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Guelph Accessibility Conference 2019: High-Quality Digital Learning for All


Wednesday, May 29, 2019

2:00PM – 3:00PM ET


Guelph Accessibility Conference, Guelph, ON


Alan Harman, IDRC


Slides: Working to Ensure High Quality Digital Learning for All


CISL is the Center on Inclusive Software for Learning, is a five-year project that started in 2018 to explore and create tools to ensure that K-12 students with disabilities get engaging, high-quality accessible digital learning materials, especially open educational resources (OERs).  

There’s a strong desire in the software CISL is building to connect between the features offered and supporting research. The question of “what works” in educational research is a complicated one when it comes to accessibility features, due to variations in needs and often small research populations. So I’d characterize what we’re doing as both looking carefully at the existing bodies of research and thinking about ways to better talk about the potential validity of user needs and preferences for learning. There are concerns around generalization when it comes to people with disabilities, and the challenges of a research ecosystem that values large-scale statistical studies. We are aware of these tensions. 

The inclusive design perspective is that the opinion of learners about what does and doesn’t work them is important and valuable, and something can work well for one learner in one context, and not work for a different learner, or the same learner in a different context. This is why our vision of one-size-fits-one learning comes with learner-managed customization of preferences as a key part of it. We consider this important both from a practical standpoint and a metacognitive one - exploring preferences is another way of encouraging active participation in the learning process.

We’ve begun to build open-source reader software that will eventually form part of the overall suite of software tools for consuming, discovering and creating accessible educational materials. This is early but exciting work that we’re hoping will have wider value in providing a modern, flexible, accessible, web-based open-source reader for EPUBs and other content. 

Along with tools from FLOE like our Learner Options toolbar, we’re working with technology from the Readium project, which is an open-source project building technology for working with EPUB 3 and other web publications. We’re working with one of the major OER repositories, OER Commons, on adding better accessibility support to their authoring tools, including accessibility metadata. As the project goes on, we’ll likely be seeking other partners to work with.

We are working on a tool to support  “preference discovery and exploration.” By this, we mean various approaches to helping learners discover what preferences help support their learning, and in what contexts. We are thinking about how to bring the work of preference discovery into CISL, possibly through gamification or similar means. While the project is specifically about students with disabilities, we think everyone benefits from learning to configure things to suit their needs. It’s not enough to merely expose the preference controls; we also need to support people learning about their preferences.

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