Access2OER:5 Solutions Criteria
Early in the discussion participants made a number of general comments and recommendations regarding criteria that potential access solutions would need to satisfy. The recommendations build on the idea of a super-accessible OER, as discussed during the first week.
The following recommendations outline criteria that ideally should be met by or incorporated into all solutions, or that embody best practice.
- 1 5.1 The importance of good design
- 2 5.2 The need for flexible formats
- 3 5.3 The need for good metadata and other solutions to help users find OER
- 4 5.4 The need for practical solutions to overcome bandwidth restraints
- 5 5.5 Using students to assist with network administration
- 6 5.6 Developing awareness-raising strategies
- 7 5.7 Rethinking models for OER production and funding
- 8 5.8 Rethinking education
1 5.1 The importance of good design
Access requirements should be built into delivery mechanisms, etc. right from the start:
|Quote image||We need to make sure that the educational delivery mechanisms and the authoring tools for creating the content or curriculum have the necessary supports for integrated accessible design. Special, separate accommodations for language or accessibility needs are not sustainable and are vulnerable to marginalization when other priorities arise. It is very difficult to retrofit delivery systems or content for accessibility. The precarious values of accessibility and internationalization must be considered from the start and integrated into the general approach.|
One concern is the separation of logically separate elements, such as form and presentation:
|Quote image||Digital resources and tools are adaptable or plastic, transformable and much more capable of handling modularization. You create a core system that is extensible and amenable to reconfiguration. This means concrete and simple things like keeping the text intended for the user separate from the code so that it can be translated without needing to touch the code in an application, or keeping the formatting separate from the content and structure in curriculum so you can change the presentation for different devices or someone who is visually impaired. You have to do this from the start or you will be starting over or sticking on strange untenable appendages to address the barriers you didn't think of. Inclusive design need not look any different from any other design, it is just more flexible and therefore also more sustainable and easier to update.|
There are a number of projects that give a powerful practical demonstration of what can be achieved with good design and a little thought:
- The WAI authoring tool guidelines provide a good example of how to support web content authors to create accessible content, even if they are not knowledgeable - or particularly motivated - about accessibility.
- The work on the popular Dojo and JQuery software development toolkits shows how accessibility supports can be built into the building blocks of software applications and educational delivery systems.
- The translation packs of the ATutor Learning Management System, which is translated by volunteers around the world into more than 36 languages a few weeks after each release, show how integrated support can help us achieve a very challenging goal.
- The international Fluid Project demontrates that solving accessibility and diversity problems can benefit all users.
- Large international collaborations like the Raising the Floor initiative or the AEGIS project show how multi-sector collaborations can create an integrated approach to this complex challenge.
- In the UK, Techdis has done some useful work to show that technology can overcome barriers (speaking web pages, Braille printers, and so on).
2 5.2 The need for flexible formats
It is important that OER uses flexible formats that can be transformed easily:
|Quote image||The best OER example of a small technical innovation with potential impact is the WikiEducator and Wikimedia Foundation collaboration to produce customised print collections from a collection of wiki pages. This makes it possible for learners to access the largest free knowledge base in the world without the need for connectivity! (We have some examples here: http://www.wikieducator.org/WikiPublishing#How_It_Works).
This innovation has established the foundations for the development of an open document format export using the same technology. In effect this means that educators around the world will be able to download OER collections and work offline adapting and modyfing content using a free software word processor!
3 5.3 The need for good metadata and other solutions to help users find OER
Metadata standards should be established to make it easier to find, index and search resources:
|Quote image||One issue that we discover last year working with the project Knowledge Hub in Mexico (see OER stories/Knowledge Hub) is that many projects that provides open courses (CourseWare), and resources (OER) do not follow a consensus standard to publish basic metadata of the resources (i.e. Dublin Core, SCORM); while some sources provide at least 5-8 elements of data others only provides 2 or 3 elements of data making difficult to index this resources to facilitate access to faculty and students.
Considering theses barriers we encounter several difficulties finding the resources, documenting and classifying the resources to filtering them in a reliable way through a single search engine (http://khub.itesm.mx/).
If the projects or consortiums define a basic structure of metadata to publish their CourseWares or Resources like OER will be a lot more easy to find, index and search.
Standardised metadata would make it easier to find resources. But there is also a need to think about the sort of metadata that would be most useful to educators and learners:
|Quote image||In the project of Knowledge Hub in Mexico (http://khub.itesm.mx/) we started thinking in the needs of the teachers in the classroom and theirs needs to improve educational practice, foster a better learning environment and enrich their courses with OERs to reach different learning styles. So we include in the index process of our database basic metadata like for example "Observations" for the use of the resource in classroom, "Benefits" of the resource for students and teachers in terms of didactic use, "Learning Resource Type" to help filtering materials that adjust to the local needs, and "Installation remarks" to aware of technical requirements to provide the most information to the final user that requires to adopt that resource in the local learning environment.|
Participants also suggested technical solutions to make it easier to publish and aggregate resources:
|Quote image||I was thinking that one thing that would be really nice is if all OER platforms and OERs could talk to each other and interact through tags and categories/plugins. Wordpress users for instance have access to all posts and have suggestions on what to read that might relate to the subject.
