Accessibility is no longer backstage but now waiting in the wings. It can’t be long before inclusive practice steps centre stage under the spotlight. The DSA is changing and the government says it expects higher education institutions to cover additional costs through their duty to make reasonable adjustments.
These are interesting times. The soapbox is out from the corner, getting dusted down, ready for action.
Some vision-impaired users could not access ticketing information, event schedules or postings of event results and SOCOG was found to have acted in a discriminatory and unlawful manner. http://itd.athenpro.org/volume9/number2/arch.html
No cases have reached court in the UK. When the RNIB served BMIBaby with legal papers in 2010 for failing to ensure its website could be used by blind and partially sighted users they settled out of court. It’s hard to find any mention on the internet of the time Tesco took down its accessible website overnight, excluding those were homebound and dependent on shopping online. The general view is a successful court case is required to set the precedent. Until then it’s business as inaccessibly usual. But the situation might be turning.
A week ago, ‘Advocates for the deaf on Thursday filed federal lawsuits against Harvard and M.I.T. saying both universities violated antidiscrimination laws by failing to provide closed captioning in their online lectures, courses, podcasts and other educational materials.’ http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/13/education/harvard-and-mit-sued-over-failing-to-caption-online-courses.html?_r=0
At the same time, in the UK, the Irwin Mitchell law firm is seeking permission for a Judicial Review of the proposals by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to limit the support offered by the DSA on behalf of two students, one is hearing impaired and hoping to begin university in September 2015 and a current student with autism, who receives DSA and claims be able to provide ‘invaluable information to the Secretary of State about the impact of changing DSA on disabled students’. Both claim students themselves should have been consulted about the changes while Secretary of State Vince Cable has said he has “no such duty to consult individuals” even though they will be directly affected. http://www.bataonline.org/news-events/Legal-challenge-to-DSA-cut-backs
There is renewed interest in the provision of digital information. The proposed changes to the DSA offers opportunities to revisit the arguments for inclusive practice. It may be enforced compliance with the law rather than being adopted voluntarily but sometimes the means is worth the ends and digital inclusion is worth it – isn’t it?
Changes to the DSA puts pressure on institutions to make reasonable adjustments to how they deliver information to students. In particular…through different ways of delivering courses and information. The principle of reasonable adjustment is a duty under the Equality Act. The duty is anticipatory.
The text above is taken from two government statements on the DSA. David Willets in April 2014 announced the expectation HEIs will ‘…introduce changes which can further reduce reliance on DSAs and help mainstream support.’ In September Greg Clark announced HEIs now have until September 2016 ‘… to develop appropriate mechanisms to fully deliver their statutory duty to provide reasonable adjustments, in particular non-medical help.’
Institutions should adopt a proactive approach by reviewing their practices – but where to begin?
The language of the statements is revealing. In the first document of 760 words there were 4 mentions of disabled students plus 2 in the title and strapine. In the second document, 695 words contain 19 mentions of disabled students plus 2 in the title and strapline and 1 of disabled people. Neither statement uses the words accessibility or inclusion. Yet these exist perfectly well in isolation from the word disabled. We all appreciate access. No one likes to be excluded.
I’ve long wanted to see Lincoln be a fully accessible digital university – but where to begin.
Last month I blogged on the flipped classroom and suggested flipping might be the new e-learning for 21st century. Flipping is about developing lecture by video or podcast, either DIY or from existing OER. Educause say ‘… the ease with which video can be accessed and viewed today has made it so ubiquitous that the flipped model has come to be identified with it.’ This is the reincarnation of early promises of e-learning to enhance – if not transform – the student experience.
Digital educational resources are the virtual equivalent of ramps into public buildings, created for wheelchair users but appreciated by pushers of prams, buggies, shopping trolleys and all. Having content recorded for replay and revision rather than a once-only experience clearly has value for everyone. The principle of universal design is inclusiveness. The problem is social and cultural acceptance of the need to change practice; in particular where it’s associated with disability because of a mindset which sees inclusive digital design as the responsibility of someone else.
To be human is to be habitual. We like routines. We’re busy. We don’t have time to create captions, subtitles, transcripts. It’s bad enough moving from text to multimedia in the first place without having to mess about with alternative formats as well.
Where to begin? This is the question the Inclusive Digital Educational Resources working party will need to answer. It’s going to be tough but someone has to do it. Cue the Educational Development Team in EDEU. Cue me. Watch this space…
Time for renewed interest in Academic Digital Literacies is nigh. The principles of flipped learning are one of the ten reports in the OU’s third edition of Innovating Pedagogy. Suddenly the flip is all the rage, It’s popping up in conferences and being talked about in high places. It’s too early to say if interest in the flipped classroom go the way of other initiatives – flip in and flip out – with the transmissive lecture remaining a key pillar of a higher education experience – but if not, then the VLE’s time might finally have arrived.
Flipping learning involves releasing content prior to lectures. Reluctance to upload slides and notes before lectures still exists but the practice has been a recommendation for some time. Research shows it supports learning and fears of students not turning up can be allayed by keeping relevant content back for the face-to-face experience. The preferred medium for flipping is video; either recordings of lectures or alternative lecture-related resources with contact time being used for interactive discussion and group work.
There are a number of reasons why current interest in the flip might catch on:
- The ability to rewind and repeat: internationalisation is often cited but while this might be helpful for those with English as a second language, user controlled video is useful for all.
- Changes to the DSA: starting September 2015 this will require institutions to revisit the provision of teaching resources. Accessible text, image, audio and video, which can be customised to suit the user requirements, has long been a strength of digital materials. Flipped learning is an opportunity to revisit the design and delivery of online content and ensure inclusive practice guidelines are followed.
- The Single Equality Act: requires a proactive approach; no one should have to request content in an alternative format – it should be provided from the start.
- User generated content: increasing quality of video and audio recorded on handheld mobile devices, and presented via free video editing apps, supports low budget ‘good enough’ production. DIY multimedia has become a reality.
- Academic digital literacies: the learning curve is getting steeper for those still reluctant to engage in digital ways of working but institutional interest in flipped learning may well lead to recognition that the adoption academic digital literacies requires investment in CPD time and resources.
Closer to home, Lincoln is installing a streaming media server with a site-wide license for camtasia relay; software supporting screen capture and voice over. Editing functions are limited but you can top, tail and chop. A multimedia powerpoint has become perfectly possible with educational licenses for the full Camtasia Studio less than £100.
Lincoln also has Blackboard Collaborate with the ability to record live synchronous video teaching with an interactive whiteboard, sharing desktop and internet tour facilities. A webcam, microphone and speakers is enough to get you started.
Lastly, there is the new Inclusive Digital Educational Resources working party which I’m chairing; under the Learning Support and Environment Standing Group. The remit is to come up with a set of recommendations to feed back to the Education and Student Life Committee for ensuring the digital learning environment at Lincoln is a fully accessible digital university.
Flipping the classroom might well become e-learning for the 21st century university.