Tips for part-time PhD research

tangled mess of pink and green wool

A part-time doctorate is a challenge on many levels.

In 2014 I posted my top tips for surviving a part time phd Looking back, I think they’ve stood the test of time and would still recommend the following;

  • Make your research personal; you need passion to stay the course.
  • There’s never enough hours so make the topic inform your work. Chances of completing are increased by the connections between your research and daily practice.
  • Don’t be overly ambitious. Your PhD is unlikely to change the world. Aim for making small but beautifully crafted changes instead.

However, I’d extend this one

‘The most liberating aspect is the freedom to think outside the box. Qualitative research contains permission to be creative. You’re looking for connections which haven’t been seen before. This takes imagination, sociological or otherwise. I needed to understand my research was personal before I could begin to claim the necessary ownership.’

I now realise doctoral research is not only about creativity – it’s about being brave. You need courage to put yourself out there in the public domain with all the risks of negative feedback and challenges. It’s part and parcel of being a doctoral researcher but part-time PhD students often lack opportunities to practice defending their choices.

Confidence and courage are two essential PhD attributes.

Wizard of Oz and the Lion who needs courage

Alongside the top tips, I’ve also been thinking about a ‘doctoral development’ list. Learning Development is an established field, thanks to the excellent work of ALDinHE but seems primarily concerned with undergraduate provision. Resources like Vitae require institutional licence, and although there’s helpful projects like SUCCEED@8 project (Supporting Community to Collaborate and Emotionally Engage in Digital Shifts) from University of Northampton, generic support for postgraduate research seems less visible. Based on my own research, I’ve found the following approaches really useful.

Action Research loops and spirals of reflective practice: I’d add ‘researchers’ to Laurillard’s suggestion that all teachers should be Action Researchers while Brookfield (2005:xiii) identifies ‘viewing practice through four distinct, but interconnecting lenses’, the experience of our students, colleagues, ourselves and the literature. For me, critical reflection on progress has been invaluable.

Finding your own boundaries: qualitative approaches to data collection and analysis tend to be looser than traditional positivist paradigms. My research is less concerned with measuring or predicting and more about investigation for improving understanding, so with less boundaries I had to find my own constraints. This has been a challenge. I’ve always had problems with boundaries as described in Know Your Limits but when I feel stuck I revisit Lincoln and Guba’s advice on trustworthiness, in particular their evaluative criteria. Establishing the following offers an authentic framework..

  • Credibility – confidence in the ‘truth’ of the findings
  • Transferability – showing that the findings have applicability in other contexts
  • Dependability – showing that the findings are consistent and replicable
  • Confirmability – neutrality or the extent to which the findings of a study are shaped by the respondents and not researcher bias, motivation, or interest.

Social media: make it work for you. The concept of the ‘Digital Researcher’ (e.g. #DigiResHull from University of Hull) is another under-developed area. Networking affordances are too often under-utilised. Twitter on a Sunday morning with hashtags like #phdweekend #phd forum #phdchat #phd life has been a lifeline.  You are not alone!

life ring against a stormy sea
image from https://pixabay.com/en/ocean-coast-spray-surge-2530692/

It’s year three at the University of Northampton and the plan is to complete in 2019. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to submit the bounded copy.

Freedom?

Doctoral study is a trap you fall into. The walls get higher until the light disappears and it’s just you and your data. No one else can do it for you. The loneliness of the long distance learner is hard to anticipate which is good.

If I really knew what lay ahead, would I have still applied?

Unequivocally…

Yes!

Because…

Reading the data is still rewarding. It reminds me how colleagues were supported to make shifts to more blended and flexible practice, utilising digital technology to explore new pedagogic led approaches to enhancing and extending the student experience. That makes it worthwhile. I know it helped individuals become more digitally confident in an increasingly digital sector and that’s what matters.

image showing laptop, tablet and phone with pictures emerging from the screen
imge feom https://pixabay.com/en/background-waters-computer-laptop-3048816/

Also, I’m filling a gap in the literature which is full of research into how students learn as e-learners but with less on how teachers teach as e-teachers. In contemporary accounts the ‘e’ has been dropped because it’s assumed the technology will be in there somewhere, but the reality is – for many colleagues – it isn’t.

