Like the rest of the University, our colleagues from the Academic Practice Team in the Learning and Teaching Development Service (LTDS) have redeveloped their face to face small group teaching sessions for online delivery. Their learners are postgraduate research students taking the Introduction to Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (ILTHE) and academic staff new to Newcastle University who are engaging with Newcastle Educational Practice Scheme (NEPS) Units en route to UKPSF fellowship.
I met up with Dr Rosa Spencer, Emma McCulloch and Chris Whiting to ask about their top tips on how they planned these 1-2 hour sessions, how they used them to build community, and what they did to keep these Zoom teaching sessions engaging and accessible.
The Accessibility in Practice online course is designed to provide you with some of the core skills and techniques for embedding accessibility into your teaching and learning practice, and in making your digital resources accessible to everyone.
Tom Harrison recently completed the online course. He shares the parts of the course he found most useful and how he has changed his practice resulting in real benefits to students.
Hi, I’m Tom Harrison; I work as a Student Recruitment Co-ordinator at Newcastle University and also teach English Literature. My roles involve designing lots of activities and presentations for a wide variety of students, so I was interested in using the Accessibility in Practice course to develop my awareness of how to adjust my materials to accommodate different learner needs.
One of the most revealing sections was an exercise to simulate difficulties that dyslexic students could have reading slides in lectures. The team presented a simple story (Aesop’s ‘Tortoise and the Hare’: a classic!) and changed the text a bit to give an idea of how reading speeds can differ.
Even with such a simple, familiar story I found the text difficult to read, and although I managed a couple of lines I got nowhere near finishing the full paragraph in the two minutes allotted by the presenter. The experience was confusing and frustrating, and made worse when the presenter spoke while the text was onscreen: at this point my attention was split between the audio and the visuals, which meant I wasn’t paying attention to either.
The manipulated text, the short reading time, and the over-talkative presenter were of course all part of the team’s cunning plan to show how difficult it can be for dyslexic students to read large blocks of text in a lecture setting. I have to confess that previously I’ve assumed that students can multi-task as I rattle through text-heavy lecture slides, and that highlighting key words and phrases in bold or in different colours was enough to focus students on what they need to know. Those visually-enhanced techniques work fine for some, but of course are no help at all to students who are colour blind, or who are accessing lecture materials through specialist software. I looked back over my old PowerPoints with fresh eyes and realised that, to some students, my beautifully colour-coded, quote-heavy slides would have just been a big blocky mess.
The biggest change the training has made to my practice is that I now appreciate that students need more time to process on-screen text, and that they may be accessing this text in a different way to how I’ve previously assumed. I now make a point of reading out any text that I include on slides to help keep students focused and avoid unnecessary distractions. As an added bonus, I’ve also learnt to cut down the size of my on-screen quotations: no one, not even me, wants to hear me reading out huge chunks of text!
If you are delivering information to students in any capacity I recommend having a look at this resource: the course is full of useful, practical tips that will help you modify what you already do rather than change it to something completely different. Well worth an hour of your time, I’d say, and your students will thank you for it!
This blog post is to provide an update on the work that has been undertaken over this academic year to raise awareness of the need to create digitally accessible content. The aim is to support staff to develop the skills required and helping them to make simple changes to their practice that will result in more accessible resources to enable all our learners to take part in their learning without having any barriers in their place.
Visits to academic units
33 presentations to academic units have either taken place, or are scheduled to take place in the 2019-20 academic year. The reception from staff to the information in the presentation has been extremely positive with colleagues keen to find out how they can engage with the work to improve accessibility for all. The team are very happy to present at all appropriate forums so if we haven’t visited your area, please get in touch with LTDS and we can arrange this.
