Monday, November 23, 2009

Bookshare to Convert Open Content Textbooks to Accessible Formats

Just spent a week in Washington DC doing all kinds of things, including actual lobbying (it's fun!) as well as meeting with our Bookshare funders at the Department of Education. One of the coolest meetings was with Under Secretary of Education, Martha Kanter, who headed our local community college here in California before getting the appointment. She and her senior policy adviser, Hal Plotkin, are huge fans of Open Educational Resources (OERs), having been involved in starting that movement in community colleges.

Our new announcement about the Department granting Bookshare supplemental funding to convert open content textbooks to accessible formats went over very well. We're promising to do highly accessible versions of 80 open content textbooks. There's even a quote from Governor Schwarzenegger in the press release!

Accessibility is a huge asset of open content materials, which are frequently released under the Creative Commons licenses and are freely distributable. Since they are open, we can get them and do the adaptations for accessibility. We also can (and do) make them freely available on our website. That's a huge difference compared to copyrighted works that we convert under the copyright exemption, which we have to keep under tight controls to restrict copyrighted works to only the use of people with bona fide print disabilities in the U.S. These new textbooks will be available to everybody, with or without a disability, for free, globally. They should be great examples of accessible textbooks, and allow teachers in training to access them, parents, assistive technology developers and so on. It's also a chance for us to start looking to the best ways of making these textbooks more usable for more people.

I recently blogged about seeing David Wiley's talk about Flat World Knowledge, the open content textbook company (for-profit, but giving away the digital versions of their textbooks for free under CC licenses), at the BYU ESR conference. We've been big fans of OERs and CC licensing, and it seems like the field is on the brink of really going to scale. Our mission is to make more of these materials matter to many more people: how can OERs be directly usable by millions of people?

1 comment:

Sig said...

I have been a regular reader of Beneblog RSS feed for some time now. Your "accessibilization" initiative of K-12 textbooks is great news. As a French social entrepreneur, I am working on a similar project (with the INSERM research institute and the French department of education) as I am coaching volunteers who "accessibilize" French K-12 textbooks.

Your geeks may be interested in bliotux, the (free) software prototype I am developping at http://gna.org/projects/bliotux
Bliotux is a Javascript+SVG proof-of-concept for building would-be accessible textbooks with interactive and animated graphics without requiring "heavy" client-side technologies such as Adobe Flash.

Happy New Year to you all and please, keep on give me so much inspiration for my own social venture !