University of Northampton Research Conference June 2019

images showing university of northampton

I love a good conference!

Themes running through the Annual Research Conference were around research being creative, inclusive and applicable. It needs to make a difference to the lives of others, either within  communities aimed at supporting more effective research practice or ensuring impact in the wider society.

There were many examples of creative approaches to postgraduate research.

The ‘Bake your Research’ invitation resulted in some amazing creations. I missed the judging so by the time I arrived the cakes were under the first stages of attack.

results from the Bake your Research competition

But, thanks to Twitter, the winning cake from Chetak Nangare has been digitised and uploaded to social media.

winner of the bake your research competition

Creativity was the theme of Julia Reeve’s keynote which addressed ‘Becoming a Creative Researcher‘ through the use of storytelliing, visualisations and Lego.

storytelling dice and activitiy instructions

I first encountered Lego through a workshop with Chrissi Nerantzi at MMU and the following year invited Chrissi to facilitate a session at Hull. This led to funding for bricks and the addition of model building to our programme of events supporting teaching, learning and research. Julia’s presentation reminded me of working with PhD students in the Graduate School where the opportunities to build and share their research models reinforced the power of stepping outside traditional academic boundaries and trying alternative approaches. The outputs can offer surprising insights and the technique is well worth trying.

image from twitter showing Kieran Fenby-Hulse

Speaking of alternative, Kieran Fenby-Hulse bought his unique ‘academic cabaret‘ to the conference. Titled ‘On Difference and the Academy‘ Kieran explored notions of privilege and outsider theory to question approaches to equality and diversity in higher education, and to challenge academia as being a conservative and exclusionary environment.  Original and provocative, Kieran disrupted traditional keynote expectations in ways which were both entertaining and hard hitting, through his talent for words and performance, alongside quick-fire changes of genre and clothes, all combining to make it an unforgettable event.

Postscript – Kieran’s keynote can now be seen on You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=29mqaIWoq1g

Images showing Kieran Fenby-Hulse performing his academic cabaret

Inclusion was a thread running through the presentations.

For me, the most memorable included Jay Batchelor who spoke about ‘Sound Communication? Language Preference for the Deaf Community‘, Introducing herself in sign language (reinforcing how l’ve have forgotten most of mine through lack of practice!) Joy addressed the need for inclusive approaches to communication. We often we take for granted the ability to participate in the built environment and Joy demonstrated this with a comparison of information text from a train station and an airport. I took away a useful reminder of how accessibility of content, often focused on vision impairment, needs to incorporate equal attention to hearing loss as well.

Joy Batchelor presneting on communication for hearing loss f

I also liked Lucy Atkinson’s work on student transition. It demonstrated how much transition support has developed since the Getting Started initiative at the University of Lincoln which I faciliated many years ago. This addressed the student experience in the months and weeks prior to enrolment but Lucy’s work is breaking new ground by researching and facilitating support at Level 3 through the Foundation Student Framework at UoN. Lucy also spoke about Urb@n Research at the University of Northampton, an undergraduate bursary opportunity similar to UROS at Lincoln.

Lucy Atkinson presenting on student transition

Lucy showed a great example of the use of social media on her concluding slide. So often at conferences, you want to follow up presentations and adding a slide like this makes it easy.

Lucy Atkinson contact information

Current developments with supporting researchers to get the most from their postgraduate experiences, and building a PGR community, was introduced by Melanie Petch, Research Developer in the Graduate School at UoN. As a distance learner, doctoral research can often feel like an isolating and exclusive environment. It was lovely to meet Melanie in person after having corresponded for so many months, and good to see how the Grad School is very much aware of the need to include all students, regardless of location and mode of study.

Melanie Petch presenting on reseatcher development

The issue of language was frequently raised, in particular the word ‘training‘ and its potentially negative influence when used to refer to research events. There are parallels here with digital practice where programmes of development are so often labelled as ‘training‘ sessions. I noticed in many groups there was still an association of digital practice with ICT and technology rather than pedagogy or learning design. Language matters and a huge advantage of research conferences is with providing places with time and space to discuss the appropriateness of the words we commonly use, often without considering their wider meanings and interpretations.

Student identity was another subject of debate relating to language.  As well as undergoing doctoral research, Anthony Stepniak is the Student Research Student Officer for Northampton Student Union. The presentation on the ‘Ethical implications of staff/student research‘ addressed ways in which student roles are understood and reinforced.

Are students partners, collaborators, co-constructors or paid assistants? Language choices influence attitudes which in turn alters approaches to student engagement and active participation in learning experiences. Blurred staff-student boundaries can create ethical gaps in partnership work which projects like this are highlighting in order to inform the necessary questions which need to be asked.

Anthony began his PhD the same time as I transferred to Northampton. We shared induction so are part of the same cohort and I’m intrigued by his research which looks at portrayals of the wicked queen in fairy tales. I remember discovering Bettelheim’s ‘Uses of Enchantment’ many years ago. I was fascinated to discover how myths, legends and folklore all contain elements of universal truths and am looking forward to reading more about Anthony’s work in the future.

