avalanches, golden eggs and yellow brick roads

avalanche image from pixabay
image from https://pixabay.com/en/waterfall-avalanche-volcano-cascade-2757596/

Have you read An Avalanche is Coming my DoS asks. It should be a must-read now Michael Barber is head of the Office for Students (OfS) – replacing the Office for Fair Access and HEFCE.

I’d just looked at the Securing student success: risk-based regulation for teaching excellence, social mobility and informed choice in higher education Government consultation on behalf of the Office for Students which was also a a DoS recommend. Like this. ‘Whether you are a student, work in HE, or intend to work in HE after graduation, the consultation matters to you. Have a look at it, see what changes are planned.’ So I did.

magnifying glass and fingerprints
image from https://pixabay.com/en/detective-clues-find-finger-152085/

My approach with chunky digital docs is the Find function. First off the search is for digital, online, virtual, technology – this indicates if it might be relevant to my research topic of digital shifts – next up are pedagogy, teaching and learning.  So, relatively painlessly I discovered the government in the consultation document is still using the language of revolution and transformation by technology. ‘Artificial intelligence and other technology might revolutionise assessment, educational research might transform pedagogy.’ (2017: 48)

At least they’re using the word ‘might’ but still cause for concern. Technology was bestowed with transformative potential back in the 1990s. Has it happened? There’s little evidence it has and much to the contrary. Other than widen access for some (and create barriers for others) alongside the mass digitisation of resources, policy and processes, the literature suggests technology has neither revolutionised nor transformed student learning.

The lecture is not yet dead!

large empty lecture theatre with rows of empty seats
image from https://pixabay.com/en/room-lecture-hall-assembly-hall-2775439/

Instead, a trail of rejected, unfulfilled promises litter the ed-tech landscape; VLE, Web 2.0, MOOC, mobile –  picking up stuff like Second Life and Oculus Rift along the way – toward Learning Analytics, more virtual reality and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Each one a technology-first approach. All with technology determinist foundations. Each with scant evidence of critical questioning around who creates and develops it, markets, purchases, controls access etc (apart from the overall critiques from the likes of Neil Selwyn, Sian Bayne, Audrey Watters et. al. of course)

With this thinking in mind I approached An Avalanche is Coming, published by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) with three authors (Michael Barber, Katelyn Donnelly, Saad Rizvi) affiliated with Pearson Publishing Corporation. They refer to learners as “customers” and discuss six change factors, claiming these could challenge the university as we know it and set off the avalanche of change.

  • changing global economy,
  • crisis-ridden global economy,
  • rising costs of higher education,
  • declining value of a traditional degree,
  • ubiquity of content,
  • quickening intensity of competition in the educational marketplace.

The authors also introduce the concept of unbundling and rebundling which is the inclusion and exclusion of traditional university components – thereby potentially separating out aspects of HE provision to third party providers.

I hang on the adage where there’s change there’s also opportunity.

avalanche control fences image from pixabay
image from https://pixabay.com/en/avalanche-protection-1001284/

What did the Find button reveal?

References to technology, e.g. increased global access, expansion of competition, greater choices etc are all familiar, as is the need for students to shift from consuming knowledge towards evidencing a diversity of creative and innovative learning experiences and abilities. Put together, all this constitutes the need for digital shifts on institutional, pedagogical and personal levels. None of which is new. The problem has always been technology as the answer when it’s not the T for Technology in TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning) but the T for teaching in LTE (Learning and Teaching Enhancement) which needs attention.

Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa in Academically Adrift persuasively argue (to those in favour of market-oriented reforms of education) that reconstructing students as consumers ‘does not necessarily yield improved outcomes in student learning.’ (2011, p. 137)

fairy shadows in transparent brown hearts
image from https://pixabay.com/en/elves-fee-on-wood-romantic-2769599/

Ok – this is the crux. We’re chasing the chasing the golden egg, looking for the rainbow’s end, each Yellow Brick Road contains echoes of the emperors new clothes. The fairy tale analogies are deliberate because FT are stories imbued with universal truths. They survive because we recognise their message. They have resonance. So it is with the quest for learning improvement. The secret is under our noses. It’s been there all along. Where there is widening participation, support for transition needs to be addressed. Where technology is promoted the necessary philosophical and pedagogic changes in practice need to be supported.

cartoon rainbow
image from https://pixabay.com/en/buy-me-a-coffee-natural-cloud-field-2757467/

So when it comes to the enhancement of learning and teaching, what is needed is inquiry of the pedagogical rather than technological kind. This doesn’t need revolution or even transformation. The roots are already in place. The majority of students learn best through discussion, dialogue, sharing, questioning, comparing, contrasting, getting out of their comfort zone in supportive collegial environments alongside the processes of critical thinking and reflection. Addressing questions such as these:

  • What worked well and why?
  • What worked less well and why?
  • What should I do again?
  • What should I do differently?

More time and resource on transition into HE, in particular the differences between the learning and teaching culture and expectations of school, college and university, would enable students to hit the ground running.

pink and green direction arrows
image from https://pixabay.com/en/one-way-street-decisions-opportunity-1991865/

Giving those who teach and support learning the time allocation – plus reward and recognition – to become research informed and engaged with regard to their own teaching practice – would enable them to develop the active learning environments which the literature shows students perform best in.

I’d also suggest rethinking curriculums to embody learning development at both generic and subject knowledge levels, alongside digital graduate attributes, internationalisation, employability, and inclusive practices.

A three pronged approach – students, staff, curriculum…

and they all learned happily ever after.

Written on a research day…

Everything is related…

 

 

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brought to you by the letter T

cartoon person pulling a yellow letter T
image from https://pixabay.com/en/t-letter-alphabet-alphabetically-1015548/

Restructure complete. For TEL read LTE (Learning and Teaching Enhancement) For TEL Advisers read Teaching Enhancement Advisers.  T for Technology. T for Teaching.

What’s the difference or have they become one and the same? However you view learning and teaching in a digital age, the strength of our new team is how we can be both. We are all aspects of T, in varying degrees of experience and expertise.

I’ve written about the risk of TEL people not getting out and about enough Invisible Tribes and Territories of the TEL People You know how it is. Like attracts like. It seems being badged with technology can make it harder to reach the late tech-adopters, those who tend to self- exclude from anything with a digital flavour. Yet once you get talking about teaching, the technology is usually in there – it just sometimes needs a different approach.

inger pointing at a white cloud on a blue background
image from https://pixabay.com/en/cloud-finger-touch-cloud-computing-2537658/

Design for Active Learning (D4AL) is our solution to TEL isolation.

Partly a response to TEF flags signalling areas to be addressed, D4AL emerged from conversations around adopting a pedagogy first-approach. Instead of going in with tech-first solutions, unlikely to resonate with the digitally shy and resistant, this is an approach to teaching enhancement which focuses on student learning activities. These might include technology, or might not. The plan is to open doors, get to the table and so far, it seems to be working.

D4AL has provenance.

One of the most enduring education development papers, Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles For Good Practice in Undergraduate Education, has us up there at Number 3 Good practice encourages active learning. 

lego bricks from pixabay
image from https://pixabay.com/en/lego-colors-toys-build-up-disorder-688154/

The D4AL Evidence Hub is looking like an education developers pic n’ mix. Primarily about brokering discussions, the first layer of contact is a @50 minute introductory session. A conversation around the table –  tea and biscuits – coffee and cake – with a question format similar to this.

Tell us…

  • What is the context?
    • Where are you now?
    • Where do you want to be?
  • Who are your students?
  • How can our evidence hub help?
  • How will you know success? What does it look like?

Take assessment.  Topics could be team approaches to marking, encouraging students to engage with feedback, alignment with learning outcomes, suggestions for feeding forward or the purposes of the assessment e.g. is it measuring performance or looking for evidence of learning.

In the words of educationalist Graham Gibb, the best way to enhance teaching can be to rethink assessment.

