Designing for Diverse Learners

Image showng the University of Hull Venn Building with students in the forefront

The LTE Summer Programme (June 2018) included two days of LTE workshops where colleague Lee Fallin and myself took the opportunity to ‘launch’ an Introduction to Inclusive Approaches to Teaching and Learning, with specific reference to digital resources. This post offers an introduction to inclusivity with online content for anyone unable to be there.* 

The Home Office has an excellent poster series to highlight practices for developing content for users falling into one of the following six categories:

  • low vision,
  • Deaf and hard of hearing
  • Dyslexia,
  • motor disabilities,
  • users on the autistic spectrum,
  • users of screen readers (visual issues/blindness).

We we really impressed by these posters, but also overwhelmed with how we can support educators to use them in practice. For this reason, we developed our Designing for Diverse Learners poster, combining the essential practices for all of the above. The aim of this document was not to target any one group of learners, but to develop an outline of practices that follow the principles of universal design where changes for some benefit the vast majority of learners.

Why ‘diverse learners’?

The idea of ‘diverse learners’ is really important to the both of us. The practices outlined in our poster will benefit every learner, not just those who many require specific adjustments. The reason we are able to do this is that in applying the principles from the above posters to the educational context, we are able to look at them for the specific purpose of designing digital learning materials and opportunities.

One of the reasons for our initial focus on digital resources is our institutional context at the University of Hull where the majority of resources will be access via the institutional VLE, Canvas. The University of Hull has a set of ‘expected use of Canvas’ criteria which include the following:

Staff should ensure that all digital content supporting learning and teaching e.g. text, images and multimedia, follows inclusive practice guidelines.

Our poster does not claim to support every single learner or requirement an educator may come across, but we are certain that resources developed along these principles will meet the vast majority of needs. We are also keen to frame this as a working document. We are keen to get as much feedback as we can to help us make this resource event better. We’ve already had some feedback about including some text line spacing and would welcome any further ideas you all have.

Future developments

As a community, we can continue to develop this resource and make it even better. We welcome input from both educators and learners as to how we can make this any better. We have set-up a Tricider to help collect feedback on the poster and to enable to community to vote on individual ideas. If you have not used Tricider before, it is very easy to contribute. Simple visit our Tricider and either ‘add an idea’ or vote on the ideas of others. You can also place comments on Tricider or use the comment area on this blog post if your prefer.

The poster

We have made this poster available in two formats, the image below and a printable PDF. For best results, print your poster on A3 paper (portrait orientation) and trim the white paper to the sides.  


* See https://libguides.hull.ac.uk/ltesummer/conference for Workshop Abstract


 

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Blended and distance learning

Image showng the University of Hull Venn Building with students in the forefront

The LTE Summer Programme (June 2018) included two days of LTE workshops. I took the opportunity to present an introduction to blended and distance learning. This post offers an introduction to the topic for anyone unable to be there.* 

Making the digital shift from traditional face-to-face, on-campus courses to blended or fully distance modes may feel like a challenge but when done well, it can offer exciting and motivational student experiences. Tearning and teaching in 21st century offers potential 24/7 access at a time, place and device of student choice. However, in many cases this transformative potential remains untapped. The lecture continues to be the primary form of content delivery. A consequence of this is similar didactic pedagogic models being transferred to virtual envrionments, and presented as online learning. VLE resembling repositories of files, frequently fail to become the centres of interactivity they have the potential to be. Successful bended and distance eduation requires digital shifts in teaching and learning practice. The tips on these pages cover some of the key changes in attitudes and pratice which need to be made.

Quotes have been taken from an online teacher education course where particpants were encouraged to keep a reflective journal. Here they wrote about the transfer of new learning to their own practice. Journal entries have been used with permission.

Tip 1: busting myths of digital confidence

Remember: When it comes to digital technologies colleagues/students might be less confident than you think but disguise it well. This quote shows blended learning

requires more than technical competence, there are social and emotional challenges too. Avoid making assumptions, the majority of students are NOT Digital Natives and nearly all need to develop critical as well as effective digital literacies.

Recommend: build in time for an online course induction with activities for sharing aims and feelings. It’s helpful for e-learners and e-teachers too know others might share similar hopes and fears.

Tip 2: be aware of the risks text mis-communication

Remember: the absence of face-to-face clues makes it easy to misinterpret messages. These quotes remind us online communication can be challenging. Prepare for silence! Reluctance to engage and mixed messages can affect retention.

Recommends: discuss the advantages of digital text e.g. pre-practice, reflect, edit, spellcheck then paste into the Text Editor when ready. Provide practice spaces. Have a ‘good manners’ guide, either prep-prepared or constructed during induction. Include CAPITAL LETTERS are like SHOUTING, use emoticons to help avoid misunderstanding   , don’t be rude or offensive – if you wouldn’t say it face-to-face, don’t say it online.

