Engaging staff with e-learning can be difficult, particularly where their personal IT skills are modest. This difficulty can be compounded by misguided accessibility training that attempts to give highly technical advice to people who lack the skills to make use of it. The resulting confusion can lead to tutors and lecturers – the staff with biggest potential impact on accessibility - retreating to more traditional, less accessible teaching approaches.
Raising accessibility awareness with front line staff
The TechDis staff packs take a positive approach with a very upbeat assessment of the role e-learning has in maximising benefits and minimising barriers. Six of these seven packs are written for a non-technical audience, focusing on the benefits technology brings to the accessibility needs of all learners. With a pragmatic learner-centred approach, they include presentations, sample resources, learner profiles, activities and information sheets. The packs have been designed to enable in-house delivery. Each pack has a contextualised icebreaker, presentations with speaker notes included, sample activities and suggested delivery paths depending on the size of the group and the time available.
The packs have been delivered as a CD-ROM with supporting materials to all Further Education Colleges, Higher Education Institutions and Specialist Colleges in the United Kingdom. They have also been sent to key intermediaries (such as Centres for Excellence in Learning and Teaching, the Higher Education Academy Subject Network, the Joint Information Services Committee (JISC) Regional Support Centres and NIACE E-guides). In addition, they are available online from www.techdis.ac.uk/getstaffpacks. The current titles include:
- Accessible e-Learning - accessibility in relation to simple 'home grown' e-Learning, illustrating how simple techniques can greatly add to the learning experience of many students;
- Benevolent Bill – built-in features in Windows and Word that are either designed to enhance accessibility or can be used creatively to make learning more accessible;
- Checking Accessibility of e-Resources – a more technical pack looking at current international guidelines for accessibility and effective use of auditing tools;
- Dyslexia and the Use of Assistive Technology – an overview of the common Specific Learning Difficulties and how Assistive Technology can assist learners;
- e-Assessment - the accessibility benefits of online or computer-assisted assessment and issues associated with the creation and delivery of e-Assessment;
- Introduction to Assistive Technology within a Learning Environment - a broad introduction to the breadth and range of assistive technologies and the issues to consider when trying to match a learning need to a technological solution;
- An Introduction to Web Accessibility – a non-technical overview of the issues facing disabled people when accessing materials on the web.
Accessing the packs
In higher education the TechDis Staff Packs have been sent to Heads of Staff and Educational Development and individual members of the Heads of e-learning forum. In FE institutions the packs have been sent to ILT Champions, Learner Support Managers, Staff Developers and Vice Principals for Curriculum and Quality. If you cannot find your pack, please contact the TechDis helpdesk (firstname.lastname@example.org). For those involved with the JISC Regional Support Centres (RSCs), many RSCs are offering training days built around the TechDis staff packs. Contact your local RSC team to see what is on offer.
Meeting Disability Discrimination Act obligations
Two of the key criteria in the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) include the concept of “reasonable adjustment” and “anticipatory adjustments”. For tutors creating home-grown resources, e-learning offers a more adaptable resource than almost any other. By training front-line practitioners in the accessibility benefits of e-learning, it becomes easier to give them an enlarged range of adjustments they could make, for example to the resources or to their pedagogical approach. Given that no two students with the same disability will have identical needs, the most effective “anticipatory adjustment” may be to raise staff awareness and skill level so that they can adapt the learning resource or the learning experience as appropriate. The TechDis staff packs are designed to meet this training need. Most staff have limited time and resources; these packs demonstrate how a modest understanding of e-learning and disability can make a significant contribution to ensuring that learning is more accessible to all learners, not just those with disabilities.Alistair McNaught
Senior Advisor for Further Education; JISC TechDis service.