be the change

laptop with the countries of the world

The end of 2017 has been marked by a two incidents. First was the laptop. A complaint was made about me using one in a meeting – ergo I was not paying attention. A week later the issue of devices in meetings came up again. Different context but same person who clearly feels strongly about the subject. I have some sympathy. Over the years presenting/lecturing has changed. These days we look over a sea of bent heads rather than people’s faces but I believe banning devices is not the answer. We need to find ways to work with them rather than deny their presence and affordances.

pink and green direction arrows

This time I spoke up. Explained a laptop need not signify Facebook or catching up with email – for me it was like a reasonable adjustment – when my eyes are bad it’s easier to make notes in a strong, bold font than to write by hand.

Hold that thought…

The second incident was a conversation with a lecturer who said it isn’t the job of academics to show students how to use the VLE or develop digital literacy.  This explained a lot. Here I was face-to-face with the on-campus digital divide.

Again, I have sympathy. Academics have seen big changes in HE.  The spectre of  the internet lurks in dark corners. There’s no avoiding digitisation and not everyone lives comfortably in the digital world.

digital divide with a page and an ipad

There are those who blog, tweet, join #lthechat, network online, and generally support the use of education technologies in a variety of ways and means.

There are those who object to the use of mobile devices and don’t see developing digital graduate attributes as part of their remit.

book, phone and keyboard

This takes us back to the tribes and territories of the TEL People. How like attracts like and if your role is about technology, the chances are you  tend to work with staff who use it willingly. The more digitally shy won’t come to your lands or speak your language and on those rare occasions we venture into their worlds, we’re often viewed with suspicion. We’re the techies, geeks, magicians of code with esoteric skills. We are Othered.

This digital divide – cue lightbulb – means embedding digital graduate attributes into modules, or using VLE tools which support collaborative online working, is not going to happen without structural change.

Right?

It’s not going to happen if things stay the way they are.

image of keyboard and social media icons from pixabay

This is where we are:

  • 30 years of computers in education.
  • 20 years of VLE at universities.
  • 10 years of Web 2.0 style social media supporting user-generated content and file sharing.

In the second decade of 21st century, I get a complaint about using a laptop in a meeting.

Christmas is coming and mobile devices are high on present lists. The age at which children get connected drops every year.  For all its critique, the phrase ‘digital native’ actually fits because they’ve never known an analogue world.

Typical ‘fresh-from-school’ students arrive with a set of digital social practices, honed through their teenage years, replicated and reinforced by family and friends, taken advantage of by media advertisers. In short, their internet experience mirrors the society they live in.

a borken mirror with the text Black Mirror in white capital letters

Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is either prescient or stating the bleedin’ obvious. Of course this is what lies ahead. If you haven’t watched the series you should. Be scared, very scared – but at least be prepared for the future and understand the value of critique.

In the same way car engines have become more mysterious, people engage in digital life with no understanding of how it works. It just does. In the way the ignition fires the engine, our devices connect and our personalised digital landscape unfolds. But not for everyone.

Many working in HE don’t have digital footprints and rarely use the internet for anything other than email or access to university systems.

mobil phon with a landscape of trees and a castle emerging from the screen

They’re not alone. A recent Lloyds Bank report states “More than 11 million people in the UK do not have basic digital skills. One out of every 11 completely avoids the internet.”  while the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee reports a digital skills crisis. There’s more research about people not being online than how to encourage the critical skills and capabilities of those already there.

What can we do?

As learning technologists, as enhancers of learning and teaching – with or without technology (but in 2018 it’s likely to be there) – we have a responsibility to bridge on-campus digital divides. Its not just reaching the digitally shy and resistant, it’s promoting critical digital skills as being integral to other HE literacies and specialisms.

laptop wth screen showing the words Fake News

We have to find ways to start conversations about digital graduate attributes and digital CPD for staff. We need to leave our Territories of TEL and get into the heart of the university. Align our work with that of the learning development and academic practice teams, with those talking about learning gain, employability awards, TEF work and not forgetting the importance of the student voice in all of this.

Remember the thought from the top of the page – the one about reasonable adjustments?