If one could invent some sort of OER plugin or widget that any of us could install on OS platforms (+ blogs and wikis) and activate it with a special tag every time we create material and decide to make it OER, then this resource would stay with us and also be automatically sent to more centralized platforms.
Participants shared links to the following sites, which can help users discover resources:
- Knowledge Hub (UNESCO OER Community story);
- Open Archives Initiative;
- Universia OCW (search engine through RSS feeds);
- OpenCourseWare Consortium;
- OPML feed for OCW initiatives.
4 5.4 The need for practical solutions to overcome bandwidth restraints
4.1 5.4.1 Use of mirror sites
"Mirroring" refers to duplicating OER materials from the main site (such as a website) to a "mirror site", which may be another website, or a local repository that may or may not be connected to the internet:
|Quote image||If we are able to select the best quality materials we can send them in hard drives and promote that new materials are also downloaded and centralized in a local server, so that bandwith access to these are only limited to the local network. It may seem un-technological but it's fast and easy, and can be used on a short term basis. It should be a temporary solution, but it's similar to the idea of mirroring web sites for faster regional access.|
4.2 5.4.2 External hosting to overcome South-North bandwidth restraints
There are a number of web-based services that can be useful to institutions that have little bandwidth and/or face high costs of internet connectivity. For instance:
- WikiEducator is a wiki that can be used to store educational content, or to act as a platform for project coordination;
- YouTube can be used to host videos without cost to the provider; and
- the hosted version of WordPress can be used to build basic websites and blogs.
|Story Image||Use of WordPress at the UNESCO ICTP workshop on rich media streaming
Participants of the UNESCO Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) workshop on rich media streaming, held in December 2007, reported good success in working with WordPress. For a limited website, there is no cost to the individual setting up the site, either for storing the content or for bandwidth. When the user outgrows the facilities provided by the basic site additional space can be purchased, or the content can be migrated to a stand-alone installation elsewhere. The system is thus suitable for a soft start (at no cost) and, if facilities improve (e.g. at a university in a developing country), the system can be rehosted by the institution itself. A disadvantage of WordPress is that it does not generate particularly bandwidth-friendly websites. The administration interface also requires good bandwidth. Similar services are available from other providers, so prospective users should get an overview and try different systems before committing.
5 5.5 Using students to assist with network administration
A well-running network is of crucial importance to being able to use OER efficiently. We shouldn't assume that current ways of resourcing this are the only possible solutions:
|Quote image||True, network administration training is important and has to involve the teaching staff and students. Practical experience has shown that where staff loss is high students are a useful resource and can help in keeping the running ICT infrastructure running. So the curriculum has to be changed to answer to needs of the university as well.|
6 5.6 Developing awareness-raising strategies
Any solution needs to have a dissemination strategy. The issue of awareness raising is particularly important for OER since it is such a new development:
|Quote image||What strategies can be looked in raising the awareness?
7 5.7 Rethinking models for OER production and funding
It should not be assumed that the way OER is created and used today is the best - or only - possible way. Some rethinking of OER funding efforts, in particular, may be needed, if the OER movement is to grow beyond donor-funded initiatives principally in developed countries:
- participative, collaborative OER production across the digital/economic divide;
- sharing of OER tools and technologies, rather than just content (cf. discussion on OER toolkit);
- funding opportunities for institutions in developing countries to develop OER initiatives of their own.
The following quote (also used in the section on access issues) underlines this final point:
|Quote image||One key obstacle to African participation in OER has been the lack of funding. The most successful international OER projects have all received substantive grants, often in the Millions of US$, to create the infrastructure and capacity to publish educational resources openly. It is not possible for African universities, given the lack of capacity and resources mentioned by others, to fully participate in this movement without financial support.|
OER production models - particularly collaborative models - can also influence methods of working, teaching and learning elsewhere in an institution. Course content, for example, can be made available through a wiki, with contributions both from students and faculty/trainers. Through an approved revisions system, faculty/trainers can still indicate the official versions, without stopping students from contributing and producing potentially high quality content. With suitable guidance, students can produce high quality content, as exemplified by BlueSci, a student-produced popular science magazine.
8 5.8 Rethinking education
Finally, building on the comment from the Knowledge Hub team member about education-specific metadata, it is important to consider the educational framework in which resources are being used:
|Quote image||I think that there are a few critical success factors for the evolution of next-generation education: