Linguistic accessibility of Open Educational Resources: Text Simplification As An Aid To Non-native Readers Of English

Rets, Irina (2021). Linguistic accessibility of Open Educational Resources: Text Simplification As An Aid To Non-native Readers Of English. PhD thesis The Open University.



Open Educational Resources (OERs) were pioneered with the intent to support education and widen access to knowledge globally. At the same time, most OERs are offered in English, and their language level creates a barrier to many potential learners who are non-native English readers. This does not suit the inclusive rhetoric of OERs. To investigate this problem, this thesis focused on the notion of linguistic accessibility, which is associated with the language level of learning materials, and evaluated text simplification as a potential solution.

This thesis dealt with the following major gaps in research on OER linguistic accessibility and text simplification: the level of text complexity of OER course materials and its variability across educational levels and subjects; approaches that experts, such as English teachers, take to simplify texts and the perceived influence of their language background on this practice; and the effect of simplification on text comprehension and processing among non-native English readers. These gaps were investigated through a mixed methods research design in four empirical studies using multiple data sources: reading materials from 200 OER courses, 24 English teachers, and 46 non-native English readers.

The first set of key findings related to the text complexity of OERs was that most OERs currently require an advanced level of English language proficiency; no systematic differences in text complexity were yielded across the different educational levels and subjects of the OERs.
The second set of key findings related to teachers’ approaches to text simplification was the identification of a taxonomy of 16 text simplification strategies employed by English teachers, and the evidence that text simplification seemed more affected by teachers’ attitudes to this practice than by their language background.

The third set of key findings related to the impact of text simplification on non-native English readers was the evidence that simplification not only improves text comprehension but also facilitates higher-level, deep processing.

Altogether, this research provided corroborating evidence that urgent action is needed to improve the linguistic accessibility of OERs and supported text simplification as a potential solution to achieve this. In doing so, a holistic picture of the notion of linguistic accessibility was created, along with recommendations to those designing or teaching with OERs, as well as those working in an EMI context.

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