Accessibility issues in the context of UK Open Educational Resources programme

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This document addresses accessibility issues which emerged in the context of first and second phase of JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee)/ HEA (HIgher Education Academy) funded Open Educational Resource programme (UKOER programme).

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Accessibility issues in the context of UK Open Educational Resources programme

  1. 1. Anna GruszczynskaAccessibility issues in the context of UK Open Educational ResourcesProgrammeContentsIntroduction......................................................................................................................................................1 Overview of UK Open Educational Resources programme...........................................................................2First issue: Communities of practice.................................................................................................................2Second issue: Accessibility experts and novices...............................................................................................3Third issue: Incentives for developing accessible practice................................................................................5Interplay of three issues in the context of UK OER programme.......................................................................6 Accessibility expertise in the context of UK OER programme ......................................................................6 Channelling the communities of practice framework to develop OER expertise..........................................9 Incentives for embracing accessibility in the context of OERs....................................................................11Conclusion and recommendations.................................................................................................................12References......................................................................................................................................................12IntroductionThis paper has been adapted from an assignment submitted as part of Open University H810course “Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students” focuses on three issues taken upby Seale (2006) in her book “E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education”. These issues arediscussed in the context of my professional involvement in the UK-based Open EducationalResources (OER – I will be using this acronym as appropriate throughout the text) programme. Theissues identified are as follows: the relevance of communities of practice framework forsupporting accessibility in the context of OER programme, the transition of novice to expert and inparticular the related concept of accessibility “expertise” and finally the incentives for embeddingaccessible practice. I will start by providing a brief description of the UK OER programme and willthen introduce Seale’s approach to the three issues at hand, locating them within relevantacademic literature. I will then move on to a more detailed discussion of ways in which these threeissues impact on my own practice as well as ways in which they are connected. I will also exploresome of the potential tensions and contradictions. I will conclude by suggesting any relevantrecommendations stemming from my discussion of these three issues.Copyright Anna Gruszczynska, 2011. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ 1
  2. 2. Overview of UK Open Educational Resources programmeThe UK-wide OER programme was launched in April 2009 as collaboration between the HigherEducation Academy and Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), with funds provided by theHigher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE). This funding enables UK-based HigherEducation Institutions to explore cultural, technical and pedagogical issues involved in the OERdevelopment, discovery and use (JISC, 2010), where the definition of OERs adopted by theprogramme is as follows: …teaching and learning materials (…) freely available online for everyone to use, whether you are an instructor, student or self-learner (…) [these] resources [are] contained in digital media collections from around the world (JISC/HEA, 2010).In the pilot phase (2009 - 2010) 29 OER projects were supported, and in the second phase (2010 -2011), which runs from September 2010 to August 2011, a further 23 projects are being supportedto build on and expand the work of the pilot phase around the release of OER material (Rolfe,2011). I have been involved in both phases of the OER programme as a researcher on projectsundertaken by the Subject Centre for Sociology, Anthropology and Politics (“Evaluating the Practiceof Opening up Resources for Learning and Teaching in the Social Sciences” in the pilot phase andtwo projects in the second phase: “Cascading Social Science Open Educational Resources” and“Discovering Collections of Social Science Open Educational Resources”).First issue: Communities of practiceThe first issue to be covered in this paper is the adoption of the Communities of Practice (CoP)framework for analysing accessible e-Learning practice (Seale 2006). I will then focus on thepotential relevance of this framework for embedding accessibility within the OER programme.In her work, Seale relies on Wengers definition where a community of practice is defined as “agroup that coheres through ‘mutual engagement’ on an ‘indigenous’ (or appropriated) enterprise,and creating a common repertoire” (Wenger, 1998:125–126). Seale