It’s impossible to cover everything.

The universal conference challenge is one of choice.

Parallel sessions give more researchers chance to present but also mean audiences are split between the different strands. This was a conference with variety and vibrancy. I’ve missed the ‘Feminist Research Feminist Scholarship’ Roundtable which deserves a blog post of its own.

feminist research and scholarship round table

Ditto the ‘Three Minute Thesis’ where participants condensed years of work into 180 seconds.

winners of the three minute thesis competition

Oh – and ‘a phd is a thing of joy‘.

I’m still reflecting on the truth of that statement.

Another blog post in the making….

In the meantime the Waterside Campus was looking lovely in the summer sunshine.

images showing the waterside campus of the university of northampton

Final words in this post come from the presentation ‘Knowledge mobilisation in higher education’ by Hala Mansour and Cristina Devecchi. Evidence has to be applied in three ways; it needs to be exchanged, transferred and mobilised. Research is not just about producing knowledge. It’s about using and applying it.

cristina devecchi and hala mansour presenting

Research conferences remain valuable opportunities for the first step of mobilisation which is exchange. Every conference has a presentation which stays with you. Speaking from the experience of being there, Cristina also led the session addressing ‘Being a Refugee Child in Lebanon: Implementing Children’s Rights in a Digital World through the Blockchain Educational Passport‘.

cristina devecchi presenting

Displacement from home and country has led to the rise of mobile transient populations. Refugees leave with nothing except their minds. They have no possessions and in a world where digital identity is essential, they are digitally destitute. Cristina is reseraching the use of blockchain technology to make permanent records which can travel independently online and confirm educational achievement.

This issue is at the heart of shifts to digital societies. Those excluded are marginalised, silenced and made invisible. For refugees this is a digital divide on a scale which most of us with easy internet connections cannot even begin to understand.

This presentation exposed the millions living lives we can’t imagine. But as Cristina and Hala said previously, knowledge on its own is not enough. It needs mobilisation if its to have any real and lasting effect.

Events such as Northampton’s research conference can provide the first stepping stones to making this happen.

 

…..

 

 

The week the internet was 30

image showing Sir Tim Berners Lee
image from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-47524474

I’ve often wondered if what we call the internet keeps Sir Tim Berners Lee awake at night. Reading his open letter to the Web Foundation this week, it sounds like it might.

TBL writes ‘…the divide between those who are online and those who are not increases, making it all the more imperative to make the web available for everyone.’ and calls for us to ‘…make sure it is recognised as a human right and built for the public good….making this happen should be a ‘priority agenda of our governments’

image showing the earth surrounded by digital networks
image from https://pixabay.com/en/network-earth-block-chain-globe-3537401/

I would suggest higher education also has a role to play. The undergraduates of today are the citizens of the future, which will be digital in ways we don’t yet know or understand. They should be given opportunities to develop digital graduate attributes which not only develop confidence with online environments but include opportunities to raise awareness of the impact of digital practice. This should be critically examined and promoted in ways which are accessible and inclusive because the digital is political.

The internet is about power and all students should have time to explore questions about who holds this power and what is done with it to affect the lives of others.

social media icons on a tree
image from  https://pixabay.com/en/tree-structure-networks-internet-200795/

Walk down any high street, take public transport, sit in a pub or a café and its clear how connectivity rules. The mobile device is ubiquitous. Not 100% but enough to represent social transformation.  In less than two decades we’ve become digitally connected, with everything done online being tracked, recorded and monitored. Data about our online activity underpins all internet transactions. Online lives are exposed through browser histories with all transactions leaving permanent digital footprints. Bentham’s panoptican has been reinvented for a digital society. The all seeing eye is virtual.

Orwell and Foucault were right!

image showing the panopticon
image from http://foucault.info/doc/documents/disciplineandpunish/foucault-disciplineandpunish-panopticism-html

The early pioneers of the world wide web saw it as an opportunity to create democracy and give everyone a voice, in particular those previously silenced. While  evidence shows there are places where this has happened, the fact remains that patterns of internet access mirror existing forms of marginalisation.  Digital exclusion is a 21st century form of discrimination where those without equitable access are disempowered. But this is not the only problem society faces.

TBL identifies three sources of dysfunction affecting today’s web:

  • Deliberate, malicious intent, such as state-sponsored hacking and attacks, criminal behaviour, and online harassment.
  • System design that creates perverse incentives where user value is sacrificed, such as ad-based revenue models that commercially reward clickbait and the viral spread of
  • Unintended negative consequences of benevolent design, such as the outraged and polarised tone and quality of online discourse.

The Contract for the Web declares ‘governments, companies and citizens around the world can help protect the open web as a public good and a basic right for everyone.’ It calls for everyone to commit to a number of principles. Taking a few minutes to read and sign up is to make a commitment towards understanding what you do online matters.

google icon seen through a magnifying glass

image from https://pixabay.com/en/magnifying-glass-google-76520/

The contract is not only aimed at governments and corporations, there are individual responsibilities for citizens who can agree to the following.

