions – All video content shared by a school should include complete, accurate captions. Otherwise, the audio component of that video content may become inaccessible to users who are deaf, hard of hearing, or utilize a text-to-speech device. 

Working Together to Making Learning Accessible to All

As Illinois schools work to make their digital classrooms more inclusive, the Learning Technology Center (LTC) is ready to support administrators and teachers alike.

Administrators and education leaders can learn more about HB 26 over on our new K-12 digital accessibility hub. There, you’ll find links to a variety of free resources – including a sample accessibility policy template and a WCAG 2.0 quick reference guide.

Teachers can also make an impact on their classroom’s digital accessibility right now. Our recent blog offers three actionable tips for making images, videos, and text easier for all students to engage with.

3 Tips for Making Digital Learning More Accessible

Whether it occurs in or out of the classroom, digital learning has opened new opportunities for students to engage with content and communicate with teachers. Just like traditional learning, though, digital content is not always accessible to all learners, and students with physical and cognitive disabilities may need alternate means of engagement to fully participate.

There are a few steps you can take today to make the content you provide to students online more perceivable, operable, and robustly understandable for all learners. The following steps are a great starting point and can be easily incorporated into your lesson planning process.

Bonus: The following tips can also help your classroom’s online learning practices conform to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.1. These guidelines provide a wide range of recommendations for making online content more accessible, making them a great resource for educators interested in supporting their new methods with expert-backed best practices.

Add Alt Text

While visual graphics are common in many kinds of educational material, they are not readily perceivable to students utilizing screen readers and speech input software.

To make digital images visible to these types of alternative engagement devices, teachers should utilize alt texts (also known as an “alt tag”). Alt text is a set of written information that is embedded in an image’s data and describes either its aesthetic or functional qualities.

A grey cat seated on a blanket

For example, the above photo appears on a webpage beside a set of text describing different cat fur colors. Because this photo only serves to visually supplement that information, a short description of the image’s content will suffice.

“A grey cat seated on a blanket”

ltcillinois.org home

By comparison, the above image serves a functional purpose on a website. When clicked on, it leads users back to the website’s homepage. As such, its alt text should effectively communicate this function, rather than its visual appearance.

“ltcillinois.org home”

For more information on how to implement alt text, check out the W3C’s Web Accessibility Tutorial on alt text usage.

Utilize Closed Captioning and Transcripts

Closed captions are another proven method for making audio-based video content accessible to viewers who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. These synchronized subtitles 

can be added to pre-recorded videos using the video editing program of your choice, such as Adobe Premiere Pro, or added on streaming platforms, such as YouTube

YouTube’s speech recognition software even allows for auto-captioning, which teachers can edit as needed to create quick, effective captions (Note: auto-captions by themselves do not provide adequate accessibility unless that have been properly checked for accuracy).

While implementing closed captions may take some practice, you will find that they can be seamlessly integrated into your video post-production process. This WC3 checklist can help you understand both the skills and tools you’ll need to make a habit out of closed captioning.

Follow Text Best Practices

Text is one of the most common problem areas when it comes to online accessibility. Since text often communicates essential information, you should always check your text formatting to ensure it is accessible to as many users as possible.

Here are just a few recommendations for keeping your text legible in a variety of digital formats:

  • Fonts – always use a font that provides full readability in a variety of sizes and contexts. Tahoma, Calibri, Helvetica, Arial, Verdana, and Times New Roman are preferred, while stylized fonts should be avoided.
  • Color – always choose a font color that maximizes visibility and contrast. In almost all cases, black text on a white background is best.
  • Bold and Italics – Avoid using bolding and italics to emphasize a particular word or words. Most screen readers do not announce these text styles. Semantic markups should be used in their place.
  • Justification – In most circumstances, text should be left-justified by default. Full justification should be avoided and center justification should be used sparingly on no more than one line of text at a time.

Working Together to Make Learning Accessible

Making online learning accessible doesn’t need to be an intimidating challenge. With the right planning and knowledge, you can create an inclusive online learning environment that provides learners with multiple means of engaging with curricular content.

The Learning Technology Center (LTC) is committed to helping Illinois K-12 educators create robustly accessible content for both their physical and digital classrooms. Learn more about our latest resources – including tutorials, trainings, and auditing tools – over on our Accessibility hub.

