Quick overview of BCcampus’s Open Textbook project Summary of our student focus group & feedback session Intro to our just-published Accessibility Toolkit
Before we begin on the evolution of the BC Open Textbook Project I will give you a bit of background on Bccampus. Bccampus supports the work of the BC post secondary system in the areas of teaching, learning and educational technology. We are funded through the government of BC’s Ministry of Advanced Education. There are three primary areas that we focus on at Bccampus, open education and professional learning, collaborative programs and shared services, and student services and data exchange.
The area that I work in and the one that houses the BC Open Textbook project is the area of Open Education and Professional Learning, where it is our mandate to support and promote the development and use of Open Educational Resources and support the development of effective teaching and learning practices. You may recognize some of these names on the slide as you may have taken part in SCOPE, ETUG, or perhaps searched for and downloaded Open educational resources from SOLR.
The BC Open Textbook Project is the Ministry’s response to a number of the issues of student debt and restricted access that Rajiv pointed out. The Open Textbook project was first announced in 2012 at the Open Education Conference in Vancouver, by the then minister of advanced education, John Yap. He announced that the BC Provincial Government would provide the funding of $1 million in the creation of 40 open textbooks for the highest enrolled post-secondary subject areas in BC. In 2013 the government announced that another $1 million would be provided to develop 20 open textbooks for skills and training, in alignment with the BC Jobs Plan.
There are three main reasons that propel our drive for open education and in particular in the open textbook project. We want to increase access to higher education by reducing students, we want to give faculty more control over their instructional resources, and we want to improve learning outcomes for students.
At the start of the project in 2012, we did an inventory of the highest enrolled subject areas in BC post-secondary. We knew that many established open projects had already created and adapted open educational resources and open textbooks in some of these areas, so rather than start from scratch by creating our own textbooks we decided to adopt open textbooks that already existed and had a proven track record of high quality and widely adopted materials.
Some of our adoptions came from OpenStax College out of Rice Univeristy, OER Commons, the Open Textbook Library out of Minnesota and Merlot repositories.
We then posted these open textbooks in our collection and began to solicit reviews from BC faculty. Faculty were to review a book’s comprehensiveness, content accuracy, relevance, clarity, consistency and modularity. Each review was then posted with the open textbook in our collection. As you can see the review is posted with the reviewer’s name and which institution he or she is affiliated with and has a CC ND license attributed to each review.
From the reviews we then put out a call for proposals for faculty to adapt the textbook based on the reviews. We wanted to ensure that whatever was missing or lacking from a textbook in our collection that it was then adapted to meet the needs of our BC Faculty. In some cases the reviews indicated that the books were too US centric, or that some of the chapters were not relevant for the BC context. Being able to adapt a textbook to meet specific learning outcomes, that is the power of working in the Open. The faculty had the opportunity to change the textbook. Here is one example of an adaptation- Professor Jessie Key at VIU adapted the Introductory Chemistry book based on the reviews submitted.
All of the BC open textbooks are created using Pressbooks, which is based on a Wordpress platform. It allows the books to be written in one format and then published in a variety of outputs. EPUB, PDF, MOBI, XML, etc.
The benefit of multiple formats is that it means that students can choose the platform that they want to use. It also means that when faculty adapt the textbook they have a number of format options available to make those edits.
Another benefit has been the access to resources on Day 1.
Too often we have heard from students that the textbook is the wrong edition, that it is on hold until their student loan arrives, or the book is out of stock. It makes you wonder how often do our students start the term without the resources they need?
So that brings me to where we are today, at the beginning of October 2015. Since the project started in 2012 we know have 104 textbooks in our collection, 282 known adoptions from BC faculty, 18 BC institutions participating, and over 9, 000 students who have been affected by open textbooks.
We currently have a savings of between $904,900 -$1.1 million
To find our collection of open textbooks you can go to open.bccampus.ca and should you have any follow up questions after today I would be happy for you to contact me. Thank you.
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. I thought that a $150 honorarium would be enough of an incentive but it was difficult to recruit people.
Our goal was to find student volunteers who were engaged and who would give us good concrete feedback. As our department works with the disability service offices I thought it would be a good approach to get recommendations from staff of keen students. Disability service offices are busy at the end of each semester with exam accommodations, so perhaps that’s one reason why we didn’t get many names.
