Category Archives: Miscellaneous

personified lock (unlocked) fighting personified corona virus

The Two Pandemics, Part 2, Open Vs. COVID in Education

Several years ago I had a fellowship from the Shuttleworth Foundation, an organization that supports people who are using ‘open’ to improve the world. With COVID19, I think we are seeing now more than ever that opening up information is one of the keys to a concerted and effective response. Over 6 million people world-wide have contracted the virus and in the US alone, over 100,000 have died. Those numbers are staggering in their human cost, and at the very least, we need to make sure that the learning from those cases can ensure effective preventions and treatments are discovered quickly and and shared widely. 

One area I am a part of that showcases the power of open during the pandemic is the tremendous outpouring of support from open education organizations, many of whom already had high quality, free, open-source materials ready for faculty to use in their transition to online teaching due to the need for social distancing. Many of these organizations beefed up their free and open offerings to make them even more full service and continue to do that over the summer so that faculty have even better options for the Fall.  

Help for Moving Learning Online: These links showcase some of the options for moving education online.

  • OpenStax Allies offer free access to learning tech amidst COVID-19 : Thirty different offerings, from clicker services to homework systems to courseware, that cover basic college subjects. 
  • Webinar Series: Effective Online Instruction. The Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) series covers moving a course online, facilitating online discussions, creating and engaging students in readings and microlectures.
  • Remote learning with Khan Academy during school closures This is a great one stop page for getting started or continuing with Khan Academy at any age. It has lots of how-to’s for parents and teachers and has daily plans for covering school subjects. 
  • Free Resources for Schools During COVID-19 Outbreak (Updated in June) This list of free content, services, classes, lectures, and tools contains hundreds of listings that regularly updates to stay up to date. The printable format button in the upper right will get you to a full list that is easy to scroll through. 
  • Remote Learning, EdTech & COVID-19 This is the World Bank’s collection of relevant blog posts and resource listings prepared by the World Bank’s ed-tech team. I was intrigued by Bad practices in mobile learning that compiles a top-9, with a bonus 10th left blank for future mistakes. Although it is from 2014 and likely needs updating, it includes one of my favorite anti-patterns, “don’t spend time with your target user groups – assume you understand their needs.”

But what about disabilities? Learning how to serve students with disabilities well during a transition to online learning is considerably more challenging, but getting more material online itself can be useful.

  • Remote learning shift leaves students with disabilities behind : Gives a succinct summary of types of disabilities, supports that are needed during in-person teaching, and the effects of the shift online on those supports, showcasing voices of college students.  
  • Helping special needs students with remote learning : This article focuses on K12 students, the requirements that schools must continue to meet during a school closure where instruction is being provided to the general population, how to continue IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meetings virtually, and tips for parents with the general theme ‘provide structure with lots of patience‘.
  • ECAR Study of the Technology Needs of Students with Disabilities, 2020 This report collected 2000 open-ended responses from students with disabilities in 2019 pre-COVID19 to understand what they most want from their faculty: make all material available online, well-organized in the LMS (learning management system), with multiple methods of presentation (text, audio, visual, lecture), and make sure assistive technology (captions and speech to text) will work. All of these recommendations will improve access for students with disabilities and make learning better for all students as a side-effect, because these are Universal Designs for Learning.

The Digital Divide: It is critical that we address the racial and socioeconomic divide in education that is further exacerbated by the rush to online. 

  • The COVID-igital Divide African Americans are twice as likely to die from COVID-19, more likely to have lost jobs, twice as likely to be attending higher-ed institutions at risk of closing due to financial pressures, and more likely to be among the 20% of students without needed tech for online learning.  Estimates show African American students maybe 10 months behind, compared to 7 months for white students. 
  • Houston-area schools lose contact with thousands of students during pandemic shutdown In the early days of the pandemic shutdowns districts that were reporting metrics lost track of up to 30% of their students. Most have gotten that down to less than 10%, but that is still a lot of students displaced and missing their education. Texas City and Friendswood were able to do better and contacted all but 1.3% and 2 students respectively. 
  • ‘The need is real’: Houston-area schools scramble for hotspots so students don’t fall behind Even when districts can contact their students, many students lack access to wireless internet and are either having to use paper packets delivered or picked up weekly, or parents’ cell phones. Districts have funds to purchase hotspots, but with a district like HISD needing more than 100,000 devices, the supply just isn’t available. 
  • Research Shows Students Falling Months Behind During Virus Disruptions Using a variety of research methods (data from past disruptions, data from online apps before and after the shutdowns by zipcode) researchers estimate that rural and low-income students could be very far behind when schools reopen.  

I am interested in who is figuring out how to ensure equitable access to education during the COVID19 pandemic for already underserved students. What are they doing? Which things are working?  What are the highest priority needs? How can open education providers do the most good? Where should open educational providers be partnering with other organizations and providers? 

As we transition to online learning for the foreseeable future, I’m excited about the potential technology has to make learning safe and accessible during a worldwide crisis. At the same time, it is important to be aware and intentional about building tools that help all students equitably. The last thing we want in a crisis is to exacerbate the divides that already exist in education. Instead, let’s imagine a future where technology bridges those gaps, and actively work to build resources for students who might otherwise be left behind.

