Farewell TechDis

This week TechDis will be, in effect, closing as a separate JISC service and I too must say farewell: I have enjoyed my time here. Although my Advisor role has been a minor 0.2-0.4 FTE to compliment my HEA role it has given me great insight into the support for students with disabilities using technology. The TechDis website is a terrific resource and will be around for a while yet as JISC restructures its content. I do hope it continues to be widely used for a long time yet.

My HEA role that shall now be my only one (the first time I have had a single ‘job’ in 14 years) will enable me to continue to promote accessibility and inclusion with the use of technology as part of the Innovative Pedagogies workstream, and lot more besides. I shall certainly continue to use TechDis resources as I have no problem promoting relevant JISC resources where they fit into our HEA activities – the needs of the ‘client’ come first after all and from my perspective the only true competition between education providers belongs to UK vs The Rest of The World. The more our roles collaborate internally in the UK the better the outcomes for our students and ALL roles of staff engaged with them; directly and indirectly.

Working for TechDis within the HEA was my first employment outside the University of Leeds where I had spent 34 years slowly becoming institutionalised – that’s where you feel you are becoming more furniture than feature. I joined this crew as a part-time cover for Simon Ball over four years ago: we ran a workshop together at the University of Kent at Canterbury – I’ve covered so many more miles since and hours of train wifi. Witnessing the variation between education providers and all their approaches has confirmed my belief that the better cross-institutional networks we build (in any common interest group), the better the outcomes. Collaborate to compete works, infighting doesn’t – know thy friends.

This role has been ideal to get a much wider model of technology practice with TechDis, covering all the post-16 sectors – although my 11 years with the Bioscience Subject Centre gave me access to many HE providers through the Bioscience lens. Having Accessibility as a common element with many JISC projects e.g. Open Education Resources and Assessment & Feedback has enabled me to gain access to every type of provider and discuss projects with them.

Ironically I have run through my own disability path in parallel with my TechDis role as I learned to get to grips with diabetes – eventually needing and managing that fine balance of carbohydrates and insulin. It was like starting University all over again and at times I had my own learning difficulties as my blood sugar spiked or dipped, so having resources to hand that have helped me manage more information or re-experience it in so many convenient formats was a valuable insight to their usefulness to others. If you ever get that feeling when reading a book at bedtime that the content isn’t sinking in any more, just try having that after your lunch and working the rest of the day. I’m out the other side of this now but I’ve had the direct experience of discovering and resolving my own hidden disability, and the lack of understanding in the education network to cope with it. I can imagine how a dyslexic or sensory impaired student might feel in the wrong ‘climate’. When I landed at TechDis I felt chronologically lost for a while as well as geographically as any new start might be. TechDis was the best place to be while I learned to adjust to a new ability profile.

Simon was an excellent tutor in the ways of the Advisor while Shirley and I created the Inclusive Learning and Teaching SIG with the ALT to raise the profile of doing it better, and what it means. We had many contributors to our odd lunchtime seminars but I will not miss having to do them occasionally on the hoof: having one ear to a laptop while trains clattered outside the window after collaborate mangled the presenters slides was a particularly challenging one.  Lets hope our community can have a greater impact as it has migrated into the Open Education SIG.

The TechDis team blog (which superseded the need for this one) contains all the details of what happens next to TechDis as it also captures the thanks and best wishes from the communities we have worked with over the last 12 years. Please feel free to add more.

I’d like to thank our Director Sal Cooke for her extensive knowledge, insight and considerable experience of the education sectors and the political environments they sit within. I’d also like thank my fellow advisors – Lisa Featherstone and Alistair McNaught who have been a pleasure to work with and I am so pleased they have been asked to continue as specialist advisors in the new JISC structure so the agenda will be in safe hands.

The office crew are the indispensable engine of the whole operation; Jenny, Alison, Lorna, Emma, Sue, Alana and Mike. It’s quite an industry to ensure all the events were covered, publications released (in multiple formats of course) and websites managed. My thanks to all of them for their help and support.

The TechDis team 2014

One thing we know for certain is there are more changes and challenges to follow. Let’s enjoy them all the best we can.

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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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