One of the basic premises of open education is access. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) believes:
…that universal access to high quality education is key to the building of peace, sustainable social and economic development, and intercultural dialogue. Open Educational Resources (OER) provide a strategic opportunity to improve the quality of education as well as facilitate policy dialogue, knowledge sharing and capacity building.
Access in this context refers to the ability for students, instructors, and others to obtain access to education. Releasing textbooks and other educational resources with open-copyright licences is a big step toward removing barriers, as it makes these materials free of cost and free to use, distribute, and change. But there is more that goes into accessing a resource than it just being free and online.
For a textbook to be truly accessible, people of all abilities need to be able to access the content. This means designing a textbook that accommodates people with diverse learning styles and ensuring the content can be accessed by all, regardless of disability. It also means creating materials that include diverse viewpoints and voices. As you plan your textbook, contemplate how to design it so it is accessible, diverse, and inclusive.
As an open textbook author and publisher, it’s important to consider the social-justice side of open education. Listed below are some of the barriers students face during their education, as well as some solutions and examples.
|Physical Impairments||Low vision or blindness||Use alternative text (alt-text) to describe an image’s content or function that can be read by a screen reader.||All images in Introduction to Psychology – 1st Canadian Edition [New Tab] have alt-text.|
|Hearing impairment or deafness||Add transcripts and captions to all audio content.||The instructional videos [YouTube – New Tab] created for Concepts of Biology-1st Canadian Edition [New Tab] are all captioned.|
|Motor-skill impairment, immobility||Provide file formats that can be uploaded into a variety of mobile devices.||Introduction to Tourism and Hospitality in BC [New Tab] has a number of file types available.|
|Learning Disabilities||Difficulty absorbing information via reading or difficulty concentrating (ADHD)||Add audio clips to printed text that student can listen to while reading along.||Common Core Trade series [New tab] (23 books) has audio files that accompany the text content.|
|Language Comprehension||Low literacy: adult basic education (ABE) student or English language learners (ELL)||Provide a print copy with increased font size or provide formats that allow the font size to be adjusted.||The PDF of BC Reads: Adult Literacy Fundamental English – Reader 1 uses large text.|
|Limitations of Time and Place||Working, parenting, or live far from a college or university||Provide a version of the textbook that can be accessed from anywhere online.||All books in the B.C. Open Textbook Collection [New Tab] can be accessed online.|
|Unreliable or no access to the Internet||Set up a service that can supply a print-on-demand copy.||See the print-on-demand option for Principles of Social Psychology – 1st International Edition [New Tab].|
Refer to the BCcampus Open Education Accessibility Toolkit [New Tab] for information on how to make sure you create an accessible textbook. (A French version [New Tab] is also available.) There are a number of accessible textbooks in the B.C. Open Textbook Collection [New Tab]. They are flaged as “Accessible” when they meet all requirements on the Accessibility Checklist [New Tab].
The National Center on Universal Design for Learning [New Tab] also offers guidelines on how best to design educational resources so that students with a variety of learner styles benefit. You can also watch this video produced by the University of British Columbia: Open Dialogues: How to make open content accessible [YouTube – New Tab].
Diversity and inclusion
In the context of writing an open textbook, diversity means including a wide range of perspectives in your textbook. This can help ensure that more readers identify with and relate to the material. Some benefits are:
- Engaging more students because they recognize themselves or their life experiences in the material
- Appealing to instructors in a variety of educational settings
- Creating a more interesting reading and learning experience
Whether intentional or not, ethnocentrism — “a tendency to view alien groups or cultures from the perspective of one’s own” — can creep into the content and presentation of a textbook, and it is something all authors should be aware of. This doesn’t mean you must write a book that fits every culture and perspective, only that you are respectful.
Once your book is published, if instructors from another country and culture want to use your work, they may customize it for their classroom needs. The changes made might include:
- Translating the book into a different language
- Adjusting the content to meet the local cultural, regional, and geographical needs
- Revising the material for a different learning environment
For more information see Reasons to Adapt an Open Textbook [New Tab] in the BCcampus Open Education Adaptation Guide.
- "Open Educational Resources," UNESCO, http://www.unesco.org/new/en/communication-and-information/access-to-knowledge/open-educational-resources/ (accessed September 20, 2017). ↵
- https://youtu.be/wXL5AmfFT_o ↵
- "ethnocentrism," Dictionary.com, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/ethnocentrism (accessed December 11, 2017). ↵