Tip 3: expect identity blur

Remember: e-teachers are tutors, moderators, facilitators, instructors but called rarely e-lecturers. Teaching online requires digital communication skills while e-teachers have to shift identities from ‘Sage on the Stage’ to the less visible and more silent ‘Guide on the Side’, a loss of visible status which can take some adjusting to.

Recommends: e-teaching can be complex and challenging but gets easier the more you do and when done well, it’s a powerful tool for widening participation and enhancing the student experience. Whether the course is fully online or blended the affordances of 24/7 access at a time, place and device of student choice means it’s well worth it!

Tip 4: adopt activity based content (ABC) designs

Remember: Online resources have guide, motivate and enthuse as well as retain students to the end of the course. Blended learning design follows socio-constructivist principles for example interaction, communication and collaboration

Recommends: create online groups with their own forums and a choice of activities based on key texts or themes. Agree tutor response times.  Ask students to share understanding of core ideas through posters, mindmaps, presentations, audio or video. Set up peer review with feedback summaries.  Avoid 50 minutes of talking heads with audience coughs and sneezes. Chunk lecture content into smaller pieces interspersed with formative assessment opportunities. Be inclusive and provide multimedia transcripts or text equivalents to suit diverse students cohorts.

Tip 5: effective signposting

Remember: online is a different experience to f2f seminars and lectures. Learners are often isolated and VLE look strange to new users. Without physical support, it’s easy to misread instructions or get lost so effective signposting is essential.

Recommends: ask critical friends to review your resources and give constructive feedback. Be clear about learning outcomes and their assessment. Be sure students know what is expected and  if interaction is assessed. Arrange synchronous meet-ups or activities. Give reasons for accessing links and directions for reading. Keep everything within two clicks from the Home page. Check links aren’t broken. Post weekly summaries looking back and forward.

Tip 6: do a MOOC

 

Remember: Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC) offer free opportunities to get ideas designing content and enabling communication as well as experience learning Tip 7: Pedagogy of Uncertainty online. Open Educational Resources (OER) offer free resources through a Creative Commons licence support reuse and repurposing.

Recommends: in the UK FutureLearn, a consortium of UK universities, and the OU Open Learn offer free online courses. Visit Coursera, Khan Academy or Udacity. Look up Creative Commons licences https://creativecommons.org/licenses/ for more information about copyright free materials.

Tip 7: Pedagogy of Uncertainty

Remember: sometimes e-teaching can feel like communication with a big black hole. A major challenge is not knowing what to expect. You don’t know who your learners are or if they’re going to engage in your activities. Silence may be a sign students have got lost or lost interest through miscommunication or misunderstanding. Following these tips will help avoid common errors.

Recommends: online teaching and learning is not an easy option but done well, the advantages outweigh the negatives. VLE offer inclusive opportunities to widen participation in higher education. They can enhance on-campus experiences through encouraging independent learning.  The future of higher education will be increasingly digital and e-teaching/e-learning an essential craft.

For further information please get in touch Sue Watling


* See https://libguides.hull.ac.uk/ltesummer/conference for Workshop Abstract


 

#EDEN18 and the scholarship of TEL

 

The 27th EDEN conference brought technology and research together. I haven’t seen the phrase ‘scholarship of technology enhanced learning‘ before so am claiming authorship because #EDEN18 was research, pedagogy and technology all rolled into one.

It’s the pedagogy wot matters!

Too often pedagogic design for optimum learning is treated as a disparate topic. People teach as they were taught, or as their colleagues do, with or without technology. The time it takes to change and develop new practice is barely recognised  in workload models while education research has never been highly REF-regarded, to the extent the scholarship of our practice has been described as the Cinderella of academia.

How inspirational to be at #EDEN18, where TEL-ology and pedagogy collide. Several times I heard the question ‘Which VLE did you use?’ and realised it hadn’t even been mentioned because it wasn’t central to the message.

As someone researching the nature of digital shifts, and how academics conceptualise their practice in a digital age, it was a pleasure to be reminded of what matters i.e. the values and philosophies of higher education which brought us to where we are and keep us working in the sector. Too often these risk getting blurred or buried beneath the associated strains of ever increasing work loads. Lest we forget, higher education remains a privileged place of employment despite all the government attempts to marketise, monetise and destroy its heart.

The conference was held at the Albergo dei Poveri building of the University of Genoa.  Here, there was a shared language, albeit in multiple tongues, for example Alan Tait, Professor of Distance Education and Development at the OU, began his keynote with a reference to the Sociological Imagination and making the familar strange. good to see critical reflective questioning as core to the higher eduation experience. The keynote theme was sustainability as the new responsibility of higher education, alongside social justice and inclusion. A timely reminder of how the university was always intended for the public good, not a passive experience for consumption.

