SFD around the Commonwealth/Greg Gay
Accessibility in OSS
As part of the ATRC at the University of Toronto, an organization whose primary goal is to promote equality for people with disabilities, I spent a couple of years studying learning management systems (LMSs), and the support that they offered people with disabilities. At the time none were fully accessible to these people, or even complied with basic accessibility standards required to provide access for those who might be using assistive technology, or who might require other accommodations to participate in an online classroom. Not to mention support for instructors and administrators with disabilities, which was non-existent. Only in the last couple years have LMS and other open source developers come to recognize the need to create accessible Web applications, though there is still a long way to go before accessible Web applications is the norm. Not only does using accessible development practices ensure that those with disabilities can participate fully, it also means these systems can be used over a slow internet connection, in older or text based Web browsers, on a cell phone or PDA, and can be adapted to the needs of each individual user.
Making Learning Online Accessible
It was obvious to us at the time that things had to change, which brought about ATutor, and the collection of so called A-tools. What better way is there to promote accessibility than creating Open Source Software that models accessibility in practice. Originally ATutor began as a personal project to develop a learning environment for students with learning disabilities, providing them with an adaptive system that would accommodate any special learning needs they might have. Such an environment is accessible through multiple perceptual senses (visual, verbal, kinesthetic), and organizes learning materials so they can be viewed in sequence, as a hierarchy, or in a webbed format, allowing learners to move through the content in a way they best suits their way of learning. It turns out such adaptability is helpful for everyone (just like accessibility is). ATutor has become know as an accessible, adaptive learning environment. ATutor has continued to evolve on both fronts. Recent additions to the accessibility of the system include an HTML editor that produces accessible content, to go along with the accessible learning environment. The adaptability of the system has been extended to include adaptability for instructors and administrators as well, allowing instructors to construct a learning space to suit their specific pedagogical requirements, and allowing administrators (and developers) to easily customize the look-and-feel of the system, and extend its functionality with themes and feature modules. ATutor is continually evolving, and its community of users is growing exponentially.
On the Lighter Side of OSS
One of the perks as a developer of open source software is getting to know a whole lot of people all over the world, and on occasion being invited to visit. The photo above was taken near the summit of Mount Etna, in Sicily, one of the world's more active volcanos. It's not an adventure I'll ever forget, as the ground rumbled below us, and the craters began puffing smoke the day of the climb. ATutor brought me to Italy through a conference organized by Italian users of ATutor, held on the picturesque isle of Capri. If you have ever considering starting your own OSS project, perhaps the possibility of perks such as these will provide the motivation.