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The second of the panel podcasts has been published – called ‘It’s because he’s from Sheffield’.  Poor Nick Jeans, we do give him a hard time but there are some very funny moments courtesy of a dodgy Skype connection.  Again it features, Dave Sugden, Dave Foord, James and Nick and has an interesting discussion about the LLW projects in the North West and Yorkshire and Humber.

Enjoy.

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Yesterday was an interesting one.  During the day as well as getting my car fixed (ouch!) I was at Accrington and Rossendale College for a day’s training on TextHelp Read&Write Gold.  This is a piece of software that helps computer users with reading and writing difficulties.  It can read text aloud, help construct words and sentences has advanced spell checking, document scanning and other tools.  Although I’ve used this for over 2 years it was good to have a more comprehensive look at the more advanced features. A few technical glitches with the network installation meant that some bits were missed out but it was a good day overall.  So thanks again Dave Foord – who did a great job.

In the evening by means of a contrast I went with a friend to see Cherie Blair speak at the Ilkley Literature Festival.  Unlike Alistair Campbell who opened last year’s celebrations, she didn’t sparkle or shine.  Although she does look much better in the flesh than her portrayal in the media, she was very much the loyal wife and had no intention of stealing Tony’s thunder – his autobiography is on the way.  She was interviewed by Francine Stock, BBC journalist and novelist and took questions from the floor for half the session.  There were no great revelations and she only really became animated when she was talking about legal cases she had won and lost.  She even managed to make her opinion of the return of Peter Mandelson to the cabinet slick and dare I say, embarrassingly unctuous.  An interesting but not riveting evening.

My colleagues Margaret McKay and Craig Mill from the Scottish RSCs along with the good people at TechDis have produced a superb resource containing 40 different open source and freeware assistive technology applications which can be accessed from a USB flash drive.  As they are accessible direct from the usb drive so there is no need to install any software.  This means that a user can just plug in the drive at any computer they intend to work on.  They offer software to support those with a visual impairment or motor difficulties as well as assistance in writing, reading and planning.

They are free to download from http://www.rsc-ne-scotland.ac.uk/accessapps/. They also contain a full guide to their use and a complete series of TechDis ‘Accessiblitly Essentials

They’ve even produced a video ad for them.

A great resource and as it is totally portable is completely inclusive.  We are getting some free usb drives with them all loaded so I’ll be handing them out like sweeties in the next month or so.   A full list of the applications is here.

The Learning and Skills Council have made £4 million available for shared cost mobile learning projects which must be led by an English FE college but can include work based learning providers and schools.  MoLeNET (Mobile Learning Network) was launched last year and a number of colleges and consortia had their bids approved.  Since then there has been some very creative projects ongoing and teachers are using mobile devices in increasingly innovative ways.  They have been particularly successful in engaging diverse learners, including neets (not in Education, Employment or training) ex-offenders and those with learning disabilities or difficulties.  There were 32 successful projects in 2007/08 and they are also invited to bid for further funding.  Their success will be celebrated at a conference at the Emirates Stadium on 18 September – and yes I’ll be there.

I was in Glasgow last week for the inaugural meeting of the Accessibility and Inclusion role group.  Members from the other RSC regions who had responsibility for Accessibility and Inclusion were there and it was a great opportunity to discuss developments, and share experiences.  There is some seriously good work going on and I was particularly impressed with a project that Margaret McKay has been doing with Glasgow Metropolitan College.  They have implemented a cross college process to make learning materials accessible.  CALM – Creating Accessible Learning Materials – is a project to ensure that learning materials are ‘accessibile, readable and available in a variety of formats to meet the requirements of learners with a range of additional learning needs.’

This is a college wide approach and not one which is just for the learning support staff.  All staff have had training and more importantly, the college invested in admin staff to provide support in converting existing documents into more accessible formats.  As the continued gripe from staff that we get is – ‘we haven’t got the time’  providing admin and technical support has been crucial to the success of the scheme.

So now I’m wondering if we could do something similar in a college in the North west.  I have a couple of candidates in mind but may possibly speak to them before posting to here.

It was a great visit and we had a superb traditional scottish meal in the Bothy restaurant.  Yes I had haggis with neaps and tatties and it was very nice.  I also discovered ‘tablet’ which is like kendal mint cake without the mint – I think that’s the nearest I can get to it.  Thanks to Margaret who was a fantastic hostess and it was great to see everyone from around the UK and NI.

I wrote a few days ago about the work being done at one of the Specialist Colleges in the North West. I’ve written an article for our newsletter for it so thought I’d post it up here as I’m quite excited by it.

“Langdon Lecturer prompts new National Project

Langdon College is an Independent Specialist College in Salford in Manchester. They are part of the successful ‘Mobile in Salford’ bid for MoLeNet funds along with Pendleton, Eccles and Salford Colleges. Langdon are the smallest college in the North West with 17 students who primarily come from the Manchester and London Jewish communities. As part of their commitment to providing an ‘inclusive multi faceted extended curriculum’, they are using a number of mobile devices to enable learners to more successfully transfer the skills they learn in college to both the college residences and their own homes.

The college has bought a range of equipment to trial, including Samsung Q1 touch screen tablet PCs, Asus Eeepc, iPods and portable DVD players.

David Foden, the Independent Living Skills lecturer is leading the way, providing video instructions on basic cooking techniques. The learners access the instructions through an interactive PowerPoint© slide. The page is divided into grids with either symbol or verbal instructions. On pressing the relevant square, the video loads and the learner can follow the instructions on the screen. Each task has been broken down into its constituent parts so that it follows a simple and logical sequence. So the first instruction is to wash your hands, followed by putting on an apron etc.

