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Jacob Bates

Jacob Bates knows a thing or two about driving technology innovation in higher education. He helps students and faculty work together to develop online student success tools, some of which have been adopted by institutions around the world.

During his undergraduate studies at the University of Central Florida (UCF), Bates was a new media developer for the university. He graduated in 2006, but five years later, he returned to his roots at UCF, this time as the Techrangers team lead who could help students gain real-world development experience. “My educational experience was really awesome, and I wanted to give back to the UCF community a bit and push them forward,” he said.

One of the ways Bates is giving back is through leading development of the Universal Design Online Content Inspection Tool (UDOIT) that’s designed for the Canvas learning management system by Instructure. With this tool, instructors scan their online course content for accessibility issues that prevent students with disabilities from accessing their courses. Then they fix the issues quickly. Since UCF has about 1,000 online instructors who use the tool, it has helped improve accessibility for about 5,000 courses and saved time in identifying and remediating issues.

But it’s not just UCF that’s benefiting. About 50 institutions worldwide have adopted the tool. “It’s really surprising,” Bates said. “We thought this would be useful for a few people and knew it would be useful for us, but the amount of community support and usage is overwhelming.”

Since its initial launch in 2015, Bates has gathered feedback from faculty and administrators and will continue to make adjustments to improve the tool.

Projects like this also serve to highlight the important role that technology has in online learning and student success, Bates said. “At UCF specifically, technology development has been our way to scale because we only have so much space and money,” he said. — Julia McCandless

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