The LTC also strives to keep K-12 school districts up-to-date on the latest state and federal accessibility guidance – including Illinois’ new online learning tool accessibility mandate. Legal briefs for these standards and requirements can also be found on our Accessibility hub.

Stay Ahead of Tomorrow’s Digital Threats at SecurED Schools

Over the past two years, K-12 schools have grown more reliant on educational technology. This shift has fueled digital transformations across the country and made it easier for students to learn safely and effectively, both now and in the future.

But this shift toward digital learning as a mainstay has come at a cost – increased vulnerability to district networks and data. Many K-12 education and technology leaders are already begun taking steps to address this increased risk, but there’s still much more that can be done to stay ahead of tomorrow’s digital threats.

The best way to address vulnerability is a security posture built on the latest policies and best practices for cybersecurity and data privacy. At SecurED Schools, these imperatives and more will be on full display, with local, state, and national experts leading discussions on how K-12 districts can upgrade their security capabilities before an emergent threat takes hold.

This year’s fully virtual conference will also feature numerous hands-on presentations geared toward helping IT stakeholders comply with current state and federal mandates, including SOPPA, FERPA, and more.

That’s not all SecurED Schools 2022 has in store for you. Check out the full schedule now or take a peek below at some of this year’s most anticipated virtual sessions!

Two Days Full of Resources, Demos & Best Practices

With over 30 engaging sessions on this year’s agenda, SecurED Schools 2022 is set to be Illinois’ premier conference for fostering cybersecurity and data privacy excellence. 

This year, we’re also welcoming over 40 presenters to the virtual stage, offering you the chance to learn from the best and walk away with a vision for improving your district’s security posture.

Future Privacy: Privacy Fundamentals for Uncertain Times

Presented by Linnette Attai

The world has changed, and nowhere has that been more apparent than in school districts. In a series of seismic shifts, classroom environments and technologies used to support instructional delivery have changed and changed again, leaving many racing to stay on top of whatever comes next. Edtech evolution isn’t slowing down any time soon, raising fresh concerns about what is being lost in terms of student data privacy along the way.

Now’s the time to address these concerns head on, starting with the privacy fundamentals you already know. Join us for a chance to brush up on the basics of FERPA, COPPA, PPRA, and SOPPA while learning how these bedrock elements can support more cohesive privacy efforts, both now and in the future.

Let’s Talk About the SDPC Database

Presented by Sean Mullins

Without a doubt, the SDPC database is one of the most useful tools K-12 school districts can reach for while striving to maintain full SOPPA compliance. But despite that, many districts don’t know about the database’s lesser-known features and their ability to streamline SOPPA workflows from start to finish.

Don’t miss out on taking full advantage of everything the SDPC database has to offer! Join this highly interactive session to learn new ways to harness the SDPC database as well as get your questions answered by one of the state’s foremost SDPC database experts.

Don’t Be Left in the Dark!

Presented by Holly Kelly & Lisa Schwartz

The rise of edtech in the everyday classroom has helped students learn like never before. But along the way, staff and students alike haven’t done well when it comes to maintaining their “cyber-hygiene.” In other words, our personal data sharing habits have grown troubling lately, putting both ourselves and our institutions at risk for cyber-attack.

Fortunately, there are a few sure-fire ways to get your personal data sharing habits back on the right track. Join us to learn about a few readily available resources that can help staff, colleagues, and students become more cyber aware and keep themselves protected against emerging threats to their personal data privacy.

Register for SecurED Schools Today!

SecurED Schools is only a couple weeks away, but there’s still time to reserve your seat at any of this year’s engaging, solution-oriented sessions. At only $25 a ticket (including access to a post-conference archive of recordings and resources), this year’s conference is an affordable way to grow your professional toolkit and help your district chart a course for a more digitally secure future.

Register today and start making plans to transform the way your district handles cybersecurity and data privacy!

Pack your Bags for these 2022 Education Conferences!

Whether in-person or virtual, conferences are a great way to network with fellow educators in your role and learn a lot about the latest education developments and best practices. These gatherings offer an unparalleled opportunity to earn PD credit and grow your professional learning network to a statewide or even nationwide scale.

If you have knowledge to share, many conferences are also a great opportunity to share your experience and help your fellow educators take the next step on their own professional learning journey.

No matter why you attend, there’s a 2022 education conference with your name on it. In fact, many conferences are returning this year after a temporary hiatus, offering administrators, IT professionals, and teachers at every grade level the chance to engage once again with content relevant to their position.