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.
When we were putting together the feedback form we took a look at a bunch of UX surveys. We had difficulty describing the concept of “layout”. We forgot to include keyboard accessibility as a section.
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. BCcampus has a strong track record of organizing engaging events and they ordered tasty food, booked a room in a venue that has good transit access. I also ran our plans by a blind colleague who runs an Adaptive Technology organization to ensure we hadn’t missed key accessibility points.
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 laptop, ZoomText on a Windows laptop and Kurzweil on a Windows laptop. 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. 65% of the CAPER-BC students have learning disabilities and last year over 50% of the materials we produced were in trades, so I was a little disappointed that I was unable to recruit students with learning disabilities or who are in the trades.
We learned a lot from the students at the focus group. They were really well prepared and had a lot to say. We were really lucky to work with such an engaged group of students.
Before the focus group Amanda and Sue went through the written feedback and pulled out things that people identified as being problems or where one student said it was fine and another student said it wasn’t accessible to them.
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. I work with alternate formats every day and would’ve made some assumptions about why something wasn’t working. By being naïve and curious Amanda was able to flesh out with the students 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 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. Reading the students feedback didn’t really make sense, but having her show us what the problem was did. The in person focus groups were really valuable.
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 line” or “vertical” was used as a delimiter between each question and when read by VoiceOver or JAWS. So it sounded like “1. A | 2. B | 3. C | 4. D” which is super confusing.
We’ll be doing this presentation again as a free webinar next Wednesday March 11th as part of Open Education Week.
We’ll also be presenting at the British Columbia Library Association conference in May, and co-presenting with some of the students at the Open Textbook Summit in May.
For those who might not be familiar with the distinction between accommodation and accessibility: Accommodating for students with a disability involves some form of individualized adaptation of a learning environment – creating an alternative option after course is underway for a student to access or complete a component of their learning experience. To be eligible for an accommodation at most institutions, students have to formally identify themselves as having a disability with institution’s Disability Resource Centre. Accommodations should be reserved to overcome specific barriers for individuals, determined on a case by case basis, and only for those barriers that cannot be addressed through instructional planning. Following the student-centred principles of Universal Design for Learning, course materials are pro-actively 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. Similarly, Accessibility of digital materials reflects thoughtful, proactive attention to the design of learning materials so that they can be accessed from Day 1 by learners with a disability. I.e. the stuff that should not require an accommodation. So - making course materials Accessible is just a specialized focus of the UDL framework, the practical application of some of the framework’s principles. [Plus guided application of web-accessibility standards to ensure compatibility with assistive technologies, etc.]
“Why” ** The best part about working to build our collective literacy around accessibility of digital course materials (in this case, Open Textbooks) is that accessible design is better for all learners – not just those who formally register as having a disability. The student-centred focus of accessible design also benefits those students who aren’t registered with a Disability Resource Centre. E.g who: Are accessing materials on different devices;or are aging into a disability (e.g. aging eyes may need to see text in larger font, or need option to view in high contrast); or Are international students for whom English is a 2nd language (e.g. may benefit from having all video materials close-captioned and opportunity to improve English-comprehension.)
“Who” is the audience?: Toolkit to be designed with Faculty/content creators, instructional designers, ed. techs, in mind who “may not know what they don’t know” about making materials accessible. Typical faculty writer is not always familiar with the pro-active strategies of UDL as they apply to accessibility, and would more likely be accustomed to referring students who identify selves as having a disability to their institution’s Disability Resource Centre…
“What” should be included?: We didn’t want to overwhelm with information; our goal was to provide users with manageable steps towards success; ease the panic of “I don’t know what I don’t know when you tell me that my material has to be accessible”…Therefore – goal was to create digestible, user-friendly, plain-language, “just enough information” guides - “Best practices” sections for different types of textbook content (with added benefit of being transferable to typical online course materials, because broader application and uptake can only help to increase capacity!!) “How” to bring the value of this work (i.e. making your textbook accessible) to life: I.e. this work has real benefits for REAL people. Therefore: (As noted earlier) - Emphasis placed on principles of Universal Design for Learning – pro-active remediation of materials so they can be accessed by anyone from DAY ONE (without having to register for or request an accommodation); Humanizing element / elevate the student-centredness of this practice – project team adopted & adapted user personas from “A Web for Everyone…”, incorporated additional personas based on CAPER user data + our students. Through the integration of these personas, help to bring a recognizable person into the mix for each of the Best Practices sections, and move content creators/developers/designers past the theory of accessibility to the real-life impacts of it. -- “Where”: Toolkit built & delivered in Pressbooks site: added benefit of building/developing Toolkit content using same tool that the open textbook developers used = modeling of the practices need to adopt and reflecting the “what do I need to do” part in the same environment.
