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OER are accessible, and Accessible

by Megan Dempsey on 2019-03-08T15:05:55-05:00 | Comments

Not only are OER easy to access from the first day of classes due to their free availability online, but OER are also Accessible with a capital A. Because of their digital nature, well-designed OER often have accessibility features that make them easier to use for students that require accommodations in course materials. Although we know that not all OER are created equal, faculty selecting OER can assess their accessibility as part of their course materials evaluation process. As issues of accessibility become more visible and prominent in higher education, more and more OER are being developed with accessibility in mind. 

OER that are available in a variety of formats enhance accessibility because they can display across a variety of devices and technologies and allow for the addition of location-specific content (UDL on Campus). For students with visual impairments, the text of digital OER can often be more easily magnified without the need for specialized software, and OER designed with accessibility in mind should be handled relatively well by screen-reading software. In addition, the permissions granted by an open license remove legal barriers to adapting and customizing OER, making it possible to create learning environments that are more flexible and robust for students (SPARC). And those adapted and customized materials can be freely shared with other institutions, unlike modifications made to commercial texts for students with disabilities. Finally, as faculty adopt OER, they may choose to incorporate more multimedia and interactive media, or these diversified learning objects may already be part of the adopted OER. Varied course materials provide students with greater flexibility in how they learn content, particularly if attention is paid to the accessibility features of media - for example, ensuring videos are closed-captioned - when selecting OER. 

At RVCC (and most other institutions of higher education), students who are eligible for disability accommodations must self-identify to their instructor and present a letter of accommodation from the Office of Disability Services. Recently, Professor Melanie Morris conducted a study to collect information from students with disabilities regarding their experiences using OER and to demonstrate the efficacy of OER specifically for students with disabilities. From the Office of Disability Services, Professor Morris knew that there were 19 students in her Business Law courses over two semesters that were entitled to accommodations (numbers, but not names, were shared with Professor Morris for the study). However, of those 19, only 5 self-identified to the professor and presented letters of accommodation. There could be any number of reasons why a student would not self-identify, but conversations with the Director of Disability Services indicate that it is not beyond reason to suspect that because Professor Morris' class is built on Universal Design principles generally, and because she assigns OER that are accessible, students had less of a need to ask for accommodations. Many of the accommodations they would need were already present by design and thus benefiting not just the students with disabilities, but all students. While this theory goes beyond simply the use of OER and is based on Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in the course, the faculty members' choice to use OER aligns with her commitment to UDL. 

Professor Morris interviewed the students who did self-identify in her courses and gained useful information about their experiences using OER. Although the sample size is small, all students reported that they had more than one means of accessing the open text, that they accessed the open text on more than one device, and that they had the text read to them and followed along with the print or screen-based version. Additionally, on a scale from 1 to 10, all of the students rated the open text higher than a commercial text on "accessibility." But not only was the student experience improved, it would seem that student outcomes improved as well. Of the students studied in spring 2018 (again, a small sample size due to the small number that self-identified), the students receiving accommodations had an average G.P.A. in Business Law of 3.32. That same group had an overall average G.P.A. of 2.64.

Faculty considering OER adoption can refer to Achieve's OER Rubrics, specifically Rubric VIII, for information on what to look for in evaluating the accessibility of an OER. 



Achieve. (2011). Achieve OER Rubrics. Retrieved 8 March 2019 from  CC BY

Morris, M. (2019). Email communication. 

SPARC. (2018). OER and Accessibility: Working Toward Inclusive Access. Retrieved 8 March 2019 from BY 

UDL on Campus. Accessibility and Open Educational Resources on Campus. Retrieved 8 March 2019 from CC BY SA



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