The frequency of posts on this blog has been rather limited during the last few months. This is largely due to H810, Accessible Online Learning, at the UK Open University. By submitting my end paper (EMA), my third module on my way to a Master in Online and Distance Education is now officially finished (although results won’t be in for a few months). I posted impressions on previous modules, H800 and H807, before.
Each module follows a broadly similar structure, based on carefully crafted course texts, academic and website readings, asynchronous discussions with peers and tutors in the forum and regular flurries of activity ahead of paper deadlines. In these papers, learners need to relate course content to their own context. H810 was not different from other modules. The relative balance in quality does vary though and some aspects were different.
This module was the most practically oriented so far. All kinds of tools and software passed under the spotlight. Standards and their practical translation into guidelines were discussed. Developing and assessing learning resources was an important part in the assessment. The weight of academic papers was lower than in previous modules. Instead we looked at more videos and websites. The academic character was more than compensated though in the last block of the course, that focused on interpreting accessibility in education through three models (Institutional Change, Activity Theory, Communities of Practice), taking a more policy and institutional stance. In particular institutional change (North, 1994), which discusses the difference between theory (issuing rules) and practice (lack of change on the ground) formed a welcome policy viewpoint complementary to the operational focus in the first half of the course.
Tutor support was not so much strong in quantity (fewer supporting messages in every discussion) as in quality (other viewpoints, pointers to supplementary resources, useful tips), which I appreciated. I found the quality of peer discussion very high, as most learners had a professional role in supporting disabled learners in higher education. For me, without experience ‘in the field’, these discussion offered a welcome addition and reality check to the academic materials.
No course is perfect though and there were some glitches. There was little attention for accessibility development outside the Anglo-Saxon world. There were no synchronous discussions, except for one tutor-led presentation on Xerte Online Toolkits, which I liked very much. In H800 these discussions helped to create a group bond and although tutor group discussions were lively, I can’t say there was a strong community feeling. I found the time available for writing the EMA (a 6000 words essay) extremely short, in particular as the deadline was right after Christmas holidays. A short break sometime in course activities would have been fine.
But overall I found H810 an extremely interesting course, partly because I had very little prior knowledge. It definitely raised my awareness for accessibility issues in (online) learning. Concepts such as a social view on disability, invisible disabilities and universal design are relevant for development cooperation as well. The course strengthened my belief in online learning, and made me looking forward to my next module, H809 (although I’d love it would start a few weeks later).