Too much incoming, but a simple tactic to help.

I should keep blogging of course, but I put it off, like claiming expenses – when the next one comes in I’ll do the batch. The problem is keeping up with the incoming and my terminal curiosity. Briefly then…

I have 8 digital literacy in the disciplines projects running and almost 60 CLL micro-projects. All of these have some accessibility tales within them (and I am sure I will have problems teasing them out) but they are only just reaching the final reporting stage. When they are in I can put out more about them. See the HEA website for more info- http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/cll and http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/digital-literacies

In so many recent interactions I have eventually led tutors towards the TechDis ‘User Needs’ section to discover what the issues are. Then the conversation begins. Have a visit, then contact our helpdesk.

If you have a project…

It would really help me to discover the accessibility aspects if you adopt this simple tactic:

  1. Identify students with disabilities as clear and separate skakeholder. Think of their needs in an anticipatory fashion. If you are only thinking of the students without disabilities as all the others can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis (i.e. fixed at the last minute) then start again. Read the advice on the legislation. It’s there to give you the time to do it properly. Now you have them properly in mind.
  2. In the final report of the project have a paragraph heading Accessibility Challenges, Issues and Benefits.
    This will describe what challenges were raised by various disabilities in the project (e.g. VI students could not see the detail in the demonstration of the weekly lab techniques), the issues that arose from these challenges (e.g. getting demonstrations onto accessible video in sufficient advance time) and the eventual benefits (e.g. the students found the video useful for practice; lab time saved; revision; better techniques from preparing scripts; everyone gained not only the disabled students etc.)
  3. Describe these in a slide whenever your project disseminates to an audience to raise the profile of the importance of doing the accessibility audit for your project to improve the outcomes for all future students, not just those who happened to be there at the time.

if the above was done for all projects, wherever you are, we could see each others innovations, tips, ideas etc. far more easily –  “Simples”.

Finally, with the forthcoming demise of the DSA we are concerned about the affect it will have on the support for students – but that’s what we are here for: to support the practitioners use the technology more effectively in their teaching. If you are writing about your practice and the use of our advice and guidance please use #techdis so we can pick it up more easily.

For TechDis matters the TechDis team blog is generally the place to follow hence this has dried up a little. There’s far more going on in there.

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Mozfest 2013 and engagement opportunities for users with disabilities

I  attended this weekend’s MozFest 2013 in Ravensbourne university to discover more about practice beyond tertiary education and how these communities develop accessible practice (or at least consider it) and their professional digital literacies. i was occasinally concerned at the evangelism of a few but generally impressed with the enthusiasm and innovative practices with those ‘let off the leash’ to develop something they had true belief in.

The event keeps Mozfest session notes available here so you can find many useful links to resources and projects without me having to repeat them. However, i would like to recommend their efforts for making it inclusive by recognising the incoming audience – the young developers who need inclusive language and not the baffling techno-babble so often used to reject newcomers to the territory.

My highlights were how OpenBadges were making inroads into presenting evidence for skills and abilities and how 3rd party services and plug-ins were reducing the pain to get started. The academic evidence of adopting the practice will follow in due course. From my TechDis perspective the Badges concept offers a way to illustrate users with disabilities can have equally valuable skills profiles to non-disabled students/workers. It will also focus effort on providing a more inclusive experience as the evidence of insufficient attention will be significantly visible amongst large co-horts. The SQA badges investigation was regarded as a significant win. Further progress is captured in Grainne Hamilton’s scoop.it and the OBSEG blog.

The privacy track raised the alarm level for many tracking activities which the user can become more aware of through the recent Mozilla LightBeam plug-in. I didn’t have time for this track but it is clearly worth knowing as the myth of privacy becomes more exposed.

The sciences, Journalism, and Open Data were also very impressive – look for yourself but the attitude towards doing all this inclusively where possible was often refreshing. The natural emergent property of communities like this include the desire to welcome all to enable truly widespread products. I had many discussions with practitioners about what they would feed back towards their former institution and it generally condensed into better ways to stay in touch. Now we have the technology the only excuse is time, so a little effort to make this interaction valuable for both sides could go a long way. I did not pick up on any effective strategies with the Mozfest participants.

I’ll put something into the digital literacies in the disciplines blog about the specifics but I have to welcome Mozilla’s attitude to being more pro-active to make the web work globally for common interests for all.Image

 

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Learnpod 2012

Yesterday I attended the LearnPod 2012 “unconference” held at Doncaster College.