We’re excited to present… The Accessibility Toolkit.
The Accessibility Toolkit consists of two macro-sections:
“Key Concepts” – introduces developers to our underlying framework Universal Design for Learning User Personas
2. “Best Practices” – the practical application of our framework, against the common types of content currently found in the Open Textbook collection. Organizing Content Images Tables Weblinks Multimedia Formulas Font size Colour Contrast
We created a common framework for the “Best Practices” chapters too: (E.g. TABLES)
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). “File types include..” and “Before you begin…” 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? Persona example(s) + “this work supports students who…” “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 areas of 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 vs. copyright; 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.
More to come, etc: (E.g.) More info for making Math & science equations accessible (!!!) More languages (e.g. has been translated into French; offers to translate into a braille version)
Current state – typical & growing issues in e-learning vs. accessibility: e-Textbooks vs. accessibility: we know that most textbook publishers haven’t come to the table re: accessibility of e-textbooks yet. Eg. Athabasca reported exponential increase of accommodation requests since they have begun to adopt e-texts from one publisher. Rapid growth of online teaching & learning in the trades = specific area of focus for UDL.
Open Textbooks and Accessibility
“Can I actually use it?”
Testing open textbooks for
• Amanda Coolidge, Tara Robertson, and Sue Doner
• November 18, 2015
@acoolidge @tararobertson @SueDoner
Connect the expertise, programs, and resources of all BC post-secondary
institutions under a collaborative service delivery framework
Open Education & Professional Learning
Student Services & Data Exchange
Collaborative Programs & Shared Services
Open Education & Professional Learning
OER Global Logo by Jonathas Mello is licensed under a CC-BY 30 License
Support & promote the development & use of Open Educational Resources
Support the development of effective teaching & learning practices
Connect the expertise, programs, and resources of all BC post-secondary
institutions under a collaborative service delivery framework
BC Open Textbook Project
40 free & open textbooks for highest
enrolled 1st & 2nd year post-secondary
subjects in BC
2013 – 20 for skills & training
First province in Canada
2013 – AB & SASK MOU
2013 - $1 million
Visual notes of John Yap announcement, Giulia Forsythe Used under
Why are we doing this project?
To increase access to higher education by reducing student costs
To give faculty more control over their instructional resources
To improve learning outcomes for students
Annie Lennox campaigns with Oxfam at the AIDS Conference by Oxfam used under CC-BY-NC-ND license
Don’t reinvent it by Andrea Hernandez released under CC-BY-NC-SA and based on Wheel by Pauline Mak released
under CC-BY 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?
135 Open Textbooks
• 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
“Please continue to consult with the students who are using these
“Thank you again – it is really a privilege to be a part of this. You all
did an excellent job – the facilitation, the bits and pieces of logistics,
the questions and feedback – great job to all of you!”
• Individualized adaptation
• Often after a course has started
• Should be reserved for specific cases.
Universal Design for Learning (UDL):
• Pro-active “…elimination of barriers from the learning
Accessibility (of digital materials):
• Practical application of UDL & W3C standards
• Pre-emptive removal of barriers to students with a disability
Scope of the Accessibility Toolkit
• Accessible design is better for ALL learners!
• Faculty/ID’s/Ed.techs who “may not know what they don’t know”
• Best practices for the different types of textbook content.
• Emphasis on UDL + integration of student personas
• Delivered in Pressbooks (same platform used for the Open
The BC Open Textbook Accessibility Toolkit
Inside the Accessibility Toolkit
I. Key Concepts
Introduces developers to the framework:
• Universal Design for Learning
• User Personas
II. Best Practices chapters
Each chapter includes:
• Introduction & context for the type of content
• Who are you doing this for?
• What do you need to do?
• Incorporating Toolkit into development process for all new Open
• French translation online (?)
• Second round of testing open trades modules with trades students
with learning disabilities