TEL people need to talk about inclusive practice, how digital technologies can widen and support access but at the same create barriers. The sector is moving towards inclusion as the norm, reasonable adjustments as universal design. Watch this space. In January the Digital Academic soapbox will be out.

image showing a drawing of a bar of soap and a box representing a digital soapbox

Let’s be the change we want to see in the world.

Rethink the relationships between institutions, staff and students.

Revisit our digital lenses. They need a clean and polish every now and then and sometimes a shift in their focus.

The time has come.

Seasons greetings to one and all.

a merry christmas message

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James Clay started something

blue twitter bird

#followfriday is a hashtag which passed me by. Like #fossilfriday. Seemed like a great idea but life’s busy, the web vast, you can procrastinate all day and still find stuff to amaze you. I know. I’ve been there.

Why #followfriday? Isn’t every day a follow day on Twitter?

Come to that, what it is about the tweeting bug which bites some and not others?

It’s an odd idea. Imagine pitching it. You want to do what?  Limit posts. Well, maybe a thousand words isn’t such a bad idea. What? 140 characters! That’s like a single sentence dude. It’ll never catch on.

Twitter was unique. It lost some magic when the character count increased. Now there’s talk of stringing tweets together.

Are the Twitter-leaders losing it?

It seems Twitter is following the path of other good ideas which lacked faith to hang on to the one quality which made them different. In this case – 140 characters or less.

What a brilliant challenge it was. Condensing your message, contracting your thinking, being concise and precise with words. Twitter made you re-examine your use of language. Learn the art of attention grabbing headlines. Appreciate meaningful puns. Appropriation of idioms. Clever metaphors with a twist. For logophiles and other lovers of text the world was our twitterverse and we liked it. Just the way it was.

Soon there will be nothing to distinguish Twitter from other social media platforms where users post a status, like, repost, link, share, add graphics.

The world is moving towards conformity.

Don’t do it Twitter. Stay unique.

In the meantime, James Clay started something on Twitter this week.

Amy Pearlman @AmyPearlman posted a request:-

I know it’s not Friday but who are your best follows for Women IT, Higher Ed issues, Tech, Just plain cool stuff.

James replied with a list of 21. It was good to see ex-colleague Kerry Pinny there – I would have expected to see Chrissi Nerantzi and Sue Becks while thumbs up for Audrey, Bonnie and Donna – education needs their criticality. Then there’s Jane Secker copyright queen and Theresa Mackinnon, cunningly disguised as @WarwickLanguage along with Maren Deepwell from ALT and Sheila McNeill… Hey, I know nearly all these names. What great company to keep. These are the people who understand it’s not the technology, it’s what you do with it that counts.

Tweet list of people to follow

After this, my Twitter feed went a little crazy.  I haven’t counted the subsequent suggestions for Amy to follow. James should have put a hashtag on it!

The buzz is fading. Soon something else will burst into Twitter-life before it also passes by. This is the nature of social media. Transient. Temporary. Of the moment.  But for a short while it was good to think the words you drop into the void of hyperspace might sometimes have an impact. So thanks James for including me. It means a lot.

In the meantime, Christmas is coming. The only time when email stops and professional use of Twitter goes quiet.  Its another year end. Those working in HE have two year ends – academic and seasonal. This is our second round of closures and new beginnings. One more blog post before January and I think I know what it’s going to be…

Have a good week.

digital behind design, reflections on #LD-CIN event

fishtank full of knitted fish

Loved the quirky knitted fish!

In the post Anyone for T I asked if T for Technology and T for Teaching have merged?  The question came about following a restructure. My role changed from Academic Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor to Teaching Enhancement Advisor. What’s the difference?

In both roles I’m working towards putting the digital behind the design. Learning and teaching enhancement for me is about learning activities, with or without technology but – in 2017 – most probably with.

For many staff, technology is not the driving force. TEL people are too often seen as techies, fixers of computers and data analysts. This fixed identify is hard to break especially as many of us can fix a PC (or at least check the wires and plugs!) and know something about data from a dashboard, spreadsheet or research perspective. Truth is, many of us are education developers with a range of skills and experience around curriculum and programme design. We might not have all the answers but we know where to get them and when it comes to technology – it goes wrong for us too. Well, for me at least as colleagues will testify!

cartoon of single person facing a wall of technology

Last week Patrick Lynch and I attended the Learning Design Cross Institutional Network event at the University of Oxford. It was the networks 7th meetup, our first and hopefully not the last. The next is at Leeds, literally down the road. We might take a team. Reinvent the awayday. Back to the times when it meant being off campus –  not in a room in a building you don’t often go to.