“On the day, the agenda is set by delegates, who pitch ideas to share their expertise, or source the expertise of others to answer their questions. Some pitch interactive workshops and others pitch presentations, discussions and forums. Whilst it is not compulsory for delegates to do a presentation, as there is much to be gained from participation, those that do pitch their ideas can be sure that that their individual interests are met.

The event is the brainchild of Freeserve’s founding Chief Technology Officer (CTO), internet entrepreneur and college Chair of Governors, Rob Wilmott, and has captured the imagination of learning providers and technology entrepreneurs across the country. It’s also attracted high profile delegates including international social media legend Chris Brogan and community social media pioneer John Popham.”

LearnPod12 focused on how to move social media, technology and innovation forward.

Workshops were spawned on the spot from delegate interests;

Timetable of discussion topics for the day

Generated by the audience interests

And we certainly did. I pitched to offer 2 sessions: “OERs, Accessibility & Inclusion”, and “Horror Stories – learning from mistakes”. One of my mistakes being get more from your attendees by switching positions; move each to the front for a few minutes and change the dynamic.

In the first we discussed the OER landscape, use of repositories for finding licenced  materials and our professional preferences; it appears that communities form around each type of node and their expectations for sharing tend to follow the technologies on offer – little use of aggregators evident, or RSS feeds. “I’m not technical but…” is an academic expectation – in effect “I want the functional technology without having to have mastery ‘under the hood’ so to speak” – the best tools and the best collections please. But strategies to pool this knowledge vary, so an unconference is ideal to surface these.

In our “Horror stories” session we discussed how to learn from mistakes by taking apart some examples we had each hear about. Often it came down to managing expectations, actually following the policies and promises originally given, referring to the appropriate experts as soon as possible and confessing problems in the reporting. Having a space to share non-judgementally works.

General topics included Xerte tool kits (XOT) developments, the Xpert repository search for discovering resources, specifically the attribution image search which finds and embeds cc media with attribution.springpad.com – a more visual evernote; pinwheel.com – Find and leave notes around the world which can persist beyond the source (it copies); Trello.com – for organising tasks.

Google circles was liked by many as it provides a space to network without invading personal spaces like facebook. Many more tuned services ebuddy was/is used a lot by students; whatsapp for IM across different devices; path.com – If Twitter gets too noisy etc. More details are available through the Storify of the event, which will aggregate postings, tweets, images etc. See

I would recommend an unconference to quickly gather and share community knowledge/experiences but perhaps modify the ground rules to raise expectations from the attendees, perhaps handing over key themes from one speaker to another within a session or using a different facilitation technique in each room. It was certainly useful for me to engage with the non-HE sector as they appear to be more flexible around sharing issues and solutions on very common problems.

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How to share accessible practice in your JISC project

At a number of JISC project events recently I have suggested the following tactic to ensure accessibility is clearly addressed. This will enable us to identify and collate information for evidence, and what support was needed and eventually used (from TechDis or elsewhere). Obviously the proportion of students with accessibility needs within each project is low, but the sum total is probably equivalent to another project in itself. I therefore suggest (as I have at other JISC meetings):

  • All projects identify staff and students with accessibility needs as specific stakeholders;
  • Project reports should have a heading or sub-heading of ‘Accessibility issues, challenges and benefits’ to enable us to identify and collate these to compile evidence, and what support was needed and utilised; and
  • Project presentations during the dissemination phase should have one slide with the same heading to demonstrate their approach i.e. the improvements their project made with respect to accessibility, and therefore remind the audience that there is opportunity for discussion on this topic too i.e. it is not an unimportant element of the project.

I believe this simple tactic will save considerable time and inform future JISC developments. It will also probably improve the general usability of all projects. I have found it very difficult to identify ‘accessibility stories’ in many project reports and if the programme team support this approach (perhaps in any future reporting templates) it will ensure it receives the necessary attention. In some of the discussions I have had with various projects it appears that having liaison with a local disability support advisor on-campus has been “enough to meet minimum requirements” – we would like to do better. Even if a project does not need us directly it still needs to share its accessibility aspects.

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Final keynote

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If you don’t work socially, you won’t work at all?

