Adventures in Technology Enhanced Learning @ UoP

Tag: digital

Digital Learning Plan (Tom and Aron chit chat)

As you may be aware, Professor Ale Armellini is creating a Digital Success Plan for the University. Rather than create the Plan and seek comment after the fact (and after any substantive changes could be made), Professor Armellini formed a cross-University group to help shape his ideas as well as provide valuable input into the Plan.

Aron Truss from BAL and I were both asked to participate in the group and have been working on elements of the Plan together.

With the Plan progressing and nearing completion, the idea of shining a light on where we are up to felt appropriate as there may still be people unaware of the project, that would like to offer some suggestions or find out more about what the Plan hopes to achieve. 

This piece is partly promotional and partly reflective of our experiences of working on a project to substantially impact how we approach our digital teaching and learning experiences. 

How did you get involved?

TL: 

I heard about the Digital Learning Plan while talking to colleagues in another meeting. I asked if I could put myself forward to represent the team and feedback on our ideas. I sent my request in and was asked to join. It was an honour to be asked along and felt really good to actually be aware of the ideas that were going forward. I think more that I was actually able to feed into the process and get the team’s voice heard within such an interesting part of the University’s future. 

AT: 

During summer 2020, I worked as part of a team, contributing to my Faculty’s (BaL) plans for the 2020-2021 academic year. I was subsequently asked to be part of one of the University workstrands which led to my inclusion on the Digital Success Plan working group. My current role involves supporting and promoting the digital agenda in the Faculty of Business and Law, so I was really pleased to be involved in this, as I’m keen to see how we can continue to enhance digital learning and teaching for both staff and students.

What have you found most interesting about the project?

TL:

I think one of the biggest revelations for me was how unified everyone seemed to be. Of course, there were differences, but generally, everyone had the same idea for where we would like to see this go. I think one key point was while we can offer something that will help guide everyone with the implementation of a more “digital” curriculum, it endeavours to allow the flexibility for people to be innovative and develop their materials to fit their needs. 

AT: 

The Digital Success Plan is going to work in partnership with the new Education Plan, and its purpose is to facilitate the implementation of the University vision/strategy, so the themes covered are directly applicable to learning and teaching practice. This is what I find really interesting, as I’m excited to see how we can support people, and facilitate the development of digital education in a meaningful and useful way for staff and students. I think the ambition around creating a risk-friendly culture that supports pedagogic innovation is really exciting and important to enable the development of new digital learning opportunities. The promotion of learning design and the use of a clear methodology to achieve this also has the capacity to significantly impact our practice.

What do you think 2020 (lockdowns) have done to shape the Plan?

TL: 

For me it was the speed at which the change had to take place. It forced people to look into an uncomfortable situation that helped them realise “I can actually do this”. Obviously, people weren’t experts overnight and they still needed help, but I hope they say that it was not as bad as they had first thought. It did increase stress and workloads and that is something no one wanted, but again, I hope people can reflect on this and see that they can adapt what they have made this year and see that these new resources can be developed and implemented in the future. 

AT: 

There has been some brilliant practice demonstrated by colleagues this year, including a massive shift in the baseline delivery of things like video resources (Panopto), synchronous online sessions (Zoom) and effective use of the VLE (Moodle templates). The Plan looks to build on this, but it’s clear that the trajectory will be away from “emergency remote teaching” to a more considered and sustainable model that includes learning design planning and enhancements to tools and systems as well.

What does the Plan offer going forward?

TL:

For me the Plan offers those still unsure about digital learning the chance to find a “security” blanket in what they can do. It helps shape ideas and lay a foundation for whatever they want to try next.

AT: 

The Plan has been built on a foundation of strong pedagogy and positive student experience, facilitated by a series of aims, which include supporting staff and students to develop their digital fluency, fostering multidisciplinarity, encouraging pedagogic innovation and flexibility (including around assessment), and further cementing the principles, and best practice, of blended and connected learning.

What is the next step?

TL:

Well, the next step is to consider the final suggestions that may have come in and see how they can be incorporated into the Plan as it stands. I don’t want that to sound like it’s already written and set in stone, it really isn’t, but it does have some element of the structure that we are now working within. There are a few meetings yet to happen where the ideas are polished and finalised, and that is the exciting part. We can see what the vision of this was and where it is now going.  

AT: 

The aim is to launch the Plan later this summer. Ale is still keen to hear feedback from staff if people have questions or comments. As practitioners, I think it might be worth us beginning a discussion about what the implementation of the Plan might look like.