Learning design is the enhancement of learning and teaching in the way I understand it. Not technology first but pedagogy first and foremost all the way home.

model showing Learning Design components

These are my key takeaways from the event. If you’re a learning technologist who finds them familiar you might also be a learning designer too.

  • LD focuses on the activity the learner does rather than the delivery of content
  • LD is about optimising the environment for learning to take place
  • LD is about changing thinking more than changing tools
  • LD requirements vary across disciplines so there’s no one-size-fits-all model
  • LD builds in feedback loops to assess effectiveness during rather than the end
  • LD is scholarly i.e. research informs practice and practice informs research
  • LD visualisations have been shown to influence teaching practice (see Toetenel and Rientes (2016) below*)

We all arrive at learning design from different directions (the topic of a future blogpost). Neither Patrick nor I have worked in content development teams but we’ve both  have had roles working directly with staff to support and scaffold their own pedagogic practice.

Gill Ferrell from Jisc presented an overview of their work in this area. All familiar. A reminder we’ve worked in the sector for some time and there are great and free resources here Jisc Design Studio

Gill reinforced how the resurgence of interest in learning design demonstrates a shift of emphasis in a number of ways:

  • shift away from learning design as the delivery of content and what teachers do, to the designing of learning activities and focus on what students do.
  • shift away from seeing assessment of learning to assessment for learning as a future driver with greater emphasis on the role of feedback and timely dialogue with students.
  • learning analytics used to map assessment to prevent bunching and identify places where feedback loops take place.
  • Appreciative Inquiry as a methodology to focus less on problems and more on what works well and how to build on it.

HE is changing. My last blog post Perfect Academic Storm was about Degree Apprenticeships. Aimed at those in full-time employment and paid for by employees, these ‘new for some – less new for others’ programmes are 2017 equivalent of work based distance learning. More importantly – they have the potential to put learning design in the spotlight. To be relevant to the work place activities will need to apply theory to practice which is both experiential and problem based. Students will need to become independent learners not only managing their time effectively but also co-constructing negotiated modules and assessments. Learning design practitioners can make this happen. With or without technology but most probably with,

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

Learning gain is another new layer of HE and also has implications for learning design. Helen King from HEFCE defined learning gain as the improvement in knowledge, skills, work-readiness and personal development made by students during their time spent in higher education.  There are a number of current projects exploring what this means and how to measure it. Outputs will drive an exploration of how learning design can embed learning gain in the student experience.  Definitely a space to watch.

Range of Learning Design projects at the Open University

The sense of learning design déjà vu was reinforced with Katharine Reedy’s overview of learning design at the OU. Their taxonomy describes learning design as ‘a methodology for enabling teachers/designers to make more informed decisions in how they go about designing learning activities and interventions, which is pedagogically informed and makes effective use of appropriate resources and technologies’. (Conole, 2012: 121) Sounds obvious yet still a new concept for many. Katharine bought some  Activity Planners and a reminder of the Word Wheel Again, so many great free resources available online. You almost never need to make anything ever again!

Open University Activity Planner

The heart of our session was a call to bring together learning analytics and learning design. To reimagine data as feedback and create designs with feedback points throughout rather than a single evaluation at the end. To be agile enough to respond to data which suggests students are doing well or less well than expected. One of Patricks favourite images is one saying the next big thing will be lots of small things.

image showing a sign sayong the next big thing will be a lot of small things

This is right – we have all the pieces of the jigsaw but need a different way to put them together.  The approach to enhancement PAtrick and I are developing is called Design for Active Learning (D4AL). It’s like a baseline jigsaw which can then be adapted to make a range of different activity images. More about this in the next blog post next week.

Thanks to everyone at LD-CIN for a great day and we’re looking forward to meeting up again next year.

LDCIN meeting #8 is 16th February 2018 at the NHS Leadership Academy, 3 Sovereign Street, Leeds, LS1 4GP.

