Sloan-C Emerging Tech: OER and Accessibility Presentations

August 1, 2012

Just back from Sloan-C Emerging Technology for Online Learning in Las Vegas, which definitely had a distinct vibe from the 2011 conference in San Jose.  Besides experiencing casino life up close multiple times per day, the conference provided great collaborative learning experiences and food for thought.

The conference had multiple tracks including Accessible Learning for All and featured many Emerging Technologies for Online Learningpresentations on OER and expanding access to education.  I had the pleasure of presenting with Gerry Hanley, MERLOT Executive Director and Mark Riccobono, Executive Director of National Federation for the Blind on The Status of OER and Accessibility in Higher Education.   I opened with the conundrum that although OER is intended to expand access to education, its lack of accessibility can have the opposite effect. Many creators and adopters of OER lack awareness and need training on simple steps to make their work accessible to learners with disabilities. Reporting on the need for the different OER accessibility projects to share their knowledge and expertise, Gerry Hanley introduced the new Merlot OER & Accessibility Commons for those interested in finding and sharing accessibility expertise in an online community of practice.   Mark Riccobono implored higher education to prioritize accessibility by establishing clear policies on accessibility compliance.  He pointed to the Oregon State University accessibility policy and their clarity of expectations for all educational programs, website, and interactions to be accessible.

Immediately following our presentation was an excellent student panel on increasing online success for students with disabilities organized by Dr. Kristin Betts, Armstrong Atlantic State University.  Four students from Drexel University with sight, hearing, speech, and physical disabilities discussed how seeking help from their office of disabilities and online faculty made it possible for them to find accommodations and successfully complete their education.

Pennsylvania State Instructional Designer Elizabeth Pyatt presented on How to Identify and Repair Accessibility Barriers in Online Course Materials.  She reviewed current accessibility guidelines and techniques for addressing common barriers found in online course content including websites and other instructional materials citing WCAG 2.0 and Section 508 Standards.  Elizabeth is also co-editor of the Penn State Access Ability Website at http://accessibility.psu.edu

Cathy Swift of Merlot with several co-presenters had a featured session on Partnering MERLOT and Universal Design for Learning to Increase Student Success.   They are at work on curating a MERLOT collection on Universal Design for Learning.

There were several excellent OER presentations that I wish I had been able to attend but you can find slides and handouts at the links below:

Librarians Sheila Afnan-Manns, Scottsdale Community College and Kandice Mikelsen and Reyes Medrano, Paradise Valley College presented OER as Content, OER as Pedagogy: Empowering Students as Partners in Learning.  In a course on information literacy utilizing team projects and peer learning, students compiled open educational resources on selected topics and shared the information with their fellow students.

Instructional Designer Amy Sugar and Dr. Baiyun Chen from University of Central Florida lead an interactive and informative session on Integrating Open Educational Resources into Higher Education.  Sharing best practices for faculty development in use of OER, they included live polling of attendees on their OER practices through text messages and web messaging.

Keynote speakers included Joel Thierstein, former Executive Director of Connexions and associate provost at Rice University, Emerging Education Technology blogger Audrey Watters in interview with Steve Harsgadon, director of Web 2.0 Labs; and Smart History creators Drs. Beth Harris and Steve Zucker who joined Khan Academy as deans of Art and History last year.   Joel opened the conference with an appeal for restoring the civic mission in higher education through open educational resources, alternative credentialing, and civic learning and engagement. Audrey warned us about the fast food effect of new education start-ups and as in food, slow and thoughtfully prepared interactive materials, have the best potential for fostering successful learning.  Beth Harris and Steve Zucker enlightened us on how growing the education commons with high-quality openly licensed digital materials is making it possible to educate the world for free.

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