How do students learn? Through active engagment with content and context, not passive didactic pedagogies. Sessions left me inspired and tired and it wasnt just the heat. Where to find the energy to keep these values constant against a tide of capitalist consumerism and relentless state orchestrated change. These attempts at the commodificantion of knowledge have to be resisted.

The core messge from EDEN18 was even more change ahead. Increased demand for flexible chunks of learning, the breaking up of traditional degree programmes, the provison of micro-credentials through badges and certificates, the unbundling and out-sourcing of services. Think it’s bad now?  It would be easy to get scared, very scared but – I have every confidence – despite all the pressures – it remains possible to keep higher education as we want it to be. An experience for students containing all the possbilities of transformation so they leave as different people – in the best possible way – to how they arrived at the start of their journey.

Conferences are unique experiences. They offer fresh perspectives on old topics as well as exposure to alternative ones. Most of all, you’re reminded how your little spot in the world – no matter how much it can feel all-encompassing – is just one of zillions.

Then there’s the travel. Different countries take you out of your comfort zone. Arrive in Europe and everything is different; currency, food, language. You forget how much you take for granted like using a PC. I went into the room to load up my presentation. It was early and no one was around. right click is universal practice but what’s Italian for cut, copy, paste? I was sure to avoid ‘elimni’.

Stepping outside your comfort zone can be a challenge but nearly always good for you. Travel is the best educator and when combined with your research topic, not only are you exposed to new ideas in your field, there’s opportunities for validation as well. Win win. Just look at these workshop themes.

  • Developments in digital learning methodology
  • Sociocultural aspects of digital learning
  • Social media, digital collaborative learning
  • Learner needs and attitudes

Yay!

My presentation was titled Connect Disconnect – Academic Identity in a Digital Age. This was placed under the theme Learning Theory and Implementation Practice.

I talked about digital shifts and the need to reach those more digitally shy and resistant. One way could be through improved understanding of digital literacies as situated knowledge practices and the application of existing research into print and text. There’s also the power of the experiential and reflective practice to challenge and transform. My data is confirmation this can be transformational but it takes time and there’s never ever enought time.

The conference theme was Macro, Meso and Micro Exploring the dimensions of the digital landscape. This mapped well onto the institutional, pedagogic and individual framework of my research. Thanks Janita Poe (@PoeCommunicate) for the photos. Love how Patrick Lynch is looking over my shoulder!

The presentation was followed by some challenging questions and good discussions. I’m still pondering the influence of ‘ontological uncertainty’ and after meeting Emma Gillaspy (@egillaspy)  from Salford am seeing useful applications for applying coaching approaches to our Design for Active Learning Toolbox (more about this next week).

People ask why I keep a blog. There’s lots of reasons but mostly it’s to keep a record of what I do. My blog is a diary, scrapbook, journal and photo album all in one.

It’s for analysis and reflection as well as questions I can’t yet answer. It’s my CV and my research log. Occasionally non work/research issues slip in like my allotment. One of these days I’ll get the Digital Academic hosted and restore the plugins I used to have. I miss the photo album which made it easy to have a gallery of thumbnails and the freebie version doesnt support basic functions like tables.

This post doesn’t feel like it’s saying anything particularly unique or special but it pins down a week in June when I travelled to Genoa. These words and photos will always take me back there. It was my first visit to the Italian port town on a hill and what a hill – steep in every sense of the word. I want to be reminded of this and a blog with its tags and categories is a perfect place.

Italy is a country which bleeds history. The university building of thick stone walls around a courtyard seemed little changed since the day it was built.

Strip out the electricity and overhead projectors and you’re left with the original floors, doors and windows, staircases and fireplaces.

It didn’t take much imagination to see it as it would have been.

Being Italy, the lunches were magnifico, down to the expresso hits during the breaks and chilled Pino Grigio in ice buckets.

 

I missed the conference dinner at the Aquarium but called in on my last day.  I saw the room where it was held – next to the dolphin tanks so as you’re eating they’re swimming around behind the plate glass wall, watching you.

How did I feel about that?

Not comfortable to be honest.

It seemed like a lot of dolphins in the available space and shouldn’t they be out in the ocean anyway?

 

Hull has The Deep and I was curious to see how they compared.

The Deep is smaller but has a better feel plus seems more geared up for education and conservation. The cbildren of the future, who might one day be our students in years to come, need a healthy, sustainable planet. It’s the best legacy we can give alongside the hope they continue conserving the earth. If places like The Deep and Genoa’s Aquarium can help this, they justify their existence – but I’m still not convinced keeping dolphins in captivity is a good idea.