Our Evidence Hub is full of resources. We’re also developing a system for sharing practice. We want to be called on not only for problems but to discover and disseminate what works well too.

Technology has a place. Take assessment again. We can provide support with digital feedback; developing banks of comments or exploring audio or video. We’ll look at arguments for and against, time saved versus time spent. Sometimes investment in a new way of working might not seem worth it but X in Y did Z and are happy to talk to you.

Previous TEL identities and knowledge are still relevant, just not centre stage.

image of the rows of seating in a large empty theatre
image from https://pixabay.com/en/theatre-show-concert-stage-2617116/

After the introductory session comes the bespoke workshop and we’ve been busy here too. Over the last year, Liz Bennett and Sue Foley from the University of Huddersfield have delivered us a D4 Curriculum Design session and Ale Armellini from the University of Northampton ran us a half day CAIeRO taster. We’ve experience of  Carpe Diem and plans to develop discussion prompt cards like those used in UCL’s ABC Connected Curriculum. We’ve also spent two days Digital Storytelling with Chris Thompson from Jisc, definitely want to offer this again, while in November Chrissi Neranzti is introducing us to Lego Serious Play.

Our D4AL workshops will have a blended element so content can be front-loaded prior to face-to-face time. They’ll be hands on and experiential, based on connectionist approaches shown to enhance engagement. I’ve been a supporter of #creativeHE for several years ,as well as facilitator on their open online courses. and keen to explore some new ways of working, There could be post-it notes, story boards, lego, prompt cards, labyrinths and poetry alongside plain paper and pen plus ideas from this Activity book from the University of Stanford’s Reflect Imagine Try sessions.

page from activity book

None of this means TEL has gone away. We might be stepping out of our TEL Tribe, taking tentative footsteps away from our TEL Territory, but in doing so, we’re hoping to attract those who say they ‘don’t do technology’. The number of NAYs, those who are neither Residents nor Visitors but Not Yet Arriveds is higher than many TEL Tribes might realise or believe. The next blog post will be looking at digital disconnection in 2017 in more detail.


*   Chickering, A. W. and Gamson, Z. F. (1987) Seven Principles For Good Practice in Undergraduate Education Washington Center News Fall 1987

#lthechat next week (Wednesday 11th October 8.00-9.00pm) is on the topic of learning design 


the language matters of digital pedagogy and learning wheels

I’ve said it before…

……….will say it again…

             …….language matters!

Neil Postman – not from the prescient Amusing Ourselves to Death –  but a later book Technopoly (1993) called language ‘pure ideology’ and claimed ‘It instructs us not only in the names of things but, more important, in what things can be named …of course, most of us, most of the time, are unaware of how language does its work’ (p123)

Postman goes on to assert the ideological agenda of language, while hidden from view, is nevertheless deeply integrated within our personalities and world view. ‘The great secret of language is to appear as natural and neutral.’ (p124).

So – think before you speak.

Language matters.

This week I was asked what ‘pedagogy first‘ means.

In TEL-World it’s the heretical alternative to the determinist ‘technology first‘ approach. Rather than make the practice fit the tech, pedagogy first is about starting with the design of the programme, module or activity. What are your learning outcomes? How will you assess them? What activities are most appropriate?

A pedagogy first approach, which  might or might not be enhanced by technology, is appearing here, there and everywhere. Notably the QAA Subscriber Research Series 2016-17 which looked at the relationship between digital capability and teaching excellence. This integrative review explored ‘what infrastructure and strategies are necessary to support effective use of technology enabled learning ’. Findings were presented as seven overarching principles:

  1. start with pedagogy every time
  2. recognise that context is key
  3. create a digital capability threshold for institutions
  4. use communities of practice and peer support to share good practice
  5. introduce a robust and owned change management re strategy 3
  6. develop a compelling evidence-informed rationale
  7. ensure encouragement for innovation and managed risk-taking.

