Tag Archives: accessibility

How do we know if we have the right blend? Some reflections on SQAA’s Future of Learning & Teaching event.⤴

from

I really enjoyed attending the SQAA The Future of Learning and Teaching: Planning and Delivery of Digitally Enhanced Blended Learning on 20 September in Glasgow. Here in Scotland, there is now a focus on developing approaches to learning, teaching and enhancement across tertiary education. You can read more about the work on developing a common approach here.

The event was very much focused on the learning and teaching aspects of the wider quality framework work. And, as the title suggests, exploring approaches to the planning and delivery of digitally enhanced blended learning.

Over the past year, SQAA have led a cross sectoral agency project around defining and delivering and inclusive digital/blended learning for across tertiary education. This is the first cross sector enhancement project, as well as the first cross agency one, including CDN, ES-HMIE, and sparqs. Thework includes Scottish universities and colleges.

The team shared the an outline of the research they have been undertaking to discover the current balance of delivery across the sector. They are using the terms f2f, hybrid, and online, but were very clear that they recognise that there are issues around definitions – or perhaps it is contextual use of definitions. Hybrid in particular has quite a range of practice interpretations. The overall aim is to establish what the current balance of delivery is across the sector. A key question the partners are hoping to address is how can institutions re-balance their provision to “get the blend right” for all students.

Using a mixed methods approach of desk research and interviews the team have been exploring 4 lines of enquiry with colleges and universities, namely: what they state they are offering, what learns want, what learners are experiencing and what does the evidence suggest is best for learning. A report with the initial research findings is due for publication soon.

The focus of this year is to establish the effects of different modes and to facilitate national conversations, around the theme of designing and delivering blended learning to improve leaner outcomes in a tertiary landscape. The meeting on Wednesday was the start of those conversations.

The team shared some of their early findings which included:

  • Need to focus on getting the blend right
  • All provision should be accessible and inclusive
  • Digital poverty is recognised and being addressed
  • Sense belonging key to learner engagement regardless of modality
  • Active and peer learning are essential
  • Learners and staff need clear, consistent info about what blended means
  • Ongoing promotion of digital literacies with a shift to pedagogical understanding for staff and learners
  • There are tensions between institutional estates and learning and teaching 
  • Institutions need to build in times and have a particular strategy for designing and delivering high quality blended learning

These findings resonated with the research Helen Beetham and I have been doing with Jisc around curriculum and learning design. In our recent “Beyond Blended” report we share our findings particularly around evolving understandings of the changing relationships of time, space and place of learning post pandemic. In terms of tensions between estates and learning and teaching, we have recognised this and have developed a series of strategic lenses one of which is focused on use of space. These lenses provide a series of prompts which we hope will foster richer, curriculum focused discussion between stakeholders.

The day was designed really well in terms of engagement and discussion. A big shout out to Susi Peacock and the SQAA team for that. There were plenty of opportunities for discussions, and I was delighted to be asked to be participate in the lightening presentations to share our Beyond Blended work. Though I was slightly out of breath running up and down the stairs to each group!

In the plenary session the perennial issues of time, finding and developing evidence, senior management support were all raised. Simon Thomson highlighted the need to explore the value of different modalities of learning so we can share them with students. If we want students to turn up and participate in any mode of learning, they need to recognise the value of it. Equally at institutional (and sectoral ) levels we need to ensure we aren’t making knee jerk reactions to perceived issues. Foro example stopping lecture capture to get students to turn it could actually disadvantage students. I just spotted this excellent paper from Emily Nordmann which provides evidence of the benefits of lecture capture.

In terms of senior management support, I have been reflecting on how quickly that has changed again. From research and conversations I had with colleagues here in the UK and in Ireland, it was very clear that during the pandemic senior management were very focused on learning and teaching. So many people told me that “they had a seat a the table” they never had before, that they were listened to and supported. And now . . . well I’m not sure if the seats have totally been removed from all the tables, but the “back to normal” mentality does seem to have meant that senior management focus isn’t as sharply focused on the key issues of delivering flexible, accessible, equitable learning and teaching opportunties.