Genoa felt more like a working city than a tourist hot spot. I expected a smaller version of Florence but its catherdral di San Lorenzo or UNESCO badged Palazzi dei Rolli in Le Strade Nuove were definately under-advertised. Genoa seems more a stopping off place for cruise ships or for passing through to other destinations. Cheap flights from the UK (my suitcase cost more than I did) gives you easy access to fast trains to Turin, Milan, Florence and Rome.  For myself Genoa lacked the art/history impact of its Italian neighbours but is still worth seeing. It claims to be the birthpace of Christopher Columbus and the Galata Museo del Mare: (Great Nautical Museum) looked interesting with its 17th century galley ship dominating the harbourside.

The venue for EDEN19 hasn’t yet been announced but whereever, it will be worth consideration. Alongside  SRHE, SEDA, ALT, UCISA, and JISC I’m adding EDEN to the list of conferences to look out for.


Recorded Keynotes available here

Plenary session livestream – Monday – Airina Volungeviciene, Georgi Dimitrov, Fabrizio Cardinali, Claudio Dondi

Plenary session livestream – Tuesday – Antonella Poce, Alan Tait, Teemu Leinonen, Anthony Camilleri, Joe Wilson

Plenary session livestream – Wednesday – Wim Van Petegem, Sarah Guri-Rosenblit, Tom Wambeke, Claudio Dondi, Airina Volungeviciene, Sylke Vandercruysse


if the binary is the problem don’t fix it – ditch it! Reflections on UCISA spotlight #udigicap

presnting at the UCISA conference

I hate being late.

I blame the M1 speed restrictions.

Four lanes of traffic should move at ease but 40 mph defeats the object of a motorway. So I missed the start of the conference. Arrived half way through the keynote by Donna Laclos. Times like these you realise the value of recording is not just for the absent, it’s for those like me, who are late.

The event was the fourth UCISA Spotlight on Digital Capabilities conference. Held at the Radcliffe Centre at the University of Warwick, this two day programme of presentations and workshops was accompanied with great food and on suite accommodation. Lovely to see my UCISA colleagues and meet up with Kerry ‘Do Academics Dream of Electric Sheep‘ Pinny again (we didn’t take any pictures!!)

Times like this, your extended higher education family come together and remind you how we’re all involved in the core business of the university; i.e. teaching, learning and research. We all face similar challenges; widening participation, the inexorable rise of data analytics, designing for diversity and so on. Conferences are opportunities to touch base and share insights. They should be protected as integral to individual CPD.

Two years ago I spoke at the second UCISA Spotlight event. I’d just broken my ankle so was hobbling around on crutches and, when I revisited my slides, I could see apart from ditching the sticks, not a lot had changed. It’s a running joke how we make techie mistakes in public. I was no exception; having hidden this slide earlier I’d forgotten to make it visible again. So these are the missing images I talked through!

 

The lecture remains an instantly recognisable format, we’ve just transferred it online through slides, notes and recordings, Whole cohorts of students have spent their lives digitally connected while fear of technology  and change continues to create digital rifts, divides and chasms.

In 2016 I’d spoken about directing our attention to diversity. Never mind Visitors or Residents, some people were the NAYs, the Not Arrived Yets.

Those who don’t come to our workshops or TEL themed events, don’t apply for TEL funding, read the TEL literature and who generally avoid TEL work as much as they can. We are the TEL people, living in our TEL Tribes and Territories. They are not. We know about them as a species but less as individuals and this needs to change.  When it comes to understanding more about digital shyness and resistance, they can help.

title slide 2018

This year I was speaking about moving from theory to practice at the University of Hull via our Design for Active Learning approach. We were the TEL Team. Now we’re the Learning and Teaching Enhancement Team (LTE). We used to be Technology-First. Now we’re Pedagogy/Design-First. Academics who shy away from technology, saying it’s not for them and/or not their responsibility, would be hard pushed to say the same about student learning.

D4AL is a toolbox of tools.  Built around Appreciative Inquiry and Action Research, it focuses on learning activities which are data informed thereby making the process agile, open ended and responsive to student needs.

It’s interesting to observe tweeting at conferences. Twitter in action provides additional voices, both remote and present but it’s a exclusive environment, one which privileges those with mobile devices and the ability to think in text-bites. It also helps spread your words to the networks of others which is always rewarding to see. Thank you.

tweets from UCISA Spotlight conference

Twitter is also very much of the moment. Capturing tweets needs automation.

Da Da!