Jiscmail list LEARNINGDESIGN@JISCMAIL.AC.UK

LD-CIN website  https://sites.google.com/site/learningdesignsig/home 


*OU research on connecting big data sets to learning design

  • Toetenel, L. and Rientes, B. (2016) Learning Design – creative design to visualise learning activities. Open Learning. The Journal of Open, Distance and e-Learning, 31:3, 233-244.
  • Toetenel, L. and Rientes, B. (2016) Analysing 157 Learning Designs using Learning Analytic approaches as a means to evaluate the impact of pedagogical decision-making. British Journal of Educational Technology 47(5) pp. 981–992.

perfect academic storm

coffee cup, note pad and pen

Last week I wrote about the broken part time market in higher education.  The post referred to the new Degree Apprenticeship being developed at the University of Hull. Drawing on the experience of myself and colleagues it included this:

Without support from your employer, part time study risks being an unachievable goal. The new Degree Apprenticeships have to acknowledge the challenge of full time work/part time study.

This week we met again with the Degree Apprenticeship programme and module leaders. Initially these sessions were planned as CAIeRO at Hull. We were putting into practice the CAIeRO at Northampton model, alongside our own Design for Active Learning (D4AL) approach. Learning as we go, we’re realising CAIeRO at Hull is going to be more agile, more responsive and possibly different every time we run it.

It’s clear Degree Apprenticeships are great opportunities for D4AL conversations. Where else do you get a combination of university, employers and mature students all involved with a mix of on-campus/off-campus learning and teaching.

Full time work. Part time study. Distance learning. Virtual environments. Digital literacies. Add to the mix a non-traditional student base, many out of formal education for some time with multiple commitments in the workplace and home. It has all the makings of a perfect academic storm.

storm clouds

With Degree Apprenticeships local employers are footing the bill for three years of part-time study. They’ve asked for a fast, focused, blended route. The programme includes negotiable modules where students choose what they study alongside traditional business disciplines topics which will need applying to workplace practices.

Last week we ran the first two stages of a CAIeRO; writing a mission statement and deciding the look and feel of the course. This week we were faced with a room full of different faces. Of necessity the first half of the session was  informational. It was the first time all the module leaders from Year One had come together. Ao also the first time it was possible to create an overview of the course with the people who were going to be teaching it. The most powerful tool on the room was the table they all sat around. Closely followed by the flip chart paper and pens used to outline their modules and how they fit together but before moving onto storyboarding the activities students would do it was time to step back and consider the bigger issues.

jigsaw pieces

Too often the programme validation process is like a jigsaw. Still in its box, picture in pieces. A learning design session – be it Carpe Diem, CAIeRO, D4AL – should create an opportunity to take the pieces out of the box, turn them over, find the straight edges, start to put them together. Too often we have our own pieces or a few clusters of similar shapes and colours but not the whole story. Mapping out the design of the curriculum,  and ensuring alignment along vertical as well as horizontal axes, ensures consistent and coherent  learning expectations, modules appropriately sequenced and assessments spread out rather than bunched together. Having all the module leaders for Year one together meant these conversations could happen and reinforces the value of beginning the learning design process before validation rather than afterwards.

large empty lecture theatre with rows of empty seats
Learning doesn’t just happen. Put students in a room – be it a traditional teaching room or a 21st century redesigned educational  landscape – and learning is unlikely to take place without intervention. Multiple myths abound such as ‘build it and they will come’. Well, they might arrive but what happens next? It’s like online discussion.  How often do you hear the line ‘I set up a forum but no one used it – so I didn’t bother again’. We should collect and debunk these and other myths such as:
  • All students are digital natives
  • They won’t do it if it’s not assessed
  • Face to face is best

The Degree Apprenticeship has been a great opportunity to look at a programme in its entirety. It’s put together those who don’t often meet. TEL people talk to other TEL people. Academics stay in their subject tribes and territories.  East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet.* It takes something new to break down the barriers. We need to talk. We like to talk. We want to talk about learning design. It’s the foundation of the student experience.

We might rename D4AL as SATT – Sit Around the Table and Talk!

silhouette of buildingsOn Friday (24/11/17) colleague Patrick Lynch and myself will be in Oxford for a meeting of the Learning Design – Cross Institutional Network (LD-CIN). Set up in 2015, this open network shares learning design shaped information, tools and ideas, is an international community of learning design practice. Presenting on learning analytics to inform learning design, Patrick will explore the statement

“Arguably then learning design needs learning analytics in order to validate itself. However it also works the other way: learning  analytics cannot be used effectively without an understanding of the underlying learning design, including why the particular tools, activities and content were selected and how they were deployed.” Sclater (2017).

