OERs and accessibility: uh–oh

I teach online courses for Foothill College. I have not required students to purchase a textbook.  Instead, I have curated a set of open educational resources, all available online, that includes websites, videos, and PDF documents. My challenge now is that beginning with this quarter, I must meet a new standard: “Online education courses, resources and materials must be designed and delivered in such a way that the level of communication and course-taking experience is the same for students with or without disabilities.”

Knowing that I needed to meet that standard, I joined a voluntary webinar that the college offered to help us instructors know how to make our courses accessible.  I listened and learned. Toward the end, I asked this question: “So from what you are saying, the easiest way for an instructor to make a course accessible is to make it all text-based.  No video.  No audio.  No infographics.”  The instructor replied, “Well, I hate to say this, but yes.”

My first reaction was, “Good grief!  We have all these new multimedia tools and resources for learning, but I can’t use them in an online course!”

Once I vented a bit and calmed down, I set myself a challenge, “I’ll try!  Let’s see if I can create an online course that uses open educational resources and will still pass a review by the college’s accessibility staff.

I scoured the Internet and found a great collection of resources to comprise my ‘OER textbook” for the course.  I made sure any video I chose had closed captions.  However, I did not do an accessibility check on every website and PDF I wanted to include. My next step was to submit my course for a review by the college’s accessibility people.

My course failed.  Every one of my modules had problems.  While only one of my videos had inaccurate captions, many of the websites I wanted to use had improperly nested headings, missing Alt-text, and tables without headers.  Almost all my PDF files had issues such as “no tag information” or “tables do not have headers.”  Fixing any of those issues is completely beyond my current level of skill and nothing that a college instructor has been expected to know how to do.  For example, when I emailed the reviewer with a question about how to make the PDFs accessible, the reviewer replied, “Fixing pdfs is no easy feat if you don’t have the source documents.” Of course I don’t have the source documents! I just have the PDF I found online.

Just for kicks, I decided to do an accessibility check of my own.  Using the WAVE web accessibility evaluation tool, I evaluated the “Accessibility and Universal Design” page on the college’s website. Oops!  It has some issues.  Clearly, we all have work to do to reach this goal.

Screen shot of WAVE summary of Foothill College Accessibility and Univeral Design page

 

 

 

 

 

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Road Work

We’ve got a lot of road work going on in my neighborhood. When I leave home, I am greeted by an electronic sign warning me that this state of affairs will go on for another month and I should expect “up to 20 minute delays.” I can live with that because I am very happy the rutted, pot-holed streets are being repaired.

Nonetheless, I could not help but be amused when, having to stop for a red light, thus having time to look around, I saw this:

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Zoom in on that and you’ll see that there is an “End Road Work” sign about ten feet ahead of a “Road Work Ahead” sign. I thought that was supid but, having worked in public education all my life, thought to myself, “No doubt there is some regulation that requires each notification.”

The light turned green. I drove on and what did I find at a subsequent intersection?

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My goodness! These two notices are so close they could spawn. Not only that, but if you view the signs as you drive toward them directly—rather than standing across the road as I did to take the previous picture—the “Ended” sign is completely obscured by a bush which, I must assume, did not grow out to cover the sign after the road work began.

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OK, I understand. We are at the borderline where one road work project meets another. The crews are following the rules, I’m sure, to alert us to the end of one and the beginning of another. All that said, it’s still stupid. It’s an example of a case in which it might be very good to allow the people on the ground, at the site, to make a decision for themselves. We adopt policies and pass legislation all the time for very good reasons. What we lose, too often, is the ability to let a person on the ground, at the time, make an exception when to enact the rule is just plain stupid.

A little disappointed

I watched President Obama speak tonight and I was a little disappointed. I support him. I have voted for him twice, but tonight I wish he’d spoken differently. My wife said she thinks he looked tired; no doubt he was. Maybe my issue is with whoever wrote his comments. Maybe he didn’t have time to read and think about them before facing the cameras. Maybe I’m just off base and need to reconsider, but here are thoughts that went through my head as I listened:

  • His tone was so matter-of-fact.  I know this was a press conference, not a political rally, but I’ve heard him deliver such impassioned speeches.  I’d have liked a bit more emotion in his voice.
  • His remarks implied the suspect is guilty, period; not even guilty until proven innocent, let alone innocent until proven guilty.  That jarred me.

…why did young men who grew up and studied here, as part of our communities and our country, resort to such violence?  How did they plan and carry out these attacks, and did they receive any help?

  • I certainly hope we don’t find out later that these two brothers were not, in fact, to blame.  I hope that is unlikely, but it will be embarrassing should it happen.
  • The President said we’ve closed a “chapter.”  Have we?   I guess it depends on how you think of chapters.  It’s a metaphor that didn’t work for me.  Many of the books I read today have quite a high chapters-to-total pages ratio.  Perhaps that’s a reflection of our ever shortening attention span.  My reaction was that we’ve barely started a chapter.  Those survivors in the hospital, many having lost one or more limbs, are but a few pages into their current chapter.   If the chapter title is simply, “Arrest,” then I guess we have a chapter; if so, I suspect we have at least a trilogy, not simply a single book, ahead of us.

I’m often too critical, and this may be one of those times.  If you did not see the press conference, take a look.  Am I way off base?

Who are they kidding?

I’m taking a tangent from my usual pronouncements about things educational.  This post is about hospitals and cemeteries.  Yikes.