argues that within thisframework, accessibility could be viewed as a “shared enterprise” between different stakeholders,whom she identifies as students, lecturers, learning technologists, student support services, staffdevelopers and senior managers. All these stakeholders are jointly involved (to a varying extent) inre-negotiating meanings of accessible e-learning experience and developing accessible e-learningmaterial. They also share a similar institutional context and artefacts produced within that context,including legislation and guidelines as well as a sense of a shared history through engagement indebates related to legislative changes such as the introduction of SENDA (Special EducationalNeeds and Disability Act 2001 UK).In terms of possible synergies between the CoP framework and the OER movement, Yuan et al.argue that building and enhancing existing communities of practice is becoming an importantCopyright Anna Gruszczynska, 2011. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ 2
  3. 3. theme in OER initiatives (Yuan et al., 2008). On a related note, Burgos and Ramirez discuss theadvantages of taking the CoP framework as a starting point to developing OER initiatives in LatinAmerican context, where this framework allowed for better sharing of experiences of all partnersinvolved in the project (Burgos and Ramirez, 2010). I will argue later on that there is a similarprocess underway in the context of UK-based OER initiatives, where multiple stakeholders involvedin the programme are choosing to identify as communities of practice (see for instance Chin, 2010;Tiedau, 2010). Koohang and Harman argue that “promoting communities of practice is vital to thehealth and sustainability of OERs”, especially when it comes to long-term maintenance of OERsonce the project funding runs out (Koohang and Harman, 2007:541). As I will discuss later, thesefinancial concerns are also relevant when it comes to accessibility-related issues in the context ofUK OER programme. Finally, by definition, members of a community of practice have an interest ininterest in the creation or sharing of knowledge (Baily and Hendrickson, 2004). This notion isrelated to the second issue that I plan to discuss in this paper, namely the creation of accessibilityknowledge and expertise in the context of open educational resources.Second issue: Accessibility experts and novicesThe second issue to be covered in this paper focuses on Seale’s understanding of the transitionfrom “novice” to “expert” with regard to accessible e-learning practice. I am particularly interestedin the often contradictory constructions of “expertise” in the context of OER-related practice andwant to extend that discussion to exploring accessibility issues pertinent to OERs.In her development of a framework for the transition from an accessibility “novice” to an “expert”,Seale draws on Activity Theory (Seale, 2006). Within that framework, novices in an activity systemshould in time move on to becoming skilled performers who are capable of creating accessiblelearning materials. At the same time, Seale points out that despite this assumption, some expertswithin the accessible e-learning community view certain actions (such as for instance auditing awebsite) as too complicated to be grasped by novices, because the tasks might require high-leveltechnical skills or specialised knowledge. She goes on to ask whether “novices really becomeexperts when even the experts struggle” (Seale, 2006:168). As solution to that dilemma, proposesto develop a classification of actions according to their difficulty; complete with suggestions of“the best person for the job”, where the expertise would be strongly linked to one’s professionalposition (Seale, 2006:168). That is, she suggests that learning technologists would be best placedas accessibility experts. Overall, Seale embeds accessibility expertise within an institutionalframework and suggests that the skills differentiating experts from the novices consist in the abilityto interpret and apply relevant tools and guidelines.The notion of “expertise” as such is not problematized in the context of the UK OER programme;nevertheless, the concept is fundamental to the funding model. After all, an entire funding strandis devoted to cascading expertise developed in the pilot phase, where projects are funded toCopyright Anna Gruszczynska, 2011. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ 3
  4. 4. contextualise key OER lessons learnt as well as test and transfer OER models (JISC, 2011). Withinthat institutional context, an OER expert could be defined as anyone with prior formal involvementin the OER programme either as a member of the project team or a participating academicinstitution. These experts have been involved in developing toolkits and guidelines addressingissues involved in either creating OER material from scratch or turning a pre-existing resource intoan OER. These issues might include but are not limited to copyright, intellectual property,formatting or metadata; by extension that could also include accessibility considerations (Taylor,2010).At the same time, while a group of experts with considerable OER-related expertise has emergedin the context of UK OER programme, not to mention in the context of the wider, international OERmovement (ccLearn, 2009); there is a parallel trend where OERs are positioned within a paradigmthat blurs novice-expert relationships. After all, the existing toolkits developed in the context ofthe pilot phase emphasise that OER creation is a skill that can be easily mastered and within reachof all academic faculty (Thomson, 2010). Secondly, the digital