Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Year 2 - Day 2...accessibility

Today we had a field trip to the Computer Science area. There are endless possibilities for content using the development structures discussed today. At the end of today I will focus on two ‘access’ issues in two very different geographic and economic contexts.

First, these kinds of virtual world/media rich projects are incredibly expensive to create. There is a valid argument to be made that in Canada at a publicly funded university or where grants come from the federal government via a funding agency all the materials produced should be openly available and shared. As a tax payer, yes, I want that access for students and professionals! What I wonder is what is in it for the producers in an academic context? Is it like MIT where you get bragging rights for developing the materials and build your resume that way as a student or faculty member?

Aside from the expense to create, what about the implicit expense passed on to students. Sure it is fair to say that this might replace expensive texts and that one of the key responsibilities of educators is to prepare students by ensuring they graduate able to interact with sophisticated technology they may be using in the workplace. My problem is when developers force students to buy a specific device. Surely we can start to get some convergence going with regards to interoperability. I don’t have a problem being told I need a laptop for my program (in fact I take that for granted). What I have a MAJOR problem with is being forced to purchase from a specific company regardless of the name of the company. How is it that publicly funded schools can mandate that you must have an iPad? Why would educators want to be Apple salespeople? (We could just as easily substitute Dell or whatever company here.)

Secondly, still on accessibility, as I have been telling many of you I had the absolute honour to have delivered a workshop in Zambia at the eLearning Africa Conference. Here were all these bright young people who just were thrilled that they could work uninterrupted on a computer for a couple of hours. The connectivity was unreliable, the computers ranging in age and loaded with open source products because the university could not afford licenses…The lab director made do with what he had and under the circumstances did an excellent job. Even if we shared all the educational resources we saw today freely with the world, where does the bandwidth heavy Second Life fit for educators in Africa? Where do the device-specific applications fit in a region where an iPhone goes on the black market for 1,800 dollars because there is no business case for Apple to invest in Africa and only the very rich can even contemplate owning such a status symbol?

I wish I had answers to the questions above! For now it is just a confused mix of endless wonderful possibilities punctuated by indignation and outrage.


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