What is ‘Open’ about Open Educational Objects (OERs)?

I recently attended a inter-university forum: Open education and the future of publishing models. Nic Suzor from QUT School of Law was host and the venue was QUT. Following are my notes from one part of the proceedings and a reflection on my own early experience of creating OERs.

So, at the forum folk from Open Educational Licensing (OEL) spoke to us about three elements that describe ‘Open.’

  1. Open copyright:  The resource is licensed with one of a number of Creative Commons (or similar) licenses that allows sharing. The license and conditions are clearly displayed. Such licenses also describe whether remixing is allowed and attribution to the original author is required.
  2. Technological openness: The resource is built and used with readily (perhaps freely) available software so that technological issues do not restrict access to the resource. Files may be read, or  manipulated without access to boutique software programs. The object does not require excessive bandwidth for likely audiences.
  3. Accessibility: The object can be used by differently abled audiences. They are captioned where needed, and able to be navigated sensibly by screen readers.

I have had experience being tripped up by the second and third elements in a project designed to replace some dated academic skills information with digital learning objects. My team was encouraged to exploit a variety of new digital tools to present the information in more engaging and preferably interactive formats. However, we ran into a number of issues.

  • Folk created their objects with personal accounts in infographic software programs: Canva and similar. When one of the team left the project, the remaining members had no way to change any of the elements in the infographic, as they did not have access to the original files.
  • Also, we discovered that infographic files are incomprehensible to folk using screen readers. So we had to supplement these learning objects with a text version in PDF (which looked a lot like the material we were updating).
  • The interactive tutorial software: *Articulate Storyline, was also not able to be comprehended via screen readers. Again, those tutorials were supplemented by text or PowerPoint documents, and these were not interactive.
  • To circumvent these issues, many of the ‘create’ team reverted to PowerPoint. This worked well, but we did have to learn how to make a PowerPoint slide accessible to those with a screen reader by ensuring the text boxes are ordered correctly and the images are captioned in a way that adds meaning to someone with vision impairment.

What would I do differently now when designing an OER?  I would use backwards planning. I would start by ascertaining exactly who the clients are and what their needs may be across the full description of ‘open.’  And my research on software would always include information on accessibility. I would then be able to consider how the information needs of our diverse clientele might best be met, not just from a pedagogical point of view, but also from a more full understanding of the concept of ‘open.’ Such planning should allow me to create OERs that are truly open for all of our clients.

 *Articulate have since launched a new product that they claim is accessible to users with screen readers.

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