Tackling the challenges of enhancing accessibility of Open Education Resources (OER)

A green and beige horizontal banner that says “ALT TEXT: don’t forget about me”.
Digital Vidya. (n.d). https://blog.inkforall.com/how-alt-text-can-be-your-secret-seo-weapon. Released under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial 4.0 International licence.

Written by

Brian Valionis, University of Southern Australia, placement student

Iain Wilson, Charles Sturt University, placement student

Steven Chang, La Trobe University, Coordinator Open Education & Scholarship

Sebastian Kainey, La Trobe University, Digital Discovery Officer

Content Warning.

Please be advised that this blog post references sexual and gender-based violence. If you or someone you know is experiencing violence or abuse, please call 1800 737 732 (1800RESPECT).

Context of student project

The project was part of a library student placement so students could gain “real world experience in contributing to the creation of an OER. It is to develop approaches for implementing alt text(which refers to captions that describe images) for the La Trobe eBureau book Gender-based violence and healthcare in Timor-Leste which is an OER to be published in English and Tetum (the national language of East Timor).

The value of the project is that it gave the library placement students real world experience in problem solving in an ongoing OER project. This was particularly valuable as it connected to Brian and Iain’s interests in how OERs can reducing educational inequalities.

La Trobe University eBureau

The eBureau was launched in 2016 with the goal of providing La Trobe University students (and the wider community) with access to high quality OER textbooks, this works in conjunction with the La Trobe Opal platform which is an Open Access (OA) research depository.

Importance of addressing violence against women in East Timor

The book is specifically for how East Timor health and allied health professionals can respond to domestic and sexual violence, an important resource as an estimated 34% of women in East Timor have experienced violence in their lifetime (Asia Foundation, 2016). It aims to teach health professionals what is sexual and domestic violence, its prevalence within society, how to recognise the signs, and how to appropriately respond.

Seobility. (n.d). https://www.seobility.net/en/wiki/images/4/44/ALT_Attribute.png Released under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International licenve.

Importance of alt-text and accessibility in OER

Alt-text refers to alternative text that explains an image, graph, infographic or other visual information through text. As argued by McGinty (2021) and Huntsman (2022) alt text is essential to enhance inclusion, as readers with a visual or other impairment may not be able to access the information in in the graphical material in the text. Additionally, alt text allows the usage of screen readers – software which uses audio to read out the text. This goes to Universal Design – ensuring that in the case of OERs and other textual works, the consideration of how all users can access the information of the text is a core component in creating it.

Challenges of putting alt-text in OER

These next sections will highlight the challenges that the team faced in creating alt text, through an honest discussion of the challenges faced the team hopes that others can see and learn from their problem solving.

Decorative images – alt-text required?

In alt text terms, decorative images refer to graphical components that do not contain relevant information, for example an image background or stock images. The design of the book is based upon engaging East Timorese reading culture and specifically includes images to break up the text into readable components. This means that not all images are going to provide relevant information, as such the decision was made to selectively provide alt text based on its relevance to the content.


In normal circumstances alt text would describe the key and relevant information of a graph as per this example. However, in analysing the book the team noticed that the text already described the relevant data from the graph, so the approach was taken to describe the graphical aspects in relation to the key information.


The challenge in creating alt text for infographics is attempting to reconcile technical limitations of screen readers which can cut off after 100-150 characters, to that of any accurate description being substantially longer than that limit. The team had advice from Nikki Andersen, Open Education Content Librarian at the University of Southern Queensland, to make alt text a separate section to accurately describe the image and the information that it contains. Nikki also provided the team with examples of how alt text could be created for infographics.

Specific example – infographic

In this book the infographics visualise critical components of key information. One example is the image below which shows the domestic violence cycle from page 27 from the book. As such it was highly important that this information be included and accessible to all readers.