This week I have been on a bit of a tour. We had some long-standing invitations to do some workshops in the south – Universities of Plymouth and Surrey. These are time-expensive so we have to engage as much geography as possible; inviting nearby related roles within the institution and beyond. It has worked very well.
Our preferred strategy is to get key roles joining our TechDis Tuesday and Xerte Friday monthly online events as this has far less time and travel costs – but it probably only works for those already engaged in online lists and networks. They typically can ‘dip in’ to our short lunchtime events without any problems. The risk here is that we build a ‘hardcore’ who are well versed in technologies that may scare of the less ‘digitised’. There are many practitioners doing wonderful work without relying mostly on computers, who have less of a need to be in there all the time. But are they really being left behind, like students without adequate assistive technologies? I fear so. There was less online community or use of its resources than I expected – so much passing silently by, so much being achieved but not shared as far as it could, so much not being returned. The role of the disability specialists was integrated into other communities in teaching and learning inconsistently, who are undervaluing them at times.
In our sessions I discussed the role of social media, particularly blogs and tweets. I’ve been guilty of reading more outputs than input but in my role, there is a lot to follow. I have re-disseminated this in many ways, including our workshops this week. But I fear that these skilled practitioners have not been able to find each other as no ‘critical mass’ has arisen to generate a following, and therefore a community of practice which is swiftly updated, chatting on what works well in practice. So, I’m going to try to nurture a small series of communities from the individuals I have met, to keep reflecting and sharing their tales of what works well in reality (we found some stuff that didn’t, which is just as valuable as stuff that does). I know where many bridges over this Rubicon are, and which are the wobbly ones.
It’s easy to catch up with practice with technologies through the back catalogue of TechDis Tuesdays and Xerte Fridays and now that our delegates have explored a few I hope to hear more about what they have done with them. This will help build an individual’s portfolio of evidence and assist with their ITQ certification, help the institution gain reward and recognition for the work they do (OASES), and benchmark some personal practice. More than ever this will be expected norm but there is a big leap to make, to dip in. Working with newcomers may help cover that middle ground between the visitors and residents, and at that point discover their natural momentum, so we can assist each other.
The week has also been a bit of CPD for me, to meet new roles working with disabilities which are comparatively new to me. Face-to-face has the best bandwidth of all, and although it has been a bit remote at times between, it has given me time to crystallise some thoughts about future opportunities. I’d like to thank all the delegates for their discussions and to the Universities of Plymouth and Surrey for hosting us.

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The look of the Irish

Last week I was fortunate to be invited to the Society for General Microbiology spring conference in Dublin to present in the e-learning strand – I rather cheekily expanded the original brief to ‘Open Educational Practice with Accessible Open Education resources – from Wikis to Webconferences’. This gave me the opportunity to migrate for Subject Centre for Bioscience work to my role in TechDis. I described some of our phase 1 and 2 OER projects from the Subject Centre, and how Open Educational Practice could develop from more release of suitably licenced materials (using some of our OER microbiology examples), and how the simple step of seeking to apply Creative Commons licences on appropriate learning and teaching material could gradually change the landscape. This would lead to a better learning experience for the students but not without proper recognition for those tutors who ‘play the game’ more effectively.

Awareness of the Creative Commons movement for sharing learning and teaching resources was far less than I anticipated, although I did not suspect it would be high. Obviously the focus of the SGM is towards research, where ‘Open’ tends to mean ‘Open Access’ journal publishing to maximise the potential audience for research to circulate output further and faster – but I did expect more familiarity with repositories like JORUM, XPERT the NDLR and Merlot. The advantages of circulation through the repositories network and thereby attracting more partners for constructing learning materials in the same discipline are not obvious – it appears there is more concern over the time it takes to embed another’s material and the lack of credit for doing so. Awareness of repositories exchanging metadata automatically was apparently non-existent, so depositors are not aware of the potential audience they could be syndicated to.  If the design of the resources also optimises accessibility then the resource can travel far further and persist in the community much longer.

I followed two presenters (Brian Rash a.k.a @drbrianrash and Peter Miller – see blog link) who illustrated the potential for virtual worlds (SecondLife and OpenSim).

Brian Rash showed how students with little or no previous Microbiology experience could obtain a realistic lab session which not only saved lab facilities but also was far more convenient for students to attend. There are concerns over providing virtual worlds alone for students with disabilities but there are also advantages – a blend and balance needs to be planned though, rather than on a case by case basis.

Peter Miller guided us through the advantages of the open-source OpenSim environment and the ‘steampunk’ worlds which provide a rich experience which may be equivalent for all students. His blog tells far more: http://tidalblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/dublin-talk-and-possible-new-build.html

Finally, I met with Michelle Garvey and Declan Treanor to hear about the Inclusive Curriculum developments at Trinity College Dublin. Their ‘Towards the Inclusive Curriculum’ (a.k.a Trinity Inclusive Curriculum – http://www.tcd.ie/CAPSL/TIC/ ) site offers tools, guidelines and templates to create an inclusive academic environment, help follow good practice when planning teaching and assessment, and provides advice on developing information resources benefits all students. This merits a separate blog post itself in the very near future.

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