Final thoughts:

TL:

The most important thing for me is that we maintain a good line of communication with the end-users. It is our chance to be real innovators in HE and find ways to engage and develop our digital provision. It is a chance to engage the students in the conversation about what they want but also what we expect from them too. It is exciting to be able to have taken part in this. I think this alongside the new Explore tool is a great starting point for where the University can go next with digital learning and teaching.  

AT: 

As a practitioner, the area of most interest to me is the embedding of a methodology for learning design, and the fostering of a culture that enables partnership in design between OCDs/learning designers and academics. I’m keen to see this aim realised, as I think it has the capacity to make the student and staff experience better all round. I’d be interested to hear what our colleagues feel about this too, and how they think this could be facilitated.

 

Credit Image: Photo by Kaleidico on Unsplash 

Digital Accessibility in Teaching and Learning – What is it?

‘Digital Accessibility’ or ‘Accessibility’ is a heated topic at the moment. Public sector bodies like us have the obligation by law to comply with Accessibility Regulations 2018 with a series of deadlines to meet. It is also an important part of our University Vision 2030 and Strategy 2025 where it says we should ‘respect and celebrate diversity and equal opportunity through an inclusive culture’. 

But what does ‘Digital Accessibility’ mean and how does it apply to us in teaching and learning? 

Before we look into that, let’s first find out what is ‘Accessibility’. 

What is ‘Accessibility’?

Accessibility is about removing disability. 

What is disability? Disability happens when there’s a barrier between people and their environment. It is commonly seen as a condition or a problem of the body or mind (impairment) that requires medical treatment. However, UK Equality Act 2010 recognised and acknowledged that disability, or barriers, can be caused not just by the impairment(s) but also by the way society is organised. This is defined in the social model of disability. According to the social model of disability, these barriers can be physical, like buildings not having accessible toilets, or they can be caused by people’s attitudes to difference, like assuming disabled people can’t do certain things [3]. For many people with impairment(s), the main barrier they experience does not stem directly from their bodies, but rather from their unwelcome reception in the world, in terms of how physical structures, institutional norms, and social attitudes exclude and/or denigrate them. [4]

This is where ‘Accessibility’ plays a part. 

Accessibility is about finding and dismantling these social barriers, creating an environment that adapts to the needs, ideally as early as possible in the process. For example: accessible toilets, lifts, wheelchair ramps, braille on printed materials, even simple things like left-handed scissors etc. When barriers are removed, disabled people can be independent, autonomous and equal in society.

Accessibility supports and celebrates inclusion; it should be ok to be different, with impairment(s) or not. It is about ending exclusion and oppression so that people with impairment(s) are not required to change who they are in order to be entitled to the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. 

What is ‘Digital Accessibility’? 

Digital accessibility is ‘Accessibility’ in digital media. 

It is about making digital products like websites, mobile apps and other digital tools and technologies accessible to everyone. It is the ability for all users to have an equal opportunity to access and benefit from the same services or digital products, regardless of any impairment(s) they may have. 

So, what is ‘Digital Accessibility’ in Teaching and Learning? 

Digital accessibility in teaching and learning is ‘Accessibility’ in digital teaching and learning products – the courses’ contents and activities, and the service we offer to our students.

It means all students are given access to all teaching materials and the ability to participate in all teaching and learning activities, regardless of any impairment(s) they may have. 

Taking digital accessibility on board in teaching and learning is very much about understanding that, if we’re creating inaccessible learning materials or activities, then effectively we’re responsible for creating barriers. These kinds of resources often lack structure, written and designed with a set of assumptions. It is about having the realisation when we create resources that fail to accommodate a certain group of students, effectively we have disabled them.

What ‘Digital Accessibility’ is not.

Now we know what digital accessibility is and its role in teaching and learning, let’s have a look at what it is not.

Misconception 1: digital accessibility is just about disability.

It’s not. Digital accessibility in essence is about inclusiveness and universality. 

It’s about having good design and making resources that can be used by as many people as possible.

I believe every student, in fact, everyone was once in one or more of the situations below; maybe even more than once:

  • In different cultural environments e.g. in a foreign country 
  • In a noisy environment or a public place where you can’t hear properly
  • Using many different devices e.g. desktop computers, mobile phones, tablets etc
  • Are temporarily or situationally impaired e.g. from injuries or with caring responsibilities
  • Have age-related cognitive decline.