By losing the distinction the sector is also losing the emphasis on negotiating digital shifts in practice and providing appropriate support.

Traditional lectures dominate cultural conceptions of ‘going to university’. They’re what students expect, how architects design – with rows of seats facing a single direction, while attempts to challenge this are utilised by the few rather than the majority, and frameworks for digital graduate attributes remain aspirational rather than evident in practice. Employers continue to highlight the issues (e.g. The Technology for Employability report from Jisc) but I still facilitate workshops on professional online identity where students have no idea what prospective employers might find if they google their names. Presentations and publications still have uncritical references to students as ‘digital natives’ despite the research discarding this (e.g. Helspeth and Enyon, 2009) Students might appear fluent users of technology but its use for learning and teaching remains a much of a  mystery to many.

Rogers Diffusion of Innovations technology adoption curve

Digital education research is focused primarily on the innovators and early adopters whereas my interest is low adoption and establishing an inclusive digital baseline from which to move forward. This can only be done through research into how colleagues conceptualise teaching and learning, how they negotiate digital shifts in practice, develop digital fluency and establish digital presence, in itself an under researched area with regard to learning and teaching.

See you on Twitter Sunday morning!

#phdweekend #phd forum #phdchat #phd life

 

Images

borrow my eyes

The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 puts digital inclusion in the spotlight. It’s waving the diversity flag, calling for greater attention to digitally inclusive practice.

For a number of years I’ve had an eye condition called Uveitis. It’s treated with steroid drops and

  sometimes

injections

          in the eye

I see the needle coming!

The pupil is dilated, letting in too much light and blurring my vision.  It’s a first-class experience of sight impairment.

For several years, I helped people with sight loss to use the internet. Before that I set up DITTO (Disabled Information Technology Training Opportunities) at Centre 88, in Hull. Experiences like these showed how inclusive practices are essential for digital equality.

Inclusion matters, not just to function in a digital society but to maintain independent living, one of those things where – as Joni Mitchell sang – you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.

Borrow my eyes

Share the fog.

image showing text with different sight loss conditions
image source was Skills for Access which is no longer available

Font, size, colour and contrast make all the difference.

Before anyone shouts browser controls, let’s be clear from the start, they’re no guaranteed solution. You could even say they’re abjuration of responsibility, peddled by those with high digital skills and low experience of discrimination.

Browser controls need users to be digitally literate and read small print. Even more importantly, to work effectively they require content to be accessibly designed in the first place. So before I get dismissed yet again for saying browser controls are not the answer – hear me out.

Please.

Many of those with vision impairment are unable to read the browser menus.

These are often unresponsive to zoom (see examples further down) and not everyone with sight loss uses a screen reader which accesses content ‘hidden’ in the html.

Assumptions are dangerous.

It’s a perfect storm.

Examples…

Text unresponsive to resizing line length I often work with high magnification so it’s really frustrating when enlarged body text size on websites doesn’t wrap around the screen.  If I have to scroll horizontally to find the end of the line I soon give up. Also, scroll bars themselves don’t magnify – their colour merges rather than stands out – and the largest size mouse pointer isn’t large enough. All this makes scrolling difficult. I need text to be responsive.

The image below shows a typical text heavy content.

Image One – typical page  

imges showing text on the screen

Image Two shows the text has magnified perfectly because the designer has chosen a responsive layout option. The ‘Word Art;’ appearance of the title text is best avoided. Tired eyes struggle with shadow and 3D effects. I’ve also changed the colour contrast using a Chrome app. .

Note how the text in the Chrome Contrast App menu remains too small to read.

Image Two – differential text size  

image shows high contrast menu is fixed with regard to text and colour

Associated with this is the issue of printing.

Many web pages send content to print using font size which is 10 pt or less. It’s too small!

This can be fixed at the design stage by creating a print version.. Better still would be a user control option whereby I can state my preferred text print size. Is this possible? I don’t know but it would be helpful if Chrome. Microsoft or Apple took this on as standard practice.