Adopt a pedagogy/learning design first approach and everything else will follow. The HEPI report Rebooting learning for the digital age, appears to put technology first,  but cites the QAA report and says ‘TEL initiatives will only lead to excellent teaching if they are applied with a focus on pedagogy, aligned with strategy, and suited to the institutional, learner and discipline context.’ (p16, my emphasis)

If all linguistic comprehension is framed by context, where can pedagogy and technology be most effectively aligned?

The Amazon locker at Hull has delivered The Learning Wheel; A Model of Digital Pedagogy by Deborah Kelsey and Amanda Taylor. A slim little volume which packs a lot into its chapters. Well referenced and illustrated, it takes the core concepts of the Learning Wheel – Collaboration, Communication, Learning Content and Assessment – and applies them to the principle of digital pedagogy.

So what is digital pedagogy?

Debbie and Amanda tell us ‘Like most things in the education system, is a fluid and emerging concept’ (p2) For me, it’s acknowledgement of how – with some thoughtful adjustment – pedagogy and technology can be aligned.

Digital pedagogy acknowledges and accepts the changes technology is making to academic practice.

…or if it isn’t – and there are still places where the digital has yet to arrive –  it should be.

image taken from the film close encounters of the third kind showing a spaceship over a mountain

I’ve had a close encounter of the technophobic kind.

It left me wondering this…

  • How long can you
    •  ignore the presence of the internet/world wide web?
    • refuse to acknowledge the changes in traditional modes of communication and collaboration
    • insist on analogue models of teaching, learning, research practice?
    • resist the digital shift?
  • How many more reasons do you need when…
    • employers are looking for digital graduate attributes
    • offering a choice of digital format supports inclusivity
    • none of us want to sit and listen to stuff we can get online
    • most students prefer active, situated, constructivist activities

For those yet to make the digital shift, the learning wheel model of digital pedagogy is a useful place to start. The idea is you adapt the basic wheel model to suit your own practice.  Then – if you want – give it a creative commons license and share – see the Learning Wheel website for examples.

image from http://procatdigital.co.uk/learning-wheels/

Sometimes it’s hard to understand my non-digital colleagues who

It’s hard to accept how some academics continue to ban wikipedia rather than introduce it via critical digital literacies. My ‘learning design’ advice would be don’t ban but invite students to create their own stubs and peer review them.

If I were to set some digital shift tasks they’d look something like these

  • Discuss the potential for diversity of digital resources and access.
  • Compare and contrast transmissive pedagogies with constructivist ones.
  • Analyse the difference between  constructivism and constructionism.

Just saying.

Sounds like another blog post is born.

Back to pedagogy in a digital age.

Back to digital shifts.

american west covered wagon with large wheels

The learning wheel is a great analogy. Wheels go round. Again and again. They get you places. They’re open, continual, and universal. I was thinking of digital shifts as a chasm to be bridged and crossed but maybe it’s more about wheels and progression.

So thanks Deb Kellsey @DebKellsey and Amanda Taylor @AMLTaylor66  – both part of my social media network. It’s another sign of the digital shift when you meet people at an event with ‘I follow you on Twitter‘ or ‘I read your blog‘. Those not digitally connected are missing so much with regard to sharing knowledge, ideas, support and fun. Social media really is what you make it so make it work for you.

blue twitter bird

I think overall I prefer ‘learning design‘ to ‘pedagogy‘ (and avoiding the whole andragogy/heutagogy debate) but I do quite like the phrase ‘digital pedagogy‘ (maybe partly because my preference is ‘digital‘ rather than ‘technology‘) and I’m thinking the concept of the wheel might also have further mileage (!) as a research metaphor.

Part of my research is how the Community of Inquiry model of learning design might influence the development of digital capital. I’ve been considering developing digital capabilities as analogous to language learning and the processes of becoming digitally fluent.  When it comes to language –  as Postman reminded us – it’s the context which influences interpretation and the Learning Wheel model of Digital Pedagogy provides all the context anyone should need.

