Digital technology isn’t just for geeks

Accessibility in the digital age
Yesterday I had my first of two introductory meetings for a course I’m starting later this month. In addition to three hours of class time each week, there is a textbook, several additional articles and an audio component that help comprise the hour of daily homework to support the course. Nothing that unusual right? Except for three things.

Today we want options

I’d prefer listening to the textbook and it’s only available as an abridged audiobook. The eBook’s pagination doesn’t conform to the print version and the instructor makes reference to specific pages in class. The print version is nearly impossible to find. Yet, “…it was a best seller at Chapters and Indigo 10 years ago.”

As for the additional articles, I received a 5″ binder jam packed with photocopied sheets. The quality is poor, the text is blurry and most of it is very small, not to mention the number of trees that were killed when you consider the course has 25 students enrolled this term.

And now for the audio… I was given three beautifully packaged and branded CDs. My laptop no longer has a CD drive and I don’t think we have one in the house anymore. Let alone one I could use in private or use on the go. I don’t know about you but my Walkman went out around the last episode of Seinfeld. The good news is the instructor is working on a digital version of the recordings and expects to have them available on iTunes before the first class. Yay!

Developing course materials is a challenging task

As an adult education instructor and curriculum developer, perhaps I should be a bit more understanding. Developing a course curriculum is tough and we often invest a lot more time in the course than we’re compensated. But this is 2014 not 2004.

Granted, as I was reminded by the course facilitator who was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with my asking if the materials were available in digital format, “Not everyone taking this course is comfortable with technology.” However, in this day and age, shouldn’t we be offered the choice? Three of us were receiving our course materials at the same time. Two of us didn’t have CD players and preferred digitized materials.

It’s a matter of accessibility

It’s not just a matter of choice anymore. Perhaps we’re used to the availability of retina displays, the ability to customize typeface and magnifying its size either by adjusting an app or touching the screen, and listening to almost anything on the go. I’ve decided to be a bit disruptive and follow the textbook as an eBook (Kindle devices and their free reading apps usually allow you to track the print pagination) and am looking forward to listening to the audio materials on my iPhone. As for the printouts, I’ll be skipping most of them. Not because I want to be disruptive but more because of accessibility. Even with corrective lenses, I still can’t read fuzzy, tiny type.

In courses designed for a general audience, should we be giving them the option of materials in digital or print, or should we be catering to the lowest common denominator?

Disclosure: This course referenced in this post is probably not unique in terms of course materials. It is offered privately and not at University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies where I am instructor.
Line drawn peony from Spodek Co Site