Characters are depicted each stage of the cycle of domestic violence: honeymoon phase, tension building phase, threatening phase, angry explosion phase, remorse phase, pursuit and reconciliation phase

This is a proposed alternative text for the above image “Characters are depicted each stage of the cycle of domestic violence: honeymoon phase, tension building phase, threatening phase, angry explosion phase, remorse phase, pursuit and reconciliation phase”. This isn’t the final alternative text but rather an example of how the team made proposals in the drafting process.

Reflection and conclusion

The key lesson from this project was how alt text needs to be relevant and in context with the greater focus of the resource. As this example from Harvard demonstrates, even a relatively simple image will have differing focuses and meaning depending upon the subject of the greater text. In this case the focus in creating alt text was very much upon keeping the information relevant to the key goal of providing information about sexual and domestic violence for health professionals in East Timor.


The team would like to express their utmost gratitude to Nikki Anderson, her assistance and advice was invaluable to the team and the greater project. Nikki has edited an OER, “Enhancing Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) in Open Educational Resources (OER) – Australian Edition”.

The team would also like to express their gratitude to Adele Walsh, Senior Coordinator, Community Programs and Engagement who organised the placement and learning opportunities for the students.

Reference list

Andersen, N. (Ed). (2022). Enhancing Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) in Open Educational Resources (OER). University of Southern Queensland. https://open.umn.edu/opentextbooks/textbooks/1247

Asia Foundation. (2016). Fact Sheet 4. Sexual Violence against Women in Timor-Leste. Asia Foundation. https://asiafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/eng-FS4-2016-05-04-screen.pdf

Huntsman. S. (2022). An Image for All: The Rhetoric for Writing Alt-Text. 2022 IEEE International Professional Communication Conference (ProComm), 61–52. https://doi.org/10.1109/procomm53155.2022.00012

McGinty. J. (2021). Accessible Digital Learning Materials for Inclusive Adult Education. Adult Learning., 32(2), 96–98. https://doi.org/10.1177/1045159520961470

Running workshops: Sharing our lessons from the CAUL EMC Conference 2022 with the LIS community


Steven Chang, La Trobe University

Beth Price, La Trobe University

Jane Humphreys, La Trobe University

Angie Williamson, Deakin University

Jennifer Hurley, RMIT University

Dr Elham Sayyad Abdi, La Trobe University

CAUL Enabling a Modern Curriculum conference logo

In September 2022, we ran the Melbourne leg of face-to-face workshops for the CAUL Enabling a Modern Curriculum Conference 2022. The workshop in the morning, facilitated by Steven, Angie and Jennifer, was about incorporating Open Education Resources into the curriculum. In the afternoon, the workshop focused on learning experience design and its relevance in academic libraries, and was facilitated by Ellie, Beth and Jane. 

Once the workshops were over, we had many observations on how things went and how it felt to get back to face-to-face presentations. We got together in our teams and reflected on our experiences – as we usually do – and we had a number of ideas for how things could be improved for the future, just in case we would want to run our workshops again! 

We did something different this time, though: we decided to share our reflections and experiences with our LIS community in a short blog post just in case it helps those who are planning to run a workshop in the near future. Enjoy reading our reflections.

Mitigating time pressures

For any workshop you have a limited amount of time. You have a lot to share, people have other commitments (so they might not be able to stay in your workshop if it goes over time), and the workshop venue might be booked for another event. So timing of the workshop is super critical – here is our advice: 

  • Don’t underestimate the amount of time participants need for tasks. This is particularly important for tasks that involve any level of complexity, e.g., completing templates, or using toolkits. Five minutes is rarely going to be sufficient for anything involving discussion, writing, or thoughtful contemplation. 
  • Allow sufficient time for participant report-backs on activities, as this can be time-consuming. Also provide a speaking time limit for each table/group for this to avoid rambling.
  • Real-time identification of post-it note themes can be challenging: allow generous time, revisit these during breaks, or forget doing it in real-time and instead do this after the workshop.
  • Minimise the race against time by a) assigning dedicated timekeeping responsibilities to one facilitator, and b) building flexibility into the run sheet so you can recoup time by shortening activities as needed. 
  • Ease participants out of activities smoothly and clearly
    • Use a bell. Ding dong! (or ding a glass cup with a spoon).
    • Enact a clear visual countdown on the screen (use an online tool for this) and give participants notice that this will happen (to ease count down anxiety).
    • Warn participants when 2 minutes left, and at 1 minute left say “start wrapping up”.