Enter Wakelet, the new Storify. A lovely tool which harvests hashtags and names. This is my initial harvest – it needs editing but for now it brings all the #udigicap hashtags together UCISA Spotlight 2018 Wakelet 

wakelet logo blue on white

I took Design for Active Learning to the Spotlight Conference

The main message I took away was a massive need to reach agreed consensus on the language to use to describe digital ways of working.

Is it capabilities, literacies, competencies, skills or a word we haven’t yet thought of?

When considering this it’ worth bearing in mind the reminder from Donna Laclos of the power of the binary.

Binaries are those fundamental units of linguistic construction whereby we identify things not by what they are – but what they’re not.

You can’t have a yin without the yang.

We know dark because it isn’t light.

Every time we talk about digital competencies we’re also referring to incompetence. The same goes for illiteracies and incapabilities. Doesn’t sound so good does it.

Also….does it have to be digital anything? If the problem is the partnership why not use ‘digital’ on its own or pair it with something more neutral like Digital today, or digital way, road, path – top of my head thinking here – but you get the message.

If the binary is the problem don’t fix it – ditch it!

image showing ditches crossing a field

After deciding on the term you have to decide what it refers too? Which framework to use? There are plenty to choose from. The Jisc Digital Capability Framework was designed specifically for UK  higher education but has gaps. Where’s digital pedagogy and design and why isn’t digital exclusion an element, preferably an all encompassing one. The omission suggests an invisibility which is not only self perpetuating but also indicative of the wider social and cultural blackout on digital democracy issues.

This is where the SCONUL Seven Pillars of Information Literacy Model seen through a digital lens comes out on top because it promotes inclusion and accessibility. Also the boundary lines between information literacy and digital literacy are blurring.

With apologies for showing images of text in these tweets. Contact me if you need the detail. Lee Fallin and Mike Ewen (Librarians), Ale Armellini (Director Learning and Teaching Institute) and Jane Secker (Librarian and leading copyright expert) all agree information is by default becoming digital.

 

There’s also the recently revised UK government’s Essential Digital Skills framework. I like the how this combines work and life ‘skills’ with contextual examples. How many staff who teach and support learning in higher education can demonstrate all of these?

Context is key. There’s a body of work around text and print literacies which can inform approaches the digital today. In my presentation, I recommended a paper by Littlejohn, Beetham and McGill (2012). This supports the view of literacies as knowledge practices, situated in social and cultural contexts. As such they are subject to inequalities of access of use. As always. attention to inclusivity is vital.

It isn’t enough to measure literacy.

Educators need to understand how it’s acquired and developed.

I’m way over my word limit so this is a separate blog post, one I’ve been thinking about for some time. The time has come!

Thank you UCISA for a really useful two days which showcased ways HEI are approaching the topic of ‘digital’. Many have chosen Microsoft ‘training’ or are adopting DIY with services like Lynda.com. The variety was reminiscent of issues around the teaching/training debate. What is the purpose of higher education. Is it to teach or to train? Those who believe it’s to train may not be in the right place.

Higher education is about supporting individuals to become knowledgeable in their subject of choice and part of the process is to acquire sets of literacies which encompass paper, print and digital. I’m closing with a quote from the paper cited above.

digital technolowies and an open book

‘Therefore, digital literacy extends beyond competence, such as the ability to form letters in writing or to use a keyboard. Digitally based knowledge practices are meaningful and generative of meaning; they depend on the learner’s previous experiences… on dispositions such as confidence, self-efficacy and motivation… and on qualities of the environment where that practice takes place…. digital literacies are both constitutive and expressive of personal identity.’ (Littlejohn et. al., 2012:551)

The last sentence is where the next blog will begin.

Like this…

Digital literacies are individual and unique like fingerprints. As such there is no one size fits all solution for their development. Instead, they need to be situated within the patterns and practices of people’s lives. Experiential, contextual support, alongside relevant and appropriate learning opportunities, is central to creating digitally literate and confident learners and citizens of the future.


Littlejohn, A., Beetham, H. and McGill, L. (2012) Learning at the digital frontier: a review of digital literacies in theory and practice. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, vol 28, issue 6

images my own or from pixbay.com

brick walls crack but don’t fall

image of brick wall from pixabayWhat’s a digital shift?

It’s like getting through a brick wall.

Brick walls are not made to be broken…

At last weeks Annual Research Students Conference at the University of Northampton I called my presentation Digital Shifts.

This was in  reference to shifting from traditional f2f transmissive-based pedagogies to more interactive, student centred approaches which make use of technology. But digital shifts are much more than transferring paper to screen.

fingerprints fr

Many years ago I wrote about digital literacies (as they were called then) being personal and individual as fingerprints. Applying a one-size-fits-all model of digital development was doomed to failure. People have to find comfort in ways which suit them. I still believe this today. Unless there’s a personal reason for change, it’s unlikely to happen with any degree of authenticity. Hence the existence of on-campus divides between digital fluency and shyness.

