sue watling

At #BbWorld I presented and took part in a panel on Institutional adoption of technology; a double opportunity to disseminate early research findings. Last year on the west coast for BbWorld14, an 8.00 a.m. slot was considered an advantage but not on the east coast, as I was told afterwards. Here people take time to get going first thing so we suffered a bit from numbers. Having said that, it was a large room and there were lots of questions, plus what has been really rewarding this week is the general interest from everyone I spoke to about the subject of institutional adoption.  In the panel session I talked about TELEDA, how its multiple layers offer opportunities to experience Blackboard from the student perspective, while the stress on critical reflection – transferring the experience to individual teaching practice – appears to be developing an evidence based shift in the way academics view Blackboard as a technology for enhancing the student experience.

I recorded the presentation the night before using Camtasia Relay on my laptop. This is available to everyone on the University of Lincoln network. Download it from the Software Centre and it’s a quick way to record a narrative over PowerPoint slides. I opted for providing captions because apart from being inclusive, I appreciate their value. I find it hard to learn by sound or image and prefer words instead. There lots of reasons why alternative formats benefit the learner experience but creating captions take time – there ‘s no way  around this. It demands a shift in attitude and practice. In the same way you wouldn’t upload a textual learning resource with half of it missing, audio and video transcripts are an integral part of the whole resource. Relay provides automatic captioning but you only have to switch on YouTube captions to see the nonsense voice recognition generates and Relay is the same.

cartoon showing an individual fighting with a wall of technology

This is the first slide of my presentation. I tell people this is me because as anyone who works with me will confirm, if the technology can go wrong its me it goes wrong with.

Right now I’m experiencing familiar frustration. The video is stuck in Relay. I can’t find a way to embed it into WordPress. Maybe I can’t? I don’t know. There’s no one to ask for help and I’m feeling pressured. I know what I want to do. I know it should be achievable but I can’t see how to do it and I’m running out of time. Does this sound familiar?  If you are a digital education developer then you’d probably be ok. If you are an academic who views technology with a mix of awe for its capabilities but fear and dread with regard to your own confidence then you’ll identify with this. It’s part of the massive shift needed to adopt VLE. Without empathy then support is useless.

cartoon showing a newly hatched chicken reverencing a paradigm shift

So back to the presentation. This is what I did with the how and the why of it.

 Plan of my research into digital adoption

I’m three years into the data collection, on the final set of interviews. Digital adoption is complex and involves at least three criteria; capabilities, competence and confidence.

3 C's of digital adoption, caababilities, competence and confidence

Underpinning these three C’s are other findings which the data analysis appears to support. These are listed in the image below. It’s the final bullet point which I think lies at the heart of on-campus digital divides between those with the three digital C’s and those without. The literature shows how e-learning and the student experience has been privileged over the staff experience. While some say e-teaching is implicit in e-learning, I would argue than unless it is made explicit there is a risk of making assumptions about baselines and starting points, which in turn will lead to initiative failure. TELEDA research findings
PS Finally worked out the connection between Relay and WordPress and embedded the code below – which gives me the message ‘Security Error’! If the technology can go wrong then it’s me it goes wrong with….

The focus on reimagining education to fit broader cohorts – reshaping itself for students rather than students reshaping themselves to fit traditional offerings – is making tangible differences to approaches to virtual learning and a number of presentations at BbWorld15 included digital accessibility. The sessions were well attended and offered pragmatic frameworks where the rationale for changing practice was a given. Sessions had less emphasis on the ‘why’ and more about the ‘how’. It’s like the reality of widening participation to an eclectic student base, including people with varying disabilities and impairments, is accepted almost without question. Of particular note was the high profile given to veterans returning to education. Diversity was not openly questioned. Instead I found a genuine interest in how to ensure inclusive practice with online learning resources.

