Investigating accessible training

18 October 2021

One of the aims of the EuroCC project is to explore the benefits of innovative training methodologies for HPC. A key component of this is ensuring barriers to learning are minimised.

EuroCC is a 33-state European project to establish national Competence Centres in high performance computing (HPC), high performance data analytics (HPDA) and artificial intelligence (AI). In the UK it is jointly coordinated by EPCC and the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Hartree Centre.

Accessibility has two meanings in the context of the EuroCC project.

Firstly, training material must be accessible in terms of how it can be obtained, ie is membership of a specific teaching institution required, is it behind a paywall, can it be downloaded easily, what file types are used, and is it compatible with different types of computers?

Secondly, the training material needs to be accessible to people who are visually impaired, have hearing problems, physical disabilities, or different learning style preferences.

To address the first goal we will serve the training materials up as static webpages hosted on GitHub, this means the webpages are publicly hosted — anyone can visit the site, and no specific login details are needed. Furthermore, the source code and media for the site (markdown files, HTML, images, etc) will be hosted on the corresponding GitHub repository, which is also publicly hosted and freely downloadable. This helps mitigate the problem of privately hosted materials being deleted when old websites are no longer maintained.

Our second goal is also partially addressed by using webpages as the main content delivery mechanism because HTML can be read by screen readers and is easily enlarged to facilitate access by visually impaired people. Further considerations are to ensure that images and diagrams are accompanied by adequate alternative text, and videos have an audio description option. Similarly, to be accessible to people with hearing problems, lecture videos need to have accurate subtitles and audio clips must be transcribed.

We have chosen colour schemes and design layouts that are high contrast, clear, and consistent. The webpages themselves make use of existing template designs such as MkDocs and Software Carpentries which are tried-and-tested using web design best practices. For example, they render appropriately on different sized screens and can be navigated by only a keyboard. To enable different learning styles we are incorporating text articles, video lectures, lecture slides, and practical exercises into the material, being careful to maintain clear navigation and flow of the course content.

The accessible materials will be initially used in a new “Introduction to HPC” course that is currently under construction. Feedback and lessons learned from this course will be filtered and refined to further increase the accessibility of HPC training throughout the UK.

EuroCC project