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.

 

#digifest17 asks if digital technology is changing learning and teaching

computing technologies

We all know determinists. Excited about the new. Putting tech in place. Waiting for transformation. Any failure is blamed on it being the wrong time, place or connections, but there’s much more than this to digital education. We have to go deeper.

Enthusiasm for education technology comes in waves. Last century it was CBA, CMC, VLE, then web 2.0 and social media, followed by oer and mooc, mobile devices, big data and dashboards. There were the go-to reports. Paul Anderson’s What is Web 2.0? (2007), or Peter Bradshaw’s Edgeless University (2009). Back further to Oleg Liber’s framework for pedagogical evaluation of vle (2004), Mapping pedagogy and tools for effective learning design by Conole et al (004) or Death of the VLE by Mark Styles (2007). These are just a few and how many more predictions  from these times remain more promise and potential than fact?

advertising from jisc digifest17

I didn’t go to Digifest17 but followed as much as I could online. For me the star of the show was Amber Thomas from the University of Warwick. In conversation with Neil Morris from the University of Leeds, Amber dared to refer to digital technology as pixie dust and snake oil, suggesting what matters more are the non-digital aspects of education, namely the design of learning experiences.

There’s more than a little synchronicity here. My ex Lincoln colleague Andy Hagyard is now Academic Development Consultant at Leeds while Kerry Pinny is Academic Technologist at Warwick. Spot the similarities. We should form our own SIG. In the meantime, we’re under review at Hull and top running for our new job titles is learning enhancement rather than TEL. Amber was spot on. The future is less with the technology and more for the people.

looking for evidence cartoon

Predictions of tech-adoption are rarely realised in the way we expect. We look in the wrong places. It’s not the tech innovators or early adopters (who can be pedagogically astute but remain a minority), it’s those who self-exclude from technology events and opportunities. Who – dare I say – care more for the EL in TEL than the T itself. The solution to learning enhancement is not rocket science. It’s as simple as this. We need to talk more across our different sides of the fence.

Make the conversations less driven by technology and more about evidence of success. How do we know what works and why? Where is the scholarship of learning technology? The research informed practice? I’ve referred to existing literature critiques before in TEL-ing Tales, Evidence of Impact and Learning Design+TEL=the Future. These critiques can be powerful drivers and all the more reason for change. The brave new world of TEF and learning analytics is an optimum time to review the design of learning and how to evaluate its impact. Not just at the end, when students are moving on and it’s too late to change their experience, but by building iterative loops of feedback throughout modules and courses which tell everyone how they are doing when it most matters.

suggested list of criteria for learning design

Digifest17 was bold. …we’ll be celebrating the power of digital, its potential to transform and its capacity to revolutionise learning and teaching.

Transformation and revolution is the early language of BECTA  – remember the internet super highway? It’s worth revisiting HEFCE’s 2005 and revised 2009 elearning strategies, the Towards a Unified eLearning Strategy Consultation Document (2003) and the National Committee of Inquiry into the Future of Higher Education, otherwise known as the Dearing Report (1997). The text from the past is scarily similar to the text of the present.

rosie the riveteer

We’re still talking transformation and revolution, yet as Diana Laurillard said nearly ten years ago – ‘Education is on the brink of being transformed through learning technologies; however, it has been on that brink for some decades now.’ (2008: 1)

Maybe technology isn’t the answer. The literature around Inquiry based learning stresses the need for fallibility so I have to admit I could be wrong. However, if technology is the answer then I’d suggest a more critical approach is needed. Here’s some suggestions. Andrew Feenburg’s Ten Paradoxes of Technology or Questioning Technology, Norm Friesen’s Critical Theory: Ideology Critique and the Myths of E-Learning, Neil Selwyn’s Looking beyond learning: notes towards the critical study of educational technology or Distrusting Educational Technology for starters. Then lets have conversations. Let’s start reading groups which discuss the pros and cons from wider social and cultural perspectives. Let’s ask questions like why are we investing in technology in the first place? How useful is data counting footfall and logins? Where is the evidence of enhancement?

quote from Cohen, Manion and Morrison (2011)Slowly but surely places are emerging where education technology is aligning with academic practice. It seems a promising way forward. Why wouldn’t we want to introduce scholarship and pedagogy, build learning design around experiential loops of action research and appreciative inquiry? Lets shift the emphasis and make the future for higher education one which is more shaped by people rather than by machines.

groups of students


Images from Learning Analytics & Learning Design Digifest17 presentation by Patrick Lynch (p.lynch@hull.ac.uk) and pixabay.com. Jisc image from Jisc


Let’s get digital or not?

wine and cake pixabay

The Friday blog-habit is proving hard to break! If only I could be as strict with the Friday evening wine or Saturday cake. As in not having them.  The blog is almost a reverse addiction. Usually we go for instant gratification rather than delayed and blogging is definitely in the second category. It’s rewarding when posts get liked or quoted but that often comes days and sometimes weeks after the event!