Henrietta Spiegel offered steps to make Word, Excel, PowerPoint and PDF formats accessible and included useful examples of the rubbish generated by YouTube’s automatic captioning system. Come on Blackboard. Invest in voice recognition software and you’ll be onto a winner. Marlene Zentz, from the University of Montana, had student Aaron Page demonstrating Jaws screen reading software. Thanks Aaron. For anyone not understanding the value of technology for visual impairment, you may have taken them over the learning threshold with your real life examples of what happens if Heading Styles and meaningful text links are not used. It isn’t technically difficult. It just means use Heading Style 1,2,3 etc in MS Word and avoid the words ‘click here’ in a URL. No pictures unfortunately.  I’m hoping all the presentation slides will soon be available online.

David Rathburn from the University of Cincinnati was a allocated a 5.15 slot but it was still well attended. This was the only session I saw which provided a handout – a useful reminder of how helpful this when information and experience overload in developing! I nearly cheered out loud (but I’m British) to see the quote from Tim Berners Lee on how the ambitions of the early internet pioneers was to create a digital democracy.  Sad therefore that nearly 30 years on, digital divides are wider and more invisible than ever before. However, if digital educators can ‘get it’ then the future is is potentially a more inclusive one.

For me, accessibility sessions like these are inspiring. Digital inclusion is not difficult, it just needs a shift in alignment from assuming everyone operates in digital environments in the same ways you and your immediate colleagues do and a more critical ‘think before you link’ approach when uploading content to VLEs.

Closely associated to the subject of inclusive practice is multimedia. Many of these sessions were standing room only which emphasises the value being placed on audio and video learning resources. I liked the idea of using a video in site announcements and discussion threads. Blackboard have recently acquired VoiceThread so it would be useful if some of VT’a simplicity was incorporated into Bb. My TELEDA courses have raised a number of multimedia type issues. Many academic staff don’t have access to a webcam or a microphone or even a quiet place to make recordings; something reaffirmed by others here this week.  (One session I missed was about developers carrying their tools in backpacks – not ideal but maybe a potential solution.)

A Poll carried out within one session – image on the right below – also reaffirmed the on campus digital divides I’m looking to narrow and bridge with my research showing an almost nil representation at the conference from academics/faculty.

A multimedia explosion has been created from the affordances of user generated content, the shift of media production from professional to amateur and from fixed studio to mobile (and personal) devices. Blended delivery and flipped learning are all creating pressure for more interactive resources. A starting point is to raise awareness of OER content and efficient ways of embedding multimedia into Blackboard sites. The next step is to look at creating our own. You don’t need to be a professional – content can be ‘good enough’ to still be effective. It’s the learning design rather than technical expertise which makes the difference.

Part of the problem is the need to rethink the traditional boundaries between ‘technology training’ and ‘teacher education’.  This was the subject of my presentation and there is more information on this in #Bbworld15 Part Four.

It was publicly suggested Jay Bhatt should smile. I wouldn’t have noticed but looking at the photos you can see why it was suggested.

Blackboard is in town. A small town. Blink and you’d miss National Harbour. There’s a couple of streets, one giant eye of a wheel and the Gaylord Hotel and Convention Centre. That’s all folks. The only similarity with Washington DC, where you might have expected to be if you didn’t do your homework and read the small print, is they’re both on the south side of the Potomac River. Squinting through the heat haze from my window I can just make out the Washington memorial on the horizon – but the country is flat and it is the tallest stone structure in the world.

The Convention Centre exists in a bubble of plate glass and steel. Over three floors – no maps provided – I walked miles down endless carpeted corridors and up complex marble patterned steps where each one merged into the other. National Harbour is underneath a flight path. Every minute a supersize-me passenger plane descends along the line of the river. That’s a lot of people flying into one single city every day. Multiply by all the cities in the US to feel small and insignificant. America does this to you.

Meeting Blackboard face to face can be daunting. They’re a multinational corporation. Education is their business and profit the name of their game, but underneath all the razzmatazz you can always find people like me, who believe in the power of VLE to make a difference to the student experience. Choice about time and place of access, widening participation, student centred independent and lifelong learning – these are the thoughts you need to hang onto, especially when you’re full of flight flu and your eyes are blurred because your eye drops have leaked all over your suitcase.