WordPress have a plugin whereby blog pages convert to readable font for printing. If you use WordPress please add this BUT the free WordPress option – like this Digital Academic blog – doesn’t allow plugins. It’s so frustrating.

The images below show another example of menu text which does not resize. this time it’s Windows.

Come on Microsoft. It’s such an obvious issue.

Image Three – default windows display colours 

default windows display colours

Image Four below  is using Windows ‘High Contrast #1’ option. Image Three above is the Default Display with no contrast added.  Compare the Header/Title Bar and Footer/Taskbars. 

For me, the High Contrast #1 option is more difficult to see. It’s unclear how Image Four can be considered an improvement on the default settings shown in Image Three.

Image Four – high Contrast Windows display options

The version of Windows I’m using offers four high contrast display options. Image Five below shows an option while Image Six shows the Google search page and WordPress Dashboard are resistant to these styles.

Image Five – high Contrast Windows theme

Windows High Contrast colors theme

Image Six – High Contrast theme with Google and WordPress

Where the contrasts appear to work (Office  programmes like Word) the effects are local so a PowerPoint prepared using a High Contrast theme will lose all its colours when opened elsewhere. There should be ways round this but how many people are digitally literate enough to work it out?

i haven’t gone into the issue of digital skills and capabilities in this post but it needs saying – to create and access digitally inclusive content requires a digital literate practice. Where do people go to learn this?

Other sources of frustration…

Using the Tooltips option to give additional information can be useful, in particular for screen readers, but I don’t use one and because the font size doesn’t respond to magnification,  I can’t read Tooltips text.

Image Seven – tooltips text 

Too often, accessibility tools are tokenistic rather than realistic.

Windows offers a magnifer but have you tried using it?

It’s mouse controlled (which comes with its own accessibility issues). It’s annoyingly jumpy and the text pixellates on high zoom (see Image Eight below). This is something Microsoft really could and should have sorted.

Image Eight – text pixellates with the Windows magnifier  

Differential magnification has been referred to with regard to menu text. It’s also an issue with programmes, for example Outlook (Image Nine) and NVivo (Image Ten) where only text in the ‘working’ window is resizable.

Image Nine – Outlook  

I’m currently using NVivo for thematic data analysis. It’s a powerful programme but doesn’t support increasing text size anywhere other than the reading pane.

Image Ten – NVivo 

image showing text size in NVivo

The same applies to Webinars (Connect, Collaborate etc) where the chat window doesn’t support increasing font size and these are only a few examples!

Image Eleven  below shows a gmail message magnified to a size I can read BUT the left menu column expands with the right. I can’t reduce it, fix it or close it – even though I don’t need it. What I find is the enlarged reading pane has no scroll bars for moving up and down or across. Why not? For all scroll bars tend to be too small with poor colour contrast, not having them at all renders the page inaccessible.

Image Eleven – gmail  

imge showing gmial on high zoom with no scroll bars

While on the topic of Google, Image Twelve below is from my laptop. Google have one of those annoying header banners which resizes along with the text. As a result it takes up 50% of the screen, defeating the value of increasing the text size of the content.

Image Twelve – google header size  

image showing google header banner

Have I mentioned the scroll bars!

In early versions of Windows there was a customised option whereby you could select individual features like scroll bars and buttons and change their appearance. I haven’t seen that for years. Why aren’t commercial giants like Microsoft and Google doing more to offer practical, day-to-day customisation options.

Put the term ‘browser controls’ into Google and you’ll get a host of links about parental controls – any immediate association with accessibility is missing from the algorithm.

Following standard advice, I search for help. The suggestion is to install accessibility extensions (See Image thirteen below)

How many people know what these are? The instruction highlighted in blue in Image Thirteen below is not helpful – how do you know what extension you want? It comes back to the point I started with. Most users know what they need to know to do what they need to do. The language of accessibility is unfamiliar.

Image Thirteen – accessibility extensions 

Chrome instructions for finding accessibility extensions The full list of extensions can be seen here Take a look…are the titles meaningful for you? I can guess what a Color Contrast Analyzer is but the Chrome Automaton Inspector? More intuitive language would be helpful.

