Thursday, 28 October 2010

Accessible Learning

I foolishly volunteered to present a workshop at our School Teaching and Learning Conference on the theme of accessible learning. I am thinking about doing some sort of show and tell about the way I have set up my learning rooms. It's not world changing stuff and its not rocket science, but I am trying to make the material more accessible.

Firstly I have written all my notes in Wimba Create so that the material can be accessed via the learning room, read on screen and with links to other material and sites live and instantly available. I like Wimba create and certainly prefer it to endless copies of Powerpoint slides which have to be downloaded. More information can be given on a page than is possible or even desirable on a single slide and illustrations can be included where this would increase the size of a Powerpoint file to several Mb.

Reading on screen isn't everyone's favourite activity so I keep the pages short, include illustrations and focus an key points and, importantly, links to more interactive or audio/visual sites.

Like I said, this isn't rocket science (Wimba Create is a Word add on that is pretty easy to learn), but I already see benefits for the students.

Many of them are off on placement at the moment and unable to make every lecture; some mature students have children and so have been missing this week (which is the schools' half term but not our university's) and ill health, physical disabilities, family bereavements and a variety of other issues do sometimes prevent students attending in person. But I have evidence from the Learning Room usage reports that many of them are looking at the material and even reading ahead to the next week's lectures.

Having the material available to read ahead is particularly useful for students with specific learning difficulties who often find it difficult to keep up with note taking during live lectures.
In addition, for those who do not want to keep on accessing the Learning Rooms via the Internet, I have reproduced the material as a PDF document which the student can download - to their own PC, laptop or smart phone - or even, heaven forfend! - print off. A document in this format can be easier and cheaper for the student to print - my "lectures" are on average 5 or 6 pages long compared to the, say, 50 or more slides that would be needed to give the same amount of information.
OK - I confess, my approach to producing materials has been influenced by my early training in e-learning and a personal dislike of actually standing up and lecturing people. By having the materials, a variety of links and reading recommendations already set up on the Learning Room, my "lectures" can instead be places for discussion, group work, exercises, watching clips from "Avatar" (yes really) and Q&As about important issues (like the next assignment - *sigh*).
Finally, I also base my approach on a desire to provide not only a variety but also a multiplicity of formats in order to make it accessible to an audience potentially comprising a variety of learning styles. I suppose I should add audio podcasts to be wholly consistent ... but that's a project for another day.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

New beginnings

I am actually quite excited about the start of the new term. For me as Programme Leader and Lecturer this is a new University, new programme, new VLE - and all the students are new to me too.

I should also mention that I am simultaneously beginning as a student of the University myself as I have just enrolled on a language programme. This has already given me a great insight into the student view of the VLE, how it is used to support learning and simple stuff like how student email works, which as a tutor, I couldn't have known.

As for the VLE, well, from the tutor's perspective, I can say that like all VLEs it has its clunky aspects and its bugs but on the whole I think it has a pleasing element of "customisability" and I quite like the ability to use colour and images - even a Twitter feed and some YouTube videos - to brighten up the Home Page.

It still functions largely as a depository - of announcements, documents, web links, assignments,
module guides - and of course has no option for the student to really interact with it or customise it to their tastes and needs. But there are a couple of useful tools which I hope might encourage some student involvement.

I am going to be promoting the blog tool, for one thing - as reflection will be a large part of all the modules I am teaching. I also plan to use the Discussion Boards, though I have had mixed success with these in the past with distance learning students.

But along side these "institutional" elements, we will also be exploring Twitter, Blogger, Google sites and Facebook as arenas for student collaboration and communication - not just for the sake of it, but because these tools and others like them - are a key part of any organisation's communications strategy these days. Learning to use them is as much about enhancing "employability" as it is about developing general information literacy skills.

With my dual identities as new lecturer and new student at this university, I expect it to be an interesting few months ahead - watch this space.....