X Close

Digital Education team blog

Home

Ideas and reflections from UCL's Digital Education team

Menu

Archive for the 'Quality' Category

Digital Accessibility – from Directive to DNA

SamanthaAhern22 July 2019

I have been very excited by the flurry of activity that has been triggered by The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations (2018)   across my own and other institutions. These regulations haven’t really introduced anything new, much of it is covered by existing equalities legislation, but it has shifted the focus. Previously, we could be reactive and in our laziest moments rely on those that needed adjustments to request them. Now, we are required to be proactive. To create content that is accessible by design and follows Universal Design for Learning principles around designing for POUR (i.e., so content is Perceivable, Operable, Understandable and Robust). Aligning with the social model of disability: people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference.

Tweet by Danielle Johnstone describing some of the Lego activity outcomes.Many colleagues I meet are concerned about what the regulation means in terms of workload, what is required of them and how they become compliant. A range of guidance and support is being delivered to help raise awareness and develop the required skills. But, fundamentally there needs to be a mind shift.

Although there are deadlines associated with the regulations, I would argue that digital accessibility is not a compliance challenge but a cultural shift. A move from directive or requirement to part of our institutional DNA.

In a workshop I co-hosted with my colleague Leo Havemann, a participant described Digital Accessibility as being akin to Escher’s staircase, and I believe that they are correct. We will never not need to consider accessibility as part of our learning and content designs, and it may at times be impossible to be 100% accessible to everyone. However, it doesn’t mean that this shouldn’t become part of our day-to-day practice. The recently launched Student Health and Wellbeing Strategy echoes this with Action 1D: Make key concepts related to disability awareness, inclusive learning, health and wellbeing an integral part of relevant professional services staff and Personal Tutor training. Incorporate these concepts into curriculum development, design and governance.

So, how do we make accessibility part of our everyday? The aim of the aforementioned workshop was to crowd-source ideas on how to create the cultural shift, but also to identify what we can do now to help affect our institutional cultures.

Screenshot of tweet by Kris Rogers showing workshop Lego modelFor creating a cultural shift, key themes were to obtain buy-in from senior leadership teams and to embed digital accessibility in induction, training and promotion/development requirements. Making it part of the institutional language and ways of working for all. There was an acknowledgement that we needed to be honest with colleagues that it would require additional effort and different ways of thinking and doing. However, this would reduce over time as a result of skills development, cultural shift and tools to help. There should also be a bottom-up approach facilitated by peer evaluation and creating a network of champions within and across institutions.

With regard to what we can do now, 15% solution, a key theme was walking the talk – demonstrating good practice through our own behaviours and leading the way for others to follow. Training and support were also key themes, as were demonstrating good practice and cultivating empathy.

There may well be dragons to face along the way, but they are worth facing for the creation of a more inclusive and equitable institution.

If you would like to run the workshop at your institution, the materials are available under CC BY-SA 4.0 license: DirectiveToDNA-AccessibilityWorkshop

The materials are also available via OpenEd@UCL.

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

JessicaGramp13 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

JessicaGramp17 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.

Introducing the new E-Learning Baseline

JessicaGramp7 June 2016

UCL E-Learning Baseline 2016The UCL E-Learning Baseline is now available as a printable colour booklet. This can be downloaded from the UCL E-Learning Baseline wiki page: http://bit.ly/UCLELearningBaseline

The 2016 version is a product of merging the UCL Moodle Baseline with the Student Minimum Entitlement to On-Line Support from the Institute of Education.

The Digital Education Advisory team will be distributing printed copies to E-Learning Champions and Teaching Administrators for use in departments.

Please could you also distribute this to your own networks to help us communicate the new guidelines to all staff.

Support is available to help staff apply this to their Moodle course templates via digi-ed@ucl.ac.uk.

We are also working on a number of ideas to help people understand the baseline (via a myth busting quiz) and a way for people to show their courses are Baseline (or Baseline+) compliant by way with a colleague endorsed badge.

See ‘What’s new?’, to quickly see what has changed since the last 2013 Baseline.

 

Etymology of the e- in e-learning? Get out.

