That big catch-up blog posting

Well, why no blog for ages? Apart from faffing about with my insulin (more later) there has been so much going off I did not get into the habit of public professional reflection in this blog, I did a little OER with the old one and then I dipped into instead as I thought this new social aggregator was gaining more attention. I thought ScoopIt looked like a quick and useful mechanism to highlight a few topics and save me blogtime. Anyway, the Scoops are here and are based on my filters for key stories on A&I technologies (my colleague Lisa has scooped  similarly). I have found these filters themselves to be very informative and so one reads up on what the network is doing rather than writing about it, especially when fairly new to the community. I’ll confess to some newbie cowardice (but I’ll also confess I’m not missing teaching statistics!) and not wishing to show my ignorance of the world outside HE and the Biosciences.

So, what’s going on that I’m involved with in this incredibly busy place called TechDis? Well, I was recently reading over the OER final reports before the OER3 startup. These OER projects so far, including mine, have usually addressed accessibility matters generally but few specifically (some notable exceptions). When reviewing them I felt they could sometimes accidentally bury the issues and successes within all the other aspects of the project as there is so much work involved, so we are looking at ways to boost accessibility reporting: current OER projects will have clearer direction on how to do this for reporting in 2012. We are also looking to gather some tools to help future OERs clear barriers more easiliy in another TechDis project (subject to final agreement).

The JISC Assessment and Feedback programme should offer lots of opportunities to make assessment more accessible. We are working with them to pick out the accessibility stories and share them as we go – Project blogs included. As I introduced the first campus-wide assessment server in my own Leeds campus long ago, I have always been keen to see how this can be successfully technologised as it has so much “low hanging fruit” to offer. Given the success that Nottingham have had with XERTE for accessible e-learning with Techdis, I would expect their ROGO project to be equally strong to provide accessible e-assessment through open-source code.

Having spent all my working life (~35 years) in mostly one corner of the University of Leeds Campus and in the Centre for Bioscience, it’s been very educational to finally step outside (if only part time) to the Academy’s offices in York, where TechDis are based. I’m seeing another facet of education which only confirms how myopic my own view has been within my constraints. The enormous breadth of Accessibility and Inclusion, in all disciplines, of the post-16 sector was a revelation in many ways, even though I have been working with disabilities within my own family for almost 30 years. In this last 14 months I have seen a different world and some remarkable people within it.

We have also initiated a Special Interest Group to look into how we can make better use of Web2.0 to share accessibility and inclusion work with the practitioners in the ALT. More on this will be posted in due course but we have started the ball rolling and began to develop a new network called ILSIG.

Finally, that remark about insulin at the start. I’ll bore you to death with this on request but suffice to say it has given me an insight, however temporary, with how one’s biochemistry can affect one’s concentration. I suggest a tape-recorder analogy: If you consider that full insulin=full conciousness, and very low insulin=unconciousness (you’re dead if you have none!), to waver around on the scale in-between during the working day affects the ‘tape-head’ i.e. the capacity to recall with clarity at a moment’s notice, or record the names of the seven people you are currently being introduced to (yes, you’ve had that too!) and the attention you can pay to the reams of text you are trying to understand (it starts to read as clear as a crossword). So I had occasional phases of knowing what a type of learning difficulty might feel like for periods of the day while my diabetes was being tackled. This experience is now an asset because I know first-hand how useful it is to access information at my own pace, what a difference the quality of accessible information can make, and how frustrating it can be when it isn’t. This also illustrates the fact that disabilities are often acquired – if you don’t have one now then you probably will have one day and it will be for ~12% of your life. So, the moral is to make other’s lives more accessible now and you will probably do so for your own future too.


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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