Open Licensing

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Accessibility of Open Textbooks for Diverse Learners

It is our job as educators to make instructional materials accessible to the widest audience of learners possible regardless of the types of disabilities impeding the learner. This is accomplished by using many different techniques depending on the media format of the materials. As digital formats have continued to expand, opportunities to reach diverse learners have as well. Guidelines have been established to ensure that both creators and users of materials are in agreement on best practices for supporting all learners.

College Open Textbooks has had nearly 100 open textbooks reviews for adherence to accessibility guidelines to assist faculty with making informed adoption choices so they can best support all students.

The objectives of this reading include

  • Identify what is meant by diverse learners
  • Explain the motivation for web accessibility guidelines
  • Apply the guidelines when selecting open textbooks
  • Explore how Universal Design for Learning benefits everyone
  • Find further information about this important topic

Web Accessibility Guidelines

The Americans with Disability Act (1990) the most comprehensive federal civil rights statute to protect rights of individuals with disabilities, also insures that students with disabilities have equal access to all services provided for the general student population. Section 508 (1998) was added to the Americans with Disability Act to ensure that electronic and information technology was accessible to people with disabilities. The international standards body, W3C, responded with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 1.0 in 1999 which was update in 2008 to WCAG 2.0.

Read about the the POUR principle of Web Accessibility in WCAG 2.0

Diverse Learners

The term diverse learners is meant to encompass all of us who aspire to learn new things regardless of physical or cognitive learning disabilities. The general categories of disability are listed below but this only captures a small subset of the variations that may impact learning ability.

Disability Symptoms Educational Needs

Visual disabilities From people with poor vision, color blindness, to legally blind (3.4% of U.S. population) Screen magnifiers and readers for textbooks. Cannot require images or mouse to navigate Hearing disabilities Any type of auditory disorder to deafness (8.2 % of U.S. population) Any auditory cues or tracks need to be transcribed into text or captioning. Physical disabilities Muscular weakness, skeletal impairments, limb amputation, paralysis, head trauma Generally require assistive technology to interact with computer.

Cognitive disabilities Wide variation from mental retardation to memory, processing, and conceptualizing difficulties. Language learners may also be inluded here. Needs are dependent on disability. Memory and processing issues may require repetition. For ADD, ADHD: eliminating distractions and maintaining consistency are recommended. source:

Further Information

There is more information at the Section 508 website on members of the Academic Community who provide additional guidelines and research on the efficacy of best practices in accessibility.

Also, please join our Accessibility Group on the College Open Textbooks ning site and share any thoughts on insights with our members.

Creative Commons Copyright - The "Open" in Open Textbooks

Creative Commons is a nonprofit corporation that has pioneered alternatives to standard copyright restrictions.

Watch this short video on "A Shared Culture" made by the folks at Creative Commons.

License: CC-BY

Creative Commons: Spectrum of Rights

Below is a cartoon describing the creative commons copyright permissions in more detail. As an open textbook adopter or advocate/trainer you don't have to know everything about these licenses but a general familiarity will help you understand how you may use the materials in the textbooks you are considering.

Spectrum Of Rights Cartoon

License Compatibility

When compiling different media with different licenses together to make an open textbook, it is important to label your created work with the appropriate license. Read here for how to derive your open license when creating a new work with adapted open materials.

Other Expanded Copyright Permissions

Community College Open Textbook Collaborative works predominantly with Creative Commons copyright licenses. The following material is about other forms of copyright. One of the other organizations that has pioneered the concept of extended copyright permissions is GNU which began licensing open software in 1984. Later GNU expanded its licenses to cover manuals, textbooks and other materials.

If you explore open textbooks in depth, you are likely to find some that are covered by GNU rather than CC. The permissions of the CC-Attribution-ShareAlike license are similar to the Free Cultural protections articulated in the GNU Public License.

There are also many authors and publishers who have written up their own custom copyright agreements. As you come across these, read the use agreements carefully. Although understanding Creative Commons will acquaint you with the general issues of extended copyright, each agreement is likely to have subtle variations. Be sure you understand whether you have permission to modify material that is not licensed by Creative Commons and that you cite the author and publisher properly.


Using the COT site, see if you can find something for English Composition that can be modified by you and has also been peer-reviewed. (Hint: Review the Creative Commons abbreviations from the About Creative Commons Licenses)

Weekly Forum

Question #1 - Of the criteria explored over the past two weeks (Peer reviews, Accessibility, and Copyright) what area do you feel is most important to consider when choosing an open textbook? Why?