During and just after the pandemic, I talked quite a bit (well in one keynote at least!) about pandemic amnesia. By that I mean forgetting the experiences of lock down, of thinking that everything will be like before. It can’t be and it isn’t. If we are going to provide flexible, accessible and equitable learning that really engages our students, an meets all the claims of various strategic goals, then we need to be changing our practices and attitudes to planning and designing learning and re thinking our workload models so we can allow educators (and students) to develop, engage with, reflect and share evidence around the different modes of learning we are using. That needs serious senior management engagement. But it might also take a little bit of bottom up subversion of “normal” practice too.

The SQAA work is a such an important part of developing and sharing evidence and practice and I’m looking foward to seeing their report and being part of the discussions moving forward.

Pedagogy, place and pragmatics⤴

from

Following on from the report that has just been published on Approaches to Curriculum and Learning Design in the UK HE sector, Helen Beetham and I are exploring some of the key issues that were highlighted through the survey and the interviews we conducted. Central to this are issues around time, space and place. Earlier this week we were able to start to share some of our initial thinking during a workshop at the Jisc Student Experience Experts Meeting.

In the interviews I conducted as part of the project, there was a general consensus that after the first lockdown most organisations were quite keen, even quite ambitious about their future plans for new approaches to learning and teaching. There was a sense of an appetite to embrace some the changes to practice that being forced off campus had brought about. Assessment was a huge part of that.

Rapid changes to assessments had to be introduced, along with rapid changes to assessment regulations. Student care was high on the agenda – a visible sign of that was the no detriment practices that many adopted. Again in the interviews, it was clear that lots of the changes from f2f exams to online submissions of various types including open book, authentic assessments have now been adopted.

In terms of wider curriculum change, it was also clear from the survey responses and interviews that the appetite for changes to other aspects of curriculum design and delivery had been divisively impacted by the UK Governments’ insistence that everyone needed to be back on campus, at lectures and doing “proper” in person exams. Never mind the lessons that had been learnt from students about the benefits of more flexible, accessible and inclusive approaches. Strategic statements were subtly altered to reflect as a pragmatic response to that political driver.

However, back in the real world, we can’t ignore that our understandings and use of the spaces, places (both physical and digital) and times for learning and teaching have been altered by the pandemic experience. Students have been off campus, on campus, off campus, on and off campus for a bit . . . and now on campus. Typical 1st and 2nd year students have had their final years of school turned upside down in the same way.

I think how “be” a student has changed, and that might be one of the reasons there have been so many issues around engagement. Where (and when) you actually need to be isn’t as clear cut as it was in the “before times”.

Going back to assessment, some of the comments student interns on the Irish EDTL project made during one of their webinars really struck me. Including the student who very eloquently shared how being able to take assessments off campus, in a space that was comfortable for them, massively reduced their stress levels; another who felt that the design of some of the online MCQs exams they had taken were “mean” as they didn’t allow you to go back to a question to answer it. That experience was making them want almost long for pen and paper exams. In the panel discussion at the experts meeting, Deborah Longworth from the University of Birmingham shared how some changes to assessment are now having impact on the mental health of students. She described how some students can think that a 72 hour open book exam means that they need to be working on it for 72 hours. Does this mean taking time to develop more scaffolding around time expectations, or is it an “in” to go back to fixed, in person exam that everyone understands the conventions of ?

Whilst terms such hybrid and hyflex are commonly used and, are they really fully understood by both students and staff? Do we really have effective examples of how these approaches work in practice. This is one area Helen and I want to explore from a pedagogical lens.

We are starting with time, and thinking in terms of synchronous and asynchronous. Then considering what types of activities/interactions that work best in these contexts, and then starting to map the spaces and places that students and staff need to be in as these activities are instantiated. In terms of broadening our approaches to learning design, do we need to be more explicit about time, space and place expectations in?