The official Blackboard messages contain few surprises. Metrics, data, analytics, even bigger data, more analytics, workflows, leverages, income streams – but there were some great presentations (more in #BBWorld15 Part Three), cool demonstrations (Collaborate is looking good!) and two excellent panels.

The student panel was given a main slot. Great idea! Coming from the University of Lincoln, where students as co-producers and contributors of their own education and wider institution (see http://edeu.lincoln.ac.uk/student-as-producer/ for further information) it’s easy to take a high level of student engagement for granted. It’s only when you hear it being talked about it as something new and innovative you realise not everyone has moved as far down the ‘students as partners’ path as Lincoln. Panel members were

  • Zak Malamed, Founder and Executive Director of Student Voice,
  • Joelle Stangler, Student Body President at the University of Minnesota,
  • Aaron Wagner, Georgetown University,
  • Ifetayo Kitwala from Baltimore School for the Arts
  • Kunal Bhadane, University of Maryland.

Kudos to all of them for presenting such different but important views of the student experience. All should be well with the world if these are its future leaders.

The second panel the next day consisted of

  • Richard Culatta, Director of the Office of Educational Technology in the US Department of Education,
  • Amy Laitinen, Deputy Director, Education Policy, New America,
  • Kent Hopkins, Vice Provost for Enrolment Services, Arizona State University
  • Kris Clerkin, Executive Director, College for America at Southern Hampshire University.

One of the resources on an early TELEDA course was Richard Culatta’s TED talk – Reimaging Learning.

Key points I took away from the second panel were to ditch the phrase non-traditional  and use post -traditional student or new learners; as they now represent the majority of higher education enrolments. Education should fit around the learner because life happens and gets in the way of locked down routes and expectations.  I liked the phrase ‘This is a wind me up and watch me go question‘ – it reminded me of my digital soapbox which is always ready to make an appearance – and technology should be like GPS  i.e. give a choice about the road ahead and then seamlessly replot the route if the driver takes a wrong turn.

Lastly, the keynote by Adora Svitak was inspiring and the examples of Adora’s speaking style on YouTube show why https://www.youtube.com/user/adorasvitak 

What I liked best was how she was one of the few people during the week to actively engage the audience, encouraging us to take out our phones and tweet answers to her questions which she then tracked live on stage. The surprise was the  low number of people who put up their hands to say they would join in – maybe most were like me and couldn’t get onto the Blackboard wifi which effectively silenced me digitally – but did mean I was one of the few during sessions whose head was positioned at 180 degrees.

More about the presentations in #BbWorld15 Part Three.

Keynotes and panels are available to watch on http://www.bbworldlive.com/ 

 

 

You think your world is big. Then you travel and realise it’s small. You think you’re open to new ideas and ways of being. Then you come face to face with the future and realise how little you know.

At last year’s Blackboard World Conference, the closing keynote was given by Geoffrey Canada. I thought it would be a hard act to follow but Blackboard managed it. Peter Diamandis (XPrize Foundation,  Singularity U and much, much more) called his talk Innovation and Disruption on the Road Ahead. Opening up to how exponential technologies are changing our lives – now as well as in the future – this video from YouTube is an example. 

In the book Abundance, Diamandis includes the development of AI by the name of Watson. Like millions of others, I watched Watson play and win Jeopardy.

That was four years ago. Today Watson has moved on from downloading Wikipedia and is now on the cloud, moving into medicine. The plan is a partnership with medics so they no longer need to memorise a mass of information but can ask Watson instead.

We’re told the difference between Watson and Google is Google offers information, while Watson represents knowledge. Soon everyone will be able to connect to Watson via a mobile phone. How scary is that! What are the safeguards Hal? What will this mean for the future of higher education?

We are living in a world of perfect knowledge. A data driven world. LEO satellite constellations orbit the earth, watching and recording.  Drones are getting smaller; more inconspicuous, anonymous and disposable. Google cars carry a LIDAR device on their roof to gather and interpret data. There is no such thing as privacy. Diamandus tells us robotics will displace 48% workforce. Will they displace me? What will happen to art and creativity? Only a few weeks ago the Guardian ran a piece on the neural networks of software;  Yes, androids do dream of electric sheep

3D printing is turning abstract ideas into concrete realities in 300 different materials. How many more will be available by next week, month, year?

