Courses that speak to us, desk with laptop, coffee, and earbuds, person driving in a car with audio on.

There is a kind of warmth that comes from being read to–a sense that the reader is making a gesture of care. Perhaps this is the attraction of listening to audiobooks on our morning commute or asking Siri or Alexa to read us the news while we make dinner, walk the dog, or complete chores.

Our courses, too, can extend that gesture of care just by letting students know about free accessibility tools that can make nearly all your course materials available in audio formats.

Why Audio-based Materials Matter

Audiobooks are seen as a widespread convenience for letting us read when our eyes must be otherwise engaged, but they can do so much more. Making audio materials available in your courses can be an important step toward universal design for learning. Audio formats of readings are essential for learners who rely on screenreaders, but they are also great for learners with ADHD, multiple language learners, learners with dyslexia or other visual processing issues, or anyone who finds that particular course materials push them to the high end of their reading comprehension range.

Providing learners with the opportunity to listen to materials as they read can help reinforce the materials in working memory and increase the likelihood that course content will make it into long-term memory storage.

How Do We Access Audio Formats of Typical Course Materials?

Ebooks and Articles

If you are using Inclusive Access materials through the bookstore, VitalSource offers a Read Aloud feature on all its ebooks. Likewise, many articles available through the library databases offer a Text-to-Speech option within the database, and any article or ebook chapter or section that you download as a PDF can be read aloud through Adobe Acrobat Reader or Acrobat Pro. The Internet Archive of public domain texts offers a Read Aloud option, just by clicking the headphones icon in the navigation menu (next to zoom in and zoom out) for any text.

Screenshot of an Internet Archive text showing options for viewing individual pages, groups of pages, headphones (read aloud), zoom in, zoom out, and full screen.

Blackboard LMS Pages and Documents

Any page or document that is loaded into a Blackboard course can be read aloud by clicking the Ally icon (an A with an arrow) in the upper right corner of the screen or on the right side of a document. Hovering over the Ally icon will display the text, “Download Alternative Formats.”

Ally Alternative Formats icon on the upper right of a screen
Alternative formats available for an uploaded document in a Blackboard course

After clicking on the A with an arrow, you will see several options for alternative formats. Select Audio to have Ally download an audio version of the reading, then click on the downloaded file to play it on your computer or phone. Other formats include electronic braille, immersive reader, the color gradient text within Beeline Reader, and ePub for use on iPads, Nook, and other eReaders.

Select Audio Format under Ally Alternative Formats

If you haven’t tried out all the features of Immersive Reader, you can go far beyond text-to-speech. Readers can customize backgrounds, fonts, spacing, “reading rulers” or line focus, and even show parts of speech and syllables.

Materials on Any Webpage

Many of our course materials are open educational materials that are available on public websites. In this case, you can have your web browser read to you. Google Chrome offers a “read aloud” extension that you can download for free in the Google Store. You can follow the instructions for using it on that page.

In Safari, this feature is already built-in, but it can be a little hard to find.

  • Go to your webpage in Safari. 
  • Tap the Reader View icon in the browser bar. (This looks like a little paragraph next to the address of your website)
screenshot of Reader Icon in Safari web browser on a Mac computer
  • In the menu at the top of your Safari browser, go to Edit > Speech > Start Speaking.
  • Safari will immediately start reading the content on the webpage.
  • To stop the reading in Safari, go to Edit > Speech > Stop Speaking.

On an iphone, you can do the same thing, just click the AA (little A and big A) icon and pick “Listen to Page.” Your phone will start reading to you. Please feel free to Google for how-to videos to look up other combinations of devices and browsers you may be using. You can be sure that there’s a way for your computer to read anything to you.