As the cost of living crisis starts to really kick in, what additional changes do we need/ are we making to make to our physical estate to support our students (and staff). Warm areas, areas with kettles? What choices might commuting students have to make about how many times a week they can be on campus?

As we discussed these issues in the meeting, a dose of pragmatism was injected into the conversation. Whilst it is often said that pedagogy should always come before technology, in reality it’s pragmatism, and the contextual constraints that everyone has to work with that really make have “the power”. Pragmatics always win over everything else.

I know I have run many learning design workshops where some really innovative approaches have been planned, only to find out that 2 weeks before the start of term, the plans have been changed because of timetabling issues or more commonly not enough staff resource or time.

As the sector moves forward is it just easier to cope with increases in student numbers, and the staff/studio ratio to just timetable in lectures? Is it just pragmatically more effective not to change workload models and notions of contact time to reflect the shifts in preparation/contact time and presence needed, and stick with the conventions we are all familiar and comfortable with?

Hopefully not, and that’s what we are working on now, to develop resources that can help provide guidance and exemplars of how the sector can, and is, evolving to allow us to think about pedagogy and place and hopefully start to change some of the pragmatics and constraints approaches to learning design, and in turn the student experience, exist in. I know Peter Bryant’s recent post on the “snapback” discusses many of these issues in more depth so is worth a look if you haven’t seen it yet.

So if you have any thoughts on this, or would like to share any examples, please do get in touch, or leave a comment. We want to provide spaces to have these conversations and hopefully provide some resource to help others have them in their contexts.

Creating the Remote Inclusive Classroom⤴

from @ Team MIEE Scotland

The transition to remote, and now blended learning, has been incredibly challenging for students and educators alike but it has especially difficult for those with additional support needs. Many have co-occurring difficulties and rely heavily on a variety of support mechanisms in the classroom. So the key question is how do you maintain this level of support when the classroom the student and educator are in is no longer the same four walls? How do you create the inclusive classroom when the physical classroom is no longer there?

Thankfully, Microsoft’s Learning Tools are available to all educators and staff with M365 levelling the playing field and ensuring that every student can share their voice and become successful learners. The best aspect of all is that the tools are completely integrated into Microsoft tools such as Microsoft Teams, OneNote and Flipgrid. No extensions or additional cumbersome steps to install an add-in are required to access the tools. The tools are there by default and that is key for creating any inclusive classroom: accessibility by default.

When I am creating my classroom, inclusion is always the first aspect I consider. It is so important to ensure that we intentionally include otherwise we are always destined to unintentionally exclude. I am now going take you into the strategies I employ to develop the inclusive classroom and I have broken it down into four key areas: reading, writing, maths and communication.

 

Image showing symbols to represent the four areas of the Inclusive Classroom: reading, writing, maths and communication

 

 

Reading

Immersive Reader logo
Immersive Reader logo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Microsoft’s Immersive Reader has completely transformed my classroom and, I am not exaggerating when I say that it has been life-changing for many of the students I work with.

I had used various Text to Speech software applications in the past with limited success. They did the job but were clunky and often prone to crash. Worst of all they were just another thing to worry about. As soon as I pressed the Immersive Reader logo on OneNote for the first time I was hooked (I always feel like a little bit of sparkle dust should appear when I click). I couldn’t quite believe the options available to my students. Page colours could be instantaneously changed (no more need for coloured overlays; the students kept losing them anyway), line focus meant that my students could remove distractions and focus on one, three or five lines at time (no more reading rulers; again they just lost them). Picture dictionary available to show an image of a word to support comprehension, using Boardmaker symbols that I had used for years without the need to print out, cut out, laminate, lose them and repeat again and again.

Last time I checked, Immersive Reader can translate text into 63 different languages and that list continues to grow and grow. I have now introduced Immersive Reader to every student I work with for the past three years since I discovered it (and every colleague too).

