Technology is a great change-agent. Over the past two decades internet access has influenced teaching and learning, some would say disrupted it, by challenging traditional pedagogical patterns and relationships. Students can be directed to information sources rather than their teachers being that source, offering the potential for more autonomous learning. Traditional text and images are being supplemented or replaced by audio and video while investments continue to be made to educational technology infrastructures. Yet evidence of impact on learning itself remains scarce.
Now there’s a new kid on the block. Apps for supporting education. Jisc is taking a lead on promoting mobile and linking it to inclusive practice.
‘…the ability for learners to personalise their device, to have it constantly set up for their use, removes a barrier to learning. Far from providing a hindrance, therefore, mobile learning is a great boon to students with disabilities. http://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/mobile-learning/mobile-learning-myths
At a time when institutions are needing to consider their duty to make reasonable adjustments, in particular with regard to the provision of teaching and learning resources due to proposed changes to the DSA, JISC are suggesting APP-Awareness might help.
‘Smart phones and tablet devices can provide students who have physical, cognitive or sensory limitations with a portable alternative to specialist hardware and software.’ http://www.jisc.ac.uk/blog/are-you-using-mobile-technologies-to-support-inclusive-practice-10-apr-2015
Aside from personal views on determinist approaches to educational technology and the danger of BYOD being digitally divisive, I see this as a step in the right direction. Jisc have created opportunities to talk about accessibility and the app-potential for ‘personalisation features that can be changed to suit learner preferences’ (op.cit.)
For Apps to work, the content they’re working with has to be inclusive. This means barriers to App-access have to be identified and removed. To be App-aware is to consider accessibility and take it seriously. Apps might even be the way to reconsider the whole issue of access and digital divides.
So I’d say Go JISC. Go Mobile. Let’s all get Appy.
The IDER (Inclusive Digital Educational Resources) Working Group meets again this week. It’s time to think about making recommendations. The process will be helped by recent agreement on the Blackboard Required Standards which include Accessibility but what will this look like in practice?
Accessibility is not a popular subject. Already there are comments about this representing more work. I’m trying to say it’s not additional – it’s more like a different way to do what’s already being done. The loss of TechDis has further diminished the status of accessible online content. The Excellence Gateway Toolkit for Accessible Learning Materials has been archived, as has the BBC My Web My Way site while the RNIB’s Web Accessibility Centre seems to have got lost, along with the University of Salford’s Skills for Access which promoted accessible multimedia. The second set of guidelines from the Web Accessibility Initiative are less intuitive than the first and British Dyslexia Association and AbilityNet appear to be the only organisations still offering specific guidance on font, colour and contrast etc. The move is towards personalisation; the idea being individual users will customise their browsers to suit their own requirements. It makes sense but content creators need to ensure this can happen for examples one of the problem areas is PDF. People like PDFs because they are uneditable and the format looks the same on all applications but locking it down makes it less flexible. You need Adobe Acrobat to make visual changes, which is not free, and using it is neither easy nor intuitive
There is also the problem of web resources which are not downloadable. I have a problem with grey text on a white background. It seems increasingly popular and I’m not sure why. The British Dyslexia Association’s advises us to use dark on light e.g. ‘Use dark coloured text on a light (not white) background’ and ‘Most users prefer dark print on a pale background.’ AbilityNet say ‘If using a light-coloured type, make sure the background colour is dark enough to provide sufficient contrast.’ BDA also say ‘Avoid white backgrounds …White can appear too dazzling.’ Yet B/W is ok for me. I can tone it down using the screen brightness. It’s grey on white which is the problem.
This reinforces how there’s no one size fits all solution. One answer may be to raise awareness of the diversity of ways users might want to access digital resources and support that diversity with inclusive practice guidelines while also promoting how to change browser settings. I’m not a huge fan of the DIY approach. The image below shows some of the steps needed to change text colour . There are multiple windows requiring local knowledge, for example how do you know if you need the Colours, Font or Accessibility button on the Internet Options menu and once you’ve made the change for one website, it can create inappropriate changes for others.?
I don’t know what the answer is and with the gradual dilution of sector wide support for inclusion and accessibility, I wonder if anyone does. I’ve over 20 years of experience with ICT and can still get lost online. It seems too easy an option to say appearance can be configured in your browser, or expect people to understand the need for providing alternative formats. Unless you’ve experienced the frustration of digital exclusion for yourself, persuading colleague to change behaviour is going to be a challenge. However, the proposed changes to the DSA, and the need for institutions to revisit the duty to make reasonable adjustments to the provision of information and resources, means someone has to do it and for me the IDER Working Group is in an ideal position to explore these issues and reach some workable conclusions. In the meantime, if anyone has any useful suggestions around promoting and achieving inclusive digital practice please do feel free to get in touch. All suggestions are welcome 🙂
This week the Inclusive Digital Resources Working Group met for the first time. The aim of this group is to make recommendations for ensuring all students/staff have access to accessible and inclusive digital resources for learning and teaching. One of the drivers for the formation of this group is changes to the DSA (Disabled Student Allowance) which will remove additional technology support for students with dyslexia and other conditions. Peter Willets announced the changes in April 2014 saying ‘The need for some individual non-medical help (NMH) may be removed through different ways of delivering courses and information. It is for HEIs to consider how they make both anticipatory reasonable adjustments and also reasonable adjustments at an individual level.’ Greg Clark in September 2014 added ‘alternative provision in the form of university provided services such as printing services and books and journals in electronic format to be considered as alternatives’ and included the reminder ‘Universities should discharge their duties under the Equality Act to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled students.’ The changes will come into effect for September 2016.
Neither statement mentions the principles of universal design whereby changes for some create improvements for all. This is a shame because inclusion lies at the heart of the matter. It involves thinking beyond your own experience and considering diversity. Access to digital resources is a bit like the old Cadbury’s crème egg question How do you eat yours? We all have our own ways of working in online environments. The problems arise when assumptions are made which don’t take into account individual difference.
The key to reasonable adjustments is choice. Digital data supports personalisation. There is no one size fits all way of designing documents and presentations so the best alternative is uploading versions which can be customised to suit individual preference. The user should be able to change the size, shape and colour contrast to whatever works for them Where users can’t adjust content, it’s down to individuals to make reasonable adjustments like not placing text over an image and providing textual equivalents and user controls to multimedia.
Design is a political act. Putting content into the public domain involves decisions which determine access. This is power and with power comes responsibility. Reasonable adjustments to the provision of teaching and learning resources is not just about students with disabilities, its about maximising the affordances of virtual learning environments and improving access for everyone. The Inclusive Digital Resources Working Group will be contacting student reps, collating advice on best practice and making recommendations to the Learning Development and Environment Standing Group which reports to the Education and Student Experience group. The principle of reasonable adjustments is an opportunity to go back to basics, to review the minimum requirements for digital content and rethink what its means to be digitally literate.
So, on the question of reasonable adjustments – how will you be making yours?