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.

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