Let me know if you agree/disagree…


images – book covers my own – others not cited in text are from pixabay


hatching the golden technology egg

golden egg in a nest

I’ve been reviewed and restructured. Again. It’ happens a lot. This time I’ve been shifted from technology to academic practice. Sounds good. Our new role is teaching enhancement – which might or might not involve technology – but unlike TEL Advisor colleagues, my role at Hull was ‘Academic’ TEL Advisor so ‘pedagogy first’ from the start.

Over the years, through research as well as practice, I’ve tried to understand where the TEL promise went wrong. Because it did. It has. To this day, TEL remains the domain of the few rather than the many.

image showing a crowd of toy people

It’s 20 years since the The National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education (1997). The Dearing Report presaged the influence of the internet on HE in terms of globalisation, employability and virtual learning environments. From the start VLE were for the ‘acquisition and delivery of electronic information [including] techniques to improve the management of the teaching and assessment process’ (13.16)

Which words jump out at you? Delivery? Information? Management? If you replace Techniques’ with pedagogy then it could mean active learning but the sentence still reeks of things teachers do rather than students. Language matters so much. Discourse analysis is dead. Statements are accepted at face value (think social media + elections) while the final remnants of postmodernism are smothered by a return to positivism. A rant is brewing. I digress…

signpost showing Hope and Dispair

Dearing offers pockets of hope e.g. VLE require ‘a radical change in attitudes’ (33) because ‘… many staff still see teaching primarily in terms of transmission of information, mainly through lectures’ (8.14). The shift from passive to active pedagogies is welcome, as is development of an effective strategy which involves ‘…guiding and enabling students to be effective learners, to understand their own learning styles, and to manage their own learning.’ (8.15) The concept of ‘learning styles’ has been rightfully challenged (Coffield, 2013) but the principle of autonomous, independent learning remains a keystone of higher education today. However, the problems outlined 20 years ago remain. The internet influences attitudes and practices, employers want digitally capable graduates and institutions continue to make massive investments in technology, chasing that elusive golden technology egg.

basket of coloured eggs

There is a mis-match. An on-campus digital divide. Witnessing reluctance and resistance towards digital ways of working is a common occurrence. The technophobes outweigh the technofans 100-1. When it comes to developing ‘digital capabilities’ (the latest buzz-phrase for digital competence and confidence) there is no ‘one-size-fits-all-model’.  To become ‘digital’ involves a cultural shift, a deep-rooted change in attitudes and beliefs. Filling in a survey or attending a workshop isn’t going to cut it. Neither is the practice of offering online resources to the digitally shy.

cartoon showing a person fighting a wall of technology

Last week I posted a photo of my phd-floor with the hundred plus papers at the core of my literature review. Annotated, highlighted, torn at the edges, covered in coffee stains – I have digital devices, including a Kindle, but this is my preference. The papers are the tangible, visible evidence underpinning my thesis chapter.  They help me ‘see’ the structure and content in a way a table of contents doesn’t.

piles of paper across a floor kindle like device

Yet I believe VLE have the potential for genuine HE experiences which challenge and stretch.  Section 8 of the Dearing Report Students and Learning outlines the C&IT future for higher education. Even with the benefit of hindsight, it is prescient reading. VLE can support ‘…tutorials, simulations, exercises, learning tools and educational games can be highly interactive and provide activities that students need to develop their understanding of others’ ideas and the articulation of their own.’ [8.21) From my own experience, in particular the OU’s MA in Open and Distance Learning, I agree with this and with the list in section 8.2 of the potential affordances of computer-based programmes. But I don’t like this phrase.