  • Be creators and collaborators on the web so the web has rich and relevant content for everyone.
  • Build strong communities that respect civil discourse and human dignity so that everyone feels safe and welcome online.
  • Fight for the web so the web remains open and a global public resource for people everywhere, now and in the future.

For every advantage the internet offers, there are disadvantages. The internet is a mirror of society with all its benefits and horrors. If we want to make a positive difference, we can commit to ensuring our use of the internet prioritises those values which promote public good.

As internet users, we all have a responsibility to ensure not only equality of access but attention to the ways that access is used.

As the web reaches the age of 30, this week is an opportune time to raise discussion and debate about these issues. Visiting the Contract for the Web would be useful place to begin.

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

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

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

Digital blindness is increasingly common.

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

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

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

Why is this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

All the elements of Maslow have digital equivalents.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As a consequence, universities are failing students.

My concern is that digital blindness is infectious.

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

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

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

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

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

Watch this space – it will be following soon…

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

 

 

Designing for Diverse Learners

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

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

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

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

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

Why ‘diverse learners’?

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

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

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

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

Future developments

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

The poster

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


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


 

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

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.

 

What’s your excuse?

pencil sketch of a bar of soap and a box

I’m in that cleft stick again. The one called accessibility. That’s my stick in the corner. On its own. Because most of the time we don’t think about it – don’t talk about it – and with exception of a small band of colleagues from across the sector – we don’t much care about it either 😦

I’m drafting a policy document for the use of Panopto. I can’t say the words (Shhhhh lecture capture) because that colours how people see the software. It influences usage. In the way VLE’s get used as digital depository dumps, recording 50 minute lectures is making minimal use of the affordances as well as being poor pedagogical practice. Try it yourself and see. Choose an online lecture. Unplug your speakers, turn off your sound and be sure to concentrate…

For the last decade multimedia has been challenging the supremacy of text. Yet for all the speed and variety of digital content, there isn’t a one size fits all method for getting messages across. This is the century of communication. Toffler called it the Third Wave. An information age following an agrarian and industrial/technological age.

blue information symbol

The 20th century has bought an obsession with the collection, curation and communication of information. Now in the 21st we have big data and learning analytics. It can only get better (or worse depending on your ontology). I’m unconvinced by this new data revolution. Its rhetorical promise is like the hyperbole heralding the arrival of the VLE and look where that got us.

The grating sound is the soap box being dragged out.  Early this year I presented the keynote at a Making Research Count Conference at UCL. The theme was living and working in digital times and included barriers to digital access. Feedback included this – which says it all…

Digital inclusion/exclusion was a huge topic about 5 years ago, but seems to have been forgotten somewhat now and, yes, it’s still so important.

Digital exclusion is invisible. With digital platforms of the public sphere those denied equality of access are neither seen nor heard. People agree social exclusion is a big issue (which it is) and digital divides are important (which they are) but when it comes to doing something then the whole shebang is seen as being outside of their remit. Let’s bring it closer to home.

drawing of a digital divide between ipad and paper

How are you getting on with the recorded lecture with no sound?

It’s a new academic year. The DSA has changed. Institutions have to consider the principles of reasonable adjustments. Software like Panopto is being hailed as a convenient answer but unless textual equivalents are provided how can it be?

I wave the digital inclusion flag with regard to online learning and teaching content but it’s lonely out here. Sort of invisible. It would be so much easier if we were all in this together but other people don’t seem interested. There’s always an excuse or it’s the responsibility of someone else. They talk the talk but don’t do anything about it.

Accessibility isn’t to be put aside until there is more time. The future will never have enough time. It will be exactly the same as it is today. It’s 2016. Equality has been a legal requirement since 1995. Part of the problem – I think – is how digital inclusion gets side-lined into being a disability issue rather than a fundamental digital capability leading to best practice and experiences for all.

We need to talk!

Why we should

  • It’s a legal requirement (Single Equality Act 2011)
  • The law takes a proactive approach – content in alternative formats should be provided not requested  Universities have to make reasonable adjustments
  • Inclusivity improves access for everyone (not just people with disabilities, international students, etc etc)
  • Multimedia is a valuable learning tooI
  • access is explicit in the sconul 7 pilliars of information literacy through a digital lens
  • It will enhance learning

Why we don’t

  • We don’t realise any of the reasons why we should
  • TechDis has been disbanded
  • It isn’t an explicit element of the Jisc digital capabilities framework
  • We’d know its important and would love to but…  we haven’t got the time, resource, money, skills, capacity, interest – fill in the blanks.

So what’s your excuse? What are your thoughts? Do you agree? Disagree? Lets get a conversation going and make 2016 the year for virtual inclusion.

Tweet @suewatling and #digitalinclusion

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digital divide image from http://www.idgconnect.com/IMG/082/17082/digital-divide-india1157-620×354.jpg?1412145199 
information symbol https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/47/Simple_Information.svg