For those involved in promoting and supporting digital adoption, we need to think deep. This week I’ve been pondering the nature of macro, meso and micro levels of change.

book cover for Third Wave image from wikipedia
image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Third_Wave_(Toffler_book)

In 1980, Alvin Tofler described the post-industrial society (following the agrarian and industrial ages) as the Third Wave. Computer technologies were emerging and had Tofler been writing two decades later he may well have called it the Digital Wave. At times of great change, society gets swept up into massive shifts of lifestyle and the present is no exception. In less than a decade internet connectivity represents change on a macro-shift dimension.

When universities adopt digital ways of working as the norm, it’s an example of a meso-shift. Led by their ICT driven systems, there ‘s often little choice for those in administrative roles but for many academics there’s been less impetus to change. The absence of a whole institution approach to digital change means shifts are often fragmented. Active Blended Learning, a new normal in higher education at the University of Northampton is an example of a wholesale digital shift. The absence of lecture theatres in the new Waterside campus is leading a pedagogic move from lecture style teaching towards small group and blended learning. This brave new digital world is being watched with great interest across the sector.

University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library (my photos).

University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library University of Northampton Waterside Campus display in Park Campus Library

Digital shifts at a micro-level are more about individual change. These often involve the principles of threshold concepts including liminality, integration and troublesome knowledge. Digital shifts represent a unique combination of emotions and responses.  For the digitally shy and resistant,  technology  can appear threatening. What if it breaks, goes wrong, gets lost….Habits are lifesavers when under pressure. If it works why break it… Students love what I do already…. There isn’t enough time…. Never enough time for change…

cartoon from www.weblogcartoons.com

Digital shifts can be feared or rejected for a range of reasons yet when they happen it can be transformative involving ontological as well as epistemological change as demonstrated by this quote from my research data (full text below post).

image of presentation slideshowing TELEDA Tip 5

Micro-shifts can occur in unexpected ways. Illness or impairment can lead to assistive technology or customisation of PCs and personal devices. Speech to text and text to speech can convert the most digitally resistant. Be My Eyes uses the affordances of social media while anyone ‘hot-desking’ soon learns to appreciate cloud computing and systems like Google Accounts which give access to folders and customised browser tabs anywhere you log on.

google logo under a magnifying glass

Research can be another digital shift trigger. My Director of Studies at Northampton has a paper on Academia.Edu with 600 downloads while the journal site version only has 100. Cristina also finds it useful it is to share research links via Twitter or Skype an idea with a colleague over breakfast. We’ve met twice in 9 months but are regularly in touch online. For myself, every week I get notifications of who’s accessed my publications on ResearchGate while the power of Twitter meant within 20 minutes a stranger had found me the book I needed with only the flimsiest (and partially incorrect) details.

Digital shifts can be fragmented and inconsistent. The Jisc Digital Capabilities Model shows the complexity of opportunities there are to become ‘more digital‘. As government, finance, health and leisure go online so the pressure to digitally engage increases. Some might be adept users at home but not work. Or vice versa. We hold hard onto habitual practice and the university is a traditional environment.Rogers Diffusion of Innovations technology adoption curve Digital shifts happen for many reasons. External pressures can lead to tipping points but the Late Majority, and unfortunately named Laggards of Rogers Diffusion of Innovations curve, will need something more personal to persuade them to change. Institutions can provide reward and recognition. Digital Education Developers can provide rationales and resources. Ultimately though, the choice to make digital shifts has to come from within. At the present time, the brick walls of resistance within learning and teaching might crack but the barriers remain strong.

I suspect digital shifts in practice will continue to be blocked and resisted for quite some time to come.

broken brick wall


full text from slide in post

“… It seems obvious now that the lack of student engagement with my online resources was due to inappropriate design. I placed too much emphasis on text based, selfdirected learning and didn’t recognise the important roles of self and peer assessment, interaction between students and probably most importantly, investing time in building solid foundations and helping students develop skills for online learning.”

more examples of digital shifts from my research data (contact me for full text versions) 

research data quotes showing digital shifts

research data quotes showing digital shifts

Castells, M. (2009) The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture (Vol I) Second Edition.  Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.

Webster, F. ( 1995) Theories of the Information Age. Third Edition. Abingdon: Routledge

All images from pixabay.com unless otherwise stated.

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Inclusive T and L conference Part Two #itandlexcellence

slide with text saying inclusion is for everyone

Many of the issues were simply good practice and would help all students and not just students with specific access requirements

Part One inclusion/exclusion issues with chairs offered first thoughts from the Inclusive Teaching and Learning Conference. Part Two contains further reflections and takeaways.