In these situations, everyone can benefit from the flexibility brought by materials and activities designed with digital accessibility in mind. In fact, many of us use elements of them without particularly thinking about them. We might think that only disabled students use assistive technology, but, in fact, we are walking around with a kind of assistive device in our pockets all the time – our mobile phones. Have we not used and enjoyed its built-in accessibility functions like voice over, browser enlarge, colour changes, speech recognition, screen reader etc ever? When digital accessibility is put in place, everyone benefits including ourselves; inevitably everyone grows old and will eventually be impaired by age. So, essentially, we are just helping ourselves.

This video from the Web Accessibility Initiative shows a variety of ways that content produced to be accessible is beneficial for all users regardless of their ability or disability.

Misconception 2: digital accessibility is not my problem. 

Yes, it is. Digital accessibility is everyone’s responsibility. 

We’re all in this together. As mentioned before, it is required by law and it is the University’s Vision. More importantly, as an educational institution, we are responsible. We are the teachers and role models, what you do makes a difference. We can change and have the responsibility to lead the change in society’s perceptions and practice. We can create a society that accepts and celebrates that everyone is unique, recognises and encourages the strength and talents of people with impairment(s).

The whole purpose of providing education is to give the young the things they need in order to develop in an orderly, sequential way into members of society; to impact and change lives. Digital accessibility helps us fulfil that purpose. It provides us with an opportunity for education to reach everyone who needs it, in a way that can benefit as many people as possible. It gives us an opportunity to improve our teaching and learning materials to fulfil their purpose of existence. It is our responsibility to make that change. 

Misconception 3: digital accessibility is hard. 

No, it’s very easy. All you need is empathy and consideration. 

What you do at the start makes it easier at the end. Follow these good practices when designing and adding your content. When you start doing it, you will realise that most of them are really just common sense! Information should be consistent and easy to find, easy to read, and easy to navigate; documents need good structure and colour contrast; images and graphs are described well; videos have captions or transcriptions etc, just to name a few. It is all a matter of common sense. eLearning Tools website has all the support and information you need to create this kind of accessible content.

Remember that when you design and create your content with digital accessibility in mind, you will not only create better learning materials, you will have content that can be more easily reused and repurposed – saving a lot of time in the future!

References

  1. Codeacademy: What is Digital Accessibility
  2. Equality and Human Rights Commission: UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
  3. Social model of disability
  4. Rethinking disability: the social model of disability and chronic disease

Credit Image:Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

JISC Student Digital Experience Tracker for 2018

From January 2018, the JISC Student Digital Experience Tracker survey will once again be available for Level 4 students.

The survey is designed to help education providers understand more about their students’ experiences of the digital learning environment.

It aims to allow institutions to:

  • Gather evidence from learners about their digital experience, and track changes over time.
  • Make better informed decisions about the digital environment.
  • Target resources for improving digital provision.
  • Plan other research, data gathering and student engagement around digital issues.
  • Demonstrate quality enhancement and student engagement to external bodies and to students themselves.

This will be the third time Portsmouth has implemented the survey, and the Tracker has grown since it was first introduced in 2016. Portsmouth was one of only 12 HE institutions chosen to deliver the first iteration of the survey. In 2017, 74 UK colleges and universities ran the Tracker and some international institutions were involved as well. This year, 160 institutions have confirmed that they intend to run the Tracker. There is now a thriving community of people who are committed to understanding the digital experience of learners – and empowering them to work for change.  

The results of the Portsmouth surveys are available elsewhere, but here it might be worth looking briefly at some of the overall findings of the 2017 Tracker. These findings represent the voice of over 22,000 UK learners.

  • Students are generally positive about the use of digital technology in their learning.
  • Some education providers have problems with the basics – such as ensuring decent on-campus wifi provision. (One of the great things about the Tracker is that it allows institutions to track changes over time. In 2016, UoP students were highly critical about wifi access on campus. In 2017, following significant investment in infrastructure, students were much more satisfied with wifi.)
  • Students are likely to own portable digital devices (laptops, smartphones etc) but also to use institutional devices (typically desktops). This highlights the need for content to work on all sizes of screen.
  • Technology is more commonly used for convenience than to support more effective pedagogy. (What can we do to improve the situation? Thoughts welcome!)
  • 80% of HE students feel that digital skills will be important in their chosen career – but only 50% agree that their course prepares them well for the digital workplace. (Again, this finding raises the question: what can we be doing to improve matters?)

The more students complete the survey, the more confidence we can have that the results are robust. So if you have dealings with Level 4 students – please do encourage them to complete the Tracker!

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