technologies used to produce OERsare relatively freely available, such as presentation software or text editors (anecdotal evidencefrom my involvement on the project suggests that these two formats are most often adopted forproducing OERs). Furthermore, the skills involved in OER creation are positioned as within reach ofnot only academic staff but also students. For instance, the researchers on the ChemistryFMproject at University of Lincoln put forward the idea of a more collaborative approach to teachingand learning where students were encouraged to co-create OERs with staff (Winn, 2010).Thus OERs can be positioned as challenging traditionally the traditionally understood notion ofexpertise, and fundamentally changing the relationship between students and their institutions assources of expertise (Ferreira, 2009). At the same time, the vision of a world where everyone hasequal access to content creation tools as well as relevant skills to apply these tools to producingand repurposing OERs, is quite naïve. Importantly, it assumes that the experience of privileged few(predominantly English speaking, with a degree of formal education and unlimited access to latesttechnology and high-speed bandwidth etc.) is universal. Furthermore, it fails to acknowledge thebarriers experienced by students with disabilities whose access to online teaching resources can beproblematic. These problems might stem from poor design of the resource, its incompatibility withassistive technology or a more systemic lack of time to work online because so much of thestudent’s time is devoted to coping with disability-related issues (Seale et al., 2008).Regardless of the model adopted for the concept of accessibility-related expertise, furtherquestions remain about mechanisms of reward and recognition for transitioning from being anaccessibility novice to an expert. Thus, I will now move on to introduce the issue of incentives forembracing accessible e-learning practice.Copyright Anna Gruszczynska, 2011. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ 4
  5. 5. Third issue: Incentives for developing accessible practiceThe third issue to be covered in this paper focuses on the barriers and enablers to developing anaccessible practice. I am particularly keen to explore factors which might motivate OER creatorsand re-users to embed accessibility within their teaching materials.Seale introduces two kinds of incentives for developing accessible e-learning, the business caserationale and a human rights framework. In terms of the business case, she points to arguments ofscholars such as North (1993) that organisations will be more likely to invest in developingaccessibility-related infrastructure, skills and knowledge if they believe this will increase theircompetitiveness on the market (Seale, 2006). In the context of recent changes in UK highereducation funding and the perspective of trebling education fees (Stratton, 2010), institutionsmight have to compete for their students. Thus, perhaps one of the ways to create a marketableniche would be to develop a reputation as an university which puts a premium on accessible e-learning in order to bring in new customers and/or avoid excluding existing ones (Jacobs, 2005).Furthermore, Seale mentions the work of authors such as Sloan et al. (2000) who point to thepotentially global market share of customers with disabilities and once again, in the future UKhigher institutions might seek to market themselves as institutions particularly well suited toaccommodate international students with disabilities. Seale argues that the business case fordeveloping accessibility seems to be stronger than when accessibility is framed solely in terms ofhuman rights or civil rights issues, adding that “justice and rights on their own do not appear to bepowerful enough reasons for most organizations to change their practices” (Seale, 2006:146).While I have not been able to identify academic literature exploring specifically the incentives forcreating accessible OERs, some parallels can be drawn from the discussions on barriers andenablers for open education. As Littlejohn et al. point out, many of the UK OER pilot programmeprojects had to devote substantial time and effort explaining the benefits of OER release both toindividual academics and their institutions (Littlejohn et al., 2010a). The business case for OpenEducational resources assumes that these materials will allow the institution to showcase highquality teaching resources and thus potentially increase its reputation on an international scale(Nikoi 2010). Other institutional benefits might include a more cost-efficient approach to producingteaching materials, as staff would no longer have to duplicate teaching resources but instead couldshare them effectively across different departments, especially when it comes to more genericresources such as study skills or research methods (Littlejohn et al., 2010b). At the same time,some academics do express concerns that OERs meant giving knowledge “away for free” and thatengaging in the OER programme could possibly weaken the institutional distance educationdegrees and even more worryingly, undermine the unique nature of individual universities (Nikoi,2010). In light of these concerns, it would be understandable that institutions might be reluctant toinvest additional resources to ensure that any OERs produced meet relevant accessibilityrequirements. I will address that concern further when I discuss the relevance of this issue to myprofessional practice.Copyright Anna Gruszczynska, 2011. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ 5
