January 2011 Archives

On Friday, a small group of faculty and staff attended this webinar sponsored by Education Technology Services (ETS). The presenters were Kristen Betts and Jenny Dugger, both from Drexel University. While the focus was on students with disabilities, we quickly realized a few things, and wondered about a few others:
  • A high number of disabled students do not self-identify with our Office of Disability Services, but are still in our classes trying to learn.
  • Some barriers to self-identification include the cost of acceptable tests and the mound of paperwork required. The burden is quite great.
  • By proactively designing our courses to be accessible, we could be impacting the learning for many more of our students than we might realize.
  • Are we doing enough to increase students' awareness of the resources available to them (syllabi, marketing, etc.)?
  • What happens when accommodations are simply a part of our course design, and not something special we need to do differently or retrofit?
  • Does our definition of disability include the barriers WE create?
So, what might Universal Design mean for our work in designing courses (online and face-to-face)? A list of guidelines and best practices culled from Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) was provided that gives us a great starting point.
  1. Text Alternatives: Use text alternatives for any non-text content (i.e., images).
  2. Adaptable: Create content that can be presented in different ways.
  3. Distinguishable: Clearly differentiate between elements (i.e., separate foreground and background - contrast).
  4. Keyboard Accessible: Users should be able to navigate everything from a keyboard.
  5. Enough time: Provide enough time to complete tasks.
  6. Seizures: Do not design content in a way that is known to cause seizures (i.e., flashing lights).
  7. Readable: Text needs to be readable and understandable.
  8. Predictable: Consistency helps with navigation.
  9. Input Assistance: Be proactive in avoiding and correcting mistakes.
  10. Compatible: Able to use with assistive technologies and other agents.
These are all great reminders for designers, and are guidelines that benefit all learners.

Additional resources:
7 Principles of Universal Design, from Sloan
Dr. Sean Zdenek's Accessible Rhetoric Blog
National Center for Universal Design for Learning
List of assistive technologies

Open Educational Resources (OER)

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Earlier this week I attended a Sloan-C webinar on this topic. Phil Moss, Director of Educational Partnerships & Planning for MERLOT, was the presenter. He described books as "exclusive, rival goods" meaning that if I have it, then you cannot. On the other hand, "open" digitized materials can be available to everyone all the time. "Open" can refer to open source, open educational resources (OER), opencourseware (OCW), open textbooks, and open access journals.

He provided several different definitions and attributes for OER. The OER Commons defines these open resources as teaching and learning materials that you may freely use and reuse, without charge. This free access is included in most of the definitions, as is the concept of use and reuse. One attribute Phil talked about was the order/chaos in OER, and you can read more about that hereDavid Wiley also mentions the 4 Rs of OER as reuse, revise, remix, and redistribution.

While I was already familiar with a number of OER websites, I was surprised to learn of a few that were new to me. I have shared the complete list below. The list is unbelievably long, which I consider a barrier to someone new to OER and considering a search for course resources. So, my suggestion is to start small. To those just beginning, I would recommend MERLOT and Connexions because of their peer-reviewed (MERLOT) and endorsed (Connexions) content. I also like MIT OCW. You must also check out Creative Commons, because that is a site that is also great to share with your students for finding content that has been licensed to be shared. Select one or two and conduct your search. I'd be interested in what you find and decide to use!
Here's the list:
OER Commons - Begun in 2007 with support from the Hewlett Foundation, it is multidisciplinary and multilevel. Resources are grouped by subject areas and grade levels.
Connexions - This was started at Rice and is licensed under Creative Commons. You can find or create content here, but an account is needed to create.
MERLOT - Begun within the CA State University System, it provides peer-reviewed online teaching and learning materials. You can browse by collection or visit a discipline community.
Curriki - The name is a combination of Curriculum and Wiki, and is focused on K-12.
NSDL -  The National Science Digital Library is funded by NSF. Most of its resources are free, but some are fee-based.
MIT OpenCourseWare (MIT OCW) - There are 2000 courses there now, including almost all of MIT's course content including lecture notes, exams, and videos.
Open Courseware Consortium -  As a consortium, membership includes higher education institutions and other assorted organizations. It has over 4,000 courses, a community, and a toolkit.
The Orange Grove - This is an example of a statewide repository, and is Florida's digital repository funded through their state legislature. It contains open resources for a closed audience.
Open Course Library - This is an initiative by Washington State that has taken 81 high enrolling courses for which they are sharing and providing common resources.
College Open Textbooks - Funded by the Hewlett Foundation, this site provides peer-reviews of open textbooks.
Affordable Learning Solutions - In a nutshell, this California State University project is designed to help faculty find course content to replace high-priced textbooks and make their students' education more affordable.
Creative Commons (CC) - No discussion of OER would be complete without mentioning Creative Commons. You can search for digitized content that has been licensed to be shared, and can create your own license for content you want to share.

One more that wasn't mentioned in the webinar:
National Repository of Online Courses (NROC) - A project of the Monterey Institute that includes multimedia content for online courses.

New one added 3/11/11:
Free Learning Objects - A wiki assembled by Learning Technology Services at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. It focuses primarily on rich media, including photos, videos, animations, and music files.