On reflection, maybe the idea of pausing over the summer wasn’t so good after all. If the habit is established why stop? Exactly my approach to the Friday evening wine and Saturday cake. Why break something which works so well!

panopto logo

The days when August was the time for catching up and preparing for the new academic year are well and truly gone. Not only are we launching a new VLE in September, I’m also working on the policy document for Panopto and preparing staff development activities to introduce teaching with video (thanks Gemma Witton @gemmawitton from the University of Wolverhampton for the inspiring Panopto conversation this week)

The digital capabilities framework. continues to underpin everything I do. So far this year we’ve piloted the Jisc Discovery Tool and run the Digital Storytelling workshops. The TEL Team and the Library are now having regular catch-ups to discuss all things digital and I’m curating a ‘Sharing Practice’ resource center to demonstrate interesting and effective use of technology to support the student experience.

black and white cartoon, one dog tells anthother on the internet no one knows you're a dog

In LEAP there are Academic Practice Advisers and TEL Advisers. Unfortunately we’re divided by geography which reinforces the lack of opportunities to get together and discuss how maybe we should all be one and the same?  The minute you say the ‘technology’ word  those who see themselves as non-techie self-exclude yet we are all involved with learning and teaching. I want to ‘rebrand’ digital capabilities. I’m concerned the word ‘digital’ is getting like ‘technology‘ and the phrase ‘digital capabilities framework‘ is almost doomed before it begins. So what are my options?

pixabay education

I like ‘digital scholarship‘.  The HEA have reviewed the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) and last year I attended a Colloquium event discussing the importance of being research informed and engaged in teaching practice. There are tensions over the meaning and evaluation of ‘teaching excellence’ but the TEF remains an opportunity to revisit institutional support for pedagogical research. Anyone supporting a VLE will be familiar with the persistence of transmissive approaches with emphasis on knowledge consumption rather than construction. We need to talk.

Time, space and rationale (as well as reward and recognition) are all essential prerequisites to change. Maybe the TEL Team could have a monthly ‘digital scholarship’ meetings over coffee – cake – or lunch – to discuss key papers and pedagogies relating to TEL – as well as ideas to publish and promote our work so yes, scholarship is a possibility.

There’s just one problem – I’m still using ‘digital’.

Should my new approach be with or without the D word?

Any suggestions?

 

We need to talk Pokemon Go and alcohol

aw snap

Something somewhere has gone terribly wrong. Educational technology has journals, books,  professional qualifications and conferences but it’s the same names and faces appearing again and again. We need to talk but the people we need the conversations with never turn up. It sounds incredible but true – you can have a role in higher education which involves teaching and supporting learning but doesn’t comply with any baseline requirements for digital competence. Digital incompetence is more common alongside attitudes like I don’t use social media, admin manage assessment, VLE are for module handbooks, students won’t turn up if I put my lecture notes online.

The roots of digital resistance are deep.

pokemon_go

You can divide the population with the words ‘Pokemon Go’. I’ve no interest in Pokemon but it only took a few minutes to download and get started and now I’ve a better idea what the media fuss is about. Poekman Go is less about Weedle, Pidgey, Eevee and Rattata and more about digital CPD. Lack of first hand experience creates the risk of being judgmental. Experiential learning is more successful than didactic approaches. Just as higher order thinking skills are integral to a higher education, so inquiry and evaluation are integral to becoming digitally capable. If students live in a world of augmented reality and instant mobile communication, it makes sense to look at how their existing skills might be applied to learning and teaching. Doesn’t it?

winds of change

This year I sense the winds of change are blowing. There’s a shift in attitude. If you’re not digitally literate and capable then why are you here in the first place? How did you get the job if you’re unable make appropriate use of social media, build collaborative learning environments, give feedback via audio and video?

There’s an expectation students will leave university as employable adults but the  digital dimensions of graduate attributes are too often neglected. Society needs critical users of the internet who can tell the difference between peer reviewed knowledge, media bias and personal opinion. Somewhere between induction and graduation, staff who teach or support learning have a responsibility to help students get there.

emial inbox menu showing 99999 items

So how digitally capable are you? Where did it appear on your job description list of essential criteria? How was it tested at interview? What do you mean it wasn’t included? Are you telling me you work in higher education with responsibility for student learning and no one bothered to check your attitudes to social media, how mobile devices might be used in lectures, assessing e-portfolios, giving multimedia feedback, the risks of online communication, the hazards of app based learning, creative commons, open access, barriers to online participation? What do you mean you’ve never taken part in a webinar? Here’s your webcam and headset.  Would you prefer a laptop or a tablet and I don’t mean paracetamol.