These days a thin grey font on a white background seems to be the fashion but the poor contrast between foreground and background means I struggle to read it. The same for text over images and content which is fully or centre justified. When your eyes are tired, text needs to be easy to read. Left justification takes one click to do and makes all the difference.

A final grumble…(for now!)

For years I’ve relied on the keys Ctr+ and Ctrl- to adjust the size of digital text and images. Quick, easy and free, I prefer it to the zoom controls because it gives me control over text size which seems fundamental in terms of access. Lately I’ve noticed a new practice creeping in. Ctrl+ scrolls down the page instead of zooming in. WHY?

magnifying glass

Why is always a good question.

Why does digital exclusion matter?

Why isn’t accessibility the start and end point for all digital design courses, programmes and modules – teaching and training – policy and practice?

Why the invisibility?

lack of status?

A topic the next blog post maybe…

postscript

I’ve been asked to include scanning text documents and sending them as pdf – this creates an image which can’t be read by any text to speech software and cant be enlarged without losing clarity.

Also – please – no text over images. The example below uses capital letters (which research shows takes longer to read and understand). The best practice is to put the text in a block of colour instead.

image showing ways to layout text on images

Check all content resizes on zoom – I still see examples which are unresponsive where text overlays other text on high magnification. Ctrl+ and Ctrl- is a quick way to zoom in and out.

contet showing text overlying text

 

digital blindness and rethinking Maslow’s Hierarchy through a digital lens

hand holding a mobile phone
image from http://ddnews.gov.in/health/blue-light-smartphones-may-speed-blindness

Digital blindness is increasingly common.

The medical risks are growing but blindness to digital theory and practice are also a concern.

Too often the creators and shapers of our online lives assume the prerequisite digital literacies are in place but assumptions are not enough. Sit in any social learning space for an hour and it becomes clear how many are unable to maximise a screen or name and save a file. Anyone supporting learnng and teaching will have similar stories to tell.

Higher education appears blind to the need for developing individual digital literacies and confidence.

Why is this?

For centuries, universities have been about knowledge acquisition. Students as buckets. Turn on the knowledge tap. Fill them up. A consequence is approaches to digital accessibility have tended to follow similar transmission models. The reality is simply putting information out there isn’t enough to change hearts and minds.

Check out the OU Innovating Pedagogies series and the NMC Horizon reports then ask yourself where do staff go to learn to be so digitally confident?

drawing of a seesaw with a cartoon grey brain and red heart
image from https://pixabay.com/en/brain-head-psychology-closed-mind-2146159/https://pixabay.com/en/brain-head-psychology-closed-mind-2146159/

The 21st century has seen a massive shift from teacher-teaching to student-learning, but places, people and practice remain unchanged. Students arrive expecting to be lectured, PowerPoint slides are overloaded. Delivery speeds up towards the end to fit everything in. We’ve all done it. It’s easier to use tried and tested methods than step into new territory.

When it comes to the digital agenda, the map is still being drawn. We need to rethink and repurpose.

Children become literate from an early age. They learn from schools and families but when it comes to digital literacies, which are arguably more broader and complex than ‘read and write’,  adults adopt DIY approaches. In higher education digital literacies exist on multiple levels. Core keyboard and screen literacies, the use of mobile devices and app culture, cloud computing, digital pedagogies and the digital fingerprints belonging to individual subject disciplines. Everything has a digital dimension.

All the elements of Maslow have digital equivalents.

repurposed Mslow Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid
repurposed image original from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs.svg 

A digital hierarchy begins with connectivity. Who hasn’t felt panic when realising your mobile phone’s at home or there’s no wifi in the remote cottage you’ve booked for a week.

Digital data has become our dominant currency.  Everything done online creates data footprints. Citizens need to work and function effectively in digital environments. Government and NHS have shifted to Digital-first while higher education is dependent on digital administration and virtual learning environments. The data this produces is increasingly being used to inform policy ad practice.

Relationships are developed, maintained, enhanced and ended through social media and apps for communication, collaboration and file sharing.  Our online practice creates digital presence. Whether these digital images are true or false the evidence suggest the ways we perform identity online are integral to mental wealth and wellbeing.

