How accessible are my OERs?

Last week, I visited the AcessAbility Centre at University of Leicester. It had been suggested to me that it might be good if I found out more about accessibility requirements for learning materials, to see whether the open educational materials (OERs) I am creating for Manufacturing Pasts measure up or fall short for the various kinds of learners who might wish to use them. I felt slightly embarrassed that I had not thought of this myself.

I began by asking about colours. Cream and black are good, I was told. People with dyslexia often benefit from the use of a coloured overlay on printed material, and exactly what colour overlay will vary, so it’s a good idea for the original material to be cream and black. Great, I thought; those happen to be the very colours I have been using so far.

Black and cream is a good initial choice for learning material when considering accessibility; our poster is black-and-white so it’s close!

Next thing to check is how does screenreading software react to the OER? At Leicester we have Read and Write for some needs such as dyslexia, and Jaws for needs such as blindness. The website I am building for our OERs will be very simple, so I expect Read and Write will read it out just fine (I’m not so sure about Jaws).  I was told that Microsoft Word documents generally react very well to both softwares, but that Powerpoint is another matter. Well, none of our OERs are in Word format so far, and we’ve got two major OERs in Powerpoint, so I am not sure what I will find when I test.

 A large percentage of our OERs are short videos and audio clips. Both of these imply the provision of transcripts. Luckily, I found a colleague who has experience loading a transcript text file into YouTube so that Youtube will magically show the correct words as they are being spoken. I’m looking foward to trying that out. Our Manufacturing Pasts OERs are ‘image-led.’ It is good to provide images in a format which allows zooming in and attention to detail. So far, the epub and pdf ebooks I’ve produced allow zooming with no problem. I wonder how the Powerpoints will do?

I was just thinking I could never go through all of our OERs to make them all perfectly accessible, when the advisor suggested I choose some key items and do my best to make these accessible, and then try to keep to the principles as much as possible as I create new items.

But what about issues of access to IT hardware and software and the internet? I have made some Powerpoint OERs —  those who do not own a copy of Powerpoint can’t use them unless I make sure they work with an open-source presenter software, which I hope to do. I am also attempting to make the OERs usable on various mobile devices. I tested a Powerpoint OER on my iPad and had success, but a colleague tried it and it didn’t work. These accessibility issues are fodder for another blog post.

Please leave a comment with your thoughts on  handling accessibility issues related to disabilities which users may have!

Terese Bird,CMALT

Learning Technologist, University of Leicester


Artefacts from Leicester’s Industrial Past, Digitized and Online

One major aspect of the Manufacturing Pasts project is to digitise materials pertaining to Leicester’s industrial past, especially (but not only) the post-World-War-II period. Simon Gunn and Rebecca Madgin from the Centre for Urban History selected items from the Skinner special collection of the University library, and from the Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester and Rutland. The first batch has now been professionally digitised.

This photo, from the Skinner collection, show some of the beautiful shoes produced at the Liberty Shoe factory, formerly of Leicester.

One thing I am learning is that these artefacts, and the resulting learning materials that I am endeavouring to produce (I should have some to reveal within the next few weeks), raise as many questions as they answer. For example, the photo above makes me ask: were these shoes typical of their time, or were they at the higher end or even lower end of the spectrum in terms of price range? Is the level of evident artistic flair typical? How much did a business such as Liberty invest in designers, stylists, even on research and development? And how much of that investment was carried through to the final item price?

One challenge in producing good OER learning materials from these artefacts is: how to give enough information to encourage questions and help sound conclusions to be drawn, yet without prescribing a narrative.

The digitised primary sources are being made available online in the Manufacturing Pasts collection within My Leicestershire History.

Terese Bird

Learning Technologist and SCORE Research Fellow, University of Leicester