We’re demonstrating an agile responsive approach so I’ll be collecting live data in the form of feedback throughout our session as well as making notes during the day and possibly some live blogging as well. Follow the hashtag #LDCIN and check out the LD-CIN site for further information.

Next week, the story of the Degree Apprenticeship development continues with more of the big programme-wide questions. In particular how technology might enhance or increase the challenges of part-time blended learning.

  • What can be done online which can’t be done face to face?
  • Vice versa
  • Where can technology provide value?
  • Where will the on-campus experience have most value?
  • How can student community be achieved?

See you 1st December.

24 shopping days to Christmas…


Rudyard Kipling Barrack-room ballads, 1892  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barrack-Room_Ballads 

Niall Sclater (2017) Learning Analytics Explained Routledge


 

the reconstruction of part-time higher education

green front cover of OU report Fixing the broken market

There a new report out

Fixing the Broken Market in Part-Time Study

From the OU

I quote

Lord Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science at the time of the reforms, has said that the collapse in part-time student numbers is ‘one of my biggest regrets about my time as Minister’

Oh come on!

Was anyone in his circle of family and friends affected? I doubt it.

Part-time education matters. Anyone could have predicted what the changes in student fees would do.

And it did.

The market isn’t just broken its crushed.  For all the rhetoric about widening access and participation,  it’s never been harder to get into university as a part-time student.

image of herbs being crushed in a bowl

I came into higher education at the turn of the century.  On the back of the Dearing report (1997) I worked on widening participation projects. The ones where you go into schools and talk to pupils about aspirations, bring them onto campus for mini-university experiences, play spot the lecturer (yes, honest, jeans and trainers, the suit is in ICT) It was all about breaking down the social and cultural barriers which make people believe a higher education is not for them.

The years before I’d worked in adult and community education, teaching computer skills, supporting adults who’d been out of formal education for some time or never had the opportunity to study, helping them get back into employment after a career break or disability. I’d started my first degree after  the family were all at school. I was widening participation in action. Ten years before the Dearing Report it was already happening – albeit without the internet.

image showinf two cartoon people on either side of a chasm

I’ve been lucky.

Both my MA’s were part time and six years  ago I signed up for a part time degree in Creative Writing at the University of Hull. It was the thought of the new fees wot did it. I got in just before the changes. Still had to pay – over 6 years it worked out as @£1000 a year – but for me it was money well. There were opportunities to be creative, meet new people, cover a wide range of genre. Hard work but worth it. The subsequent fee increases led to an inevitable drop in numbers and the part-time degree has now closed. Over half of my class wanted to take the MA in Creative Writing. They had the talent but simply couldn’t afford it.

For most it was their first experience of HE. I don’t think many would disagree that in one way or another the past 6 years were transformative. Not only in terms of knowledge and experience but in the acquisition of a  variety of skills and overall confidence in both the subject and as individuals. They were so proud to graduate and I was proud to have been part of such an talented and energetic group. Isn’t this what life is about? Learning there’s more to the world than exists in your little corner?

pink and green direction arrows

Fixing the Broken Market says some right things:

For prospective students, greater flexibility in degree provision will help people access the life-changing opportunities that a university education can provide…allowing people additional routes to higher skills – such as through flexible ‘learn-while-you-earn’ higher education provision or apprenticeships – will be vital to allow people to upskill and retrain whilst in work.

Apprenticeships.

Mmmm……

I’m currently involved in supporting a Degree Apprenticeship Programme. Intended to be partnerships between employers, universities, and professional bodies, students will have the opportunity to study (UG and PG) while working. It’s a revival of part-time study through work based learning.

book, phone and keyboard

At Lincoln I supported a variety of Work Based Learning programmes which focused on the needs of local employers. For me, WBL was widening participation in action. It was where the affordances of education technology came into their own and inclusive practice was essential in rural areas with poor broadband connections. I built transition support and helped amend the validation process. By the time a  WBL award got to validation, the differences and challenges had already been addressed, the first module developed and was demonstrated. For years I did the best I could to support staff teaching on these programmes. What I couldn’t control then, and still struggle with today, is time.

cartoon person pushing a brown cog wheel representing the gears of digital shifts

I know from experience how studying part-time while working full-time is tough.