Video plugin prototype (from last year) and upcoming implementation plans

Apparently, I never blogged about the prototype video plugin that two OERPUB interns created for the Aloha-Editor last year. We are getting ready to add multimedia capability to the github-bookeditor and so I was looking for that blog entry without success. So better late than never, here is a link to see how the prototype worked.

the editor with the video chooser dialog open
Screen capture from a screencast of the video plugin in action.
Click on the image to run a video of the process, or click here

I like how the prototype lets authors search for videos and pick them from a list that includes a thumbnail and description. There is always a URL backup, but the search means that authors don’t have to leave and find the video and cut and paste in a link.

The student developer interns, Max Grossman, and Gbenga Badipe, worked together to create this prototype and explored the possibilities using the Youtube, Vimeo, and Slideshare APIs. They have long since graduated and started computer science careers, but their work lives on.

We are planning to add a plugin soon to the editor so that authors can include video and slides. We will be working with our friends in the accessibility community to make sure that we make it easy for authors to include information about audio and transcripts so learners find content appropriate to their needs. More coming on this topic.

Notes from the Aloha Barcamp

Aloha offices, poster and life-size doll-man wearing Aloha shirt
A few weeks ago, I attended an Aloha editor barcamp in Vienna, Austria. I know you are feeling sorry for me, right now. It was actually during the recent floods in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Germany, but due to extensive flood control and regulation of the Danube, Vienna was completely spared and the weather was gorgeous for us.

I posted what I was planning to show earlier, and that is basically what transpired. I demonstrated the OERPUB editor built on Aloha. I demonstrated the new mathematics editing, as well as adaptations to the image, table, and link plugins. I also showed transformation tools that bring content from web pages, office documents, Google Docs etc, into the editor. Marvin Reimer and Tom Woodward showed more detail focusing on the way the original Aloha editor code was adapted.
(or see presentation in Google Drive)

I had never been to a barcamp, so I had no idea what to expect. I still don’t know if this one was typical or atypical. There were about 30 participants, most from the Vienna area. Sourcefabric, Connexions, and OERPUB traveled to the event. Petro, of Aloha, was our MC of sorts and had everyone introduce themselves and pick something to present on. Phil Schatz of Connexions presented on github-book, which we will be using in South Africa later this summer. It uses github to store books written with the Aloha editor. Gentic’s (Aloha’s sponsor company) blog features it.

Only a few of the presentations were directly related to Aloha, because about half the participants were not yet using Aloha, but rather were evaluating and  learning. I was the only person with a presentation in hand, but then again, almost everyone was a developer. Actually, I was expecting more coding and less presenting. There were presentations on general purpose technologies like like AngularJS, Marionnette.js, d3.js and CSS3. Aloha presented about real-time collaboration for Aloha, developed by a partner company. Aloha also had hands-on workshops on creating an Aloha plugin and adding youtube videos using content change handlers that notice youtube links inserted into text.

My team and Connexions spent an extra day working with the Aloha team on ‘undo’ and handling ‘cut-and-paste’ of structured elements. Those are both really critical in a document editor. We needed some relatively simple ways to improve those so that textbook sprints will be successful. More on what we decided in another post.

Accessiblity Protototypes from the Sprint

This post points to the results of prototypes built at a sprint with educators, technologists, and accessibility specialists. Earlier posts describe the process we went through before working on prototypes.

After getting to know the tools we started with, describing problems that authors, readers, and learners face, and brainstorming solutions, we spent the next day organizing into small groups that would design interfaces and code prototypes to address these problems. We had people sign up in groups to work on prototypes (paper, code) that built on the brainstorming from day one. Additionally, we had lots of math and metadata experts and so groups formed to address mathematics authoring and accessibility and discovery of accessible content.

Below are links and brief descriptions of the artifacts that resulted from the prototyping:

Idiot proofing the authoring process for accessibility

  • Auto-creating a Table of Contents: (oerpub’s github accessibilty-sprint branch) In addition to providing good navigation for screen readers, the live TOC shows the structure of the document as it is being created, encouraging authors to see their work structurally, and hopefully improve the structure. OERPUB and FLUID worked together to get a live demo working in the oerpub editor.
  • Learner controls: (oerpub’s github accessibilty-sprint branch) Well structured web content can easily be controlled by learners on the fly to adjust text, color, speech options, button readability, etc. OERPUB and FLUID worked together to incorporate the FLUID Learner Options’ into the OERPUB editor so that authors can see how their content looks when learners adjust those controls.
  • Authoring good image descriptions (link to design and paper prototype). This team of of two started with assumptions, created user stories, built a flow chart and then made detailed UI designs for a set of wizard-like steps that help authors create good image descriptions.

