I want to acknowledge that we are on the traditional territories of the Mississauga New Credit.
This talk will cover what open textbooks are, some background information about the project in BC, our user testing process and the Accessibility Toolkit that we wrote.
I’m so delighted that Kendra will be providing a live soundtrack of Creative Commons licensed music.
CAPER-BC is an organization, funded directly by the Ministry of Advanced Education. We serve students with print disabilities at 20 post secondary institutions across BC. Last year we served about 1200 students with print disabilities, 65% of these students have learning disabilities that impact their ability to use traditional print. 15% have visual impairments and 1% are blind. We also serve students with physical disabilities who cannot hold or carry their books.
This service is a disability accommodation which means that students need to be registered with their disability service office and have gone through an ed psych assessment, which costs about $2000. With this assessment the disability service counselors then determine what kind of accommodations are necessary. In the case of students with print disabilities we are format shifting print textbooks to digital versions, which we’re allowed to do under the Canadian Copyright Act.
Our core service is remediating print to a usable format. Each semester students submit requests for the books that they will need and we send them digital files. This is the busiest time of year for us and for students who are just submitting their requests now they will be waiting a few weeks to get their files
We know that there are more students who likely have print disabilities but are not registered with disability services, or other people who might have difficulty with print, like people who are not native English speakers, or who are auditory learners. When I heard about the open textbook project in BC I was really excited and wondered if we could insert ourselves at the beginning with textbook authors to make better content, that’s more usable for everyone, and so we don’t need to remediate it for people with print disabilities.
Open textbooks are a way to significantly reduce student textbooks costs while giving instructors the flexibility to reformat and customize their course material. They are an affordable, flexible alternative to traditionally published materials.
They key part of this definition is….
…that they are available under an open copyright license.
As you can see from this graph, the consumer price index for educational books and supplies, or textbooks, has gone up 816% in the last 30 years.
816% in 30 years.
Economists would characterize this as a principal-agent dilemma, as the instructor who is selecting the textbook isn’t the one who actually has to purchase it.
As Kwantlen professor and open textbook faculty fellow Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani says “open education is a social justice issue.”
According to a study done by US PIRG 65% of students have not purchased a textbook for a course because of price.
This was me for all of my courses in library school. I managed through my courses by using library copies, sharing one book with a group of people, not doing the readings, using an outdated edition or scanning the entire book and then returning it to the bookstore.
Who else used these strategies?
The goals of the BC Open textbook project are to increase access to higher education by making it more affordable. Students pay an average of $1200 per year in textbook costs and for some students that can be a barrier to their education in a number of ways.
Our second goal is to give faculty more control and power over the learning resources they use in the classroom. Because open textbooks have a Creative Commons license that allows for the book to be modified, instructors can modify and tailor their textbook to fit their course instead of modifying their course to fit a publisher’s textbook.
Third, we want to make open and open education more widely known to educators, and an open textbook project is a very straightforward way to begin conversations with faculty around open education and open educational resources. Textbooks are a familiar tool in higher education, and it is fairly easy for most of the people to understand open education through open textbooks.
Project started in October 2012, coming up to the 3 year mark.
BCcampus was asked to create a collection of open textbooks aligned with the top 40 highest-enrolled subject areas in the province. A second phase was announced last spring to add 20 textbooks targeting trades and skills training.
The first step was to create a catalogue of high quality open textbooks that were created elsewhere. BC faculty reviewed these books and some of these were adapted to the BC context.
To date there have been 24 new textbooks, 9 adaptations, and 5 ancillary resource projects (like test banks) created.
Currently there are 98 titles in the collection.
We have also been developing software to help support the adaptation and creation process of open textbooks.
We are using a tool called Pressbooks, which is an open source book creation plugin for Wordpress. Pressbooks allows authors to create the content once, and then publish to a number of different formats including ePub, PDF and HTML. Hugh McGuire from Montreal, who presented at Access in 2012, is the founder of Pressbooks.
So, to date this project has saved BC students from $600k to $822k. It’s possible that more students benefited and their instructors didn’t register their use with BCcampus. Also, it’s possible that students outside of BC have also benefited. The cost is a range because students could’ve bought the books used, on Amazon, or through their campus bookstore.
In his keynote at the Open Textbook Summit Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani said “Open education is a social justice issue. We need to be very aware of the messaging about who higher education is reserved for. If we don’t think about accessibility who are we saying belongs in higher education? And if our students can’t afford the textbooks who are we saying belongs in higher education?”