3D cars have been printed.

In China, Winsun have printed 3D houses.

Biometric devices like the Google contact lens can test glucose levels in tears for diabetics.

Virtual Reality is the next educational revolution. Oculus have been bought by Facebook. The future is Microsoft Windows Holographics where the virtual and the real come together.

This is not science fiction. It is already fact.

If this is what we know, how much more don’t we know? Where does this leave virtual learning environments like Blackboard and the traditional ideas of school, college and university – already being challenged by the internet.

BBWorld15 offered extremes.  On the one side Diamandis tells us to disrupt before we are disrupted, while on the other presentations called for attention of digital divides.

99% of the conference involved 3000 delegates sitting and passively listening. We might have the technology but how much difference is it really making to way we operate, in particular within the educational sector? More thoughts on this in BBWorld15 Part Two.

I’ve finally uploaded my presentation for the Blackboard International Conference #BbWorld15 taking advantage of the time difference to interpret Thursday US as Friday UK. Phew! It’s been a bit of a rush. I’ve adapted two of my favourite slides to talk about institutional adoption of technology – this time drawing on TELEDA to explore the academic perspective. Not everyone views technology in the same way. Some colleagues who teach and support learning are fine with exploring and experimenting  – they use a range of technology and understand how it enhances and empowers the student experience. Others are a little less enthusiastic and I know how they feel. Anyone who works with me can see if the technology can go wrong it’s me it goes wrong with. Me and the Digital don’t go together too well. It’s hard work but generally worth it because for me the benefits outweigh the challenges.

TELEDA has shown the value of experiential learning when it comes to getting up close and personal with VLE like Blackboard. Internet access has posed a challenge to traditional notions of what it means to be an academic. It isn’t enough to put content online and hope for the student to arrive and engage with it. To create successful online education involves relearning the pedagogies of face to face teaching and applying them to the digital environment instead. It can be done but it takes time and time is the one thing we are all short of.

Many people still make assumptions about digital capabilities. This risks initiative failure for example when establishing baselines of digital capabilities we need to talk to the digitally shy and resistant – not just the innovators and adopters- and it would help to shift from a technology-training  approach to a teaching-pedagogies one. Blackboard support needs to be contextualised so it’s relevant and meaningful – one way is to apply the experiential learning cycle – relocate staff as students on VLE – give online tasks and build more critical reflection. Opportunities like TELEDA suggest more explicit ‘teaching-not-training’ links with CPD/staff development activities could be useful. The TELEDA research indicates this aids the shift from Blackboard as repository to Blackboard as generator of learning activities. Bring on Blackboard World2015. Lets see if anyone else agrees!

proverbs

Flipping the Institution at Greenwich #uogapt defined the post-digital age as taking computers and the internet for granted because they’ve always been there. But there are risks. The internet is exclusive. Digital access parameters replicate and reinforce existing categories of disempowerment.  While those who are connected are increasingly tracked and monitored those who are disconnected are digitally discriminated and increasingly invisible. The post digital world is surveillance heavy and divisive.

Flipped learning ‘s focus on placing digital resources online provides timely opportunities to revisit what it means to develop digital literacies for all users; students and academics. Digital literacies have morphed into digital capabilities, the Jisc seven elements reduced to six and no one mentions SCONUL’s digital literacy lens anymore – which is a shame because it was explicit about the risks of digital divides.

Teaching decisions can constitute barriers to access and engagement and speakers Jonathan Worth, David White and Helen Beetham made reference to the risks of being digitally connected and disconnected.  Their presentations reinforced the value of events like these.

Here are my key takeaways from the day.

If you are not on twitter you are excluding yourself from relevant conversations.

The first waves of technology was plugging it in and using it. The second post digital wave is using it innovatively.

