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Case Study - Penn State University

ATHEN E-Journal Issue #2 (2007)

Penn State University

Christian Vinten-Johansen


  1. Institution: Penn State University
  2. Size:
    1. Student body: 80,000
    2. Faculty & staff: 16,000+
    3. Main Web developers: Unknown. Estimate 4,000 w/ some web responsibility
  3. How would you rate your institutional context with respect to Web development?
    1. Highly centralized
    2. Moderately centralized
    3. Moderately decentralized
    4. XXX - Highly decentralized
  4. What is your institutional policy around accessible Web content (if any)? If you use guidelines instead of policy to assist in Web accessibility go ahead and note this.
    1. Please describe your policy or guideline. Specifically describe (or point to)
      1. the standard you use: Policy AD54 WEB PAGE DESIGN AND IMAGE uses W3C recommendations for HTML4.01 or XHTML, and Section 508
      2. if monitoring against the standard occurs: Yes
      3. if consequences (good or bad) for accessible design are tied to policy: No
      4. if procurement of accessible technologies is tied to policy: No
  5. How does your institution provide the training and support necessary for accessible design from your faculty and staff?
    1. Please describe your training and professional development activities (your model of training, technical assistance, & professional development so to speak): One person designated as liaison from each major unit (college, service org, etc.). Periodic lecture and hands-on training. Liaisons may invite others from unit. Other staff may take seminars; webmasters gather and receive lecture-based training. Finally, an annual conference for Penn State staff includes hands-on lectures. IT professionals may also take a large range of on-line tutorials..
    2. Are there differences in what is provided to Web professionals versus other faculty and staff? If so what?: Yes. Professionals have more options, but staff can take seminars, attend conference.
    3. How are these training and or technical assistance activities staffed and funded? Small fee for conference. Seminars are free. Webmaster lunch is free. Activities supported by central funds.
    4. Are there any incentives for those that participate or any consequences for those who refuse? No. Strictly voluntary.
    5. Is there any follow-up to the activities to assure skill implementation? No, but job descriptions now commonly include requirements for standards and accessible design. That seems to be a good motivator.
  6. What do you see as the successes and limitations of your model (or set of activities)? Inconsistency in design for accessibility. Some units and staff take the requirements more seriously that others.
  7. How would you rate, from one (lowest) to ten (highest) your institutions’ training and professional development in three areas (scope, focus, results)? There are three ratings below with anchors that will define places along the continuum from 1 to 10 to help you determine each rating.
Rating continuum (10= high; 1-low) Rating #1: Scope Training and development gets to . . . Rating #2: Focus Training and development focus is. . . Rating #3: Results Training and development results are that . . .
10 All the folks that need them Accessible design skills for all of the participants All of the campus Web content is accessible
7 Most of the folks that need them Accessible design skills for most of the participants Most of the campus Web content is accessible
5 About half of the folks that need them A mix of awareness of accessible design with a couple of skills needed for accessible design About half of the campus Web content is accessible
3 Some of the folks that need them Awareness of accessible design is the focus, however, participants may learn a new skill Some of the campus Web content is accessible
1 A few of the folks that need them Awareness of accessible design is the sole focus, A few elements of campus Web content is accessible

Rating of Scope: 7 Comments: Liaison communication structure has proved to be very effective

Rating of Focus: 5 Comments: Training is nicely focused, but emphasis is on professional judgment. Not all staff feel qualified to exercise judgment

Rating of Results: 5 Comments: Requirements are still fairy new. I'm hesitant to pass judgment

  1. If you could add to or take anything away from your model (or set of activities) what would it be and why? Penn State is very decentralized, and the Web Standards and Accessibility Committee prefer not to be the “Web police”. There are occasionally egregious problems that need attention, but they are rare. We are content to allow the process to continue.
  2. What advice do you have for anyone who is just starting to plan for Web accessibility training and professional development at their institution? I have recently been attending a workshop on this subject with other Big Ten universities. The diversity of their models is very compelling. I would advise paying attention to the fit of their proposed strategy with the prevailing administrative, technical and educational cultures of their institutions. If the strategy does not fit, there is a likelihood that it will fail. There's no magic in that observation.