Making annotation accessible

  • Crowd sourcing speech for math using annotations (link to paper prototype pdf download from dropbox). The idea is to extend for crowd sourcing math accessibility. It would provide a combo box with four choices – provide alternative, report issue, fix issue, or comment. Readers would rank alternatives by popularity, preference (visual, aural, braille, etc) and subject area. When reporting an issue, readers could select one of ‘does not render’, ‘incorrect’, ‘confusing’, or ‘wrong context’. The team would like these to become github bugs using ‘bugalizer’ (which I think has to be created also.) To fix an issue, someone could ‘choose a label’, ‘create an aural alternative’, ‘edit an aural alternative’, or ‘edit the equation’ itself (for example, so that invisible operators could be voiced).
  • Creating annotations accessibly (link to github code). Making annotations accessible will benefit readers and learnes that use voice activation, keyboard only, and switch devices. At the demo, opening the annotation side bar with keyboard shortcuts was shown, as well as getting the annotations read aloud through shortcuts. It was the first start to making annotations accessible, by using ARIA annotations and keyboard event handlers to enable opening and navigating the annotation drawer.

Better support for mathematics

  • Server side mathematics rendering (link to github code, branch ‘sprint’). MathJax renders mathematics in browsers on each reader’s computer. However, it would be nice to have a server-side version of that also, so that content is pre-converted with the original mathematics, an svg for print and epub, and an aural representation for screen readers. They demo’d grabbing the math elements from HTML documents and handing each one to MathJax for converting to SVG and also handing to ChromeVox for generating a speech rendering.

Making accessible content discoverable 

Representatives from OERPUB, Bookshare, and Learning Registry worked together to figure out ways to make accessible content easier to find. OERPUB analyzed where metadata could be automatically generated while authoring. Bookshare is including similar fields in their description and the Learning Registry was augmented so that needs and preferences could be set before searching and then results that met or nearly met those needs could be returned.

Born Digital, Born Accessible Sprint – Brainstorming Solutions

Group voting wtih sticky notesIf you missed the earlier posts on the accessibility sprint that we had in Menlo Park in May, here they are:

Believe it or not, we are still on Day 1!

Choosing Challenges to Work On

After coming up with design challenges, we voted on the ones we would start to work on. We discussed voting criteria including the importance of the problem and the tractability of prototyping a solution in a short time. We voted with colored sticky notes and I tallied the top three vote getters. We chose three so that we could have two design teams for each problem and compare the results. The top three vote getters were …

  1. Idiot proofing the authoring process for accessibility
  2. Making annotation accessible
  3. Supporting a STEM scholar that wants to submit articles that are also accessible.

We had five design teams total with two on the first two problems and one on the third challenge. The teams brainstormed and came up with quick sketches and then presented their findings at the end of the day. Here are my notes from those sessions.

Idiot proofing the authoring process for accessibility 

Poster of groups findings summarized in text

For simplicity, I am combining ideas from both teams.

  • Have a description bank for images.
  • Create table of contents automatically so screen readers have good navigation and so that authors see a representation of the structure of their content which might encourage better structure.
  • Make footnotes smart and easy to create. (I didn’t fully catch this one, but I think the suggestion is to make footnotes easily to create in ways that link them to the content they are footnoting so that screen readers can find them in context).
  • Have smart defaults. Include header rows by default in tables and suggest authors use headings.
  • Mimic WordPress’ image insertion which shows you caption, alt text, and description in a side panel. These create good habits and expectations in authors.
  • Have a preview mode that reads your content back to you so you can experience what someone listening to it experiences.
  • Have an “accessibility check” mode like spellchecking. 
  • If images are described, make sure to add that to the metadata for discoverability of the resource.

Making annotation accessible

An image being captioned through an annotation and using a templateThe two design teams took two very different angles at this problem. One team brainstormed ways to use annotations as a new way to crowd source descriptions of images and alternatives for inaccessible content. The other looked specifically at‘ interface, to figure out how to make reading annotations and creating annotations accessible. In order to crowd source annotations, that team envisioned a specific annotation layer for accessibility, with a user interface (UI) Notes on adding annotations and hearing the annotationsspecialized for adding accessibility information. The UI would have drop downs for images, graphs, math, etc. Readers would flag resources as inaccessible and request descriptions or alternatives. Responders would have templates for the accessibility information requested. Finally, there would be a way to vote on the best descriptions and/or alternatives. The team looking at making accessible for authors found that it needed a keyboard shortcut for adding annotations. Additionally, so that readers know when an annotation is present, the team envisioned a configurable tone that would indicated the presence of annotations.

Accessible Scholarly Authoring

Flow chart for authoring math

The team started by discussing the most likely pathways for creating scholarly content in the first place, using Word with MathType for math, or using LaTeX. Both have some benefits for accessible authoring and can produce mathematics in MathML. Any work that authors do to make content accessible should be reusable and should fit within the normal flow writing an article. A library of common descriptions for particular common graphs and statistics would be useful.  One option for math would be having authors actually voice the math and include an audio annotation, but human produced audio can’t be explored the way that machine generated audio could. For instance, a reader cannot ask to hear just the first term in an equation. So the team wasn’t sure whether that option should be produced.

The next post will include the results of prototypes created the next day.