Open education demonstrates the facilitation of learning through the use of social media for example Jonathan Worth’s open access photography course http://phonar.org/ #phonar

Other links worth following: Coventry University’s Disruptive Media Learning Lab http://dmll.org.uk #disruptivebytes and Speaking Openly http://speakingopenly.co.uk/   #speakingopenly. Visit Audrey Watters  and Hack Education Read Dragnet Nation by Julia Angwin on the  world of electronic surveillance

Digital Wellbeing means taking steps to know mobile devices track and store data about us. Quick surveillance check for iphonesgo to Settings > Privacy >  Location Services > System Services > Frequent Locations to see how you are monitored.

Questions to reflect on.

  • What does inspiring teaching look like in a post digital age?
  • Will the TEF include a measurement of digital engagement?
  • How can reluctant and resistant academics be encourage to engage with virtual learning as more than an electronic repository of content?
  • One outcome of post digital is the expectation people will be available online 24/7 in particular for work responses to emails. Is this right, fair or sustainable?
  • Staff and students need to know how to construct and maintain professional digital identities and reputations. What we do online today in the digital world may influence future opportunities. How do we support digital responsibility?

Teaching decisions can constitute barriers to access and engagement.  The digital amplifies existing inequality. We should all take personal responsibility within digital practices to recognise the potential for exclusion.  Tackling digital exclusion needs awareness which leads to action. Digital exclusion is being rebranded by Jisc as social responsibility. There is a risk the reality of digital divides and exclusions will get lost in this change of language. Those within the digital sector might be aware of the inner meanings, but those outside will not.

The employability agenda is turning students into products for employers. This commodification reinforces the need to focus on ‘sense of self’ in the post digital age. We need to be equipped to live in a digital world. Like Media Studies taught students to deconstruct images to see the hidden discourse beneath, students now need to understand how social media frames them.

Multimedia is the new measure of digital literacy with video replacing text and image as preferred means of communication.

PechaKucha are short, sharp bursts of creative energy which challenge you to be concise and digitally capable. The format at Greenwich was ten slides in ten minutes which was fine; developing presentations like these would support digital confidence.

The student voice at Greenwich included a set of mini dramas showing the student side of ‘post digital’ education and a final reminder of how it’s the face-to-face experience which still has the power to educate and entertain.

photo (6) I left Greenwich reinspired. Conferences do this to you. Fill your head with new ways of thinking and seeing the world. You’re enthused and want to capture and share the experience. I left with ideas about how to be more creative, make greater use of multimedia, re-engage with Twitter, turn blog posts into videos, recreate TELEDA as a MOOC, then went back to work and was reminded of the divide between thought and practice. Developing digital capabilities and competencies takes time and there is never enough. The early rhetorical promises of educational technologies to cut costs and increase efficiency missed completely the need to learn and polish new ways of working.

The 13th Academic Practice and Technology Conference was at the University of Greenwich on 7th July. The location was unique – the only university to be on a National Heritage site – The Old Royal Naval College – built by Christopher Wren on the side of the River Thames and next to the Cutty Sark, now encased in an ugly glass visitor surround and box.

The naval college consists of four courts. The famous Painted Hall in King William Court was closed to visitors because Kiera Knightly and Joan Collins were filming so I stood under an open window in neighbouring King Charles Court, home of the Trinity Laban School of Music and Dance, and listened to Mussorgsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition played on a solo piano instead. It was magical.

The conference was in Queen Anne Court. Titled Flipping the Institution: Higher Education in the Post-Digital Age, the welcome text included reference to not all students being comfortable or sufficiently skilled to engage in post digital environments. I was there to say the same about academics and how the subject of staff digital confidence has become a case of elephants (in the room) and emperors (new clothes). We don’t talk about it but we should. I presented some themes from my literature review and data analysis:

  • The focus of the educational technology literature is on the student as elearner rather than academics as eteachers – yet eteaching is the corollary to elearning.
  • The literature of elearning is predominantly about success stories – yet we know there’s more to be learned from studying failure
  • The experience of those who are not great technology advocates is missing – resistance and reluctance are not being explored
  • Making assumptions about digital ways of working is risky and may lead to failure The diversity of different starting points is rarely recognised
  • Digital literacies are complex – they mirror us as individuals, everyone approaches virtual environments in different ways, so models and frameworks need to be flexible to accommodate diversity (and start from zero)
  • Academics need time and space to become e-teachers and engage with digital pedagogies as well as gain digital confidence – not good news when everyone is squeezed and stretched but staff development has to protected in particular when it comes digital ways of working 
  • Everyone wants students to have the best possible experience – but not everyone sees technology as a way of achieving this
  • It would help to shift from training models of competency to teacher education programmes; TELEDA shows the value of an approach which is structured around experiential learning and critical reflection and  TELEDITEs take their TELEDA experience into their practice.

