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 

Cracking the digital nut Jisc #connectmore16

cracking the digital nut

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

What can we do about lectures?

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

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

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

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

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

What are we to do?

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

IMG_0320 IMG_0322

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

metathesiophobia paradigmshift

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

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