Accessibility in Practice Workshop
The “Accessibility in Practice” workshops ran in academic units, and centrally and is always well received. In this workshop we focus on quick wins to create accessible documents. We support staff to use accessibility checkers on documents and, they experience how learners adapt and work with digital content. We explore how SensusAccess can empower students and staff to make the inaccessible accessible. This is a hands-on workshop, staff will take away ideas, check-lists and tools that support inclusive practices. Feedback from staff to the session include:
“Great for someone new to the topic but also still valuable to someone who is aware of the basics.”
“Super practical. Learnt about loads of features I had no idea about.”
“I enjoyed learning about the resources available within Newcastle University and on software such as Office 365, an often ignored topic in teaching training I’ve attended in the past”
Accessibility and Inclusion on the Digital Learning website
There are useful links to many of the resources across the University that will help you make your content more accessible including updated NUIT Guidance, and SensusAccess. Further resources relating to the University approach to accessibility and inclusion are available, including a screencast of the presentation we have been providing to academic units.
Victoria Rafferty, Learning Development Officer in the Writing Development Centre came along to one of these workshops. Find out what she thought below.
‘The accessibility training sessions provided the timely opportunity to become more aware of issues and techniques when making resources accessible. By working with techniques demonstrated and discussed in the workshops, we’ve constructed a new range of study guides. These sessions were important as we need to ensure that our study guides are suitable for students across the university’.
Victoria Rafferty, Learning Development Officer, Writing Development Centre
View an example of one of the study guides developed following the workshop, demonstrating good practice in designing accessible documents.
The University is carrying out work to improve the digital accessibility of systems and content across the institution. This includes the module content with Blackboard.
This work started with the Art of the Possible week in July 2019. This week of activity showcased some of the great work already underway in this area and provided useful practical CPD sessions for staff to engage with.
This is being followed by visits to academic units during this academic year to inform them of the benefits and ease of accessible content within Blackboard, and other TEL systems. These visits have started and will continue through Semester 1.
The accessibility in practice workshop that has been developed alongside the Student Wellbeing service the helps staff learn how to create accessible and inclusive learning and teaching resources will be offered to each academic unit, as well as being run centrally.
By Graeme Redshaw-Boxwell, Learning Enhancement and Technology Team Manager
What are the new requirements?
In September 2019, the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No.2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 comes into effect in the UK. These regulations attempt to ensure that all students have equal and fair access to learning opportunities without any barriers as a result of a disability. This covers websites, services and content.
The University recognises that compliance with the Regulations will not happen immediately. A staged programme of work will embed training on compliance for new learning and teaching websites/service and content within the existing Learning and Teaching Development Programme which will be available both as open workshops and bespoke school/service based sessions. The trajectory for compliance is detailed below.
What is the University doing for the start of 2019/20?
Each website/system requires an accessibility statement, providing information about the accessibility of individual websites/systems. The Learning and Teaching Development Service will co-ordinate the creation of accessibility statements across all central University learning and teaching systems. This includes Blackboard, MLE, ePortfolio and others. All centrally supported teaching and learning systems will have an accessibility statement by September 2019.
What do academic units/services need to do for the start of 2019/20?
No specific actions are required for the start of the next academic year. Individuals should consider how they can make any new learning and teaching content accessible, and to start to change practice when creating content in readiness for 2020/21.
What will happen in 2019/20 to make us more compliant for 2020/21?
The new Learning and Teaching Development Programme has Accessibility in Practice workshops that support academic and professional services staff in how to create accessible and inclusive learning and teaching resources. There are some simple tools built in to familiar desktop tools, such as Microsoft Office, that will help to create and check the accessibility of resources.
There are some small simple changes staff can make that will help all students on their programme, not only students with a disability. LTDS will prepare a range of online how to guides that will support staff in the creation of accessible documents.
As part of the rollout of the new VLE, LTDS will run a large number of training sessions. The creation of accessible content will be embedded within these sessions.
The Newcastle Education Practice Scheme (NEPS) is the replacement for the CASAP programme. Accessibility and inclusion will be a core element, and the creation of accessible resources will be part of the programme.
