Checking Accesibility

designLast week, I wrote about a ruling against a university by the Department of Justice for not making its free content online fully accessible. I thought that today I should share some resources you can use to evaluate web materials for accessibility.
You might maintain web pages, including things like blogs and online course materials, and if you're not concerned about making sure they’re accessible for everyone, including people with disabilities, you should.
One easy to use accessibility-checking tool is a browser-based one called the WAVE Accessibility Extension. It is available for Firefox and for Chrome at WAVE Chrome Extension. There is also a WAVE Help site.
The ProfHacker blog has done some interesting posts on accessibility topics, from general ones like User-Friendly Advice for Accessible Web Design and How to Evaluate Your Web Pages for Accessibility to one that I think is a good test to try out with students if you're discussing this topic - To Test for Accessibility, Try Navigating Without Your Mouse.   

Autonomous Vehicles and Autonomous Learning

autonomous car

One of the newer categories on this blog is for VR, AR and AI. They were not topics of much concern in education when I started writing here in 2006. They are topics of interest now. 

The same may be true of autonomous vehicles and it is definitely true of what I'm calling autonomous learning

You are more likely to hear news about "autonomous vehicles" rather than "driverless cars" these days. They are pretty much interchangeable, but the former doesn't sound as scary. In the way that "global warming" was replaced with "climate change," the newer terms are not only better in public relations terms but also are more accurate.

An autonomous vehicle (AKA driverless, auto, self-driving, robotic) is one that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. Many such vehicles are being developed, but as of this writing vehicles on public roads are not yet fully autonomous.

Many of the experimental cars and trucks you might see on the road (or, more likely, on the news) have a human along for the ride and ready to take over if needed. Initially we all heard about this future where you would get in a car, tell it your destination and sit back and relax. It was a taxicab without a driver. But more and more we are hearing about the autonomous vehicle with no human in it that might be delivering packages to locations. (No word on how they are unloaded. I guess you meet the vehicle at the curb.)

I was talking to a friend who has no involvement in education about an online course I was teaching and how MOOCs are being used. He said, "So, it's like an autonomous vehicle."

My first response was "No, its not," but when I gave the idea a few moments, I saw his point.

You set up a good online course. It has AI elements and guided learning, predictive analytics and all the other tools. The student enters and goes along on their own. Autonomously. Teacherless.

Some archived MOOCs are already somewhat like this - though probably minus the AI and guidance systems.

I call this autonomous learning. If you search on that term today you are more likely to find articles about learner autonomy. This refers to a student's ability to set appropriate learning goals and take charge of his or her own learning. However, autonomous learners are dependent upon teachers to create and maintain learning environments that support the development of learner autonomy.

My friend and I took the vehicles:learner comparison further. The mixed or hybrid car will probably be with us for a few more decades. By hybrid I mean not only with its fuel but also with driver-assist features. Part of the redundancy there includes the passenger as backup driver - a guide on the side. The car can park itself, but you might need to help in some situations.

Hybrid or blended courses are also going to continue to be around for awhile. Like the vehicles, the fully-automated course will be the experimental exception for a decade or two. But those kids in the college Class of 2037 have a very good chance of taking autonomous classes.

I will feel safe on the road with autonomous vehicles when ALL the vehicles are autonomous. Throw a few human drivers in there and the reliability drops. Do I feel the same about autonomous learning? Too early to say.


You Are a Data Point

Does it disturb you to be thought of as a "data point" or "test subject"? A data point is a discrete unit of information, a single fact usually derived from a measurement or research. A person as a data point can be represented numerically or graphically. That sounds pretty cold. 
An article on chronicle.com about Western Governors University (WGU), a nonprofit, online-only institution that enrolls 80,000 students worldwide, talks about how it has enlarged its institutional-research office the past few years and how students are very much data points. Of course, students, as well as employees and customers offer a valuable source of data for researchers.
In an educational setting, this data could be used to improve student outcomes and to make assessments that can lead to improvement in learning design and delivery..
One of the often stated benefits of MOOCs has been the opportunity to use these very large courses to obtain data about how students learn online. Critics of this approach say that learning online in a class of 25 versus a class of several thousand are not comparable experiences. And are there valid comparisons to how students learn online to learning in a face-to-face class? That has been argued for several decades. 
WGU is also a competency-based institution. Standardized measurements and goals are how their courses are designed. If not a good thing for a student's education, it certainly is an approach that is great for researchers who can hold certain variables constant while testing tools and interventions to see how they influence students.
No one likes to be thought of as just a number. It reminds me of sci-fi novels and media about the future like 1984 and Brave New World (or the cult favorite TV series, The Prisoner, illustration at top). But we are all very much considered as data points by advertisers and in many modern technologies, social networks and institutions.