With the transition to remote learning, many students are now getting bombarded with so much more text to read than ever before. Every assignment can be full of text instructions, PDF and Word attachments also full of text, links to websites again with screeds of text and so on. It’s not surprising that many students are not engaging with online activities.

By introducing Immersive Reader to all my students (and colleagues) in school prior to lockdown, I’ve also empowered them to develop the skills needed to access any form of text. Microsoft Teams is the hub we use to communicate and share and Immersive Reader is there in every line of text for anyone to access with just 2 clicks (click three dots and click Immersive Reader).

Immersive Reader is not just exclusive to Microsoft tools but can be found across a whole host of third party applications such as Wakelet, ThingLink and Buncee.

Going back to my earlier point about bombarding students with a whole host of materials, Wakelet is a fantastic app to consider using to mitigate this. All of your resources can be housed in one Wakelet collection, with a clear sequence for students to follow and can be shared in one single URL or QR code. Best of all, Immersive Reader is integrated and accessed at the click of a button (the Immersive Reader logo in this case).

If you have never seen it in action before, prepare to be blown away here:

Immersive Reader in action

What about if the text is on paper you ask? Fret not, because combining the magic of OneNote and Office Lens, you could be using the power Immersive Reader within 90 seconds. Don’t believe me, check it out below for yourself.

OneNote and Office Lens: The Superhero App Duo

Writing

Also integrated into almost all Microsoft tools (apart from Microsoft Teams which I will come to in a minute) is Dictate. I have tried various computer dictation programs over the years but they required both a studio quality microphone and a heck of amount of patience to train it to actually recognise a coherent sentence. Dictate is already there, integrated into OneNote and works on any Windows, Mac or Chromebook device, and it is incredibly accurate . It can even understand my Glaswegian accent! The only downside is that Microsoft Teams does not have Dictate built in (seems strange to me that the instant messaging app does not have the ability to instantly message). You can get around it by taking advantage of the device’s in-built dictation tool (Window Key + H for Windows devices if you are wondering).

Dictate in action

Students can now access support for reading and writing at any time, in any place, with any device and, more importantly, without asking. This has now become even more important because of Covid-19, as in many cases, there is often no one there to ask. By introducing and training students to make the most of these integrated tools, we have inadvertently equipped for a situation that we could never have predicted.

Maths

Many students have real anxiety about undertaking maths work and I can’t say I blame them – maths was never my strong point. Even drawing a straight line with a ruler I can find challenging. The digital inking tools in OneNote are a complete gamechanger in this regard. You can use the digital ruler to get a perfect straight line (even tells you the exact angle!). The page can turned into a maths jotter by the square grid option and the individual squares can be made as large as like. For someone like me with writing difficulties such as dysgraphia, this makes such difference (when I was at school, I could never fit the numbers in the boxes in the maths notebooks the teachers gave me!)

Even if you can’t access the digital inking tools, OneNote can solve typed equations for you, break down the steps and you can also create Forms quizzes of the back of one equation for your students to practice with. The questions have, of course, Immersive Reader ready to leap into action.

Immersive Reader for maths equations

Communication

Establishing and maintaining communication can be the most challenging aspect of creating a remote inclusive classroom. A number of local authorities have initially prevented live teaching to take place and even fort those that have allowed it, educators are prevented from seeing their students in Microsoft Teams as the camera is disabled for them. That’s before you consider the fact that many students will not have the opportunity to connect live for a whole host of reasons. For this reason, and a whole host of other reasons, I have turned to the video discussion tool, Flipgrid for asynchronous communication.

 

Flipgrid logo

 

Flipgrid is an incredible app that I love for two simple reasons:

  1. It is inclusive and accessible to all!
  2. You can use it for absolutely anything – “If you can think it, you can Flipgrid it!”