Continuous improvement

Any experience design can benefit from an iterative approach where each round of implementation will be informed by lessons from the previous round. There’s a good chance that you would want to reshape and further develop a conference workshop to use it in other different or similar settings. As a result, it would be good to take notes about your workshop and reflect on it after the delivery is over. Here are our suggestions: 

  • Scribble down ad-hoc notes when encountering notable challenges. It’s hard to remember “things you would improve next time” when you’re concentrating on solving them in the moment and keeping the workshop running smoothly. It’s usually easier to take notes if the workshop is co-facilitated (so one of the co-facilitators can take notes while others are running the session). 
  • After all is said and done, share your reflections. In particular, organise a dedicated debrief with your co-presenters to discuss the challenges, barriers, and things you would do differently in the future. Even better – write up these shared reflections and publish them in a concise way on an accessible platform where people in the industry will read and learn from it (like we’re doing now on this excellent blog!).

The online vs F2F nexus

For most of us, this was our first face-to-face workshop after two and a half years of online-only workshops in lockdown. This experience reminded us of the nature of in-person conference workshops and the challenges of coordinating these types of learning experiences. Here are a few reminders from us: 

  • Help participants cut down on distractions. Always print out enough worksheets on the assumption that everyone will need one, so participants can minimise digital noise from their devices. However, equally it is crucial to prevent physical clutter, so ensure these print worksheets are visually signposted and explicitly chunked. For example:
    • organised into clear numbered headings
    • stapled together or at least page numbered
    • verbally referenced by headings/page numbers by presenter instructions.

Otherwise the digital distractions will simply migrate into physical form and participants will spend more time fluttering paper sheets than focusing on the exercise.

  • Assume half the room cannot get into Eduroam. This is frustratingly the norm – If you need people to do something online, act accordingly by providing USB copies and print copies for these people so they can access toolkits and worksheets.
  • Plan how you will capture physical data from the workshop. In the moment it can seem that a smartphone photo snap of post-it notes will efficiently capture all the written information. Often the content of the post-it notes will be unreadable or too low-res to be useful post-workshop. You may want to consider digital methods instead such as Padlet or Popplet.

The golden lesson

Last but definitely not least, there’s one thing we cannot emphasise enough: Practice, practice,  practice. Test as many aspects of your workshop as possible before your live version. So here’s our golden lesson: 

  • Plan and deliver “mock” workshops with trusted colleagues. These are absolutely invaluable because, as workshop designers and presenters, we are often too close to our own material and struggle to inhabit the learner’s perspective. Test workshops solve this problem by providing a second “outside” perspective. Think of these mock runs as a stress test of your run sheet to identify what will or won’t work in the real world – both in terms of technology and the human elements (e.g., microphones dropping out, insufficient time for participant tasks, lack of clarity for activity instructions, too much paper, etc.).

While running conference workshops and sharing knowledge with one’s community of practice helps to connect with others in the sector, presenting to large rooms of attendees can be scary and exhausting, especially if you are back to physical conference sessions after a long time of being online. Hopefully the tips we shared in this blog post will enable you as a future presenter to enjoy the experience as much as your workshop attendees.

What we’ve learned about OER Professional Development

by Kylie Tran (Manager, Library Services and Spaces), University of Melbourne and Nikki Andersen (Open Education Content Librarian), University of Southern Queensland.

