I found this very difficult before due to my position whereby I was not in a position to influence or create policies around educational technology and was scored as Adequate for it.
3a: Understanding and engaging with legislation – Digital Accessibility
I have been involved with digital accessibility nearly all of my career, initially working towards compliance for the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) and now The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) Accessibility Regulations 2018. I first started researching requirements and ensuring that web pages were compliant. From there I have always ensured that anything I create meets the standards, from alt tags to transcripts of audio/video. When I was the developer I was able to control the compliance as I was the one who finally published content.
In my current role, I still ensure all content I create is as accessible as possible, however, my main focus is now raising awareness and augmenting skills for staff. Last year I wrote the Digital Learning accessibility policy (in the evidence below) based on the example template provided by the UK government and update it when necessary. I have also delivered several webinars on wider inclusion and accessibility as well as several specifically on captioning. Most recently I was successful my application for funding for an institutional licence for Blackboard Ally to afford students the opportunity to choose an alternative format of each textual resource within the VLE. This project will run initially for seventeen months from July 2021. This valuable resource will benefit the whole student body of approximately 22,000 students and is the culmination of around eighteen months of lobbying on my part to senior management.
The key element to this recent work was reaching out and making connections with multiple stakeholders across the institution. For example, I have co-delivered the digital accessibility webinars with a colleague in Student Wellbeing (student support), as they can demonstrate the difficulties that student experience, thus providing crucial context for staff.
We have been asked a lot recently about captioning video and that has been covered in our summer webinar series. For those who need a short guide to auto-captioning, within Panopto, this video is a nice introduction by @slowtech2000 https://t.co/MVkDWe6DxX
— Office for Digital Learning (@UlsterUniODL) September 2, 2020
The Digital Accessibility web page which currently has the Sway embedded below. It will be expanded further into separate sections for documents, images, video/audio etc over the coming months.
This area of my work has never been explicit and I have always pursued advocacy work as something I feel is one of the single most important elements of digital resources. It not only is crucial for disabled users but it benefits every single student. Over my career the web regulations are still as relevant today as they were 20 years ago, and I appreciate the language of empathy that the original version had. Throughout the pandemic raising awareness did increase exponentially, however, there is still a mountain of work to do. Difficult tensions around the time to correct machine-generated captions remain. These are not helped by different systems having different levels of accuracy and everyone having different experiences.
I am pleased to see more and more webinar systems having auto-captions as a user choice and as Collaborate still doesn’t have the feature, I promote using the share Chrome route to utilise the auto-captions of Microsoft SlideShows. Attending AbilityNet webinars regularly keeps my knowledge up to date on this hugely complex area of my work.
3b: Understanding and engaging with policies and standards – Inclusion
Ulster University has an Electronic Management of Assessment Policy that had been implemented prior to the pandemic. This states:
The Office for Digital learning can also provide support and guidance for making reasonable adjustments and for inclusive assessment design.
As such I have always acted as an advocate for students, promoting approaches that provide as much flexibility and choice for students as possible, but during the pandemic this became even more crucial. In all the webinars that I facilitated in I emphasised again and again that not all students had access to a laptop, reliable internet connections or even a quiet room to do live lectures or assessment in to list a small number of the hurdles students had to navigate in an already traumatic situation. I then promoted how best to account for all these scenarios, such as discussing the benefits of open-book exams over closed-book, suggesting that students could choose the format that they submit an assignment in. Promoting opt-in activities, letting students choose the breakout group they join and providing a room called ‘other’ or ‘quiet reflection. After hearing about the frustration, from some teachers, at students declining to turn on cameras I collated a series of articles defending the many legitimate reasons as to why they don’t and why I don’t support mandating cameras on.
In addition, during the pandemic, I have been part of an initiative rolling out a series of inclusive practice webinars. This was an opportunity to bring my accessibility work beyond my department as well as beyond the digital, fitting perfectly into series. I saw this as a turning point as often people turn to technology to solve problems and easily tick boxes, however, it is important to acknowledge that it is only one small part of the inclusion picture.
As part of the organising committee for the series of webinars for Inclusive Learning, Teaching and Assessment, I have supported the delivery in Blackboard Collaborate, edit the recordings of each into discrete short parts, and am working with a placement student to further develop the Digital Accessibility pages. I also co-delivered the session on Developing Accessible Content with a colleague in Student Wellbeing (Support).
I have also contributed to the Recording Lectures policy and the Guidelines for Captioning which will be available shortly on the website below. Being able follow along with the development of ALT’s ethical framework for Learning Technology through my role on the ALT Assembly means that I will get the opportunity to test this valuable framework within my own institution as part of the testing phase and beyond.
Developing Accessible Content (my slides from the session)
For inclusiveness, I prefer to allow participants to choose the breakout room they want to go into and give them informal room names. Lesson learned yesterday, don't put *chocolate* in the name if you want an even balance of people between the rooms. pic.twitter.com/gk8IiPe5Bv
— Clare Thomson (@slowtech2000) March 11, 2021
We are now a few weeks into the semester with a phenomenal number of synchronous teaching sessions taking place on different platforms. However, it seems the camera on/off debate is still raging and I've collected some persuasive articles together to argue for student choice 1/n
— Clare Thomson (@slowtech2000) October 15, 2020
In some ways, I am finding it increasingly difficult to differentiate between inclusion, engagement/socialisation and accessibility as they are all built upon the same values and many of the activities overlap with one another. Being able to go beyond a digital learning silo and work across the institution with the Student Union, Student Wellbeing and CHERP (Centre for Higher Education Research and Practice) has been the most rewarding aspect of my work during the pandemic. It also informs my work on care, and why I have critiqued the current narrative around resilience and wellbeing after reading a blog post by David Walker, with Kate Molloy. I have learned significantly over the last twelve months from the Universal Design for Learning (UDL), inclusion and trauma-informed teaching communities; from Twitter, articles and live online sessions, AbilityNet, AHEAD Ireland and will continue to advocate for inclusion with regards to both staff and students throughout my work.