One of the outputs from the three years of TELEDA development has been what I call the Myths of Digital Competence. They go something like this:

  • Not everyone owns a mobile device or has access to an up to date computer off campus.
  • Not everyone realises apps like BB mobile don’t give full functionality
  • Common technical support advice is to use another browser but not everyone knows what browser they’re using or how to change to a different one
  • Not everyone can get photos off their camera or phone onto a computer
  • Not everyone can use a text editor or turn text into a URL
  • html view is useful for tweaking, trouble shooting or getting the embed code from YouTube but not everyone knows you can do this or how to do it
  • The majority of academics don’t have access to a webcam or microphone – or a quiet place to record a narration

More about the presentations by Jonathan Worth, Robert White and Helen Beetham in elearning, eteaching, eliteracies part two.

Preparation for conferences requires boundaries. Limits on minutes and slides demands conciseness as key messages are extracted and difficult decisions made about what to leave behind. The parts you present are only ever a fraction of the whole story.

Flipping the Institution is at the University of Greenwich on 7th July. The deadline for uploading presentation slides is 29th June. As always it’s a tight squeeze.  Not only in terms of preparation but because the guidance says ten slides only. I confess to not counting the  introduction and conclusion and hope I will be forgiven.

Not being a fan of the Prezi slide and glide style, I’ve stayed with PowerPoint, using pictures rather than all text. I’m not sure how it will work but will find out on the 7th!  Preloaded presentations are being made available in advance for participants to decide which sessions to attend. My concern is if the pictures will tell the story out of context so I’m hoping the preload includes note fields. It’s like making lecture content available before the event. It takes away any elements of surprise so in spite of the value I understand reluctance to do so.

I often think of presentations as a journey; beginning with who are you, where you’re from and why you’re there, followed by the problem, what you did it and why you did it, then the results, their implications and lastly a summary pulling it all together. That’s the plan and these are the headlines from each slide.

Introduction

1. For many people working with technology can be a challenge.

2. technophan or technophobe – digital divides on campus.

3. The literature identifies a need to support academic staff to engage with digital ways of working.

4.. Introduction to my research using the poster from a recent Show and Tell event.

5. Four key themes from my literature review of the field of educational technology.

6.  To move forward sometimes benefits from looking back, in this case to the NCIHE report into the future of higher education (Dearing Report 1997).

7. Data analysis suggests four key themes emerging.

8. Myths of digital confidence influence how support is provided.

9. Data surprise; unexpected findings.

10. Quotes from the data analysis.

Summary and conclusion.

Looking forward to 7th July :-)

 

Back to Reality!

June 19, 2015 | PhD  |  Leave a Comment

It’s PhD time again. P for Positionality, H for higher and D for danger. Put them together and what have you got? Something scary and exciting in equal measures. My days are stretched to their limits but I have enjoyed the mental aerobics. Juggling different ways of seeing the world. 50 shades of perception and all that!

It’s been a while since the incident of the plastic folder and snapped fibula. The Phd has slid silently under the surface again. Now it’s back. My life is on hold. The dictionary is out. I’ve been re-reading social theory. The ‘…ologies’ have returned and once more the task of defining the nature of knowledge is keeping me company up and down the A15.