  6. 6. Further incentives are embedded within the ethos of open education, where OERs are seen as away of reaching out to students who for a number of reasons have been excluded from or find itproblematic to access mainstream and formal educational institutions (Lane, 2008). By definition,OERs are free at point of access and thus might be a way addressing gaps within the curriculumwhere local infrastructure does not allow to create and/or deliver courses which are needed(Altbach et al., 2009). Thus, if OERs are designed to empower students and help them overcomebarriers to education, by extension, these teaching resources should be free of barriers in therealm of accessibility. However, the rhetoric of open education does not mean that there are nobarriers in terms of access to OERs (Wilson, 2008), some of which I already touched upon earlierwhen discussing the models of OER expertise. Finally, related to Seale’s discussion of the humanrights framework as an often inadequate incentive to developing accessible e-learning practice, theethos of openness might prove insufficient to sustain accessible e-learning practice and relegate itto the realm of good intentions only.Interplay of three issues in the context of UK OER programmeThe remainder of this paper will focus on the ways in which the three issues identified above – thatis, the relevance of the communities of practice framework, accessibility-related expertise and theincentives for developing accessible practice - are manifested in the context of the UK OERprogramme. I will also focus on connections as well as contradictions between these issues as wellas ways in which they impact on my practice, drawing mostly on examples from my involvement inthe project, as well as relevant examples from the wider, international OER movement.Accessibility expertise in the context of UK OER programmeIn the context of the UK OER programme, accessibility issues are mentioned already within thefunding call for the pilot phase, where it is stated that: [A]ll resources including the project web site [should] meet good practice standards and guidelines pertaining to the media in which they are produced, for example HTML resources should be produced to W3C html 4.01 strict (http://www.w3.org/TR/1999/REC- html401-19991224/) and use W3C WAI guidelines to double A conformance (http://www.w3.org/WAI/WCAG1AA-Conformance). Further advice and guidance is available from the JISC TechDis Service (HEA/JISC, 2008).The funding call for the second phase repeats the above message more or less verbatim and sofrom the very beginning, there is an emphasis within the programme on accessibility standards aswell as an indication of where any necessary guidance, and by implications relevant experts, canbe found. At the same time, it is quite telling that accessibility is not explicitly mentioned withinthe OER Programme Technical Requirements which focus on content, metadata and deliveryCopyright Anna Gruszczynska, 2011. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ 6
  7. 7. platform standards (Campbell, 2009). Neither are accessibility issues addressed with regard todepositing resources into JorumOpen, even though it is mandatory for all the projects to use thisparticular platform (the use of other repositories is optional). Even more worryingly, according tothe information released by the JorumOpen support team, the repository platform interface hasnot been tested for any accessibility standards (Siminson, 2010). This is an issue of concern as pastthe point of the deposit into a repository, the creator/depositor of the resource is no longer incontrol of the environment in which the resource is downloaded, re-used or re-purposed. Thus,even though the resource might have been designed in a way which meets best practice guidelineswith regard to accessibility requirements, it will essentially become inaccessible if deposited into arepository which fails to meet accessibility standards.Interestingly enough, accessibility issues do get mentioned in documents created after completionof the pilot phase of the programme, and I will now discuss pilot phase project reports as well asthe OER infokit which pulls together lessons learnt from those pilot projects. I will specifically focuson what those documents say about the notion of expertise as well as what can be gleaned fromthem with regard to possible incentives to developing accessible OERs.Overall, within the pilot programme accessibility was positioned within the realm of goodintentions which were frequently thwarted by lack of necessary resources in terms of staff time orproject funding. A number of projects implied that producing fully accessible resources – whichwould involve for instance providing transcripts for video material deposited into JorumOpen- wasfinancially beyond their reach (Pearce, 2010; Savoia, 2010). It is not clear from these reports atwhich point in the workflow accessibility issues came into play – was accessibility ever a concern atthe outset of the project or was it merely an afterthought once the resources were pretty muchready to be deposited into JorumOpen? On a related note, one of the key messages of the pilotprogramme which kept recurring throughout the final reports but also general guidance materialsproduced in the context of the programme was that retrofitting was to be avoided. Openness as anafterthought was costly and time consuming and so designing with openness from the verybeginning was much preferable (Littlejohn et al., 2010c). By extension, embedding accessibilitywithin the process of repurposing OERs at the start of the projects most certainly would havehelped cut the costs down, and I believe that this is where the need for OER-specific guidance andexpertise is perhaps most urgent.Accessibility issues are also addressed within the OER infokit, a wiki-based resource produced onthe basis of pilot phase project outputs (JISC/HEA, 2010). The infokit reflects once again problemsconnected with lack of OER-specific guidance and the construction of accessibility expertise asequivalent to access to relevant guidelines. Anyone attempting to use the infokit will first bepresented with a tag cloud representing various issues of relevance to the programme (for instancestandards, licensing, terminology etc.). The words within the cloud are of different sizes, forCopyright Anna Gruszczynska, 2011. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ 7