My PhD is on a burner so far back I can’t see it.

Without support from your employer, part time study risks being an unachievable goal. The new Degree Apprenticeships have to acknowledge the reality of the full time work/part time study dichotomy.

It’s good to see Fixing the Broken Market in Part Time Study has bought up the issues, but the rationale worries me. Times have changed and the purpose of higher education is changing too. This resurgence of attention is also a reconstruction.  Part-time is repackaged as shorter, flexible modes of study. ‘Learning and Earning’ the new catch phrase. Improving the skills of the working-age population the driver.  A  meritocratic society the vision. Technology the discipline focus. This isn’t about the Arts or Humanities which, if I’m reading it right, are presented  low-value learning. It’s STEM STEM STEM all the way home.

keyboard with a sign saying Under Construction

Parts of the report make me want to cry – not in a good way. Page 9 addresses the lessons learned following the Browne Report and show how far removed the government was (still is) from reality. Read it yourself and see. Here are some tasters

It was thought that part-time students would respond to increases in deferred fees in the same way as full-time students…. it [was] thought that more part-time students would be entitled to and take-up tuition fee loans than actually did…  we would not expect a negative impact on the demand for part-time study… The experience of the last few years shows that this assumption, that all of us made, was catastrophically wrong

No shit Sherlock!

silhouette of raised arms

Apart from higher education becoming purely an employability incentive there are some lights at the end of this long dark tunnel. ‘Lessons from recent history include part-time students and full-time students need to be thought about differently by policymakers.‘ Yep, they certainly do. And by the universities and by all staff who teach and support learning but I would challenge statements like ‘Less time out of work is required for these flexible study modes‘ because this isn’t true. 20 credits is still 200 hours of learning no matter how you present it.

timer laid on its side in the sand

However the biggest single hurdle to achieving authentic and meaningful part- time study is time. Without an institution and employer wide shift in culture towards genuine CPD, part-time study will continue be a source of stress rather than reward.

I know…

I’m stressed…the Phd sleeps quietly in my absence….while I count down the days to Christmas for all the wrong reasons.

christmas baubles and tree

all images from pixabay.com

Accessibility Matters Part Two

cartoon figure holding a sign saying access denied
Accessibility can be hard work.

Accessible content requires the user to jump over hoops.

It gets tiring. Frustrating. No one understands unless they’ve been there too.

Most ‘accessible practice’ is lip service… tokenism.

Here’s an example of the separation between theory and practice. I followed an interesting looking tweet (as you do) to a blog by Wendy Mitchell @WendyPMitchell who was diagnosed with Young Onset Dementia in her fifties. Visit Wendy’s website Which Me Am I Today for more details.

Wendy Mitchell website banner showing a view over a lake surrounded by hills

Wendy raises awareness about what the condition is like, in particular what it means for her in daily life. At one such event three ‘healthcare professionals’ had arrived to join her.

‘Two nurses were from the Learning Disabilities team and one from Mencap. We were also joined by Acho from the Recovery College ….They all dealt with people with dementia so I went through all my challenges and simple solutions. They, like many professionals weren’t aware of dementia affecting so many of our other senses so I filled them in on that as well.’

Here lies the heart of the issue. Unless you’ve had personal or 1-2-1 experience of impairment or disability you don’t know what the day-to-day reality is like. If ‘health care professionals’ don’t know the full story then what hope is there for digital content designers and internet providers to create fully accessible and inclusive online environments.

The topic of last week’s #lthechat + #HEAchat was designing interaction for diverse cohorts with Dr Pauline Hanesworth. Many answers to the first few questions included  suggestions of what diversity might look like. Try to define this yourself. By definition, diversity is broad because humanity contains a complex array of difference. Designing for diversity is almost always going to be impossible. So let’s turn it around

tweets from #lthechat

Rather than identification of the constituent parts of a diverse student cohort, we should focus on preventing barriers to access instead – put inclusive practice first –and promote the principles of inclusive design. While there will never be a one-size-fits all model e.g. multimedia will always have exclusive parameters, creating and making time to think about the issues. Learning the value of alternative formats (textual equivalents which can be customised to suit user requirements) is always time well spent.