Open Everything 2017

OER knife
Open Source "Swiss Knife" - illustration by Open Source Business Foundation - licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Back in 2008, I first posted here about what I was calling "Open Everything."  That was my umbrella term for the many things I was encountering in and out of the education world that seemed relevant to "Open" activities based on Open Source principles. The growth I saw nine years ago continues. I had made a list of "Open + ______" topics I was encountering then, and I have updated that list here:
access
business
configuration
hosts
cloud
content
courseware
data
design
education
educational resources (OER)
format
government
hardware
implementation
innovation
knowledge
learning
music
research
science
source as a service
source licenses
source religion
source software
space
standards
textbooks
thinking

All these areas overlap categories that I write about on Serendipity35.
David Wiley makes the point in talking about one of these uses -"open pedagogy" - that "because 'open is good' in the popular narrative, there’s apparently a temptation to characterize good educational practice as open educational practice. But that’s not what open means. As I’ve argued many times, the difference between free and open is that open is “free plus.” Free plus what? Free plus the 5R permissions."
Those five permissions are Retain, Reuse, Revise, Remix and Redistribute. Many free online resources do not embrace those five permissions. 
A colleague sent me a link to a new book, Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science . The book also crosses many topics related to "open": affordable education, transparent science, accessible scholarship, open science, and courses that share this philosophy.
That last area interests me again of late as I am taking on some work on developing courses using OER materials for this fall at a community college. These courses are not what could be labeled as "open courses." They are using using Open Educational Resources. They are regular Gen-Ed courses with the traditional tuition and registration structure.
So, why remake a course using OER? 
Always on the list of reasons to to lower the cost for students by eliminating (or greatly lowering the price of) a textbook and using open textbooks and resources. But there are more benefits to OER than "free stuff." This course redesign is also an opportunity to free faculty from the constraints of a textbook-driven curriculum. (Though, admittedly many faculty cling to that kind of curriculum design.)
David Wiley's warning is one to consider when selecting OER. Is a text "open" if it does not allow the 5R permissions? Wiley would say No, but many educators have relaxed their own definition of open to the point that anything freely available online is "open." It is not.
For example, many educators use videos online in YouTube, Vimeo or other repositories. They are free. You can reuse them. You can usually redistribute (share) them via links or embed code into your own course, blog or website. But can you revise or remix them? That is unlikely. I fact, they may very well be copyrighted and attempting to remix or revise them is breaking the law.
You might enroll in a MOOC in order to see how others teach a course that you also teach. It is a useful professional development activity for teachers. But it is likely not the case that you have the right to copy those mate rails and use them in your own courses. And a course on edX, Coursera or another MOOC provider is certainly not open to you retain, reusing, revising, remixing or redistributing the course itself.
There are exceptions. MIT's Open Courseware was one of the original projects to offer free course materials. They are not MOOCs as we know them today, but they can be a "course for independent learners." They are resources and you were given permissions (with some restrictionssee their mission video) to use them for your on courses.
I didn't get a chance to fully participate in the OpenLearning ’17 MOOC that started in January and runs into May 2017. It is connectivist and probably seems like an "Old School MOOC" in the 2017 dominated by the Courseras of the MOOC world. It is using Twitter chats, AMA, and Hangouts. You can get into the archives and check out the many resources.  It is a MOOC in which, unlike many courses that go by that label today, where the "O" for "Open" in the acronym is true. Too many MOOCs are really only MOCs.