Equity and Innovation: It’s Time to Add Human Voice to OERs

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Brief Abstract

While OER use increases, they require more representational modes for accessibility from a UDL perspective. We believe that adding a human voice component to OERs is more effective than technology-based voice-to-text. We offer suggestions for instructors to add audio during OER creation, as well as upon implementing an existing OER.


I am an Assistant Professor, teaching Communication Studies and Broadcast Communications . I have worked within the professional and non-profit performing arts world for three decades. I have experience both behind and in front of the table and camera. I am a highly skilled director, writer, actor and educator. Production coordination is my superpower. I also specialize in faculty development, particularly fine arts faculty. Twenty years of experience in higher education, teaching broadcast and communication studies in both synchronous and asynchronous environments. I practice continuing education in software, learning theory skills and online education best practices. Recent focus: digital humanities, Professional Learning Networks and social media application. I employ video, green screen recordings and podcasting in my LMS. Big team player who wants to work with you on creative projects!

Extended Abstract

 We offer suggestions OER creators and implementers might use to add an audio component to their texts. These include budgeting for a vocal professional, writing shorter/more concise texts, and even working with students to create human audio components. This is also where audience involvement matters. We want to engage the audience in brainstorming other ways creators and implementers might add audio components. Moreover, we will challenge the audience to consider their current texts (whether OER or not) and how they could add an audio component now to increase student access.

Attendees will walk away with a better understanding of how human voice audio should complement OERs for better accessibility and inclusion as well as ideas on how to implement a human voice audio component. 

We premise this idea on precarity. Bahrainwala (2020) posited that student precarity—continual wage insecurity—“is shaping a generation of U.S. college students that suffer continually under poor material conditions, exploitative work schedules, and institutions that do not recognize their precarity” (p. 250). Using various statistics, Bahrainwala (2020) explained that 60% of U.S. college students were food-insecure in 2019, that over two-thirds of students graduate with an average debt of $30,000, and 25% of students work full-time while 40% work at least 30 hours a week (p. 250). In addition to student precarity, many students also face accessibility challenges. For the 2015-16 school year, the National Center for Education Statistics estimated that 19% of undergraduates had a disability ranging from physical to learning disabilities. Yet, according to staff writers at Best Colleges (2020), “Only 17% of college students with learning disabilities take advantage of learning assistance resources at their school.” Thus, we likely have students who are facing multiple barriers to accessible education.

One way instructors have attempted to help meet these concerns is through the adoption and use of Open Educational Resources (OERs)—free, open access textbooks readily available to students through the internet. OERs work well with a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach to education in which pedagogical environments, from the beginning, “offered options for diverse learner needs” (Meyer, Rose, & Gordon, 2014, p. 3). However, from a UDL perspective, Meyer et al. (2014) explain, “A core tenet of UDL is the understanding that what is ‘essential for some’ is almost always ‘good for all’” (p. 51). By this logic, the medium of the printed text becomes the locus of the problem. Instead, Meyer et al. (2014) suggest, “Providing content in multiple media supports those who require it (essential for some) but also supplies a rich cognitive learning environment where varied options and interactivity create a more nuance experience, enabling learners to explore the content from multiple points of view (good for all)” (p. 54). Moreover, they posit that new media have “shattered the old model” of what is considered literacy. Instead, the “digital environment” allows for learners to “act on materials” to change them and to be accountable for their learning (p. 50). Technology options are, as Meyer et al. (2014) explain, “among the most obvious” when it comes to offering multiple ways for learners to interact with text (p. 54). They offer that multiple modes of representation can increase learners’ strengths, and that offering these alternatives “need not hold learners back” (p. 54). In the case of printed text, another representation of the material can be text-to-speech. Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the precarity and lack of access many of our students are already facing (Lai, 2021). Especially with the pandemic, more readers are accessing books through audiobook formats (Tattersall Wallin & Nolin, 2020). Additionally, research has shown that human voice overs (rather than artificial intelligence) are preferred for stories (Rodero & Lucas, 2021), and that spoken words have instructional benefits for students (Kalyuga, 2012).


Bahrainwala, L. (2020). Precarity, citizenship, and the “traditional” student. Communication Education, 69(2), 250-260. https://doi.org/10.1080/03634523.2020.1723805

Best Colleges Staff Writers. (2020, October 27). College guide for students with learning disabilities. https://www.bestcolleges.com/resources/college-planning-with-learning-disabilities/

Kalyuga, S. (2012). Instructional benefits of spoken words : A review of cognitive load factors. Educational Research Review, 7, 145-159. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.edurev.2011.12.002

Lai, S. (2021, November 1). In return to campuses, students with disabilities fear they’re being “left behind.” Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2021/11/01/colleges-return-students-disabilities/

Meyer, A., Rose, D. H, & Gordon, D. (2014). Universal design for learning: Theory & practice. CAST Professional Publishing. https://www.cast.org/products-services/resources/2014/universal-design-learning-theory-practice-udl-meyer

National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (n.d.). Students with disabilities. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=60

Rodero, E., & Lucas, I. (2021). Synthetic versus human voices in audiobooks: The human emotional intimacy effect. New Media & Society, published online, 1-19. https://doi.org/10.1177/14614448211024142

Tattersall Wallin, E., & Nolin, J. (2020). Time to read: Exploring the timespaces of subscription-based audiobooks. New Media & Society, 22(3), 470-488. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444819864691