My colleague Lee Fallin got it…

tweets from #lthechat

tweets from #lthechat

It’s always comforting to find like minded people – who understand the need need to get beneath the academic theorising to the nitty gritty reality – the practical steps everyone can take to ensure their content reaches the greatest number. After all, equality legislation was always about being proactive – about anticipating requests for alternative formats – and providing them at source rather than them having to be asked for.

What went wrong? Why does society seems to be taking backward steps?

In the 1990’s the three Equality Commissions did some fantastic work campaigning and raising awareness of discrimination around the triad of disability, age and sex. When disbanded, replaced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, dilution of focus was predictable. The single Equality Act introduced a host of protected characteristics – all of which matter – don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they don’t.

What I am saying is attention to disability over the years seems to have become blurred and relegated to a back seat. Changes to the benefit system are bad enough – for every so called Daily Mail ‘scrounger’ and ‘benefit cheat’ there are thousands whose physical and cognitive impairment, often through no fault of their own, makes participation in society both challenging and difficult.

image of a broken mirror from pizabay

We’ve reached a state where some individuals with genuine ‘disability’ now have fears about disclosure, who feel they have to disguise integral aspects of themselves in case of negative repercussions, in particular from those with no idea of what it’s like to live in 2017 – in a society which seems to be taking backwards rather than forward steps around access to the built environment – e.g. dropped kerbs which take away the distinction between pavements and roads, street art with no warning of obstruction and it’s not just the real world – it’s the digital one too. This is what concerns me the most. In a society when the platforms of the public sphere are digital and the provision of welfare is first and foremost, where the NHS policy is Digital First, then to be digitally excluded is to be silenced, discriminated against and excluded.

access denied sign with red figure sat looking downcast
image from https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-illustration-access-denied-sign-clipping-path-included-image-image60841223

What can be done?

Access to higher education is so important to get right. The cost alone is bad enough without having additional struggle with processes and resources. Attitudes such as insistence on PDF formats, seeing accessibility as the sole responsibility of Disability Services, ignoring the need for textual equivalents to video/audio, acceptance of inaccessible environments like ebooks, provision of new digital content which breaks basic guidelines on colour, contrast and navigation – it’s all around us.

I believe digital inclusion and accessible working practices should should be the seventh element of the Jisc Digital Capabilities model

At the moment it isn’t there – why not?  It suggests those leading the digital capabilities agenda in HE are unaware of the issues themselves and this worries me.

Digital capability is about so much more than using tools – it’s about understanding and reflecting on the wider social impact of the internet and this includes parameters of inclusion and access.

Over on #lthechat the tweets had moved on…

A related topic. Not only does this challenge the myth of the digital native which I still hear being used – uncritically – by staff who teach and support learning across the sector – but it neatly opens the door to ask what being digitally capable means and these are the conversations we need to be having more often.

The #lthechat was over but the tweeting continued…

In the meantime, Lee had the right idea!

This week’s blog started as a combination of accessible and inaccessible digital environments (Accessibility Matters – Part One) with calls for opportunities to debate diversity and barriers to the HE experience – it’s concluding with a reminder how those with digital access need to raise awareness and campaign for the digital rights of those who have it less easy.

Reread and share the Jisc guide to Getting started with accessibility and inclusion

Revisit the Toolkit for creating accessible learning materials developed by TechDis.

Be sad because apart from the Toolkit, all that’s left of TechDis is an archived version of the front page of its website.

The digital world is transient, fast moving, here today and gone tomorrow, but some things should be fixed – given more permanence –  and Tech Dis was one of them.

Who is carrying on the work?

I’m not sure.

Let’s make a list of cares about digital inclusion.

If you’ve read this far and want to be included let me know…

 

image of man holding a sign is from https://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-access-denied-banner-held-up-little-man-white-background-image40043062

 

Accessibility Matters Part One

image showing a drawing of a bar of soap and a box representing a digital soapbox

I’d heard negative reports about Sharepoint. Which goes to show you shouldn’t judge a tool by its reputation. Using it had two advantages – a selection of useful editing tools and when the text size is increased (unlike MS Windows and Office) the text box ribbon and menus enlarge too.

Both of these matter.

First the tools.