I worked with two amazing instructional designers: Amanda Coolidge, from BCcampus, Sue Doner, from Camosun College to plan and carry out the user testing. None of us had done user testing before.
Our goal was to get about 15 students to test the open textbooks. In the end 7 students completed the written feedback and 5 of those students also attended an in person focus group. They received a $150 honorarium.
Picked a good cross section of content and known accessibility issues.
English Literature – poetry, footnotes Introduction to Psychology—tables, images Introduction to Sociology—quiz, one long chapter--no headings British Columbia in a Global Context—charts, maps, and an embedded Google Map Introductory Chemistry—images, formulae/equations
5 different subject areas that didn’t necessarily line up with what our student testers were studying.
We gave the following instructions: “We’re asking you to read one chapter from 5 different textbooks in the way that you normally would, using the software and hardware that you would normally use. We realize that some of these topics might be outside the area that you’re studying. For each chapter there are a few questions about the content that are intended to test the readability of the content not your intelligence, so don’t feel bad if you have a tough time answering the questions. For each chapter please fill out the feedback form and note any areas where the content was hard to understand. It is likely you will get some content that is not accessible or not very accessible.”
For each chapter we thought up some content related questions, like “What is the definition of Weber’s law, or what is the population of Sweden?” that we hoped would make the testing a bit more realistic and give some focus to reading various textbook chapters
As facilitators we were a little nervous about doing the focus group. For all of us this was our first experience with user testing, focus groups and working with a group of students who were low vision or blind.
5 students attended the focus group. While they all have visual impairments they all use different assistive technology including: VoiceOver on an iPad, VoiceOver on a Mac, JAWS on Windows, ZoomText on a Windows and Kurzweil on a Windows. They were from 3 different universities and have different majors including: general arts, English, Computer Science, Business and an Occupational Therapist who is doing a PhD in interdisciplinary studies.
Amanda did a great job of facilitating the day. She did a great job of not making assumptions about what students were experiencing or why it was problematic, instead asking them for more detail or to show us what wasn’t working.
The students highlighted some against accessibility issues we hadn’t anticipated.
For example, in the chapter from the English book has some embedded YouTube videos that JAWS didn’t read.
We didn’t anticipate that the section quiz questions and answers in the Sociology chapter were going to be so confusing. There were about 10 multiple choice questions and the answers were at the very end of the chapter, after the endnotes. No one really knew they were there as they lacked a heading. Also, a vertical pipe was used as a delimiter between each question. Voiceover reads this as “vertical line” and JAWS reads this as “vertical”. So it sounded like “1. A | 2. B | 3. C | 4. D” which is super confusing.
ZoomText is software used by people with visual impairments. You can change the colour scheme, style of the pointer, and enlarge things on the screen.
We didn’t anticipate that when poetry was enlarged using ZoomText that it could be annoying to have to scroll horizontally to read the end of the line. This formatting issue clearly got in the way of being able to feel the flow of the poem.
I didn’t understand this student’s written feedback, but when she showed us what she saw it made perfect sense.
We wanted to summarize what we had learned and combine that with existing standards, like WCAG 2.0 and ARIA markup and present it in an accessible way. For many people these accessibility standards are intimidating and are inaccessible due to the technical language used.
We wanted to explain to content creators why they should care and illustrate how to make their content accessible.
We launched the Accessibility Toolkit at the end of February of this year. It’s written on the same Pressbooks platform as the other open textbooks.
This toolkit is CC-BY licensed, so if it might be useful in your work, by all means use it.
The Accessibility Toolkit consists of two main sections key concept and best practices. With the principles of Universal Design for Learning, course materials are proactively designed to support different types of learning styles and learner preferences. For example, visual aids can be an effective way of explaining a concept to some learners, while providing a text version of the same concept may be the learning preference of others. Planning at the design/pre-delivery stage for multiple methods of accessing course concepts is one of the fundamentals of UDL.
This is very different from a disability accommodation, which requires an ed psych assessment, is for an individual student and is reactive to a learning environment that is disabling.
We adapted the user personas that Sarah Horton and Whitney Queensbury used in their book A Web For Everyone: Designing Accessible User Experiences to better fit the student population in BC. We’ve found that these user personas have been really useful for giving content creators an idea of what assistive technology students with disabilities might be using, as well as creating empathy.