MattJenner12 January 2015

Based on a Christmas conversation about the etymology of emotion (e- = out, motion = move) my mum blurted out, “ah yes, like e-learning?” I wish! The idea of an externalised expression of one’s own learning, a variant on ‘visible learning’ as a colleague would put it, sounds like a no-brainer. I fear, however, that I must have either never clearly explained what e-learning means to my own mother and perhaps I’ve never really thought about it that much myself.

Electronic-learning

I presume e-learning meant the same as email, but evidence suggests it might not be. Electronic-learning, mail, commerce or cigarettes are not necessarily using the same e-concatenation. Wikipedia didn’t have the origin or etymology of e-learning, so in true journalistic style, I added the following:

“The origin or etymology of e-learning is contested, with the e- part not necessarily meaning electronic as per e-mail or e-commerce. Coined between 1997 and 1999, e-learning became first attached to either a distance learning service or it was used for the first time at the CBT systems seminar. Since then the term has been used extensively to describe the use of online, personalised, interactive or virtual education.”

Others in the educational technology space have suggested more expressive terms for the mysterious e-. These include “exciting, energetic, enthusiastic, emotional, extended, excellent, educational” by Bernard Luskin or “everything, everyone, engaging, easy” by Eric Parks. If there’s no correct answer, we should enjoy that for as long as it lasts. There’s roots into historical computing and educational theory, but the term e-learning doesn’t even seem that old, which is surprising.

Externalising learning

In my experience; too much ‘e-learning’ is still long, scrolling pages of PDFs ad infinitum, raw materials made available via online tools and networks. If it’s supporting traditional face to face, I can live with it. But it’s not learning, not without well-constructed, meaningful learning outcomes and activities. Learning outcomes are critical, they link these resources into genuine learning activities that ‘make visible’ or indeed, put an ‘out’ type of e- into e-learning.

In an online learning environment how do you, or a learner, know anyone has learnt, or done, anything? Externalised learning is surely the key. The idea of ‘making visible’ is critically important, learners should probably not work in isolation for too long. Personal study can still be highly interactive, and have ample opportunities to externalise thoughts, developments, questions, ideas etc. This is all done via the ‘out’, the externalised visible learning.

Getting there – the importance of learning outcomes

I’ve seen far too many course descriptions where the learning outcome is to ‘To be able to understand concept X’. Below is an example of how learning outcomes can vary, while all trying to achieve the same goal.

Example

By the end of this program, successful students will:

  Learning Outcome Analysis
Option 1: Not an outcome Be given opportunities to learn effective communication skills Describes program content, not the attributes of successful students
Option 2: Vague Have a deeper appreciation for good communication practices Does not start with an action verb or define the level of learning; subject of learning has no context and is not specific
Option 3: Less vague Understand principles of effective communication Starts with an action verb, but does not define the level of learning; subject of learning is still too vague for assessment
Option 4: Specific Communicate effectively in a professional environment through technical reports and presentations Starts with an action verb that defines the level of learning; provides context to ensure the outcome is specific and measurable

Source – Examples of Learning Outcomes: Good and Bad

I’m always so happy when I see one that even includes a challenging verb like analyse, classify, interpret, define, create or evaluate and more, more, more, more, etc.

Writing good outcomes – the foundations of learning

Writing good learning outcomes still seems like a continuous struggle, but it will be cracked. It will then result in improved online learning environments, structured learning, planned activities and more visible ‘out’ for the e- in e-learning. Or, well, that’s the plan.

It’s in your Job Description

Hopefully by next Christmas I’ll be able to explain to my mother what I do for a living, but she still thinks I work in IT. Which reminds me, I don’t think I finished updating her virus definitions either
🙁

 

Image credit:

[1] – Out of my mind 2 – Creative Commons openclipart / Creator: mondspeer

UCL Engineering’s learning technologist initiative – one year on

JessicaGramp9 October 2014

UCL Engineering’s Learning Technologists have been supporting rapid changes within the faculty. Changes include the development of several new programmes and helping the uptake of technology to improve the turnaround of feedback.

In late 2013, the UCL Engineering faculty invested in a Learning Technologist post in order to support the Integrated Engineering Programme (IEP), as well as the other programmes within Engineering departments. Since then two Engineering departments, Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP) and Management Science and Innovation (MS&I) have both employed Learning Technologists to help develop their e-learning provision. These posts have had a significant impact on the e-learning activities. To evaluate impact on the student learning experience we are collecting information and feedback from students throughout the academic year.

