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.
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.
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.