This year CAUL’s Open Educational Resources (OER) Professional Development (PD) Program will develop an OER program. In 2021, the project team undertook an environmental scan, literature review and stakeholder survey to inform the design and delivery of this program. Here is what we’ve learned about OER PD so far: 

What we learned from the environmental scan

The purpose of our environmental scan was to gain an understanding of the OER PD programs already on offer around the world. From the environmental scan we learned that:

  • The majority of OER professional development programs were predominantly American. Surprisingly very few were located from Europe or the United Kingdom
  • The OER programs identified used a mixture of platforms and tools. The majority were self-paced courses that offered modular learning
  • Most programs and resources were created for, and aimed at, educators (academics/teaching staff/instructors). Some courses were aimed at both educators and students, such as USQ’s MOOC Repurposing Open Educational Resources: An Introduction. The minority were aimed at library staff
  • The vast majority of programs and resources did not require payment to access or complete. In some instances, programs were freely accessible, but users had the option of paying for a certificate or similar credential
  • The majority of programs do not provide credentials or it was unknown if they did provide them following completion
  • Unsurprisingly, many of the programs included a Creative Commons license, enabling opportunities to reuse and acknowledge the content of the programs and resources. 

What we learned from the literature review

From the literature review we learned that: 

  • The research favoured a whole course approach to capacity building, as opposed to ad-hoc workshops
  • Successful PD programs placed learners in authentic real-world learning contexts, highlighting the importance of situating OER knowledge in participants’ work environments 
  • There was a wide variation in the inclusion of assessment and granting of credentials on completion 
  • The creation of a community of practice or mentorship was supported by the literature, with these networks helping participants grow and develop their OER proficiency 
  • The primary barrier to the completion of OER PD was the ability for participants to allocate time to complete PD, highlighting the importance of organisational support for staff to undertake PD

What we learned from the stakeholder survey

From the stakeholder survey, we learned that: 

  • Most institutions and individuals would find an OER PD program valuable 
  • The PD needs across Library staff are highly variable, from introductory to specialised
  • The majority of respondents favoured (i) self-directed, primarily asynchronous online courses or programs offered over an extended study period followed by (ii) online seminar or lecture series (curated program of linked seminars). 

We look forward to providing an OER PD Program to you all. Stay tuned!

Call for participation: PhD research project on open textbook publishing programs at Australian universities

This post is written by Samara Rowling, PhD Candidate, Editing & Publishing, University of Southern Queensland. Email: samara.rowling2@usq.edu.au

Why research open textbook publishing programs at Australian universities?

While as many of you will be aware, there’s already a growing body of research on open educational practice (OEP) and open educational resource (OER) use in Australian higher education, little research has been conducted on open textbook publishing activities and experiences at Australian universities. Most existing research on open textbook publishing focuses on the international context (e.g. North America), where differences in funding and legislative support affect not only how, but the extent to which this work is undertaken. While we know from anecdotal evidence that many Australian universities are engaged in this work, currently, there is no comprehensive and cohesive data available about the state of open textbook publishing in Australia and how this compares to more established models overseas.

How am I addressing this gap in knowledge?

My Doctor of Philosophy project (HREC approval number H21REA125) will be the first national study of open textbook publishing programs at Australian universities. It aims to investigate current and emerging trends in open textbook publishing within the broader context of university and library-led publishing.

I’m collecting data for this research by surveying staff involved in open textbook publishing at Australian universities about their publishing activities and experiences. Once I’ve analysed these results, I’ll be conducting a series of follow-up interviews with a small group of participants to discuss their responses.

I’ll be sharing the data from this research in open access journals and in my PhD thesis, which I plan to make available under a Creative Commons license through my institutional repository with no embargo period, as well as as an open access book.

In my thesis, I’ll be using this data to make evidence-based recommendations about how we can build more sustainable open textbook publishing programs at Australian universities.

This 60-second animation, created for the 2021 University of Southern Queensland Visualise Your Thesis competition, gives a quick summary of the project:

What can you do to help?

If you’re involved in publishing open textbooks at an Australian university, I’m requesting your assistance with this research. Understanding how we can build more sustainable publishing programs, and consequently, increase production of high-quality Australian open textbooks will improve the student experience by helping to:

• reduce the financial burden of study

• remove geographic and copyright barriers preventing students from accessing essential course materials

• provide more accessible, diverse, and inclusive content than is typically offered by traditional publishers.