At the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy is Self-Actualization; becoming the best possible version of ourselves and realising potential. This is about self-fulfillment, which relates to the images we present. I’d suggest solely analogue means are no longer sufficient for living, learning and working in the digital age.

selection of digital tools and devices
image from https://pixabay.com/en/laptop-technology-computer-business-3244483/

I’ve been in higher education since the turn of the century and watched society become more and more dependent on digital literacies. Blindness to this is both metaphor and physical reality.

Digital is a massive agenda and by refusing to address it from universal, joined up perspectives, the sector has failed its staff across the board.

As a consequence, universities are failing students.

My concern is that digital blindness is infectious.

Becoming digital is an issue for higher education on so many levels. Teaching and learning, administration, employability and internationalisation while inclusive and accessible practice are essential elements for quality assurance via programme approval and validation  – the list could go on and on…

There’s a scattering of diverse groups and practices addressing digital inclusion, all excellent in their own way but too often isolated from each other.

While writing this I’ve been listening to the Jisc Webinar on the EU Accessibility Directive. https://www.jisc.ac.uk/training/new-regulations-new-risks-online-briefing

Details can be found in this blog post asking how much real difference the regulations will make.

It was affirming to see so many people on the Jisc webinar who care about creating accessible digital futures. I pledged to complete a post called ‘Borrow my Eyes’ which is about my own experiences with inaccessible online content.

Watch this space – it will be following soon…

mobile phone against a background of digitla faces
image from https://pixabay.com/en/smartphone-hand-photomontage-faces-1445489/

 

 

political

backboard sign sayiing Quiet Please

Events this week remind me of Shelia McNeil’s fabulous post on being political – Struggling with my Silence

You’re unaware of getting politicised at first.

It takes a key to unlock the door and this is what higher education does. Helps you see the world a different way – at least, I believe it should.

I’m an educator who’s worked in HE for 18 years as adviser, academic and researcher – so I would think that wouldn’t I?!

As women we’re bought up to be quiet and compliant, regardless of what’s going on around us. I’m thinking #Femedtech and how Catherine Cronin and Frances Bell’s presentation at the #ALT18 conference fired up my resistance to the invisibility of motherhood in the workplace. This is turn led to a couple of ‘coming-out’ posts with regard to feminism e.g. political and critical, a personal reflection

This week I’m left wondering if our complicit silence is part of the problem?

imag showing a crying baby

Should I make more noise?

Maybe I’m not political enough.

Maybe I should shout more from the rooftops – look at me – how I got here –  what I offer…

So here it is…

Silent no more!

image shwing audio recorded sound waves

I was politicised without knowing it. Even working with users of assistive technologies, I made opportunities for digital development without questioning why they were necessary in the first place.

Working for a national Epilepsy charity, I was fascinated by the negative cultural constructions around epilepsy but didn’t question their dissemination.

A decade earlier, my first degree had expanded my knowledge but not my critique, while my first Masters in Gender Studies introduced poststructuralism and postmodernism, but – I later realised – I was grasping them as theoretical concepts without application to real world situations.

It was 2000. A fin de siècle in digital terms but even the significance of that passed me by.

image showing transistors

In 2007, the Centre for Educational Research and Development at the University of Lincoln was created from a merger between teaching and learning development with international education leadership.  We kicked off with the Learning Landscapes project followed by Student as Producer while co writing two books The Future of Higher Education Policy, Pedagogy and the Student Experience and Towards Teaching in Public Reshaping the Modern University. During this time, I co-wrote Social Work in a Digital Society, successfully applied for external funding, took the lead in a HEA Change Academy programme, led a whole institution approach to embedding open education and supporting the experience of international students. I developed the Getting Started project from a single school to a whole institution approach to transition, completed a second Masters in Open and Distance Education and started a PhD. I was also researching, publishing and travelling the world presenting and disseminating my practice in inclusive education and supporting the student experience in virtual environments.

This is where I come from.

My politics were informed through the critical pedagogy of Friere, Giroux and hooks. Surrounded by a cohort of revolutionary Marxists, my previous experiences began to make sense. I saw the structures of discrimination but learned to resist understanding class as the ultimate determinant of inequality. Gender, disability, age, ethnicity etc all play their part.

image showing a row of different coloured gummy bearsweets

Inequalities still matter to me, as does widening opportunities for accessing higher education, which surely remains a root of social citizenship in the future.