  8. 8. instance the key stakeholders “jisc” (i.e. Joint Information Systems Committee) and “academy” (i.e.Higher Education Academy) are in much larger font than the surrounding words. Interestinglyenough, accessibility is one of the words represented in larger font size, perhaps to symbolise itsimportance to the programme. The actual content, however, is quite disappointing as the users areonly presented with links to accessibility guidance and a generic statement claiming that“individuals and, in particular, institutions releasing OER material need to be aware of relevantaccessibility issues, which should be a consideration at the very start of the design process”(Belshaw, 2010). There is no mention, however, of how that statement could be translated intoactual practice and how to gain the necessary skills and knowledge to reach a more advanced levelof accessibility awareness.There is an implicit expectation, though, that these skills could be gained by following the offeredlinks to JISC TechDis guidance to best practices in creating accessible teaching materials as well asthe Xerte Online Toolkit, an Open Source content creation tool that enables non-technical staff tocreate teaching resources with high levels of accessibility built in. Within this particular approachto developing accessibility-related expertise, “novices” coming to the wiki are signposted to acollection of links and are expected not only to familiarise themselves with the informationcontained there but also act upon it. I find this approach deeply problematic on the basis of myexperiences of providing support to partners involved in the OER projects. in that context, I havedealt with queries from quite often senior academics who would struggle with rather simple taskssuch as opening a zipped file when downloading materials from JorumOpen or using slightly moreadvanced functionality of the Office suite. It is quite a leap to assume that the same partnerswould be capable of acting on information contained in the above-mentioned accessibilityguidelines and interpreting it in light of issues raised by OERs. Seale stresses herself that merelyoffering links is not an adequate solution as the instructions for developing accessible materialscan be quite complex and time-consuming (Seale, 2008) and time is precisely what the academicsdo not have in great abundance. In fact, one of the main complaints coming from the academicpartners formally involved in the OER programme was the lack of time to devote to the projects,and so it would be unrealistic to expect them to spend time following links to accessibilityguidelines and figuring out on their own how to make their teaching resources more accessible.One of the ways to tackle that problem would be to promote more widely tools such as theAccessibility Passport which would allow time-poor academics could save time while creatingaccessible OERs. Importantly, the Accessibility Passport is self-contained, freely available andportable, since the link to it is carried within the learning resource and so would be clearlyidentifiable to any re-users of the resource. Rather than make creators of the resource follow arigid checklist, the Passport is an interactive tool which offers feedback to the creators of learningresources on the effectiveness and inclusivity of their materials.Copyright Anna Gruszczynska, 2011. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ 8
  9. 9. I will now discuss a recent change to the OER programme in terms of provision of accessibilitysupport, as recently the programme management have created a new role of a dedicatedaccessibility advisor. I will draw on the communication from the accessibility advisor to the projectteams in order to demonstrate attempts at embedding accessibility expertise within thecommunities of practice framework, thus demonstrating further interplays of issues identified inthe context of this paper.Channelling the communities of practice framework to develop OER expertiseThe brief of the JISC TechDis advisor is to provide co-ordinated support for the projects and one ofthe ways in which that will happen is through workshops at programme-wide meetings.Unfortunately, the first such meeting takes place at the end of January and I am unable to includeany relevant information in this paper; instead, I will rely on e-mail communication between theadvisor and project teams.On the basis of e-mails received so far, the approach of the advisor will be to support the projectsto make the outputs as accessible as possible with a ‘reasonable adjustments’ approach, so thataccessible practice becomes forethought rather than an afterthought and potentially expensiveretrofitting is avoided. As I have discussed earlier, this is well within the recommendations from thepilot phase. I will argue, though, that the approach of the current advisor contains a novel elementwhereby accessibility expertise will emerge through the CoP