PIVoT: A Promising Practice in Making an Online Physics Course Accessible

Date Updated

PIVoT stands for Physics Interactive Video Tutor and is a comprehensive online learning environment that supplements a notoriously challenging Introduction to Physics class at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Its content includes a complete online textbook, a multimedia library containing one year's worth of lectures, and dozens of tutorials centered around specific problems in the course. In 1999, MIT began a project with the National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM) in which collaborators worked to make the content of this course accessible to people with disabilities. The project, called Access to PIVoT, was completed in early 2002.

The collaboration resulted in the following accessibility improvements:

  • The overall web interface was made more accessible with techniques recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0. Among the techniques applied were those for making forms and tables accessible.
  • Text descriptions were added for graphs, charts, and images.
  • Image descriptions in chapters 2 and 17 of the online textbook were written in mathspeak, a protocol for electronically communicating mathematical notation in verbal form.
  • Closed captions (for students with hearing impairments) and audio descriptions (for students with visual impairments) were added to the multimedia content, with MIT students completing most of the work.

The project is summarized in the 2003 CSUN Conference Proceedings (see Summary of the Access to PIVoT Project). Additional information is available on the NCAM Access to PIVoT site. The public can also access the PIVoT site directly; instructions for obtaining a required guest account are available from the PIVoT home page.

The success of the Access to PIVoT project demonstrates that even complex online courses, which utilize a variety of online media and teaching methods, can be designed in ways that are inclusive to all students.