These three roles complement the UCL-wide support provided by the E-Learning Environments (ELE) team and the Learning Technologists work closely with the central ELE team. This relationship is facilitated by Jess Gramp, the E-Learning Facilitator for BEAMS (Built Environment, Engineering, Maths and Physical Sciences) who co-manages these roles with a manager from each faculty/department. This arrangement enables both formal input from ELE to the departmental activities and plans; and for the learning technologists to receive central mentoring and assistance. Without this structure in place it would be difficult to keep these roles aligned with the many central e-learning initiatives and for the learning technologists to liaise with the technical teams within ISD.

The initiatives developed by these staff include: designing and implementing Moodle course templates; ensuring adherence to the UCL Moodle Baseline; running training needs analysis and developing staff training plans; delivering e-learning workshops; working with staff to redesign courses, as well as developing them from the ground up, to incorporate blended learning principles; delivering one-to-one support; and working with academics on e-learning projects.

Moodle Templates
Engineering now have a Moodle template that provides a consistent experience for students using UCL Moodle to support their learning. This template is now being used on all IEP, MS&I and STEaPP courses and all new Engineering Moodle courses from 2014/15 onwards will also use this template. In some cases the template has been modified to meet departmental requirements.

Engineering Faculty Moodle template (click to enlarge)

Engineering Faculty template

See how MS&I have modified this template and described each feature in their MS&I Moodle Annotated Template document.

Moodle Baseline course audit
In MS&I all Moodle courses have been audited against the UCL Moodle Baseline. This has enabled the department’s Learning Technologist to modify courses to ensure every course in the department now meets the Baseline. The template document that was used to audit the courses has been shared on the UCL E-Learning Wiki, so other departments may use it if they wish to do similar. You can also download it here: Baseline Matrix MSI-template.

Training Needs Analysis
In STEaPP a Training Needs Analysis was conducted using both a survey and interviews with academics to develop individual training plans for academics and run training workshops specific to the department’s needs. The survey used for this has been shared with colleagues on the UCL E-Learning Wiki.

Staff e-learning training and support
In STEaPP a Moodle Staff Hub course has been developed to support staff in their development of courses, including links to e-learning support materials; curriculum development advice; and links to professional development resources. This course has now been duplicated and modified to assist staff across Engineering and within MS&I. If any other UCL faculties or departments would like a similar course set up they can request this be duplicated for them, so they may tailor it to their own requirements. This and other courses are being used to induct new staff to departments and are supported by face to face and online training programmes. The training is delivered using a combination of central ELE training courses and bespoke workshops delivered by Engineering Learning Technologists.

E-assessment tools to improve the speed of feedback to students
In MS&I the average turn around for feedback to students is now just one week, significantly shorter than the four week target set by UCL. In order to support this initiative, the department has adopted a fully online assessment approach. This has been achieved predominately using Turnitin, a plagiarism prevention tool that also provides the ability to re-use comments; use weighted grading criteria to provide consistent feedback to students (in the form of rubrics and grading forms); and mark offline using the iPad app. The use of this tool has helped staff to reach the one week feedback target and to streamline the administrative processes that were slowing the feedback process. The Learning Technologist in MS&I has recently arranged workshops with the majority of MS&I staff (including those who are new to UCL) to demonstrate how Turnitin can be used to deliver feedback quickly to students. Several modules within the IEP are also using Moodle’s Workshop tool to enable peer assessment to be managed automatically online. The use of this and other e-assessment tools is saving academics and support staff significant time that used to be spent manually managing the submission, allocation and marking of assessments.

Technical e-learning support
While the ELE Services team continues to be the main point of contact for technical e-learning support within Engineering, the local Learning Technologists are able to provide just-in-time support for staff working on local projects. The Learning Technologists are also able to provide assistance beyond what is supported by the central E-Learning team. This includes any development work, such as setting up specific tools within Moodle courses (like the Workshop tool for peer assessment) and setting up groups in MyPortfolio. Development work like these activities fall outside the remit of the central E-Learning Environments team. Also, because the Engineering Learning technologists are based within the faculty, they obtain a better knowledge of local working practices, and are therefore better equipped to understand and support department specific requirements than the central team is able to.

