Hannah Davidson doesn’t want to just research the link between open education and accessibility; she wants to put theory into practice by placing her research on an open platform.
Davidson, who works with Campus Accessibility Services, is one of Plymouth State University’s Ambassadors from the 2018 Academic Technology Institute (ATI) conference. The ATI Ambassadors commit to completing an open education project throughout the year following the conference.
Accessibility is at the heart of Davidson’s ATI project. Through Plymouth Create, Davidson will be “researching in the open” by finding, developing, and sharing the connections between accessibility, open educational resources (OERs), and open pedagogy on a public blog. Davidson also hopes to develop a rubric for faculty to assess the accessibility of the OERs they incorporate into their classrooms.
To Davidson, the connection between open and accessibility is clear.
“My interest in open education really coalesced when I realized that it reduces barriers for folks who already face barriers in higher education. There is a high correlation between students who are eligible for support from Campus Accessibility Services and between students who come from lower socioeconomic statuses. If you can just remove one small thing, like the cost of textbooks, you’re removing a barrier between them and their education.”
In addition to the use of resources such as open textbooks, Davidson adds that open pedagogy is another natural companion to accessibility.
“Open pedagogy aligns nicely with UDL, which is the Universal Design for Learning. It’s great because there is no retrofitting; the education is designed to be accessible because students can help with the design.”
Davidson’s cohort, comprised of faculty from Plymouth State University, Keene State College, University of New Hampshire, and Granite State College were all supportive of her plans to pull together a collection of resources on accessibility and open.
“Going into ATI, I knew I was going to be one of the only people who was not a full-time faculty member, and that my project was not one that would be used in the classroom in the same way as the other projects. Initially, I felt a little bit as an outsider. However, with each cohort group I was placed into, whether it was with PSU members or members of other institutions, my project was always received in a way that made it feel necessary and important.”
Many times, Davidson says, she surprised her cohorts with her findings on accessibility and open.
“Everyone I met with was brilliant, but I found that many were surprised when I brought up the connections I had found between open and accessibility. There was a lot of “Oh, wow, yes!”, and acknowledgement that my project was something needed in the emerging presence of OER.”
While OERs are considered accessible due to their availability and low cost, Davidson notes that there are other important characteristics of accessibility to consider when creating and curating these types of resources for a course.
“One thing that I look for when determining accessibility is the compatibility of the resource with screen readers. Luckily, since OERs are typically electronically housed and publicly available, most are compatible.”
“The second thing I look for, however, often isn’t something people think about right off the bat. It’s to make sure that the text of the resource is contrasted with its background. At times, this gets overlooked because it’s easy to get caught up in the design of our work and resources.”
Davidson’s final example is a simple one, but one that is often forgotten: captions for images and videos. But highlighting how to integrate these components of accessibility is another purpose Davidson hopes to serve with her blog.
“Part of what I want to host on my Plymouth Create site are little tips on how to do these things. Not everyone knows how to caption images and videos. But if I can create a platform that allows faculty to assess and implement accessibility into their resources, I hope they will jump right in.”
Davidson says that is it vitally important to incorporate accessibility in the initial development of an OER rather than waiting until accessibility becomes an issue for a student.
“We can’t know just by looking at students what barriers they may have, so it’s important to make content accessible. Even now, a significant number of our undergraduate population is eligible for services through accessibility, and we serve graduate students, too. My job is to poke away at solutions and try figure out how to help students and faculty come together in a way that puts everyone on a level playing field. Making OERs accessible as we develop them is one way to do that.”
For faculty who need help determining the accessibility of a resource they intend to use or develop, Davidson says that Campus Accessibility Services and Academic Technology, available through the ITS Help Desk, are two major resources on campus that can help.
“Both Campus Accessibility Services and Academic Technology are great places to start, and the departments work very closely together. There is also an online Moodle course that covers accessibility and design, and it can be a good first look at creating accessible course content.”
Davidson doesn’t plan on stopping the development of her ATI project after her year is up. Instead, she hopes to cultivate her site into an expanse of resources on all things open and accessible.
“My high hope for the future of my project is to have a fully developed website with a variety of content. I want to build an amazing personal learning network that can contribute to the site, integrate tools that can assess accessibility, and include a repository for faculty made of open resources for their classroom. I want everything on the site to be both open and accessible, so that those on the site can know that it is good to go.”