framework, as demonstrated by thefollowing quote: I would like to compile a separate “story” of accessibility issues raised and tackled by each project to feed back into the final reporting processes as we go (...). With this in mind I would initially recommend that when you update the programme through your personal / project blogs, please use the tags “accessibility” + “ukoer” (and similar hashtags in twitter; #accessibility + #ukoer) to enable me to gather them. I would like you to add me to your social networks and share experience back to the OER programme (McAndrew, 2010).This email message draws attention to the widespread use of social networking tools by theprojects and the multi-faceted ways in which project teams disseminate information about theirprogress. For instance, my own project duties include writing two blogs for each of the secondphase project, maintaining project wikis as well as dedicated Twitter, slideshare and deliciousaccounts. The use of Web2.0 tools goes beyond merely sending out information about events andblogging posts about project milestones, though. I believe there is a palpable sense of an engagedcommunity which incorporates all project teams involved within the programme, interestedscholars, bloggers and consultants and to an extent the wider international OER community. Asmentioned earlier, the use of the CoP term is widespread by those involved in the UK OERprogramme. The term is applied to embrace a very diverse body of stakeholders from differentbackgrounds (higher/further education institutions, subject centres, professional associations, theCopyright Anna Gruszczynska, 2011. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ 9
  10. 10. student body) involved in the joint enterprise of developing open educational resources andexploring the meanings of openness (Chin, 2010; Tiedau, 2010).The fact that the accessibility advisor is making references to the use of Web 2.0 tools by projectteams is also significant in terms of the reification process, since as Wenger (1998) emphasized,different forms of reification at the organizational level help sustain the energy and help build thecollective sense of identity as a group. Lee et al., writing about a volunteer community oftranslators who formed around an OpenCourseWare education initiative, argue that the electronicforum that the group used offered a space for sharing ideas and providing mutual support andthus served as a channel of reification (Lee et al., 2007). This way, the wider web-based communityformed around the OER programme might help support enthusiasm about open education.Potentially, it might also incentivise project teams to embrace a higher awareness of accessibilityand convince them to work towards higher levels of expertise.Furthermore, Schwen and Hara mention that communities of practice foster the articulation of“everyday problems of dilemmas of practice” (Schwen and Hara, 2003:167). This is precisely how Ihave attempted to share some of my own professional dilemmas related to producing accessibleand open teaching resources. For instance, I used a revised version of my first assignment on theH810 course as a basis for a blog post on accessibility issues relevant to the OER programme(Gruszczynska, 2010) and also relied on Twitter to publicise that post. I will similarly adapt andopenly publish (that is, under a Creative Commons license) my second course assignmentshowcasing the process of making an OER accessible; finally, I plan to do re-use this assignment tohopefully contribute to the development of accessibility-related OER expertise. In particular, Ibelieve that posting my account of developing an accessible online resource will address some ofthe gaps with regard to lack of OER-specific guidance. Furthermore, as Seale (2006) notes, amongthe artefacts produced by e-learning experts it is really rare to find actual examples of accessibleresources and so ideally, as a long-term project I would be interested in convincing otherparticipants on the course to share their own accounts of creating accessible learning resources asOERs. Importantly, these case studies could help accommodate the diverse needs of OER “novices”searching for OER-specific accessibility guidance. That is, in the context of my involvement with theOER programme I am dealing with novices who are academics coming to a new emergingtechnology. Their needs will be different from lecturers who have no formal involvement in any ofthe OER projects but are seeking to broaden their teaching repertoire and are for instanceinterested in resources on a particular topic. At the other end of the spectrum there are self-learners (Attwood, 2009) outside of formal educational institutions who might be interested inOERs for the purposes of professional development or personal enjoyment. Theoretically, all ofthem could go beyond simply accessing OERs from a repository and might be interested in OERcreation, re-use and re-mixing; as I have discussed throughout this paper, accessibility issues are ofparamount concern to these processes. These case studies might also help raise awareness aboutthe variety of accessibility issues which are inherent to OERs, where the main difficulty seems toCopyright Anna Gruszczynska, 2011. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ 10
