Here are my 1-sentence definitions and notions around accessibility:
How would you define ‘accessibility’?
Access marked by non-barriers in technical, social and navigational terms as well as the absence of dangers, difficulties and fears.
Who do you think is responsible for accessibility?
All stakeholders, including society as a whole; more precisely, the engineers/architects of knowledge (educators/lecturers/researchers), management, designers, administrators, learners, regulators, quality assurance auditors, financing bodies, marketing agencies, publishers.
What do you understand by accessibility in an educational context?
Infrastructure, hardware, software, applications and content that is accessible without barriers due to physical, technical, design-related restrictions or settings which prevent learners from accessing the spaces in question.
What do you understand by accessibility in the context of online learning?
Online Learning spaces that offer access to web-based learning content which also take into account that individual settings and requirements differ and restrictions can be imposed by hardware, software, applications, corporate settings as well as country settings.
Why is accessibility a concern today in your context or country?
Predominantly, due to EU/UK/German legislation and subsequent changes of social practices and discourses, i.e. social, technical, financial as well as legal/policy-related factors changed and developed towards a new attitude.
And some reflections on the application of the concept:
Even though, this course is all about accessibility, I just notice it is actually more restrictive than any other OU courses I have studied so far. It asks me to post material on my blog, i.e. publish material to the public, and hence interfere with my personal notion of what should be published on my blog and what remains private. I am also asked to work according to a schedule that does not allow any flexibility – supposed, I want to gain some marks for online collaboration and wiki-authoring which means I can neither work ahead nor fall behind. Usually, the key advantage of online education is exactly this kind of flexibility in cases of commitments other than studies, such as work load, conferences, travel etc.
On top of this, a limited range of only a few weeks’ study material is accessible in the learning space, making it impossible to skim through all the material and grasp the wider ideas. So it goes, bite by bite – independent learning in an online course? We need to develop this further, I feel, preferably in a collaborative manner between disabled students and non-disabled students, educators, administrators and managing staff – as well as the web designers. However, so far I wasn’t asked to provide any feedback – here, my blog comes in handy and I feel I can give myself a voice.
If accessibility is supposed to be more than ‘just’ a legal obligation, but a lived practice, I would also suggest to make transcripts available in addition to video material to be watched by learners. Not only because some students might be visually impaired but also because non-disabled students may not be equipped with the technological gadgets or run older computers etc. Can assistive technology actually stiffle learners and impose new restrictions due to technological limitations, resulting in new and additional problems, hence, make it actually less accessible than in hardcopy/conventional formats?
While still in revision mode for the statistics and research skills course, the exam takes place in mid-October, two new courses have started today. Apart from getting considerably under pressure, I notice there is a huge difference in teaching (and learning) approaches implied and I can’t help but feeling excited about the challenges ahead. This kind of pressure is a welcome challenge, then.
Both courses make use of a whole range of social media. This means students are asked to reflect on learning progress and expectations in our blogs. We are going to collaborate on wikis, produce a podcast – as self-contained learning resource that can be used by other students – within one of the Master courses (H810 “accessible online learning: supporting disabled students” as part of the MAODE, MA in Online and Distance Education at the Open University) which is concerned with the role of assistive technologies in addressing accessibility challenges for disabled learners. I started with looking into the linklist on Delicious, the social bookmarking site H810 Reading as provided by the course team. All study material, including audio and video material, is available online, which is fantastic. However, there is also one source of conventional learning: a book! Those who would like to have the entire material rather than the relevant chapters only which are made available online, will need to purchase that (online probably…).
Seale, J.K. (2006) E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education: Accessibility Research and Practice. Abingdon: Routledge.
It will be interesting to think about accessibility and disability in a broader sense – as in the online world access and disability seem to apply to many levels other than the physical ones (think digital divide, literacies, corporate barriers etc.) Poor practice is going to be a main topic, I think, and I feel we are going to look at the internet and access to learning environments from a different and a lot more informed angle towards the end of the course in January 2010.
The course requires 3 assessments, they are due in mid-October (1,500 words), end of November (3,000 words) and the last one that contributes to 50% of the overall mark towards the end of January which has a limit of 6,000 words. As usual at the OU (and in contrast to conventional universities), the distinction barrier requires us to be awarded at least 85 marks out of 100 (rather than 70 out of 100).
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