New Space

As many of you will know, I have recently joined Techdis as an advisor for 50% my time. I still have my UK Centre for Bioscience roles as a C&IT manager and OER project manager, but instead of the other 50-30% teaching data handling, C&IT and statistics (and all sorts of other odds and sods) I now have a mainly HE oriented role at TechDis. What a good move – I have joined a really nice crew who have a huge portfolio of resources, projects and activities to engage with across HE, FE and specialist colleges. It’s important,  busy and interesting and I thank them for their warm welcome. I will be covering some of the work done by Simon Ball as he is seconded for part of his time to the EIFL project for leading work on free and open source solutions (FOSS). One of the first useful FOSS solutions I met was the accessapps collection (which can run from a memory stick without installation). Brilliant!

So what have I learned so far? Well, my first impression is that HE can learn lots from FE and the specialist colleges as I always suspected. HE does not appear to have a habit of looking in the prior levels to find innovative solutions to the new student challenges – I thought I was fairly clued up and even  I struggled. This should diminish though as I get more familiar with the duties in the post and the new website, but it is clear already that there are new ways to promote ideas with the Web 2.0 environments by engaging better with the communities that are building within them.  A work blog is a good start. If you are working with technologies for improving accessibility please send me a link to your blog.

It has been really refreshing to see a bold sense of adventure as FE and specialist colleges engage with the ‘cloud’ of new solutions outside the institutional provision of IT. I have attended a number of events so far and met some interesting approaches. A recent NASS event intoduced me to David Sugden and Lillian Soon (Techdis Accredited trainers), demonstrating new approaches through presentations and blogs. I attended the Mobile Learning Network ‘MoleNet‘ this week and saw many of these technologies in action.  People outside HE are just as inventive and enthusiatic about these affordances, and possibly less constrained by institutional  habits and provision. They think on their feet and engage with what their students engage with and are experienced at innovation with small budgets – something we all will have to get used to again. I would guess that the proportion of students with diverse disabilities is slightly higher outside HE so inclusive practice appears to be more embedded and natural to the inventive tutor. These are all first impressions of course but it would not be much of a blog if it did not share a path of discovery.

Also, the scope of the work here in TechDis is enormous. So are the opportunities. I have the advantage of relative ignorance to discover lots of issues and ask questions – including a few daft ones. You know me – I will. Accessibility is important for all disciplines so I will welcome opportunities to explore areas outside the biosciences and perhaps bridge ideas between them) . The delivery of well designed material into an accessible curriculum is essential for any institution to be able to show how it is providing an inclusive environment where all students are properly provided for. The arrival of the Single Equality Duty today may see attention here being refreshed.

I have worked with quite a few academic staff and other colleagues  over the years who have had insufficient time to provide the most accessible material, including myself, and ‘made-do’ with the most pragmatic solution at the time. We know its not good enough if its not the best that can be offered but like others I have on occasion hid behind the excuse that I did not have time to do it any other way. We had to be ‘realistic’. But now this sinner has reached the convent so I will lose that habit (npi) and discover just how much effort is really required to finish the job properly. I suspect it is far less than I feared once armed with more case studies, techniques and tools – not to cope better, but to prepare better. What I used to be reasonably good though at was bending the scope of the modules to bring in new technologies and make the teaching sessions more interesting. I taught statistics for God’s sake – here we need all the help we can get. Many of these technologies can improve accessibility too.

In these first couple of weeks at TechDis I have seen lots of new uses for common kit like PSPs, Wii, MP3 players, video cameras, audio recorders,  peripherals and mobile phones. The MoleNet conference this week presented lots of innovative use of mobiles in work-based learning using ‘cloud’ solutions like DropBox, EvernoteSkype, Posterous, iPadio and many more. If you are in HE and haven’t a  clue what these are then I have probably made my point.

I’ll blog soon about my Techdis brief about resources for Assessment; Support and Guidance for OER; Management Strategies for Technology Change for Inclusion; more inclusive e-Portfolios and HEAT projects; but for now I have the feeling that far more doors have opened than closed, and I am looking forward to the challenges and opportunities beyond them and sharing these with you. Sharing back would be welcomed.


About Terry

Techdis advisor interested in the realistic, sensible and pragmatic application of IT in education to improve the accessible learning experience.
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