Whilst the Open University is known for being a renowned provider of online and distance learning, there are some students who – whilst studying at a distance – are unable to complete their studies using solely online methods. This can include students with disabilities and those who are studying from a secure environment.
Another thing that the Open University is known for is its online Library – but how can students who are sometimes unable to use online means to access an online library, still benefit from its resources? This is where the OU Library’s Student Experience and Learning Adjustment team (StELA) come in.
Here, team StELA describe the accessibility work they do to ensure essential library content is accessible for disabled students and students in secure environments.
Who we are and what we do:
We are a small team within the OU’s Library, mostly working from home with the occasional day on campus to keep in touch with colleagues. We're led by Project Management guru David, who works closely with other departments across the OU at the leadership level. He’s ably supported by Louise who looks after the operational aspects of the department. We then have superstars Jamie, Jenny, Lucy, Gina, and Gil who perform the day-to-day work, checking to make sure nothing is missing from the printed pack that is essential to the student’s education.
What is a Printed Pack?
The clue is in the name! The printed pack is a set of physical documents that contains most of the course material you see on the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), including any resources required to complete the activities in the Module, such as reading and responding to journal articles, or taking extensive notes on book chapters.
The printed pack is crucial for students studying with the OU who face challenges that make studying online difficult. This could be anything from long term health conditions, specific learning adjustments (such as dyslexia), mental health difficulties, or limited access to the internet. Much to the relief of the postal workers it won’t all arrive as one hefty tome! Instead, Printed Packs are received in instalments, referred to as Mailings, that are delivered as the student progresses through their studies.
Our Daily Process
This has been a project that has been running for three years now, so we’ve got a slick process ironed out that helps us keep track of things!
We work closely with the ever-diligent Printed Packs team who communicate with us when Curriculum Managers have completed an itemised list of the content required for the course. We then compare this list to the content on the VLE, taking note of anything missing that would be essential for the student’s educational experience – particularly any content in the many ‘Activity’ sections – that the student will be working through. Once we’ve done this, we’ll discuss any missing items with the Curriculum Manager and finalise what should be included in the Printed Pack.
The legal aspects of our work can be incredibly interesting. We work with the Content and Licensing team here at the Library to make sure that we can legally print and distribute everything that goes out to students, especially the book chapters and journal articles needed. We do our best to provide our students with everything needed to study, but unfortunately, we can’t quite get away with printing out entire books!
As a StELA Library Assistant, what’s the most interesting module content you’ve come across?
We’re in a privileged position when it comes to accessing courses, there’s not many positions at the OU where you get to dip your toe into every course that’s out there! In the StELA Team you can go from reading about environmental justice and land grabs in Mozambique (DD871) to discovering how to determine the structure of proteins in the space of an hour (S315). Of course, we don’t have as much time as you will as a student to read through the materials, but even a quick glimpse can be fascinating.
What’s next for the StELA Team?
May to September is probably the busiest time of year for the StELA Team, so we’re wrapping up the final bits and pieces of various projects we’ve been working on before we get snowed under with checks.
There’s also some exciting work we are doing around accessibility as we look at the wider issues that affect our students’ ability to engage with our learning material. For the time being, we will continue to review and adapt our processes to ensure that all content is present in printed packs, whilst we work towards our next goal of increasing our knowledge of accessibility and the possible changes we could implement to our service to enhance student engagement with course materials.
The Library Services website is your gateway to a wide range of online information resources. You can use it to find out more about the Library, search our extensive online collection of Library resources (including eBooks, journals, databases and more), and explore our programme of live online training sessions that are available to all OU students and staff. Or indeed, come and speak with us at the Helpdesk: we look forward to it and are ready to help with your queries 24/7.