‘…courses of higher education should be available for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so.’ (Robbins, 1963:8)

‘…increasing participation in higher education is a necessary and desirable objective of national policy over the next 20 years. This must be accompanied by the objective of reducing the disparities in participation in higher education between groups and ensuring that higher education is responsive to the aspirations and distinctive abilities of individuals.’ (Dearing, 1997: 101)

‘…the extent to which institutional concerns over status are mutually exclusive with the aims of widening participation is unclear…’ (Evans et. al. (2007:13)

‘Universities have made considerable progress in this area in recent years, but there is more work to be done…more effective evaluation of policies and interventions is needed. We need to improve the use of data in driving future developments and a focus on ‘what works’ underpinned by a robust and systematic use of the evidence.’ ​​(Universities UK, 2018)

image showing a room full of graduates at a graduation ceremony

Widening participation can only be as successful as the extent to which support for learning and teaching addresses the increasing diversity of student cohorts. The answers lie in enhancing the quality of teaching with the appropriate design of opportunities for active student learning, through a data informed approach to programmes as well as modules.

Once an educator always an educator.

Once the politics are out of the box there’s no squeezing them back in.

For a decade I worked in community development, My time in higher education has been about transferring what I learned about social and digital exclusion to staff and students, in particular in health care and practice placement.  On Monday I facilitated a workshop on the use of social media for students going into professional practice placement. An hour later I learned my role was excluded from the new Directorate structure.

Maybe it’s time to leave the ivory towers and return to the community, taking back some of the lessons from campus, politics and all, going back to my roots.

Hey ho, ho, ho – it will soon be Christmas. The new year might be starting in a different place to what I expected but I’m a great believer in new doors opening when existing ones close. One thing is for sure, if the PhD gets finished sooner rather than later, that can only be a good thing- can’t it?

sue watling with a parrot

Keeping the diversity flag flying

The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 came into effect on 23rd September. It’s now a legal requirement for all digital resources supporting teaching and learning to be accessible.

Designing for Diverse Learners is a re-purposing of the UK government’s six posters on accessible design to create a single page set of criteria covering the principles of digital accessibility. These are for anyone who writes emails, creates word documents or builds presentations with text and images. Following the guidance anticipates and removes potential barriers to access. Based on years of experience of supporting inclusive practice, working with Jisc TechDis (sadly no longer with us) and with knowledge derived from teaching a range of users of assistive technologies, Lee Fallin and I have collated the basics. These include font size, colour and contrast, justification, link text and alternative formats. If everyone creating digital content follows this advice it would make a huge difference.

image of a padlok against computer code
We’re in the process of designing a digital home to host the poster and subsequent work. We’ve plans for supporting resources, including a card sort activity and board game. The idea is to create workshops with activities which promote and support the discussion and sharing of a digitally inclusive higher education experience.

In the meantime, an ex-colleague from the University of Lincoln, Marcus Elliott  (now at NTU) has begun to extend the Diversity poster, and shared the output in a blog post Thinking about Diverse  Learners. The work demonstrates the value of a creative commons culture of reuse and repurpose so all credit to Marcus for showing the value of an open approach in this way.

guidance for accessibility poster

Marcus has taken the NHS Design Principles, based in the NHS constitution, to add an additional page on the Principles of Design (see above).

When it comes to digital accessibility, the NHS are worth exploring. They’ve had a Digital First policy for nearly a decade, spelt out in their Digital Data and Information Strategy.

When I co-wrote Social Work in a Digital Society back in 2011, it was driven by the need for more digitally inclusive health care practice. at a time when the government were moving to put all their information and welfare services online. Back in the day I provided sessions for social work students designed to raise awareness of how service users, often already marginalised and disempowered, are expected to have the digital access and literacies to negotiate an online benefits system. Since then, the NHS have bought in online GP appointments and medical checks from home with digital systems for online consultations.