Alan Hurst opened the Inclusive Teaching and Learning Conference at York St John with a reference to Michael Oliver. Great call! Oliver’s influence with regard to the construction and promotion of the social model of disability in HE was a transformational threshold. This transferred the cause of inaccessibility from the individual to the environment where barriers to participation could be  physical and/or cultural; a huge step from a deficit model whereby the ‘problem’ was perceived to be caused by individual impairment. Adoption of the social model led to major changes to the built environment; ramps into public buildings, installation of lifts, accessible facilities and (marking the early days of the internet, when Tim Berners Lee led on digital democracy) the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

diagram showing medical and social models of disability

I didn’t hear the social model mentioned again.

Other takeaways for me included a reminder of Universal Design in Higher Education: From Principles to Practice (2008) – all HEI should have a copy. Where is the UK equivalent?

Inclusive teaching needs building in (like the production of transcripts or other textual equivalents) to the learning design, not added at the end. Bolt-on methods can be better than nothing but are never seamless and prone to dropping off.

Inclusive teaching means stop making assumptions. We are all different. Individual needs may be invisible. Where they are public (assistance dog, wheelchair, amputation) associated needs might not be what you think. Start a  conversation about preferences for learning.

Prof Ann-Marie Houlton used the analogy of a kaleidoscope in her keynote. It worked well. Turn the tube. Click. Different pattern. Effective learning design is a kaleidoscope. It offers with diversity but all the pieces you need are already there.

A slide linking inclusive design to a kaleidoscope

The institution of higher education (HE) is a beast; large, old, traditional, eclectic and so on…. Changing the culture of HE presents complex challenges and no where is this more true than inclusion. I worry about society taking backwards steps rather than forward ones. Ideally, inclusion is holistic. The reality is inclusion being seen as something someone over there (not in my place) does for disabled students. Another blog post I think.

Inclusive teaching deserves a scholarly approach. Who is writing about inclusion these days?

Inclusive teaching involves understanding how language matters. Disabled students or students with disabilities? Inclusion as a disability issue or inclusion as universal design, an improved experience for all.  The focus of the workshop Fostering inclusive language and behavior in the classroom was gender and sexuality; excellent places to start rethinking the roots of exclusive attitudes and practices (presenters Liesl King and Helen Sauntson used non-inclusive rather than exclusive – is this another linguistic shift? Should I stop referring to a an inclusion/exclusion binary?)

slide showing examples of attitudes - contact me for full text

Language is the biggest building block in the world! It constructs self  and reality. Perpetuates social stereotypes. Discourse analysis and visual literacies are valuable tools but who still uses them? Science is fighting back. Rationality rules. The further we move from the postmodern turn, the more single sources of truth take centre stage. We need to challenge this. We need to talk.

As always with conferences the best conversations took place around workshop tables and over lunch.  I picked up some useful links including the Jisc InStep project looking at curriculum design and graduate attributes. From 2009, it’s judt as relevant today.

So what happens next – after the conference, still in the zone, feeling the buzz. What happens when we’ve thought about inclusion, reviewed programmes and practices, ticked the boxes – when do we stop?

The answer of course is never.  Inclusive teaching should be agile, permanently in beta, continually under development. Each year every class and cohort is different. You wouldn’t have a fixed approach to your teaching (would you?) and it’s the same with inclusion.

HE is a rite of passage but the path can be tricky. Sometimes blockages happen or barriers inadvertently reinforced. It would be good to see more inclusive T&L conferences, including opportunities to talk to students about their own experiences. Inclusive teaching is about listening.

slide showing student comments about complex decision making - contact me for full text version slide showing student comments about disclosure - contact me for full text version slide showing student comments about reasonable adjustment - contact me for full text version

Finally, inclusive teaching is about what we do. Let’s have more conferences around learning designs – so long as one of its pillars is inclusive practice. Either way, did I mention this? – we really do need to talk.


images my own except medical and social model ones from http://ddsg.org.uk/taxi/medical-model.html 

contact me for full text version of slides s.watling@hull.ac.uk


inclusion/exclusion issues with chairs #itandlexcellence Part One

image of coloured plastic chairs on wheels

Chairs on wheels meet solid floor. Blessing or nightmare?

Easy to move, don’t need lifting, don’t scrape or grate when dragged

BUT

…can be difficult to sit on, too easy to slide backwards before you’ve made contact or can fail to provide support if you reach out for them. Chairs on wheels might be good for some but not others.

The conundrum lies at the heart of inclusive practice.
One-size-fits-all models are rare.