Digital education is about the person against the machine. So far the Turing Test remains unpassed. Education is fundamentally a social experience yet Dearing acknowledges ‘…personal contact between teacher and student, and between student and student, gives a vitality, originality and excitement that cannot be provided by machine-based learning, however excellent…individuals are likely to choose to receive information and experience in the company of others, rather than alone.’ (8.21)

computing technologies

For me, the phrase ‘machine based learning’ brings home the reality of TEL in HE being a human v technology binary. Highly rated teaching is interpersonal. Popular staff get votes because of their effective communication skills. No one ever votes up a VLE or module site as inspirational. Looking back to Dearing I wonder if the technofans expected too much from the start, influenced by the rhetorical promises of the sales pitch – or if we simply misread the evidence.

three medals bronze, silver and gold

HE has moved into an era of ‘teaching excellence’. Regardless of our frustration at the metrics, the TEF is here. It underpins our new team remit of teaching enhancement and I welcome the opportunity to revisit the designs of the student learning experience.  Pedagogy first not technology first. Maybe this is where it went wrong. HEFCE’s eLearning Strategy (2005) tried to address the technological determinism of the Dearing Report but it was too late. The digital horse had bolted.

Success depends on ‘…appropriate technology, adequate resources and staff development’ as well as ‘…the effective management of change.’ (13.10).  Maybe of necessity, the Dearing Report has a technology first focus. Today it’s different. VLE (meaning all virtual tools and platforms) are here, embedded and present. The golden tech egg is sitting in its nest and the time has come to hatch it. So let’s start shifting from the ‘how’ to use the tech to the ‘when’, the ‘where’ and the ‘why’ instead.


Coffield, F. (2013) Learning styles: time to move on. National College for School Leadership. http://www.learnersfirst.net/private/wp-content/uploads/Opinion-Piece-Learning-styles-time-to-move-on-Coffield.pdf 


images from pixabay except golden egg in a nest from http://all-free-download.com/free-photos/download/golden-egg-nest-03-hd-picture_166586.html 

weed and write this bank holiday weekend

piles of paper across a floor

Am all Ph-Deed out and the allotment is a mess.

The photo above is my floor at home. Is it familiar? Does anyone else have a floor like this? I seem to have forgotten the slip/trip lesson resulting in a broken ankle and cancelled New Zealand trip two years ago.

The photo below is my allotment, taken last night. The wildness of the chives and limnanthes is lovely but the couch grass has taken hold since my last broken ankle (another one – last year).

I love my allotment. It’s sunshine, exercise, food, therapy, catharsis and sheer delight – most of the time.

allotment full of chives and weeds

It’s also hard work and when everything grow’s like crazy, falling behind can  be stressful.

allotment with flowerong sage aallotment with blue forgetmenots

A blog is many things; recording events, reflection, observation, memory jogger, research diary… This blog is all of these and – today – a statement of intent.

A part-time doctorate alongside full-time work feels an impossible challenge. Months pass. The amount of available time decreases as the amount to achieve (research wise) increases.  I have  my data – far more than I need. In terms of the research model I built ages ago and now sits on an inaccessible server rather than in the cloud (lesson learned!) I’ve moved into the third quadrant. Transferring to Northampton has led to a slight shift in emphasis – for the better – which requires a re-review of the literature. Much of the taken-out initial reading around learning design is coming back in – hence the floor. It might be a digital age but hard copy annotation is how I work best. I need all the help I can get!

It’s a bank holiday weekend. For the next three days this is the plan:

  • plant tomatoes and get early morning reading onto Mendeley
  • weed pond area and write up notes from said papers (currently Bart Rientes on learning design)
  • sow barlotti and purple beans (it’s late – I know!) and revisit the recommended adjustments to an accepted ALT paper submitted with colleague Patrick Lynch (who you gonna call? )
  • tidy raspberry canes hidden by weeds and mark PCAP assignments (PhD deviation but deadline is Tuesday)
  • replant  pots in the respite area and write/submit proposal to Research Student Conference (deadline Monday)

Allocate time they say.

Rule off blocks of hours for working they say.

Give up all semblance of a social life or R&R.

They’re not joking!!

Research is like an allotment. It needs time. You have to fit it into your life – or build your life around it.

Without attention is gets a mess – like this…allotment showing weeds

With attention it looks better, you feel better, and progress is achieved. What’s not to like? All it needs is time and commitment.

So this is my statement of intent.

Bring on the bank holiday weekend.

Lets weed and write!

allotment showing fence and greenhouse]

 

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.