NHS Digitsl logo blue on white

Universal Credit, designed to incorporate all payments into one, is the government’s move to a digital first provision of welfare. This week there’s  been calls for stopping it. Voices include Sadiq Khan, Lord Mayor of London and Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury on the grounds of it leaving too many people worse off. The parameters of digital exclusion mirror existing discrimination yet nowhere in this week’s media has there been mention of universal credit being a welfare system managed online.

logo for Universal credit, blue letters on whit background

Digital accessibility is about all these things. Digital literacies are not only about readable font and good colour and contrast. They’re about digitally inclusive practice too.

My eyes are tired. Too many evenings and weekends doing data analysis using s software package which does not adequately respond to magnification. I’ve been drafting the thesis chapters to build the framework within which the analysis is located as well as writing blog posts like this one calling for change. It’s a lot of screen time on top of the day job.

spaniel puppy lying down with big sad eyes

For me, tired eyes equates to an increasing reliance on clear digital text. Too often I find unresponsive design and zoom controls being prevented from working effectively. Design trumps accessibility. I’ve said this before and will be saying it again. The steps needed to make digital content accessible are  not difficult.

Seven key principles guide the NHS in all it does. They are underpinned by core NHS values which have been derived from extensive discussions with staff, patients and the public. Marcus is spot on to add these to the Design for Diversity work.

Lee and I have ambitions to have the poster printed and displayed above every photocopier alongside the CLA requirements. To have cards which are on everyone’s notice board or wall. We want to see an institutional digital accessibility strategy based on the principles of the Web Accessibility Initiative; to build time for developing  inclusive practice into the work allocation process, and a greater general awareness of how digital accessibility matters, so much, to everyone.

hundreds of lego people

Because digital inclusion isn’t only about people with disabilities. It’s about temporary disablement through broken bones or sensory impairment. It’s about a socially democratic internet. When my uveitis flares up I need steroid medication. The treatment enlarges the pupils of my eyes, letting in too much light and making me see through a white fog. With resisable. responsive design and clear readable font with good contrast, I can continue to work in digital environments,  Without it I can’t. I’m disabled by the technology which in theory should be creating a more inclusive user experience.

image of a tick list with a pen

My concern is the new UK legislation will be seen as a set of tick boxes, without the underpinning knowledge of what digital exclusion is really like and the consequences of inaccessible digital design for learners. The student experience should be at the heart of higher education and the new act is an opportunity for change, to ensure digital accessibility is a supported literacy, alongside reading and writing, in order to make the increasingly digital society in which we live and work an inclusive one too.

ALT logo - green on white

There is now a law which supports this. Ros Walker from the University of Stirling has written a post for the ALT blog titled Important New /Accessibility Regulations. Its a valuable post well worth reading. I have just one query. Ros writes ‘This work would largely need to be addressed jointly by service providers within the institution such as disability services, web development and IT.’ I would add learning development and academic practice too.

With my colleague Patrick Lynch, we’ve built inclusion into the learning design module of the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PCAP) at the University of Hull.  I facilitate a digital inclusion session for our Professional Practice in Higher Education Teaching and Learning module for postgraduates who research and teach. There’s also a workshop in the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Academic Professional as Development Framework (APDF) run by Lee and myself.

Promoting digitally inclusive practice as integral to the enhancement of learning and teaching is the way forward and there is now a law which supports this.

The future is looking bright.

My hope is it’s looking more accessible too.

white plasticine person carrying a gold key

 

 

 

Will the new Accessibility Regulations make any real difference?

closed padlock on a shut dor

On 23 September, 2018, the EU Web Accessibility Directive became law. The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018 calls for websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies to meet an accessibility requirement. While not explicitly referring to ‘Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), course documents, and video recordings of lectures’ as listed by Wonkhe the need for online content to be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust (WCAG 2.0) strongly suggests this is the case.

However, it isn’t obvious.

The majority of media coverage I’ve seen so far prioritises the technical structures of websites and mobile apps. Neither Jisc’s Accessible Organisations or Gov.uk’s Make your public sector website or app accessible make explicit reference to resources for teaching and learning.

white plasticine person carrying a gold key

So already I’m confused. Exactly what does the law say with regard to the day-to-day digital documents uploaded to institutional VLEs?