You can help with this important research by completing my 15-20 minute online survey at https://surveys.usq.edu.au/index.php/584337 by 28 February 2022.

During this survey, you’ll be asked to share details about your university’s open textbook publishing activities – on topics like funding, staffing, professional development infrastructure, and outputs – as well as your own thoughts about the benefits, challenges, and opportunities of engaging in this work.

If you’re just getting started, were previously publishing but have now stopped, or have decided publishing open textbooks isn’t for you, the survey contains alternate pathways designed to capture these experiences as well. After completing the survey, you can also nominate yourself for a follow-up interview if you would like to discuss your experiences in more detail.

For more information about this research, you can contact me at Samara.Rowling2@usq.edu.au. In the spirit of open access, I’ll be tweeting about this project as I go along, including sharing data and links to any publications, so please follow me at @SamaraRowling for updates.

Visualising usage analytics: An evidence base for open texts

This post was written by Emilia Bell, Coordinator (Evidence Based Practice), University of Southern Queensland. Emilia can be contacted at Emilia.Bell@usq.edu.au or on Twitter @EmiliaCaraBell.

How can evidence-based practice inform how we approach open education practices (OEP)? At the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) Library, the Open Educational Practice and the Evidence Based Practice teams have collaborated to collect data around USQ’s open texts on the Pressbooks platform. The result has been a Power BI data report to visualise the patterns of usage for these open texts. The data are collected as local evidence to support the continuous improvement of open education resources (OER) and OEP and to advocate for the value and values of openness.


Data visualisation, using Power BI, has helped support a greater understanding of the Google Analytics data model and its hierarchy. The visualisations are not static, and they allow open education practitioners to engage with the data by filtering or highlighting data points that are relevant to their own evidence needs and practice. The interactivity and design choices help to recognise the collaborative efforts in creating OERs and the varied evidence needs of authors. Using Power BI has enabled authors to access and interact with the data collected on their open text, furthering an evidence-based approach to OEP.

Power BI’s Google Analytics connector allows us to easily draw on the dimensions and metrics required for the data report. The initial metrics used to capture patterns of usage include:

  • Page views and user sessions,
  • Downloads and file type,
  • Sources of traffic,
  • Geographic distribution of users,
  • Link resolver statistics (Alma Analytics), and
  • Users’ browser and device types.

Visualisation of web analytics data for open textbooks can enable open education practitioners to engage in evidence-based practice. The report encourages further exploration of the data and critical reflection on its relevance to OEP.

Screenshot of USQ’s Power BI report showing the unique page views and downloads for the open text ‘Academic Success’ (2021).
USQ’s Power BI report page for ‘Academic Success’ (2021).
Screenshot of USQ’s Power BI report showing the geographic distribution of users.
USQ’s Power BI report page showing geographic distribution of users of USQ’s Pressbooks.

Questions and reflections

Communicating the why of openness, as a value, requires evidence to guide how we approach OERs and the practices surrounding openness. Before creating the report, we dedicated time to deciding which metrics would be important to track and communicate to authors. We started with overarching and values-driven questions, not immediately answerable with our data, but highlighting the motivations behind OEP.

Formulating answerable and data-driven questions is critical to determining the local evidence needs for OEP. These questions support the application of evidence to practice. They allow us to consider what is important to be collecting in our local context and the value behind adopting specific metrics.

Initially, questions are summarising the data: What chapters are being accessed the most? What percentage of users are referred to a textbook from a learning management system? Over time, more questions can be identified, especially as trends and patterns are recognised and require further interpretation. Further analysis will further inform how we approach openness and work with open texts, encouraging these new questions and further reflections.

Data visualisation represents one aspect of how we can take an evidence-based approach to OEP. It provides an interactive assessment of the usage of open texts, while also being accessible to authors and supporting a report design that highlights the collaboration behind OEP. As we continue to value, integrate, and assess many evidence types (local, research, and professional knowledge) to inform OEP, we can build continuous improvement and support advocacy for what openness can achieve.

