SCOOP: Inclusive Design in OER; Best Practices for Accessibility and Diversity/
September 09, 2021
When creating open educational resources (OER), essential considerations are (1) is the OER accessible and usable for learners with diverse needs and (2) does the OER accurately portray and include underrepresented or diverse cultures and perspectives? These considerations must also be addressed by applicants seeking funding through the Atla OER Grant Program. Therefore, to assist those who are creating OER or who may be applying for an Atla OER Grant, we present the following steps and recommendations adapted from The OER Starter Kit, (CC-BY) an open access field guide to creating OER.
Accessibility is closely tied to usability; exemplary OER embody best practices of web design and ensure that content is readable and works as intended for all users. Universal design is a framework often applied in web design but when reframed as universal design for learning, it improves the accessibility of OER. The following are means for ensuring universal design, and by extension accessibility, for learning objects such as OER:
Software and File Formats
- Choose open file formats such as HTML, ePUB, RTF, XML, PDF, and Markdown. By making OER available in open file formats, you are giving students options for accessing course content on whatever platform best meets their needs.
- Check whether the software that students will use to view your OER enables use of the accessibility features native to their computers’ operating systems. Some software used to create or display content disable these accessibility features.
- Additional questions to consider:
- Is the software used to view the OER compatible with most assistive devices?
- Does the software require point and click interaction to work properly, or does it accommodate assistive keyboard shortcuts?
- Can the software menus be “seen” and properly interpreted by screen readers?
Image and Text Readability
Whenever you are presenting content to students, it’s important to check whether the text in the OER is recognizable to a computer or adaptive software program as text. For example, if you are creating a PDF, have you employed optical character recognition (OCR)? Some additional best practices include:
- Use heading levels and other structural elements such as a hyperlinked table of contents to organize your OER content and make it easier for all learners to access and understand the material.
- When creating lists, use bullet points or numbers. Asterisks or other icons confuse screen readers.
- Always provide alt-text and captions for images. Screen readers look for contextual description of an image. When adding alt-text be sure to clearly and succinctly describe the most important elements for the student to know and do not include extraneous detail.
- If you are including links to external web pages, make sure that the title of the web page or other text in the link describes what it is. Do not use “click here” or “read more” as link text for a web page.
- For students who have visual disabilities related to color or dyslexia, ensure that you are using fonts and colors that are accessible.
- Use dyslexic-friendly fonts such as Arial and Open Sans.
- Make sure there is clear contrast between colors.
- Do not use color to communicate meaning without other markers of that meaning also being present.
Diversity in open education can be achieved by including a variety of perspectives in OER resources. Doing this ensures that students can identify with and relate to the content. Critical here is ensuring that other cultures are presented accurately in the materials and not according to stereotypes or perceptions based on the standards of predominant culture. This doesn’t mean course content must portray and include all cultures and perspectives; however, creators should be respectful toward other people and be aware of their own potential biases. Below are some suggestions of how diversity can be advanced in OER:
- Explicitly acknowledge the perspectives that are included in the content and those that are not. Also, address how the creators’ social and cultural backgrounds are reflected in the work. Acknowledge what authors are being cited and acknowledged in the work, and why.
- Take steps to translate the OER into other languages.
- Provide examples to future adopters of your OER of how the content could be adjusted to meet local cultural, regional, and geographical interests.
- Invite instructors and professionals in the field for which the OER was created to contribute to your OER.
- Be aware of the ways in which the project’s design may deter or welcome people of other ethnicities, races, and cultural backgrounds and adapt accordingly.
- Do not “other” students who will use your OER.
- Never assume the readers’ gender and/or gender identity, ability, or sexual orientation.
- Avoid calling the most commonly seen traits in the context of the OER as “normal.”
- Make materials accessible for all students by employing the strategies outlined above.
The Atla OER Grant Program is now accepting applications through January 7, 2022. The OER Grant Program supports Atla’s mission to grow librarian and information provider competencies in diversity, inclusion, equity, and antiracism through the development of OERs that provide opportunities for thoughtful education and reflection in these areas. We hope the above guidance will assist in your development of OER either through the Grant Program or in your own OER creation endeavors.
- The Inclusive Learning Design Handbook is a free resource designed to assist teachers, content creators, web developers, and others in creating adaptable educational resources that can accommodate a diversity of learning preferences and individual needs.
- From the website on Universal Design for Learning in Higher Education, the section on “Accessibility and Open Educational Resources” provides examples and tips for employing accessible design in your OER.
- In “How to Tame a Dragon: Scoping Diversity, Inclusion and Equity in the Context of an OER Project,” the authors present pointers for OER practices and practitioners for embracing and foregrounding diversity, inclusion, and equity.
- During Open Education Week 2021, a panel from Portland State University discussed how OER can support diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.
- The University of Maryland provides a bibliography of resources on diversity, equity, and inclusion in OER in their informative LibGuide.
The SCOOP, Scholarly COmmunication and Open Publishing, is a monthly column published to inform Atla members of recent developments, new resources, or interesting stories from the realm of scholarly communication and open access publishing.
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