It seemed I had to do what my first supervisor always advised – read the original text. I started with the European Directive.

Ignoring the paradox of centre alignment, capital letters and fully justified paragraph text!

There are two references to intranets

(34) Member States should be able to extend the application of this Directive to other types of websites and mobile applications, in particular intranet or extranet websites and mobile applications not covered by this Directive which are designed for and used by a limited number of persons in the workplace or in education….

Paragraph 37 was more helpful with regard to accessibility requirements.

(37)

The four principles of accessibility are: perceivability, meaning that information and user interface components must be presentable to users in ways they can perceive; operability, meaning that user interface components and navigation must be operable; understandability, meaning that information and the operation of the user interface must be understandable; and robustness, meaning that content must be robust enough to be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. (my emphasis)

So there it is!

If content has to be robust it has to be accessible.

It seems the detail is in the exemptions. The Directive refers to the content of extranets and intranets while the UK statute, the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations also list content under the exemptions.

(2) ‘These Regulations do not apply to the following content of a website and mobile application of a public sector body

  • office file formats published before 23rd September 2018…
  • pre-recorded time-based media published before 23rd September 2020.

Office file formats are defined as ‘a document in a format that is not intended primarily for use on the web and that is included in web pages, such as Adobe Portable Document Format, Microsoft Office documents or their open-source equivalents.’

It sounds like everything uploaded to a VLE has to comply.

The law came into force this week. All new content has to be compliant within one year and existing websites within two years..

I should be delighted, I think.

black silhouette of a person juming for joy against a background of words meaning delight

Instead, I’m not sure what real difference this will make.  Accessibility is an attitude as much as a practice. It’s complex.  While the new law makes it clear the structures of websites and apps must be accessible, it could have done more to define the nature of the digital content it applies to.

PDF, Word, PowerPoint, audio and video are probably the most frequently used file formats by staff who teach and support learning.  Is the law really saying each of these have to be accessible i.e. follow WCA2 and be perceivable, operable, understandable and robust? If so it would be useful to see this stated more explicitly.

MS Office logos

I have questions.

What about teaching and learning material on institutional blogs, or student work posted on sites provided by universities, or feedback given using audio or video on a VLE?

Changing practice requires a sound rationale. You shouldn’t need to be a lawyer to understand the law but this is how it feels with regards to the Regulations .

I feel bad about my lack of enthusiasm but revisiting the Digital Soapbox  shows some of the breadth and scale of digital exclusion issues.

These posts go back eight years. What has changed?

Digital inaccessibility is the scandal of 21st century. The social model with regard to the built environment is broken every day. Categories of ‘disablement’ grow incrementally year on year, while support for equal opportunities for access and participation gets less.

black and white image of a wheelchair on the edge of a kerb

Digital exclusion is part of larger structured attitudes towards difference and diversity. For all legislation is needed as a baseline, I’m not sure these new Accessibility Regulations will make a great deal of difference to day-to-day practice.

Lee Fallin and I have been looking for ways to support digitally inclusive literacy and developed this poster suggesting changes in habits with digital content e.g. selecting a good colour contrast and a readable font.

Following the tips on Designing for diverse learners could make a big difference to how students access text, images and multimedia. The new Accessibility Regulations are big on structures but vague on content. Ensuring accessible resources comes down to the basics with text and image. This is our starting point and the poster is freely available to anyone who wants to use, reuse or repurpose it.

Accessibility was a fundamental ambition of the early web pioneers.

‘The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect.’ Tim Berners Lee (1997) World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Launches Web Accessibility Initiative. WAI press release 7 April 1997. www.w3.org/Press/WAI-Launch.html

The impact of this project on the users with disabilities is to give them the same access to information as users without a disability. In addition, if we succeed making web accessibility the norm rather than the exception, this will benefit not only the disability community but the entire population.”  Daniel Dardailler (1997) W3C Web Accessibility Initiative Project Manager Telematics Applications Programme TIDE Proposal.Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) http://www.w3.org/WAI/TIDE/f1.htm 

Twenty years on digital content is more inaccessible than ever.

Will these regulations make any real difference?

Hating to say it, but I’m not sure they will.

Please, somebody tell me I’m wrong!