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Collaboration and Faculty Development: Improving the usability of online math

| Proposal No: 1997

Bios & Handouts


  • Kaela Parks, , Portland Comm. College
  • Alex Jordan, Instructor, Portland Community College

Disability Area:          

Topic Area:                

Length of Session (in hours): 1-hrFormat: Lecture Expertise Level: All Levels Type of session: Not provided

Summary of Session

In 2011, Portland Community College (PCC) developed Accessibility Guidelines for Online Course Content in collaboration with Instructional Support, Distance Education, Disability Services, the Web Team, the Library and Faculty. In 2012, Math faculty were given release time to investigate accessibility of content generated by instructors, as well as that which was delivered by homework management systems. WeBWorK fared better than the commercial systems.


In 2013, PCC established our own WeBWorK server to ensure our community had access to a powerful adaptable homework management system that is more usable to more people more of the time. Math content is rendered using MathJax which allows for MathML output. The instructor has the ability to modify content directly to address any accessibility related barriers. Because it is open source, the institution also has the ability to make appropriate changes to the container and propose those modifications for merging with the main WeBWorK repository. xml authoring allows for parallel production of .tex, .pdf, .brf, .html and other formats as needed. We envision using xml to author OER “textbook” materials to use alongside WeBWorK, offering a free open source "complete package" alternative to what commercial publishers are currently offering.


  1. Faculty led accessibility studies and collaborative support are powerful mechanisms for institutional change.
  2. WeBWorK can provide an accessible alternative to commercial online math learning systems.
  3. Alternative course designs, integrated study skills, and use of multimedia notes can improve access.

Speaker Bio(s)

Kaela Parks

Kaela Parks has been serving as the Director of Disability Services at Portland Community College since February 2012. She spent the 10 years prior to that in a similar role at the University of Alaska Anchorage. She is currently serving as the President of ORAHEAD and is the liaison between the Disability and Technology Knowledge Communities within NASPA. She is also co-editor of a text titled “Beyond the ADA: Proactive Policy and Practice for Higher Education.” She has worked on web accessibility initiatives, federally funded universal design projects, and has developed a service learning approach to captioning institutional videos. She has also worked with Disability Arts and Culture projects and cultivated Disability Awareness events such as the Reel Eyes Showcase of Films By and About People who Experience Disability, which ran annually across the State of Alaska from 2004-2012.

Alex Jordan

Alex Jordan has been a mathematics instructor at Portland Community College since 2009. He varies the courses he teaches, ranging up and down the precollege- and college-levels that PCC offers. Since 2010, he has been involved with the movement to bring the open-source homework platform WeBWorK to PCC. As WeBWorK is an open-source platform, Alex, along with others at PCC and nationwide have been able to make WeBWorK a leader in web accessibility among such platforms. Alex also teaches a course on the typesetting software LaTeX, which plays a central role in the development of accessible OERs. Alex has a PhD in mathematics from the University of Oregon.