For me, the process of working in open was really exciting. I was inspired and humbled when people allowed us to reuse and remix their work.
We created a common framework for the “Best Practices” chapters too: (E.g. TABLES)
These chapters clearly illustrate how to make content accessible in Pressbooks, but is useful for content on the web.
Introduction, “What is a ---?”, and “Before you begin” (Guiding principle for us: avoid making assumptions about the end-user’s technical knowledge; be as clear as possible). Establish clear context plus can’t assume everyone knows what an image is, etc. AND in some cases – pause to consider why you are including this. (Value added or bright & shiny…?)
Who are you doing this for? “You need to do this, and here are the people you’re doing it for…”; note that not all of the people listed would be students who would register themselves as having a disability w/ their institution’s Disability Resource Centre. Includes bulleted list of typical type of user who benefits from this work PLUS 1-2 of our user personas to again bring the humanizing element home.
What do you need to do? Practical applications of the “what you need to do” w/ examples to illustrate when possible; Included “new ground” discussion for many in the post-secondary education industry. E.g. Multi-media section & requiring transcripts even for 3rd-party videos. This isn’t always in line with copyright practices so pits accessibility; Typical accommodation limits (e.g. one-off productions that cannot be stored and re-used, etc.) aren’t in line with Universal Design & pro-active provision of alternate formats.
We are in the process of adding a checklist to each of these sections.
While I’ve been talking about open textbooks, I have 3 takeaways for you that I think are applicable more broadly to libraries.
Also, I’d like to adapt what Dr. Rajiv Jhangini said and relate it to libraries. When students with disabilities can’t access information through your library website, catalogue, databases and repositories, what are we saying about who belongs? What are we saying about who gets to access information?
Accessibility is a social justice issues.
“Can I actually use it?” Testing open textbooks for accessibility
“Can I actually use it?”
Testing open textbooks for
• Tara Robertson and Kendra Levine
• September 10, 2015
What are Open Textbooks?
A textbook licensed under an open
copyright license, and made available
online to be freely used by students,
teachers and members of the public.
They are available for free as online and
electronic versions, or as low-cost printed
versions, should students opt for these.
What are Open Textbooks?
A textbook licensed under an open
copyright license, and made available
online to be freely used by students,
teachers and members of the public. They
are available for free as online versions,
and as low-cost printed versions, should
students opt for these.
65% students have
not purchased a
textbook for a course
during their academic
career because of
Source: Fixing the Broken Textbook Market U.S. PIRG
Cover image: Center for Public Interest Research used under CC-BY 4.0 license
“My textbook is…
…in the mail
…out of stock
…the wrong edition
…on hold until my student loan arrives
…not needed until I decide I want this course”
How often do students start the term
without the resources they need?
Goals of BC Open Textbook Project
1. To increase access to higher education
by reducing student costs
2. To enable faculty more control over
their instructional resources
3. To move the open agenda forward in a meaningful,
• Mid-November – contacted Disability Service departments to
• December 19 –sent testing instructions to students
• January 19—received feedback forms from students
• January 27—in person focus group
• February 27 –published Accessibility Toolkit
Testing open textbooks
One chapter from each of the following:
• English Literature
• Introduction to Psychology
• Introduction to Sociology
• British Columbia in a Global Context
• Introductory Chemistry
For each chapter:
• Content questions
• Feedback on specific items – navigation, layout, text flow, tables,
font, images, links
• Overall feedback
Video of Zoom Text
1. Universal Design for Learning
2. User Personas
1. Organizing Content
7. Font size
8. Colour Contrast
Best practices chapters
• Introduction & context for each content type
“File types include..” and “Before you begin…”
• Who are you doing this for?
Persona example(s) + “this work supports students who…”
• What do you need to do?
Includes technical instructions, supporting examples (good & bad)
• Incorporating Toolkit into development process for all new Open
• French translation online by late October
• Universal Design for Learning Community of Practice
• Open Education conference in November
• Second round of testing open trades modules with trades students
with learning disabilities in January 2016
1. User testing is invaluable
2. Include people with disabilities in user testing
3. Learn more about universal design and design things better from
• Amanda Coolidge (BCcampus) and Sue Doner (Camosun
• Student testers: Laura Bulk, Mila Cherny, Charmaine Co, Lauren
Rubin, Shruti Shravah, Steven Woo, and Chazz Young
• Brian Lamb and Dr. Jones