Take bobbled surfaces known as textured paving. It warns those with visual impairment of a road crossing but bouncing over them can be uncomfortable for wheelchair users. Shared surfaces where pavements blend seamlessly into roads make crossing easier for those with wheels but can be confusing (even dangerous) – in particular for assistance dogs trained to stop at raised kerbs. The risk is  absence of an inclusive solution becomes an excuse for not changing practice in the first place.

photo of colleague Patrick Lynch at York St John

Yesterday I attended the Inclusive Teaching and Learning Conference  at York St John University with colleague Patrick Lynch.  The opening Keynote by Prof Ann-Marie Houghton set the scene; universal design means changes for some which create an improved experience for all. Accessible design is not an activity targeting disability. It’s a state of mind and a practice which can benefit everyone.

Digital exclusion was largely missing from the conference. There was reference to commuter students in rural areas not having high speed internet (true for some areas in towns and cities) but I missed references to inclusive design of documents (headings and styles please) or standard attention to font, text size, colour, contrast etc.

This isn’t because we’ve reached some magic tipping point where all resources are accessible. Any VLE offers a range of poorly designed lecture slides which don’t print well in b/w, have too many words on top of images or my pet hate of grey font on white (I can’t see it!!) or audio and video without text equivalents.

In one session we were told it wasn’t possible to provide transcripts for captured lectures because the technology isn’t there yet. This implies a gap while waiting for the technology to catch up yet Windows ‘speech to text’ is not bad and there’s a range of free apps which will give a workable document for editing. Yes, it’s a digital capabilities issue which is all the more reason for institutional support to develop digital ways of working but any lack shouldn’t be an excuse. Where lecturers create and upload notes and/or slides before their presentation, this is the basis for a textual version of recorded content.

It seems students need to disclose and have their ‘disability’ accepted in order to have a text alternative provided for recordings which in itself feels like an exclusive practice.  Audio/video alongside notes and/or images offers a holistic learning experience. Why wouldn’t we want to support students in this way? How many lecturers have tried extracting core information from a 50 minute podcast dealing with an unfamiliar topic!

The exception was Prof Houghton who gave the first keynote with clear, well spaced slides and ‘There’s alt-text on the images.’  Not a phrase you hear every day. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it. Maybe I don’t go to the right conferences. Most of them are about learning and teaching in particular where it’s online….

Inclusion is about so much more than making reasonable adjustments for some. It’s about the freedom to move independently within the built environment and getting on and off public transport, it’s about dropped kerbs and street art springing unannounced from pavements. It’s about the language we use, consciously and unconsciously. It’s about the social construction of attitude and bias.

Exclusion is created by culture and society and preventing it begins with adopting inclusive design practices.

image showing road cross with no textured paving

This pedestrian crossing over a dual carriageway appears to have no textured surface to indicate the road (taken recently in Hull) 

photo of pavement water fountains
This feature lacks barriers and the water is intermittent; if you couldn’t see it, how would you know?  (Belfast 2013)

Changing the culture of HE is complex and challenging. Nowhere is this more evident than learning and teaching where responsibility for inclusive practice is too often seen as being somewhere else, anywhere else, except with us. TEL-People say it’s within Student Services who say they’re not techies and on it goes. We need to work together on this. The aim is a tipping point where inclusive design and teaching becomes the norm. We’re going round in circles. Conversations at the conference were similar to those from two decades ago. If anything, the issues have become more convoluted.

image of the cover of TechDis Accessibility Essential series of guidance for accessible online content

The lack of a go-to resource doesn’t help. Jisc TechDis is no more. Such a loss. Their Accessibility Essentials series hit the spot while Informing Policy, Improving Practice and Improve your 3 Rs – Recruitment, Retention, Results remain excellent introductions and rationale. We need more not less of the TechDis attitude and enthusiasm for inclusive practice.

Knowledge makes so much difference. Simulation has been frowned upon for failing to authentically replicate lived experience, but a day in a wheelchair or wearing glasses which mimic glaucoma, cataracts or macular degeneration can offer transformative insight. We need to remember not everyone with an impairment is registered as disabled and take care not to confuse the issues. Hundreds of thousands of people live with invisible conditions such as colour blindness, dyslexia or some form of sensory difference. While careers and consultancies are constructed from the impact of diversity, most of us want to do what others take for granted, for example use the internet and read what’s on the screen (did I say no grey text on a white background please?!)

I’m stopping now before I get really ranty but will end on a plea – if you were to make one single change, please do think about how you present content, in particular online. Plain font, decent size and good contrast are all essential. For those of you who believe Browser customisation is the answer – it can’t work unless content has been designed to adjust.

Everyone is different. It should be what makes us special rather than a problematic.

Also, if you agree please retweet, repost and reply – let’s continue the conversation.

image showing a diversity of cartoon people
image from the presentation of Prof Ann-Marie Houghton. 

Photos all my own or from the conference presentations.