  11. 11. be that the creator of the resource has to design the material without knowing the context of theusers of the resource. This links with some of the questions I posed earlier, namely, if creatingaccessible OERs requires altering existing practice, what are the incentives to implement thesechanges?Incentives for embracing accessibility in the context of OERsAs I have mentioned earlier, OERs in general raise a number of concerns and the idea of openeducation can mean going beyond the comfort zone for a number of academics. A significantproportion of the academics I have worked with were concerned about their materials being onlyhalf-finished and not “good enough” and feared opening themselves to public scrutiny. Others feltuncomfortable with the idea of giving knowledge “away for free” and in the process underminingthe rationale for their own continued employment. Yet others were anxious about the time-commitment needed to make the resources truly open. Thus a number of concerns have to beaddressed in order to incentivise academic staff to begin to embrace the idea of open educationalresources. Therefore, even further incentives will be needed to broach the subject of making theseresources fully accessible as that might require an additional investment in terms of time andfinancial resources. On the one hand, OERs are embedded within the ethos of open education andopen access, where, as its advocates argue with regard to accessibility “the spirit of Open Accessurges us to remove educational barriers wherever we can” (OpenCourseWare Consortium, n.d.).On the other hand, I believe that it is not really possible to clearly separate the business caseincentives from incentives based on the ethos of open education as these two are intertwined.While as discussed before, most OER projects focused on the accessibility cost incurred by theinstitution and its academics, in the long-term perspective OERs could actually spread this burdenamong many individuals and many institutions. Positive approaches towards accessibility couldeasily be shared between creators of open content and its re-users, since OER, by definition, areamenable to different solutions, engineered by whoever has the appropriate expertise (Bissell,2009). Since OERs are easily customisable and are released under licenses which allow re-mixing,re-use and re-purposing (Caswell et al., 2008), the freedom to improve and adapt could beextended to making materials more accessible. Furthermore there is no need to incur extrapermission costs or pay royalties for adaptations to ensure accessibility (Vollmer, 2010). Finally, thebusiness case for producing accessible OERs might be helped by the fact that open education isone of the few areas where funding will continue to be available, since the provision of OERs hasbeen identified as one of the priority areas for Higher Education Academy (HEA, 2010). Hopefully,the declarations of continued support for OERs will also include an emphasis on the provision ofaccessible teaching resources and the next section will offer some recommendations on makingthat happen as well as concluding remarks.Copyright Anna Gruszczynska, 2011. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ 11
  12. 12. Conclusion and recommendationsThis paper has focused on ways in which the three issues identified in the context of Seale’s (2006)set book are of relevance to accessible e-learning practice in the context of open educationalresources. I have reflected on the impact of the communities of practice framework, accessibilityexpertise and incentives in the context of my professional involvement in the UK OER programme.On the basis of my discussion, I would like to make the following recommendations: - There is a strong need to produce OER-specific guidelines, including, but not limited to accessibility guidance on producing, repurposing and depositing open educational resources. Importantly, since the use of the JorumOpen repository platform interface is mandated by the UK OER programme, the repository team need to come up with a clear statement regarding accessibility standards - Tools such as the Accessibility Passport and the Xerte Online Toolkit should be promoted more widely within the OER programme, as they do not require high levels of technical expertise. Furthermore, they enable users to create teaching materials where accessibility is embedded from the very beginning of the content creation process and so costly retrofitting can be avoided - Finally, there is a need to develop case studies showcasing the process of creating accessible OERs (including actual model examples of accessible resources) in order to illustrate ways in which the needs of diverse types of learners and users of OERs can be met. The case studies would help raise awareness about accessible e-learning practice and ideally would include recommendations for subject matter experts as well as OER support staff.ReferencesAltbach, Philip G., Liz Reisberg, and Laura E. Rumbley. Trends in Global Higher Education: Tracking an Academic Revolution. A Report Prepared for the Unesco 2009 World Conference on Higher Education. Paris: UNESCO, 2009Attwood, Rebecca. "Get It out in the Open." (2009). http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?storycode=408300 [accessed 11 January 2011].Baily, Teresa, and Susan Hendrickson. "How to Grow a Community of Practice. The Jpl Information Providers Network." Information Outlook 8, no. 1 (2004): 12-15.Belshaw, Doug. "Accessibility Considerations." (2010). https://openeducationalresources.pbworks.com/w/page/25029246/Accessibility- considerations [accessed 13 January 2011].Bissell, Ahrash. "Access and Accessibility." (2009). http://www.slideshare.net/ahrashb/ocwc- global-2009-access-to-oer-panel [accessed 11 October 2010].Copyright Anna Gruszczynska, 2011. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 UK: England & Wales http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/uk/ 12
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