***Please note that this post has been corrected, to show that Boundless is not Flash scripted, but Java scripted.***
I checked out Boundless , a free textbook app, today after Inside Higher Ed posted on G+ about it. It is an app that used creative commons licensed material arranged to replace your required textbooks. I was really excited about this because I’m interested in textbooks without the copyright constraints of regular textbooks. The price is right too, as Boundless books are free. You can pay for a summary tool for the book at a cost of $19.99, but this is not necessary to use the book well. I tried it with an intro to psychology book that I am familiar with called “The World of Psychology“. The Boundless version of the course book I found was pretty similar to the “World of Psychology”. The book was arranged chapter by chapter the same way that the textbook is, with similar information in each chapter. The extra content of the book is quite useful. I liked the multimedia and the built in definitions for keywords. The search feature is great. I really liked the mark up features of the app. The ability to highlight the book, and make notes about what you are reading is pretty neat. I liked the way that the app keeps an activity log of what you are doing, so that you can see when/what you did in the book already. I liked the look of the book, and the way it was sectioned up, and laid out. You cannot complain about the price. I think it is centric to the United States, and the subjects you can get books for seems somewhat limited. I could not find our popular books for Algonquin’s Social Worker program for instance.
I was extremely disappointed in the lack of accessibility of Boundless. The app is a web based
flash Java script. Flash Java CAN be accessible if coded properly, but this app is not coded for accessibility as far as I can see. When I attempted to get one of my screen readers, JAWS, to look at the page it could see nothing. This means that a person who is blind will not be able to use this app at all. I could not get some of the popular keyboard commands to access the book either. I tried hitting the tab key for instance, and it seemed to do nothing. The up/down arrows and the page up/page down keys worked fine.
I tried 3 of my text to speech programs on it. NaturalReader was able to read the text just fine. I think that is because the copy/paste function works well. Read & Write Gold sort of worked. If you use the Read & Write’s screenshot reader it worked fine. I got an error message when I tried to use the play button. It was sort of usable in Kurzweil 3000, but it seems as if printing the pages is not possible. If you cannot use the virtual printer, then you cannot use Kurzweil 3000 easily. It sort of printed the first page, so if you were willing to do one page at a time, or if you were willing to copy/paste the text into Kurzweil 3000, then you could struggle through with Kurzweil. If Boundless included a text to speech part of the app that would help many students with learning disabilities.
For people who need screen magnification, if you use the ctrl+the scroll wheel on your mouse the zoom worked really well and really smoothly. When I tried it with my screen magnification software, Zoomtext, once I scrolled past times 4 magnification, the text became very difficult to read. A person with a visual impairment would need to keep disabling their magnification software in order to read these books.
These alternatives to paid textbooks have a lot of potential. If you could be flexible in your access software, and did not need JAWS, then you might be able to use Boundless. I’ll be watching to see if they provide Canadian Options of the books eventually, and if accessibility gets better. Overall I give Boundless a 2.5 out of 5 because it is such a great idea but the accessibility is so bad right now that I cannot score it higher. Boundless claims to be better than obsolete textbooks, but the fact that it still leaves printed books out of the hands of many with disabilities says that it has a long way to go before it is a modern way of accessing material.
I did not try it on my mobile devices. When I do, if I find the accessibility features work well on phones/tablets, then I’ll post a follow up. If you have tried it with any of the accessibility features on a Mac, please leave a comment to let us know how it works in the world of Mac.
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