tablet

The phrase digital capabilities has replaced digital literacies. These were more a measurement of skills like the ECDL and today literacies are the starting not the finishing point. Yet the language of digital capabilities contains ambiguity. The elements are like alcohol adverts which ask adults to be drink aware – drink sensibly – be responsible – without actually saying what this means or how it might translate into real world behaviours. The result is confusion about what to do for the best.

have fun    sad emoticon

The Jisc Digital Capabilities model offers a six element structure of digital ways of working to be addressed. The teacher, learner, researcher profiles provide frameworks for applying these to practice but what difference will it really make when it’s the same people talking to each other?

We need to talk. We need to find out more about digital shyness and reluctance. Tackle the excuses  and find resources, rewards and recognition to make developing digital capabilities possible   I think one of the problems  is when people believe technology is not for them. Well, I’m no technology expert but have learned digital capabilities are attitudinal. They’re about the cultural shift from acquiring knowledge to knowing where to find it. Today it’s less about what you know and more about making use of mobile internet access to find it out (exactly the independent self-determined approach to learning we expect students to develop).  Sorry, that excuse doesn’t work any more. Next one please?

Excuses-2

images

Cracking the digital nut Jisc #connectmore16

cracking the digital nut

Tuesday, Liverpool and my first Jisc Connect event. What I like best about the Jisc advisors, apart from their digital expertise, is how they help you feel less alone. Developing digital capabilities is never easy. The innovators and early adopters don’t need me while the digitally resistant don’t need me either -because changing practice is not high on their agenda. This can be for valid reasons. I have sympathy for workloads as well as reluctance. Ask me to create a pivot table in excel and see the fear in my eyes. But sometimes it isn’t lack of skills or confidence, it’s lack of interest. Indifference can be  less to do with technology and more about adherence to traditional delivery modes like lectures .

What can we do about lectures?

Staff new to higher education expect to give them. New students expect to receive them. At Hull we’ve just acquired Panopto and the TEL-Team have banned the words lecture capture. We’re operating a fine system. One pound for each word. The problem is the connotations. We want to avoid the idea of passive replication of a didactic mode of delivery but it may be too late.

image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_university#/media/File:Laurentius_de_Voltolina_001.jpg
image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medieval_university#/media/File:Laurentius_de_Voltolina_001.jpg

Thanks Phil Vincent @philvincent from YSJ for this quote “The uninspired label ‘lecture capture’ fails to convey the disruptive potential of this tool” (Russell, 2012). All technology has the potential to disrupt traditional ways of working but it can mimic them too.  When contact time with students is squeezed, digital environments can offer ways to extend and enhance learning. Collaboration and interaction beyond the time table might initially involve a learning curve but TEL-Teams can help make small yet incremental changes. But sometimes even a small change is a step to far. So lectures are replicated with little consideration if this is making the most of the opportunities offered by technologies which are tools and not enemies.

image from https://pixabay.com/en/army-blade-compact-cut-equipment-2186/
image from https://pixabay.com/en/army-blade-compact-cut-equipment-2186/ 

The gap between the possibility and the practice of technology is deep and wide beneath me. I spend my working days balanced between theory and reality.  It’s a tightrope above a chasm where learning technologists and digital educational developers fear to tread. Full of late adopters and those with no intention of changing, the walls echo with cries of  ‘but the students love my lectures’, ‘I don’t have time for digital stuff’ and ‘what’s a VLE anyway?’

What are we to do?

We need to talk about reluctance and resistance.  For too long the focus has been on innovation and pushing the boundaries. The divide between the metathesiophobic and the pioneer wearing an occulus or programming NAO robots is increasingly invisible. It’s a clever defense. The best form of protection is to hide.

IMG_0320 IMG_0322

Jisc are comforting. They reassure it’s not just me but a similar story in other institutions. Events like Jisc Connect are full of participants who smile with recognition, heads nodding knowingly. It helps temporarily but if the issue is endemic then eradication becomes more difficult and TEL Teams can find themselves in the thick of it.

metathesiophobia paradigmshift

What are the wider issues? What are staff afraid of? Are these fears evidence based?  What works well and why? Some institutions have digital leads at school and programme level, strategic direction, reward and recognition schemes, digital portfolios for CPD and staff development, others have put teacher education online, changed validation processes, resorted to bribery with coffee, cake and chocolate. TEL Teams need more opportunities to talk about sharing practice and the different possibilities for action. I keep my faith in the power of the internet to support student learning and educational opportunities but the digital nut is a long way from being cracked.

Cracking the nut image from presentation by Saf Arfam, VC Development and Innovation Salford City College