OERs and accessibility
Educational technologies have evolved in recent decades, but little attention has been given to ensure that the learning software can survive the rapidly technological changes. ICT (Information and Communications Technology) development has been incorporated into the educational methodologies, changes have occurred abruptly and today, new generations experience a completely different teaching methodology with a full renewal in tools and learning processes. ICT has assisted each learner to follow their own learning process in terms of time, place, pace and abilities, but in many situations the educational resources are not accessible. Attention to diversity should be constantly given, since the learning process is continuous, so there must be a rapid identification of learners’ special needs.
A critical element that will drastically improve the quality of the educational process is the development of accessible open educational resources. Care must be considered during the creation process, the analysis of existing standards for learning resources, the educational resources’ level of accessibility, the development of standards and the improvement of authoring tools.
Standardising on content development
Today there are many ways to use educational software to create learning resources, the problem arises when we attempt to reuse materials with software from different software providers or operating systems. The materials are produced with an authoring tool and then loaded in another LMS (Learning Management System). Often the process is not complete, it is not standardised and therefore, materials cannot be displayed in different LMS. In addition, many methods have been developed to categorize the resources, using metadata that allow us to label and describe the content within learning materials. This, results to a chaotic educational resources management, with many materials being underused. There are five points that can ensure standardisation and these include the following:
- Interoperability. The system must be compatible with any other system.
- Reusability. It must be possible to reuse educational materials.
- Management. The system must be able to manage user information.
- Accessibility. The student has to access information adapted depending on his\her needs.
- Durability. Standards have to be sustainable over time.
Standards and their relationship with accessibility.
We have to distinguish four important stages in the development of educational content where accessibility plays an important role and there are guidelines to be followed:
- Educational content. The resources needed for the course, in many cases multimedia content.
- Web Content. It is the environment in which educational content is included.
- Metadata. They are added to a course and resources in order to be located in a repository.
- Course packaging. This is necessary for the exchange of materials between different LMSs.
For learners with special needs, suitable access to virtual learning environments is a critical tool of integration. Throughout the cycle of creation of educational material, there is a point at which educational materials are generated: this point is related to authoring tools. During that time of generation of educational materials, we must consider the importance of them being accessible. Some of the points to consider in the near future are:
- With the increasing attention to standards and their development, interoperability among LMSs should be increased to share educational materials. For these materials to be correctly interoperable and reusable, they must be accessible to meet users’ needs
- Assessment tools should be improved in terms of accessibility, in different levels of adaptation to the standards.
- Open source authoring tools should be facilitated to institutions, which will affect the involvement of teachers and students in the generation of educational materials, repositories of materials and cost reduction.
- In the future the ‘access for all’ approach should be fully developed, so that users’ preferences and needs may be reflected regardless of these.
To achieve these goals, it is essential to raise awareness related to accessibility to all people contributing in the creation of educational material.
Iniesto, Francisco and Rodrigo, Covadonga (2013). Estándares y accesibilidad en el ciclo de creación de OERs mediante herramientas de autor. http://oro.open.ac.uk/45188/