We will renew the University site license for Sensus Access which enables staff and students to easily convert documents into an accessible format. Many file formats are supported, including the main Microsoft Office document types. Use of this tool will be built into the workshops detailed above.
For further information please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to everyone who took part in the launch of the Education Strategy Series ‘The Art of the Possible’ on 1-5 July 2019. It was excellent to see so many staff from across the campus engaging with this first week of activities under the theme Technology Enhanced Learning.
Throughout the week we explored The Art of Accessible and Inclusive Digital Content through interactive practical workshops, lightning talks showcasing some excellent approaches to creating accessible and flexible resources, and video case studies. We also welcomed Alistair McNaught, Subject Specialist in Accessibility and Inclusion on Thursday 4 July. Alistair delivered a mixture of practical, strategic and collaborative sessions to raise awareness and confidence in digital accessibility, and the new public sector web accessibility legislation.
Dr Chloe Duckworth from the School of History, Classics and Archaeology has used engaging, bespoke online resources and a range of practical group activities to create a relaxed learning environment for her students.
Find out more from Chloe in the video below as she describes how she considers accessibility issues and ensures an inclusive approach to teaching.
If you are interested in reading more about Chloe’s case study or other case studies of effective practice take a look at the case studies website.
Professor Suzanne Cholerton, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Education, introduces this brand new series of Education Strategy focussed events, showcasing ‘The Art of the Possible’.
This first week focusses on Technology Enhanced Learning given our commitment in the Education Strategy to an educational experience supported and enhanced by technology.
Find out more from Professor Cholerton in the video below.
All events and activities will be delivered in a light, fun and adventurous way and we are looking forward to engaging with colleagues from across the University. Take a look at the programme and find out how to register.
If you are interested in future ‘The Art of the Possible’ events and other learning and teaching news, events and case studies sign up to the learning and teaching newsletter.
Alistair McNaught, Subject Specialist, Accessibility and Inclusion
A long time coming…
Disability legislation has required organisations to make “reasonable adjustments” for disabled people since 1995. Unfortunately, the legislation did not define what a reasonable adjustment might look like. For the next 23 years, equalities legislation tried to improve the lived experience of disabled people, but without clarity about what was ‘reasonable’ it often failed. Many disabled students drop out of University courses not because the intellectual challenge is too hard, but because negotiating the basic resources is a daily uphill struggle.
The new public sector web accessibility legislation changes everything. For the first time ever it makes a concrete link between a failure to make a reasonable adjustment and a failure to meet the “accessibility requirement” for websites, VLEs and VLE content. The accessibility requirement for digital content is well established – so it’s very easy to tell if resources fail the ‘reasonable adjustment’ test.
Competence more than compliance
This does not mean not every teaching professional now has to become an accessibility professional, any more than an academic referencing a paper is expected to be an information professional. What it does mean is that professional communicators are expected to communicate using conventions and practices that minimise barriers. With a significant proportion of teaching staff having self-taught IT skills it’s little surprise that we don’t always know the best way to make our resources accessible. But the relevant skills are learned very quickly. They also benefit considerably more students than the 10% with visible or invisible disabilities.
Accessibility for everyone
For too many years, accessibility has “belonged to” the disability support team. This is as unrealistic as hygiene in a restaurant belonging to the chef, with nobody else having awareness of training. Higher education institutions have complex digital ecosystems and accessibility needs to be a ‘hygiene factor’ that threads through the organisation’s policy and practice. The encouraging thing is that the vast majority of accessibility is a combination of good design, good practice, good resources, good pedagogy and good procurement policies. What is there not to like?
Find out more
In the Education Strategy Series: The Art of the Possible, Alistair McNaught will work with different groups of staff in the University to try to do what accessibility should do for everyone: enlighten, empower, support and inspire. Bring your own experience, skill and ambition – the catalysts for culture change.