I will use a whole other blog to share with you with how Flipgrid is the perfect tool to amplify voice asynchronously in the remote classroom. Let’s just say, that Flipgrid allows both educators and students to share their voice in the way most suitable to them. Both teachers and pupils can use the camera to share their video asynchronously by recording short videos (up to 10 minutes) but if they (or you for that matter) don’t want to appear in the camera, they don’t have to. They can use videos of objects, photos, sketches on the whiteboard/blackboard canvas, emojis over their face, text…the list could go on and on.

I have been specifically using Flipgrid in two ways during lockdown: to create short videos to explain the instructions in the assignment and creating short videos to share spelling rules and show how to decode words and blend sounds. This they can’t get from a PDF worksheet!

Anytime I want to record a video for my students (whether it is a Face to camera video or a screen recording), I immediately jump onto Flipgrid. Accessibility is definitely everywhere in Flipgrid, not only is Immersive Reader integrated for use with any piece of text, Flipgrid will automatically generate captions which you can also edit (so important when you are sharing videos and you have a thick Scottish accent like myself!).

 

Screenshot of the edit captions option on Flipgrid
Screenshot of Edit Captions feature in Flipgrid

 

Developing communication skills during remote learning does not just mean having face to face interaction with their teacher but the opportunity to connect with their peers as well. Microsoft Teams provides the perfect platform for this. I have specifically created a team for my Tutor group for this purpose, the opportunity for students to chat and connect with their friends in a safe space. I even throw in a fun Kahoot Quiz every Friday and there is great chat on the team before and after (even the classroom assistants get involved). It can get quite competitive!

Building self-esteem in all students is important but especially those with additional support needs such as Autism Spectrum Condition. Finding ways to do this during such difficult times can be tricky but one thing I have found that the students have responded to is the use of Praise stickers in Microsoft Teams. When students have completed work to a high standard, I always ensure I pick out a praise sticker, whether it be the awesome one or the achiever one or the courage one, and share it with my students. I’ve had some lovely messages from parents who have been so appreciative of me doing this.

 

Image of awesome praise sticker on Microsoft Teams
Praise sticker in Microsoft Teams

 

I would just like to end by saying that this does not mean every one of my students have engaged with remote learning and achieving their full potential. Several have not shown any sign of accessing the materials at all. I have just had to accept that there are many factors that are out with my control e.g. access to devices, connectivity, support from home, motivation etc. What I have tried to ensure is that I fully consider everything that is within my control to ensure that my materials and lessons are inclusive and accessible to all. After all, if we don’t strive to intentionally include we are always destined to unintentionally exclude!

About Me

I am an Additional Support Needs teacher at Lanark Grammar School. I am also an MIE Expert, Master Trainer and MCE (Microsoft Certified Educator). I am also a Flipgrid Student Voice Ambassador and Grid Guide and a Wakelet Ambassador. I was awarded MIE Expert of the Year for Scotland 2019-20 and I also won a global competition ran by Flipgrid to attend E2 Education Exchange in Sydney, Australia.

You can find me on Twitter: @cgerrard02

Photo of Chris Gerrard

ATSS Highland – Covid-19: Closure of Schools⤴

from @ Alan Stewart's AT Blog

The Assistive Technology Support Service (ATSS) will be available for online help and support during the school closure period.

ATSS can help with advice and practical support around Highland’s School technology (Google Classroom, etc.) but also more specialised access around reading and writing supports for all the digital material that’s many pupils have difficulty with and that are likely to be flowing your child’s way over the coming weeks, perhaps months.

We can help with, amongst other things, reading support apps for iPad, PC, and Chrome. We can also help with supportive writing tools for iPad, Chrome, and PC.

Get in touch by emailing myself (Alan Stewart) and we can take things from there.

Clicker 8 is here!⤴

from @ Alan Stewart's AT Blog

Clicker 8 on the Cricksoft website.

What’s new in Clicker 8

This latest iteration of Clicker is a huge step forward in accessibility and interoperability across platforms. So, where teachers still use PCs in class while pupils use Chromebooks in school and possibly iPads at home there are now no barriers between these tools.