Many user generated content boxes only offer plain text which isn’t enough. I want to edit and format, emphasise, bullet a list, switch to html.

image showing comment box in Speedgrader on Canvas

Hull has Canvas as a VLE and most of its comment boxes are plain text. The minimalist style is particularly frustrating in Speedgrader (yes, you can attach a Word document but in the Grade Studio you can bold, italicise, underline and add a URL which is great for directing students towards additional guidance and support)

Giving feedback and feeding forward for future assignments is a key part of the educational relationship. It’s a skill and an art to critique constructively. Whether feed-back or feed-forward, the process needs to sound as though the student matters and the tutor cares. This can be a challenge to achieve online, where digital text often appears cold, devoid of human touch with an increased risk of misinterpretation. Being able to edit the appearance of text can help this lack of emotion but – other than a : -) face (which doesn’t even convert to a real smile like MS does) plain text has no affordance for personalisation.

smiley from MS Word

It’s not just Canvas which sticks to plain text. The message tools on Twitter and Facebook lack editing features but their function is more ‘of the moment’ like a text equivalent of a quick message whereas meaningful feedback should be personal and contextual – if ever a place was needed for editing tools it’s the online marking of assignments.

Guidance on writing feedback e.g. REAP’s Seven principles of good feedback practice or the Seven Steps Giving Effective Feedback from Plymouth University, is all about what feedback should do. The choice of  media rarely gets a mention, other than as a beneficial alternative to text.

Video and audio offer opportunities for a more personal touch but are still best used in combination with written text rather than as an alternative.  The interpersonal effect of digital writing – i.e. being able to ‘talk’ online as you do face-to-face – is hardly addressed any more. Yet the truth is – compared to (legible) handwriting – Times New Roman is impersonal. Where are the workshops on How to reduce the neutrality of Helvetica or Ways to make TNR emotionally supportive. Choice of media matters. Digital feedback is one of those fuzzy places where the affordances of communicating online meet the limitations of digital text but too few people are discussing it.

So the first surprise with Sharepoint was the text editor toolbar.

Second was the enlarging tool bar.

One of the advantages of dodgy vision (and truth be told, there’s not many) is how it highlights the inaccessibility of digital practice, both from the software giants and from individuals uploading content.

I don’t image of tv on a wall use screen margination software for a number of reasons – one of them being you need a large screen. Suggestions like plug your laptop into your TV assume you have a TV in the first place and  besides, have you ever tried it? If you could put the TV on your desk it might work but most TVs sit in the corner of the room or are fixed to a wall.  Not everyone has wireless connectivity, cables are trip hazards while sitting comfortably with a keyboard, books, coffee cup etc on the floor is not always easy.

I get by with Ctrl+ and Ctrl – although some recent websites designs prevent this. Instead of enlarging content I find myself scrolling down the screen instead. Latest versions of Windows have a slider bar controlling magnification but my Surface and laptop only have a limited choice of magnification options. Choosing the higher ones creates anomalies e.g. items you’re used to seeing on the taskbar get hidden like in the before and after images below (the upward arrow is the hidden icons tray). This might seem trivial but it isn’t. Also note how the text in the footer bar remains the same size!

Image showing the taskbar at default size

Image showing the task bar enlarged with missing icons

I don’t always want everything enlarging so I prefer Ctrl+ and Ctrl- to manage my onscreen view on a page by page, file by file basis.  The problem with programmes like Word is you can only increases the working area.

image showing enlarged text in Word while menu bars remain small

Sharepoint shows enlarging the toolbars and menu items as well is possible but you can see in the image below how the browser tabs remain resolutely tiny.

images howing enlarged text in Sharepoint also enlarges the edit toolbars while browser tabs remain small

It’s worth mentioning how exploring and utilising the Windows accessibility options involves working with menus displaying a default text size – which is too small to read – which is why I need to enlarge it in the first place!   This is a typical accessibility loop – like opening an online document to find a message on page iv saying if you need an alternative format please contact …… Um….. shouldn’t this information be provided somewhere other than within the online document itself?

I don’t want the size fixing – I want the flexibility to increase and decrease online content depending on the context, device, location, light, time of day etc. If MS SharePoint can take the step towards getting it right,  why doesn’t the Office suite give me the same accessible working environment?

Who else cares about these issues? Some answers can be found in Accessibility Matters; Part Two