To make planning your professional travels a little easier, we’ve collected some of this year’s most popular conference offerings into a single, convenient list. Take a peek and see if any of these state and national conferences pique your desire to learn!

In-State Education Conferences in 2022

Conference NameAudienceLocation/FormatDatesCost
SecurED SchoolsK-12 administrators, technology leaders, and IT staffVirtualJan. 19th – 20th, 2022$25
Career & Technical Education Conference (CTE)CTE educatorsBloomington, ILFebruary 17 – 18, 2022Varies – See website
IDEAConEducators and technology directorsSchaumburg, IL Feb. 14th -17th, 2022Varies – see website
Illinois Reading Council Conference (IRC)Literacy advocates, library media specialists, educators, and researchersSpringfield, ILMarch 10 – 11, 2022Varies – see website
EIU Mini-Conference on Technology EducationK-12 EducatorsCharleston, ILApril 2, 2022Free
Illinois Career Connections ConferenceK-12 CTE educatorsTinley Park, IL & Springfield, IL April 25/26, 2022$75
Environmental Education Association of Illinois Annual Conference(EEAI)EducatorsYorkville, ILApril 8th & 9th, 2022Varies – see website
WITconK-12 EducatorsKnoxville, ILJune 15, 2022TBA
Illinois Association of School Administrators New Superintendents Conference (IASA)School superintendents Springfield, ILJuly 11th -12th, 2022TBA
EdTech Next by LTCEducators who want to learn about emerging edtech, technology accessibility & engagement pedagogyGalena, ILAugust 1-2, 2022$150
SAMRi Teacher CampK-12 TeachersAurora, ILAugust 2, 2022Free
Illinois Association of School Administrators Annual Conference(IASA)School superintendents, assistant superintendents, state agency staff, and college professors of educational administrationSpringfield, ILSept. 28th – 30th, 2022TBA
Illinois Science Teachers Association Annual Conference (ISTA)STEM educatorsWheaton, ILMid- OctoberTBA
Illinois Council of Teachers of Mathematics Annual Conference (ICTM)Math educators, administratorsTBAMid-October$25/members
Illinois Education & Technology Conference (IETC)Educators, IT staff, and administratorsSpringfield, ILNovember 2 – 4, 2022TBA
Illinois Business Education Association (IBEA)Business educatorsTBANovember 2 – 4th 2022 TBA
Illinois Art Education Association Annual Conference(IAEA)Visual and performing arts educatorsSt. Charles, ILNovember  10-12, 2022 TBA
Joint Annual Conference – IASB/IASA/IASBOSchool board members, administrators, and business officialsChicago, ILTBA TBA
Raising Student Achievement Conference (RSAC) Educators, administrators, professional development coordinatorsSchaumburg, IL Dec. 13 – 14th, 2021Varies – See website
Illinois Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, & Dance Convention (IAHPERD)Health & physical educators, administratorsTBADecember 2022Varies – See website

National Education Conferences in 2022

Conference NameAudienceFormat/ LocationDatesCost
Future of Education Technology Conference (FETC)Educators, tech directors, administratorsOrlando, FLJan. 25 – 28, 2022Varies – see website
Texas Computer Education Association Convention & Exposition (TCEA)Educators, tech directors, administratorsDallas, TXFeb. 7 – 10, 2022Varies – see website
AASA National ConventionSuperintendentsNashville, TNFeb. 17- 19, 2022Varies – see website
Computer-Using Educators Conference (CUE)Educators, tech directors, administratorsVirtual & Palm Springs, CAMarch 17-19, 2022Varies – see website
Consortium of School Networks Conference (COSN)K-12 education technology leadersNashville, TNApril 11 – 13, 2022Varies – see website
National Business Education Association (NBEA)Business and economics educatorsChicago, ILApril 12 – 15, 2022Varies – see website
International Society for Technology in Education Conference (ISTE)Educators, tech directors, administratorsNew Orleans, LAJune 26 – 29, 2022TBA
Computer Science Teachers Association Conference (CSTA)K-12 Educators, Computer Science Teachers, AdministratorsChicago, ILJuly 14 -17, 2022Varies – see websites

Looking for a particular conference? Did we miss one of your favorites? Email me at lschwartz@ltcillinois.org and I’d be happy to add it!

I look forward to seeing you at one of these great 2022 education conferences!