So the Super Bowl has just ended, and we had a moment of local commercials.  From one, I learned that Catholic Healthcare West (CHW), the owner of a hospital near my home,  has changed its name.  CHW changed its name to Dignity Health.  My immediate reaction was, “Gimme a break.” (Really, it was stick finger down throat.)   The new name does nothing for me.  I’m sure the corporation did not change its name without paying a consulting agency many, many dollars and gathering opinions from numerous focus groups, but I think they goofed.  I don’t like it.  Sounds like end-of-life care.  I can understand they needed to drop the “Catholic” in order not to put off anyone (we can still spell “politically correct,” right?).  Clearly, the corporate goal is to have more and more hospitals everywhere, and ideally have everyone who needs a hospital come to a Dignity hospital, but that goal does not make me happy.

As I reacted to the “We’re now Dignity Health” message, I thought of the equally annoying, to me, revised appellation of what was once Los Osos Valley Cemetery.  Now, it’s “Simple Tribute” Los Osos.  As I said earlier, “Gimme a break.”

 

 

Digital Promise

Take another sip of coffee, swallow, breathe deeply, then read this.

“…to support a comprehensive research and development program to harness the increasing capacity of advanced information and digital technologies to improve all levels of learning and education, formal and informal, in order to provide Americans with the knowledge and skills needed to compete in the global economy.”

That’s the promise of Digital Promise, otherwise known as the National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies.   I read the Department of Education’s press release and explored this newly launched 501(c)3’s web site.  I’m encouraged by the ambitious agenda, but I’m worried the effort is being thrown together too hurriedly.  Clearly, the idea of such an organization has been incubating for years, but the web site seems to have been slapped together and thrown up without enough care.  I’ll explain.

As of this writing, there are four areas to the site.  First is “about.”  Here we see the photos and names of the board of directors but no staff, only a generic “contact” email link.  An esteemed group populates the board, but who is actually doing the work?

Next we have two opportunities to “join the discussion” that utilize IdeaScale.  This is a nice, simple tool for collecting, commenting upon, and ranking ideas.  For IdeaScale to be most effective, however, requires a clearly stated discussion starter; we don’t have that here.  Consider the prompt for the “grand challenges”:

What are the biggest challenges in teaching & learning that technology can help us solve? Grand Challenges are big problems no one has been able to solve that promise to hold lasting benefits for the American people — like mapping the human genome. Imagine, for example, software that can teach everyone to read. One way to come up with breakthrough technologies is by setting up a competition. If you’ve got a competition up and running or have ideas for a new one, tell us about it.

What am I actually being asked to contribute?  Am I supposed to name specific challenges we face, pose specific technologically-based solutions, or give examples of “competitions.”  Perhaps all three.

Assuming you are comfortable posting your idea, whatever it might be, before you can click submit, you are required to categorize your idea according to what “campaign” it belongs in–“website,” “products,” or “customer service.”  Huh?  According to IdeaScale, a campaign is “a category or bucket into which ideas are placed for organization.”  Campaigns allow “members of your community to sort by idea subject.”  My hunch is that website, products, and customer service are generic “default” campaigns from a template that was not customized.

The fourth and last tab to click is “join us.”  It’s not clear just what you’re joining, but before you can proceed you have to place yourself in one, and only one, of the following categories: Educator, Innovator, Researcher, Citizen.  Why the forced choice?  Don’t we want educators to be innovators?  Don’t we encourage action research as a means of professional learning?  Are we not all citizens?

Perhaps I’m nitpicking, but it does trouble me that an initiative of this magnitude and importance would be launched with such a flawed web presence.

For some nostalgia…

Is this an editorial?

Headline in the Los Angeles Times July 24:

“TARP pay czar criticizes big bank bonuses but won’t seek refund of bailout money.”

First sentence in the article:

“The Obama administration’s pay czar on Friday came to the same conclusion about fat Wall Street bonuses that average Americans have already reached: There’s no logic behind them, except greed.”

Help!  Facts not in evidence.  Who are the “average Americans” to which the writer so assuredly refers?  And would all those un-named yet average Americans agree that the only “logic” is greed?  Maybe. Maybe not.

I’m sorry.  A front page article (as it was in my local paper, The Tribune)—with or without byline—needs to be an objective account of something.  Opening with such a sentence tells me I’m reading an editorial, not a news article.

TARP pay czar criticizes big bank bonuses but won’t seek refund of bailout money

Donald, Bethania, Who Are You?

My current listen-to-it-while-driving book is John Adams. Given my interest in the role and status of facts in 21st century education, my ears perked up when I heard the venerable Mr. Adams say:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

Pushing pause, I grabbed my cell phone and dictated, “Note to self: Facts are stubborn things something something from John Adams; look it up.”  When I got home, I did.  I found it easily, but I also found some other quotations that appealed to me:

Perfect as the wing of a bird may be, it will never enable the bird to fly if unsupported by the air. Facts are the air of science. Without them a man of science can never rise.  — Ivan Pavlov (1849 – 1936)

Where facts are few, experts are many. — Donald R. Gannon

I’m not sure I want popular opinion on my side — I’ve noticed those with the most opinions often have the fewest facts. — Bethania McKenstry

Now I know who Pavlov was, but I’m ignorant as to Donald R. Gannon and Bethania McKenstry.  No amount of Googling or Binging got me anything but a vague reference to Bethania as an “American activist.”  I’m glad they purportedly uttered these pithy, trenchant bon mots, but I’d feel better if I knew who the heck they are.  Have a clue?