The last bit of data analysis I did was August 2014. My last grapple with critical realism was February when I completed the first three chapter drafts. These are PhD-bergs. What you see on the surface is nothing compared to the mass of work underneath. It’s the nature of a part-time PhD. The visible bits bob about, surfacing, sinking, swimming around your consciousness like guilt.  You never quite get rid of them. The invisible parts are best kept hidden. Angst, sweat and lots of tears. But there are advantages to gaps in study. They offer perspective. Ignoring the trauma of last weekend when I looked at my nodes in NVivo (!) and couldn’t recall any thinking behind them, revisiting the social theory has mostly been ok. What does sometimes depress me is the complexity of academic text.

I support widening participation and inclusion. To achieve these requires acknowledgement of the interplay between complexity and risk of exclusion. I understand some knowledge needs specialist language but I’ve always seen the challenge of teaching in higher education as making complexity meaningfully accessible. Much of my reading at the moment is the opposite.

Maybe I’m idealistic and/or naïve to think doctoral study can be anything other than difficult with regards to language but there comes a point where deliberate use of academic jargon excludes engagement or worse; the case of Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity by AD Sokel comes to mind.

Borrowing from Lord Lieth effective writing should inform, educate and entertain.  This was my plan. A Thesis with style. I’ve been told it’s not meant to be engaging but why die over production if no one is going to enjoy reading it.

Adding to the body of knowledge – no matter how small the contribution – will be meaningless unless it can be understood. My research is about practice. It seeks to explain the divide between the rhetoric and the reality of e-learning, to explore why technology is quite probably a deterrent rather than a gift for the majority of colleagues. I could wrap it all up in jargon but it isn’t meant to be an exercise in obscurity. Education should be inclusive. It’s a far greater challenge to make complexity accessible than to add to all the obscurity which is already out there.

visual impairment logo

A new phrase has appeared in JISC World. Print impairment. It describes difficulty with accessing text-based resources. Alistair McNaught writes ‘Between 10-13% of people in the UK … have difficulty accessing text-based resources, varying from dyslexia through to visual impairments and motor difficulties.’

The source of this figure is uncertain. 2020 Vision is cited but they have no reference. The RNIB estimate over 2 million people experience sight loss  while Dyslexia Action say approximately 10% of the population is thought to be dyslexic with a total of two million people severely affected. There will be cross overs between these estimates and also all those who’ve not been counted.  Print impairment is likely to be more prevalent than we realise.

The JISC post is about digital exams. Rather than extra time, extra readers, extra rooms or DIY digital versions of exam papers, the Ofqual (Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation) now  requires ‘awarding bodies to offer digital copies of exam papers for print-disabled learners’. Here the language reverts to the D word which is a shame. More on this at later.

Digging through the literature the initiative appears directed at schools but the JISC paper Making the most of accessible exam papers highlights potential problems which are applicable anywhere technology is used for education. The files provided by awarding bodies will be available as PDF so the onus is on the institution to ensure compatibility with assistive reading tools and support for the accessibility features of Adobe Reader. As with all things digital, this is not without complications. Laptops used during exams must meet the security requirements of awarding bodies and staff who teach and support learning will need confidence with operating in assistive technology environments.  While JISC suggest ‘Extra time taken in updating staff skills and giving learners good technology training should be outweighed by the reduced support needs of learners.’ anything which involves additional work load plus digital engagement is likely to be unpopular. The paper recommends disability support teams  ‘train learners to make the most of examination papers in PDF format.’ The term ‘train learners’ is terrible. What happened to educate? But aside from the pedantics, this suggestion replicates and reinforces what has always been wrong with disability education – the responsibility for accessible practice is seen as belonging elsewhere. It’s something which is done by a few for a few rather than inclusion being a mainstream philosophy and practice. The term print-impairment offers hope but print-disability takes us right back where we started from.

At least the post re-acknowledged the value of digital environments. It isn’t possible to over emphasise these.  Digital text provides the ability to change colours, magnify text and images and navigate swiftly through a document – things that significantly reduce the barriers for people with print impairments. What isn’t mentioned is content has to be designed inclusively for this to happen!

These are key messages which are still largely unheard and unacknowledged. As always the message from JISC World looks good on the surface but dig deeper and the potential for inclusive practice risks erosion from a lack of understanding about the inclusive value of digital resources and the wider – even greater – challenge of resistance to change.

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