Note: that the screenshots and corporate logos (such as the USQ Phoenix, and any other company represented) and branding are specifically excluded from the Creative Commons Attribution licence of this post, and may not be reproduced under any circumstances without the express written permission of the copyright holders.

New open texts by Australian academic libraries

The ASCILITE Open Educational Practices Special Interest Group (OEP-SIG) is a practitioner-led community that supports open educational practice (OEP) in Australian Higher Education. Each month, they produce a monthly digest on all things OEP. The digest is curated by Ashleigh Barber (University of South Australia), Jennifer Hurley (RMIT), Alice Leutchford (James Cook University) and Nikki Andersen (University of Southern Queensland).

The latest issue of the digest features an excellent list of new open texts and resources produced by Australian academic libraries.

A Long Goodbye by James Cook University

James Cook University has published their first open ebook via Pressbooks titled: ‘A Long Goodbye: Ed and Mary’s Journey with Lewy Body Dementia’. The book chronicles Ed’s experiences as a carer following his wife Mary’s diagnosis with Lewy body dementia. Ed’s story provides information and educational resources related to dementia care. Although specifically focusing on Lewy body dementia, the resources are transferable to caring for people with any type of dementia.

Women’s voices in tourism research by the University of Queensland

This book showcases the many contributions that women worldwide have made to tourism research. It also serves as a collective mentoring platform, containing letters written by women to the future generations of tourism researchers and passing on invaluable observations and advice.

23 Scholarly Communication Things by Queensland University of Technology

This resource has been created as an aid to help library staff to learn about the various aspects of Scholarly Communication.  It is designed to be of use to those who are new to academic librarianship and for seasoned professionals wishing to keep up-to-date.

It is not a ‘how to’ guide, but rather a doorway to information that will help you on your quest for knowledge and experience, using various tools and sites related to world of scholarly communications.

Visuals for Influence by the University of Southern Queensland

‘Visuals for influence: in project management and beyond’ is a practical guide with 24 visuals to download, adapt and deploy to engage your stakeholders. This practical guide will build your confidence and practical skills to quickly and effectively leverage the benefits of visuals to maximise your influence.

  • Uncover the science behind the power in visuals
  • Discover software and tools that make visualisation easy
  • Learn pro design tips that give your visuals a professional edge
  • Download a visual archetype, tailor to your needs, and enhance your influence!

Deleting Dystopia by University of Southern Queensland

‘Deleting Dystopia: Re-asserting Human Priorities in the Age of Surveillance Capitalism’ confirms that the existential threats posed by the misuse of advanced digital technologies are real. But, in place of apathy and fatalism, the book explores ways of understanding the threat, conceptualising solutions and identifying strategies that lead away from digital authoritarian futures towards those funded on humanly viable values and practices.

Introducing the OER Professional Development Project

Open education resources (OER) and accompanying open education practices (OEP), are changing the education landscape. To take on OER-related roles and issues, we need to learn the language and culture of open education and develop expertise in areas such as open licensing, copyright, e-learning, and knowledge about OER technologies and standards.

The Open Educational Resources Professional Development Program project is addressing the OER Professional Development needs of higher education institutions.

The project aims to:

  1. Develop a proposal for an Open Educational Resource professional development program.
  2. Develop and implement an Open Educational Resource professional development program.

The project is led by Marion Slawson (Federation University) and consists of the following team members: Sarah Howard (QUT), Kylie Tran (University of Melbourne), Anne Hawkins (Flinders University), Kate McVey (University of Western Australia) and Nikki Andersen (University of Southern Queensland).

The below video outlines the project’s team current progress.

More information on the Open Educational Resources Professional Development Program project can be found in the project brief (PDF).

Interested in being involved?

Subscribe to the blog to receive project updates and keep an eye out for OER Professional Development 2022.