Project support and funding
The local Learning Technologists have worked with academics within Engineering to develop bids for Engineering Summer Studentships and other projects, including the E-Learning Development Grants that are distributed yearly by ELE. The successful project proposals have been supported by the local Learning Technologists, which has meant a greater level of support has been provided to the grant winners than has been possible in previous years.

Using technology to support scenario-based learning
The Learning Technologist for STEaPP had a unique opportunity to work with staff during the development of their curriculum to ensure that technology was considered at the very outset of the programme’s development. In MS&I the local Learning Technologist has helped to develop a scenario-based, blended-learning course that is now being used as an exemplar of how other academics may redesign their own courses to empower students in their own learning (both electronically and face to face) and provide authentic learning experiences. Many Engineering programmes are already using project-based work to provide students with authentic learning experiences and assessments and this is something the Learning Technologists can work with academics to develop and enhance further.

Trialing new technologies
Several e-learning systems have been trialed within Engineering significant input from the Engineering Learning Technologists, including the mobile e-voting system (TurningPoint ResponseWare) for up to 1000 students; and peer assessment of upwards of 700 student videos within the IEP. The successful implementation of such large scale trials would have been difficult without the support of the Learning Technologists.

E-Learning equipment loans
One of the common problems with technology uptake is ensuring staff have access to it. Engineering have invested in a number of devices to enable (amongst other things) offline marking; video capture and editing; and presentation of hand drawn figures during lectures. Equipment is available for loan across Engineering and also within STEaPP and MS&I. These include laptops, video recording and editing kit (such as cameras, tripods, microphones and editing software) and iPads. The maintenance and loaning of these are managed by the local Learning Technologists. They are also able to provide advice and assistance with the use of these devices, especially in terms of multimedia creation, including sound recording and filming, and editing of videos to enhance learning resources.

Working closely with E-Learning Environments and each other
One important aspect of these roles is that they have close ties to the ELE team, allowing for important two way communication to occur. The Engineering Learning Technologists are able to keep abreast of changes to centrally supported processes and systems and can obtain support from the central E-Learning Environments Services team when required, including receiving train-the-trainer support in order to run workshops locally within Engineering departments. Similarly, ELE benefit by an improved understanding of the activities occurring within faculties and departments, and accessing the materials that are developed and shared by the Learning Technologists.

Each week the Engineering Learning Technologists share any developments, issues, and updates with each other and the E-Learning Facilitator for BEAMS. The result is a strong network of support for helping to problem solve and resolve issues. It also enables resources, such as the staff hub Moodle course and Moodle auditing matrix, to be shared across the Faculty and more widely across UCL, enabling the re-use of materials and avoiding duplication of effort. The importance of the strong working relationship between the Engineering Learning Technologists became apparent during UCL Engineering’s How to change the world series. During an important final-day session all three Learning Technologists were involved in resolving technical issues to ensure the voting system operated correctly in a venue with incompatible wireless provision.

Conclusion
UCL staff and students today operate within a rapidly changing educational environment. Both staff and students are expected to understand how to use technology in order to operate within an increasingly digital society. There is a huge number of self directed online learning resources available (such as MOOCs and YouTube videos) and increasingly flexible work and study arrangements are being supported by enhanced technology use. As more staff see the benefits that technology can bring to the classroom, and true blended learning becomes the norm in many areas, it is going to be more important to implement appropriate support structures so staff have the resources to understand and work with these emerging technologies. It is equally important that students are supported in their use of these tools.

The Learning Technologists within Engineering are in a unique position to understand the opportunities and issues arising in the classroom, and react to these quickly and effectively. We have already seen numerous outputs from these roles. These include a video editing guide to help academics produce professional looking videos for their students; the use of tools within Moodle and MyPortfolio on a scale not seen before with large cohorts of over 700 IEP students; and an exemplar of how scenario-based learning can be supported by technology in MS&I. While these outputs have been developed in reaction to local needs, they have been shared back for others to use and reference, and therefore they benefit the wider UCL community.

As we see more of these roles implemented across UCL, we will begin to see more dramatic change than has been achievable in the past. One of the plans for the future involves running student focus groups and interviews to better understand how Moodle and other e-learning systems are helping students with their studies and how provision can be improved. The Engineering Learning Technologists will continue their work with local staff to help their departments to use technology more effectively and improve the student experience.