The individual apps for Chrome and iPad left many unsure about what specific app they needed at any given time. Clicker 8 overcomes this by including all the apps as well as a range of other features (old and new) all within the umbrella package.

In addition to the writing and associated support tools for pupils, Crick has added a fantastic automated picture attachment tool (Picturize) for most text; resurrected and included an application from a few years ago that allows for the creation of Cloze passages; and there is also a comprehensive analytics system built into the software to help teachers tracking, reporting, and planning.

A quick reflection on inclusive service design from #A11yScotland⤴

from @ education

Through Girl Geek Scotland I was lucky enough to be given a free ticket for the Accessibility Scotland conference on 25 October (in exchange for compering a lunchtime lightning talk session, which was a sheer delight and I very much got the better end of … Continue reading A quick reflection on inclusive service design from #A11yScotland

TAP – a new input/control device.⤴

from @ Alan Stewart's AT Blog

A new way to input text and control devices.

TAP is a strap that you wear on your hand, and you type by tapping out different finger combinations. As an access device it could be of interest to people with VI, single handed typists, and anyone who wants a touch typing alternative.

Find out more here.

Subtitling: Or what we did over summer 2019⤴

from @ education

So, I wrote a blog post last year about building out a new WordPress blogging service at Edinburgh over the summer of 2018. That was a cool piece of work and we still get a thrill out of running it on a daily basis. This … Continue reading Subtitling: Or what we did over summer 2019

DocsPlus for Chrome gets an Exam Upgrade⤴

from @ Alan Stewart's AT Blog

Secondary Literacy Support

DocsPlus for Chromebookuse in exams Read more here.

It’s great to see that the excellent DocsPlus Chromebook app has been updated to incorporate the DocReader and customisable ‘Exam Mode’ settings introduced earlier in the Windows and Mac versions of the software. These exciting additions will facilitate the use of the app in exams for those students who qualify for additional access arrangements.

If you are already using the app, then it will automatically be updated. If you don’t yet have the app and would like a free copy, please email us at info@cricksoft.com.

DocsPlus for Chromebook trial success

The ASN team at Cathkin High School, a mainstream secondary school in South Lanarkshire, supports students with a wide range of needs. including learners with dyslexia, ADHD and autism. The team has been trialling the DocsPlus Chromebook app.

Lorna Jensen, Principal Teacher of ASN, describes the difference that DocsPlus has made to the students’ literacy output in a short space of time:

“There’s no doubt that DocsPlus had a massive impact on the pupils during our trial. It improved their self-esteem, confidence and motivation with writing tasks. Certainly in the English department we found that their level of writing improved significantly. The letters the pupils wrote were comfortably at level three – before this, these pupils would have been producing work at an early level two, so there was definitely a tangible improvement in the quality of their written work.”

There were some lovely comments from the students too:

“The spellchecker really helped. It helped me believe in myself, and gave me confidence with my writing.” You can learn more about the trial here.

Dictation Tools for Unlocking Creativity⤴

from @ ICT for Learning & Teaching in Falkirk Schools

We can usually speak far more quickly than we can type, so being able to get ideas on screen can be time-consuming. And we can also lose the flow of what we are thinking if the mechanics of typing get in the way. So being able to speak naturally as the text then appears on screen can both allow for ideas to be captured in text form, and this can then more easily be edited later.

Click on the Sway below to see how to enable and use the dictation tools on Apple, Android, Windows or Chromebooks. So whether it’s  PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone your device will most likely have the facility to have speech to text. As long as there is a microphone and the device supports speech to text you should be able to then use the dictation feature to say your thoughts aloud and have them appear as text which you can then later edit.

 

When using dictation tools you need to say what punctuation you wish to appear in the text – whether comma, full stop/period, question/exclamation mark, or new line/enter.

Speaking close to the microphone, and as clearly and distinctly as possible, will aid the dictation tool to be as accurate to what you wish as possible.

If you wish to find out more about the benefits of using Dictation or Speech to Text Technology in a classroom environment then the following links be of interest: