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    Archive for the 'Learning spaces' Category

    Applying Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Principles to VLE design

    By Jessica Gramp, on 16 July 2017

    Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Principles describe how educators can cater to the needs of students with differing needs, including those with disabilities (CAST 2011). It stems from the social model of disability, which places the problem within the environment, rather than with the individual who has the disability (Collins 2014).
    Technology enables the quick modification of learning materials to meet the specific needs of students (Pisha & Coyne 2001) and online communication can even hide a disability from others. For example, a deaf student who participates in an online discussion forum does not need to reveal they are deaf in order to communicate with peers. This can lower the social and communication barriers that may be experienced when communicating in person. Also, there are many modern technologies specifically developed to help people with disabilities engage with online environments. This means online learning environments are particularly well placed to address the goal of Universal Design for Learning. It is the responsibility of the institutions and developers who maintain these environments to ensure they can be accessed by all.
    While most of the UDL guidelines apply to curriculum design, some of them are relevant to the design of the broader virtual learning environment (VLE).

    UDL principles (CAST 2011) mapped to how a VLE might meet relevant checkpoints

    To learn more, click on one of the Guidelines in the boxes below.

    I. Provide Multiple Means of Representation

    PerceptionLanguage, expressions, and symbolsComprehension

    II. Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression

    Physical actionExpression and communication
    Executive function

    UDL Principle 1 aims to ‘provide multiple means of representation’  by ‘providing options for perception’, which includes ‘offer[ing] ways of customizing the display of information’ (CAST 2011). This means the VLE should offer the ability to do things like resize text and enable screen-readers to read aloud text to those who have visual impairments or dyslexia.

    Within UDL Principle 2, guideline 4: aims to ‘provide options for physical action’, which includes ‘vary[ing] the methods for response and navigation’ (CAST 2011). This means ensuring all navigation and interaction can occur via a keyboard and using assistive technologies such as voice activated software like Dragon NaturallySpeaking, which recognises speech and converts it to text.
    UDL Principle 3 seeks to ‘provide multiple means of engagement’ by ‘recruiting interest’, including enabling the learner to choose colours and layouts (CAST 2011). There are a number of tools that enable users to change the fonts and colours on a webpage and it is important these are able to be applied. The VLE should also offer the ability to customise the interface, in terms of re-ordering frequently accessed items, placement of menus and temporarily hiding extraneous information that may distract from the task at hand.
    These three principles and the specific checkpoints mentioned above are being addressed as part of the Accessible Moodle project, which aims to make UCL Moodle more accessible. The main ways these are being addressed are through the development of a more accessible Moodle theme, as well as the development of Moodle code itself. Although the project has limited ability to develop this code, suggestions for improvements are being raised with the Moodle development community via the Moodle Tracker. You can sign up and vote for accessibility enhancements to help these get prioritised, and therefore resolved more quickly, by Moodle HQ and other developers within the community.
    The remaining UDL principles are intended to guide the development of more accessible content and curriculum designs, and therefore these will inform the development of the Universal Design for Learning course that is being developed at UCL, to help educators understand how to design accessible learning tasks, environments and materials.
     
    You can read more about the Accessible Moodle project on the UCL Digital Education blog.
     
    References
    CAST (2011). Universal Design for Learning Guidelines version 2.0. [online]. Available from: http://www.udlcenter.org/sites/udlcenter.org/files/UDL_Guidelines_Version_2.0_(Final)_3.doc [Accessed 16 July 2017].
    Collins, B. (2014). Universal design for learning: What occupational therapy can contribute? [Online]. Occupational Therapy Now, 16(6), 22-23. Available from: http://eprints.bournemouth.ac.uk/21426/1/Collins.pdf [Accessed 16 July 2017].
    Pisha, B. & Coyne, P. (2001) Smart From the Start: The Promise of Universal Design for Learning. Remedial and Special Education. [Online] 22 (4), 197–203. Available from: doi:10.1177/074193250102200402.

    Accessible Moodle wishlist

    By Jessica Gramp, on 20 June 2017

    The following outlines recommendations from the Accessible Moodle project to improve the accessibility of UCL Moodle for disabled students and staff, as well as improve usability for all users. These have been informed by focus groups with disabled students and staff; analysis of how UK websites adhere to accessibility guidelines; and research of relevant journal articles and accessibility guidelines.

    Our primary aim is to ensure Moodle is technically accessible using assistive technologies including ZoomText, JAWS screen-reader, Read & Write, Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice recognition software, as well as other assistive technologies commonly used at UCL. In addition, keyboard-only access should be fully supported. It is also important that UCL Moodle is usable for those with disabilities, as well as the wider student and staff community.

    In order to develop these recommendations, the project team ran focus groups with UCL students and staff with disabilities, to find out what they found difficult to use within Moodle and what suggestions they had for improvements. I have blogged previously about the background to the project and the outcomes of these focus groups.

    A number of sources were also referenced to see how Moodle could be made to better adhere to accessibility guidelines. The most important of these are the following three guidelines from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) :

    • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Level AA for making Moodle and its content more accessible.
    • Web Accessibility Initiative – Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite (WAI-ARIA) for designing Moodle so users of assistive technologies, like screen-readers, can navigate and read its pages.
    • Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) for making the Moodle rich text editors more accessible.

    A number of websites were also analysed to compare how each of them implemented W3C guidelines.

    The list that follows is a wish list, which may not all be implemented, but gives us a guide for how we might improve Moodle. Although there are many other elements that are important, but not mentioned below, the following makes a start of improving the interface for disabled  and non-disabled users alike.

    We are taking a multi-faceted approach to resolve the issues identified, and work is likely to be ongoing, but here’s a list of changes we’d like to see made to make Moodle more accessible.

    Assistive Technology compatibility.

    The following recommendations are likely to require implementation at multiple levels, so don’t easily fit under any single development areas below. The project aims to achieve the following:

    • Content and editing features are available to screen-readers, or suitable alternatives are available – e.g. offline marking in Word enables in-line marking for assessments.
    • Navigation is straight-forward, with content appearing before menus and appropriate headings, links and lists being utilised to enable easy navigation using common screen-reader features. E.g. the list of module tutor names under every Moodle course name in the search results means that hundreds of links are listed to screen-reader users and sighted users are overwhelmed by irrelevant information which needs to be scrolled past, and which is particularly problematic for those with dyslexia.
    • All images have alt tags (even if these are empty), or in the case of icons that supplement text, they use ARIA tags to tell screen-readers to ignore them.
    • Accepts user input using voice recognition software, like Dragon Naturally Speaking.
    • Enables magnification by ensuring the pages display well when the browser is zoomed in or when zooming software is used.
    • Visible focus when using the keyboard (tab, space, enter and arrow keys) to navigate.
    • Supports the use of OpenDyslexi font, available as a browser plugin to help those with dyslexia read text.

    A multi-faceted approach

    The following five areas outline the different ways in which Accessibility improvements can be made to UCL Moodle.

    1. A new, more accessible UCL Moodle theme for use on desktop and mobile devices.
      • Minimise clutter, by enabling blocks to be hidden and removing extraneous information.
      • Position elements for optimal access. E.g. ensure the login is prominent and important course features are easy to access.
      • Simplify the menus, by showing relevant links only to relevant users. E.g. staff see different links from students.
      • Improve the course icons by making them larger and clearer. E.g. the maximise block link is not intuitive.
      • Show alerts to users – e.g. explaining that editors can drag and drop files, warnings of Moodle outage periods.
      • Improve navigation, e.g. by enabling links to key areas that users expect.
      • Use high contrasting colours on a pale background that is easy to read for those with dyslexia (e.g. not white).
    2. Changes to Moodle configuration.
      • Configure text editors so they encourage accessible content design. E.g. offering heading styles 3-5, removing the inclination for people to add heading 1 and 2 tags when these are used at higher levels within Moodle pages.
      • Enable global search (assuming this does not negatively impact performance).
      • Allow students and staff to personalise the interface by enabling courses to be moved up and down on the My Home page, hide and show blocks, maximise the screen or use a default width better for reading and dock blocks.
    3. Enhanced Moodle features.
      A number of plugins to Moodle exist that make Moodle more usable and improve accessibility.

      • Implement and configure user tours to help users understand how to use Moodle and point to help with accessibility features.
      • Install the course checks plugin to help staff create an accessible Moodle course – e.g. checks for assignment due dates in past, courses not reset, broken links.
      • Implement a Moodle course site map so students can easily see what is available on a course on one page.
      • Enable importing content from Word, which some users find easier to edit within than Moodle.
      • Pilot the Blackboard Ally plugin to help in the creation of more accessible learning resources and course structures.
      • Install the Office 365 plugin to make it easier to author, organise and link or embed content into Moodle (coming to Moodle core in v3.3).
      • Enable staff to add icons to help signpost particular areas of their course and help people who prefer these visual cues, as opposed to having to read excessive text.
    4. Improved training, staff development and support.
      • Develop a course for Moodle editors so they understand how to develop accessible Moodle resources and activities.
      • Develop an online course to explain how Assistive Technologies can be used with Moodle (e.g. regions for JAWS, browser plugins to show a reading ruler, change fonts to OpenDyslexi font, improve colour contrast).
    5. Improved interfaces by proposing enhancements to Moodle HQ and iParadigms (who provide Turnitin).
      • Adequately signpost links showing (new window, document, external/internal etc) automatically.
      • Enable users to personalise their experience by allowing them to choose their own course format, set blocks to particular colours.
      • Improve assessment interfaces, such as the Moodle Assignment rubric functionality and display.
      • Flag new items on the Moodle course page (allow this to be enabled/disabled in user preferences).
      • Improve the Moodle calendar – e.g. size, reliance on colour, clicking month to access full screen.
      • Improve the discussion forums – e.g. showing the entire thread when replying, the accessibility of the email alerts it sends.
      • Fix Moodle heading tags.

    The UCL Digital Education team, staff in Disability Support teams and staff from IT for IoE  are slowly working through each of these five strands to make improvements to virtual learning experiences at UCL for those with disabilities. Many of these improvements will also benefit other Moodle users, since accessibility cannot be considered in isolation from usability, so this means an enhanced user experience for everyone!

    Accessibility of e-learning – 10 key points from the free OU course

    By Jessica Gramp, on 13 June 2017

    The UK Open University (2006) provide a useful introductory course, called Accessibility of eLearning, that will help you understand how to create accessible e-learning experiences that provide access for all. The course can be completed online, or downloaded in a number of common file formats, including for e-readers and as a PDF.

    I would strongly suggest either completing the course, or reading the course materials, but if you don’t have time I’m going to summarise the key points in this post:

    1. In 2006, disability affected 10-20% of every country’s population, and this number is growing.
    2. In 2006, 15% of the UK population, over 16 years old, self-declared a disability.
    3. A disabled person is one who has a mental or physical disability that has a substantial, long term (12 months or more), adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
    4. Around 1 in 10 men and 1 in 200 women have red-green colour blindness.
    5. UK Universities are legally obligated to make reasonable, anticipatory adjustments to ensure those with disabilities are not discriminated against.
    6. There are two views of disability. The medical model describes the problem of disability as stemming from the person’s physical or mental limitation. The social model sees disability as society restricting those with impairments in the form of prejudice, inaccessible design, policies of exclusion, etc.
    7. Accessibility is about both technical and usable access for people with disabilities. For example, although a table of data may be technically accessible by a blind person using a screen reader, they may not be able to relate the data in each cell to its column or row heading, so the meaning of the data is lost in the process, rendering the table unusable for that person.
    8. Computers enable even severely disabled people to communicate unaided, giving them independence and privacy that is not possible when they need to rely on human assistants.
    9. When communicating online, a disability may not be visible, removing barriers caused by people’s reactions to the disability.
    10. Creating accessible learning environments helps everyone, not just those with disabilities. For example, products that can be used by blind people are also useful for people whose eyes are busy*.

    *This last point reflects my own preference for listening to academic papers while running or walking to work, when I would be otherwise unable to “read” the paper. As a student and full-time employee, being able to use this time to study enables me to manage my time effectively and merge my fitness routine, with study time. This is only possible because my lecturers, and many journals these days too, provide accessible documents that can be read out loud using my mobile smartphone.

    This list brifly summarises the key points I drew from the OU’s Accessibility of eLearning course and demonstrates some of the ways we, as developers of online courses, can make better online learning experiences for all our students, including those with disabilities.

    References

    Open University (2016) Accessibility of E-Learning. [Online]. Available from: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/education/professional-development-education/accessibility-elearning/content-section-0 [Accessed: 13 June 2017].

    Addressing ten Moodle accessibility concerns for UCL’s disabled users

    By Jessica Gramp, on 17 May 2017

    UCL staff from Digital Education Advisory and UCL’s Disability Services teams are currently looking at how to improve the accessibility of UCL Moodle for those with disabilities, which will benefit all users. Information from two focus groups, one with students and one with staff, have highlighted a number of concerns, which the Accessible Moodle project aims to address.

    The focus groups identified ten areas of concern (listed in order of priority):

    • Clutter – it is difficult to find what you are looking for amongst irrelevant links and content.
    • Emphasis – understanding what is the most important information is not easy.
    • Layout – page elements are not configurable, there is too much visible at once and the blocks are too wide.
    • Navigation and Orientation – pages are long and disorganised, with links to external services not adequately signposted.
    • Usability – some interfaces, especially for assessments, are particularly difficult to use.
    • Awareness – useful features (skip links) and services (Moodle snapshot) remain unknown to those who would benefit from them.
    • Personalisation – there’s a lack of configurable page elements (blocks, fonts, font sizes and colours) or information about how to do this independently with browser plugins and other assistive technologies.
    • Text – there’s a lot of overly long text that is too small, in a difficult to read font with poor contrast and in difficult formats both in Moodle and the resources it contains.
    • Consistency – there’s inconsistencies between some Moodle courses and conversely some courses not being adequately distinguishable from others.
    • Graphics – there’s heavy reliance of written information that could be expressed more simply with icons and images, with appropriate alternative text for those using screen readers.

    The learning curve of using new interfaces, problems with assessment, and clunky mobile access were also mentioned by the focus group participants.

    These issues will be addressed by a number of initiatives:

    • A new, more accessible UCL Moodle theme for use on desktop and mobile devices.
    • Changes to Moodle configuration.
    • Enhanced Moodle features.
    • Improved training, staff development and support.
    • Proposals to Moodle HQ and iParadigms (who provide Turnitin) to improve interfaces.

    Further updates on this project will follow on the Digital Education blog.

    2015 Horizon Report – what are the six key trends in E-Learning?

    By Clive Young, on 17 February 2015

    nmc_itunesu.HR2015-170x170Every year the NMC Horizon Report examines emerging technologies for their potential impact on and use in teaching, learning, and ‘creative inquiry’ within the environment of higher education. The report, downloadable in PDF, is compiled by an international body of experts and provides a useful checklist trends, challenges and technologies in the field and provides a useful benchmark of what is most talked about at the moment.

    The key trends identified in the in the short term are

    • Increasing use of blended learning
    • Redesigning learning spaces

    Longer term trends are: growing focus on measuring learning, proliferation of open learning resources, advancing cultures of change and innovation and increasing cross-institution collaboration.

    Key ‘solvable’ challenges are

    • Blending formal and informal learning
    • Improving digital literacy

    More difficult challenges are; personalising learning, teaching complex thinking and the ‘wicked’ ones are competing models of education and the old chestnut, rewarding teaching.

    The important developments in educational technology they identify are in the short term are

    • Bring your own device (BYOD)
    • Flipped classroom – same as last year

    Longer-term innovations are; makerspaces, wearable technology, adaptive learning technologies and the ‘Internet of Things’.

    As usual there are useful commentaries and links throughout. Encouraging that many of these ideas are already being implemented, trialed and discussed here at UCL.

     

    Summer 2014 learning space improvements

    By Paul Burt, on 3 October 2014

    Early in 2014 I started collaborating with a project team, comprising of UCL Estates and Facilities staff and external consultants, with the aim of improving four of UCL’s most outdated learning spaces. My role was to give specialist educational design input and throughout the process I tried to ensure the principal function of the spaces, learning and teaching, did not get compromised.

    Roberts 309

    This 61-seater raked lecture theatre had not been significantly upgraded since probably the 1960’s. Issues particularly noted in this space included the claustrophobically narrow, and not universally accessible, entrance doors and the fact that the lecturer had little choice but to stand and obscure the material they were presenting.

    Before photos [click on any photo to enlarge]:

    Roberts309_before1

    Roberts309_before2

    Highlights of the enhancements made

    • One doorway blocked up to create area for teaching station
    • Other doorway made double-width to increase accessibility of room
    • Wheelchair accessible seating positions with moveable study desks
    • Full coverage assistive listening induction loop for use by hearing aid wearers
    • Mains and USB power sockets added to the front two rows of seating
    • Projected image dimensions increased from 2000mm wide to 2750mm
    • Large 3000mm wide column-mounted writing boards deinstalled and reinstalled
    • Improved sight-lines achieved by staggering the seat positions on alternate rows
    • LectureCast system installed
    • Ceiling mounted microphones added to act as fallback pickup for LectureCast (lecture capture)

    After photos:

    Roberts309_after1

    Roberts309_after2

    Roberts 508

    Another raked lecture theatre, capacity 86, which was also a time capsule on the history of lecture theatres.

    Before photos:

    Roberts508_before1

    Roberts508_panel

    In fact during the renovations a long hidden counter-weighted chalkboard system was uncovered:

    Roberts508_old_boards

    Highlights of the enhancements made

    • New teaching station and facilities added off-centre
    • Larger projection and writing surfaces added side-by-side
    • Wheelchair accessible seating positions with moveable study desks
    • Full coverage assistive listening induction loop for use by hearing aid wearers
    • Mains and USB power sockets added to the front two rows of seating
    • Improved sight-lines achieved by staggering the seat positions on alternate rows
    • Ceiling mounted microphones added to act as fallback pickup for LectureCast (lecture capture)

    After photo:

    Roberts508_after1

    25 Gordon Street computer room 105

    This computer room was uninspiring and a difficult space in which to teach effectively.

    Before photo:

    GordonStreet105_before1

    The main problems were that it was difficult for students to get past those already seated and the length of the room meant the lecturer and the presentation were too distant for students seated at the opposite end.

    GordonStreet105_before2

    The design decision was made to move the teaching focus of the room to the side and repeat the projection screen three times along the length of the room so that student sight lines are greatly improved.

    A novel table design was produced that is very space efficient whilst managing to feel spacious to users.

    After photo:

    GordonStreet105_after1

    Highlights of the enhancements made

    • Circulation and ability to move around room improved
    • Room capacity increased from 33 student computer positions to 45
    • High quality voice reinforcement system so the lecturer can be comfortably heard throughout the space
    • Three large boards which can be used for projection or writing on with a conventional whiteboard pen
    • One of the three projectors has ‘eBeam’ technology which enables use of a special electronic pen, write on one board and it will simultaneously appear on all three
    • Under-utilised network equipment room demolished and replaced with smaller cupboard in corner of room
    • Sleek ‘all-in-one’ computers on fully adjustable desk-mounted arms
    • Two electronically height-adjustable table positions created for wheelchair users
    • Full coverage assistive listening induction loop for use by hearing aid wearers
    • Individual mains sockets added at each seating position for mobile device charging (USB devices can be charged directly off the all-in-one computer)

    After photos:

    GordonStreet105_after3

    GordonStreet105_after2

    1-19 Torrington Place room B17

    This flat-floored lecture theatre had over the years performed a number of different roles including, about ten years ago, being equipped as a virtual reality theatre for built environment visualisation by Bartlett students. The technology for this application was now obsolete and as a general learning and teaching space it was far from ideal as it was depressingly dark with no writing surface and the projected image, despite being a huge screen, was too small for the long viewing distance.

    Before photos:

    TorringtonPlaceB17_before1

    TorringtonPlaceB17_before2

    During photo:

    TorringtonPlaceB17_during

    Highlights of the enhancements made

    • Seating capacity increased from 74 to 92
    • Wheelchair accessible seating positions with moveable study desks
    • Full coverage assistive listening induction loop for use by hearing aid wearers
    • Mains and USB power sockets added to the front two rows of seating
    • Projected image dimensions increased from 2000mm wide to 3400mm wide (now within scope of recommended viewing distances achieved by shortening of the room through creation of a new equipment store and a complex ceiling profile)
    • Large 3500mm wide column-mounted writing boards added (recycled from 25 Gordon Street computer room 105)
    • Improved sight-lines achieved by staggering the seat positions on alternate rows
    • Ceiling mounted microphones added to act as fallback pickup for LectureCast (lecture capture)

    After photos:

    TorringtonPlaceB17_after1

    TorringtonPlaceB17_after2

    TorringtonPlaceB17_after3

    TorringtonPlaceB17_after4

    A note on power sockets

    It may at first seem strange that we have opted to fit power sockets to only the front two rows of seating benches in the lecture theatres but there was in fact a sound rationale behind this based on these considerations:

    • Previous surveys have told us that students would like power sockets for charging laptops and other mobile devices whilst in lectures.
    • Fitting power sockets to seating positions is a relatively expensive endeavour as in most spaces it involved cutting a channel into the concrete floor.
    • Year-on-year the battery technology in mobile devices is improving, now it is becoming common for laptops to now have all day batteries – potentially spending significant funds on sockets outlets everywhere could look foolish in a few years.
    • Fitting power sockets to every seating position also does not sit will with UCL’s green ambitions.

    So the idea of fitting sockets outlets to only the front two rows was born. By way of an incidental benefit there is the hope that this may help educationally as it will encourage students to sit near the front!

    sockets

    In many other lecture theatres power sockets are installed beneath the desks. For these refurbishments a low profile desktop-mounted socket was specified as:

    • their presence is more obvious to users
    • they are low enough in profile so that books and notepads can still be places on the desk without issues
    • compared with ‘cubby-box’ mounted sockets there is much less chance of a drink spillage causing problems

    Initial feedback from students and staff

    This week has been the first use of these refurbished rooms and I have taken the opportunity to be present at the start of a number of the sessions using these spaces. Whilst there have inevitably been some snags with the facilities all of the scheduled teaching has been able to go ahead and the reaction from students and staff has been unanimously positive. On two occasions lecturers who taught in the same space last year have said that they thought they had walked into the wrong room as the transformation has been so extreme.

    Reflections on the refurbishments

    The design phase of these refurbishments was incredibly tight and what became evident part way through the programme was that the design of the presentation and writing facilities in the rooms needed to dictate many other aspects of the room design. This was particularly evident in 1-19 Torrington Place room B17 where the ceiling profile had to be considerably reworked to permit achieving the required display sizes.

    Another victim of the squeezed design phase was that the seating arrangements are near enough direct replacements for what was previously there. A development seen at other universities is what has been christened ‘turn&learn’ seating where seats on alternate rows are able rotate in order to make segments of peer discussion a possibility in the context of a lecture. Another development that is proving popular at a few other UK universities is a design where five or six person benches are constructed around shared table surface.

    bench-lecture-theatre

    This solution lends itself to integrating problem-based learning activities into a lecture session. Our tight timescales and the architecture of the 2014 refurbishment rooms didn’t lead to opportunities to pilot these kinds of design but the hope is that future refurbishment programmes may offer more scope for innovation.

    I would like to thank the hard work of colleagues involved in these projects which has resulted in these remarkable transformations.