By having these instructions on mobile appliances, the learners can take them back to the residences where support staff can ensure that they follow the procedure then have been learning in college. Similarly, when the learner goes home for the weekend or half term holiday, they can show their parents or carers how they can make their own lunch. This will allow the students more independence as they tend to become deskilled when they return home as things are done for them. The learners now have ‘homework’ to do in half term to make at least one simple snack meal of beans or cheese on toast.

One downside of this work is the time it takes to make the videos and the interactive Powerpoint © presentations. David was sure that there were other lecturers in Specialist and Mainstream colleges doing much the same thing and wanted a way to share his videos. He approached the RSC North West who contacted TechDis. John Sewell, Senior Adviser for Specialist Colleges at TechDis commented ‘short video clips are a great way of showing how to do things and the way that they have been put together by David Foden at Langdon is great. So great it needs to be shared; these clips take time to produce so it makes sense to share. We aim to put together a national resource to do just that’.

The RSC NorthWest will be working closely with TechDis to ensure that this national resource is set up and maintained. David has kindly offered to be the first to share his work. We will be contacting colleges in the next few months with details”.

The exciting bit is the last bit – along with TechDis we are hoping to both set up a TeacherTube account for video sharing but also create a portal using Xerte to add accessibility features to the videos.

It’s been a busy week with lots of visits to learning providers and we’ve seen lots of really innovative and imaginative use of mobile devices. On Wednesday, colleagues and I went up to West Cumbria for a meeting and spend the afternoon ‘playing’ with lots of the new kit that the college had bought with the ‘Learning for Living and Work‘ funds. Unfortuntaely the Wii’s were in use in the classrooms but we did have a go with the digital movie makers and the Tony Hawk headcams (these are usually used for skateboarders but did the job well). They are a great bit of kit for recording evidence of achievement in the workplace. They use the same software as the digi-cams so the college had managed to negotiate a half day’s training for 40 staff. I was delighted to hear they made sure that it was curriculum staff who had the training as well as the learning support staff – as ‘this technology is not just good for learners with disabilities or difficulties but for all learners’ – hurrah – someone who has seen the light. but I would say that wouldn’t I.

At the end of the week, I went to a Specialist College in North Manchester where I was fascinated to see the progress they’d made using mobile technology. They are part of a consortium which won a MoLeNet grant (yes that is the correct spelling it stands for Mobile Learning Network) and have invested heavily in some impressive kit. The Independent living skills lecturer has made some videos of recipes and instructions in a very clear and ordered way. Using an impressive Samsung handheld touch screen PC the learner can navigate their way round the instructions via an interactive PowerPoint page. The instructions were set in a grid showing either a symbol or word depending on the learner’s ability and tapping the square launched the next bit of film. Even better the learners can take the device from college to the residences or even home and practice their skills. As usual the big draw back of all this is the time taken – unfortuneately we haven’t worked out a way of cloning staff yet!

Although the Samsung was impressive, they will probably be using the small Asus eeepcs for most of the learners. These are fab small computers with a 7″ screen, but with no moving parts and with a Linux operating system. They are so fast it’s unbelievable and you are typing within a minute of switching on and at £200 worth every penny complete with speakers, webcam and wifi!

The BBC reported last week that many schools were failing because of the high numbers of children showing ‘signs of dyslexia’. A study by Hull University said that dyslexia was a major cause of failure. Why this is news is still a cause of frustration to me, though I don’t know why, I face it every time I go into a college. I’m told on a weekly basis that ‘Oh we have a very thorough assessment and if they are dyslexic we do …’ Most experts would say that dyslexia is not a hit or miss syndrome. You don’t either have it or not have it. Like Autistic spectrum disorder, it is a continuum which in severe cases needs specialist teaching and intervention. However, what is not acknowledged is that small changes in teaching methods would benefit all learners with or without a diagnosis of dyslexia. The report states that up to one in five pupils could be affected and so the Government is piloting a scheme to train specialist dyslexia teachers. If one in five is affected then all teachers should be trained to deal with this ‘disorder’. If the numbers are in fact one in five then it is probably not a disorder but just a variation of the norm. Understanding the needs of dyslexic learners should be part of all teachers’ professional development and an integral part of initial teacher training. A simple start would be to allow electronic access to the lessons – but there again I would say that wouldn’t I, as an elearning adviser.

It’s been a busy couple of weeks getting ready to hold a conference last Monday in Manchester.  The venue was the City of Manchester Stadium (home of Manchester City Football Club) and I was mortified to discover that the keynote speaker we had booked was a season ticket holder at the other club – United.  She was very gracious and only made a passing reference to their six nil drubbing of Newcastle at the weekend.  The day went well and was well attended and it was interesting for us to have a different audience than we are used to.  We members of the ‘elearning circuit’ for want of a better phrase, tend to talk to the same people – the converted as it were.  We talk to ILT managers or other advisers, consultants etc.  This conference was for learning support and senior managers from FE colleges in the North West and it became clear early in the day that we were making assumptions of knowledge that wasn’t there.  TechDis were fantastic as always, stayed for the whole day and just added their expertise along the way.

These things don’t happen overnight and thankfully we have a fabulous events organiser and a great team who all helped out.  Thanks guys.  Looking at the evaluation forms yesterday it seems the main complaint was – there wasn’t any pudding.  As the first to complain if the food isn’t good I can understand this, but if that is the main gripe, it must have been ok?

Last week the rest of the team went to a meeting in South Manchester. I had to stay in the office so instead of missing out on my words of wisdom, I did my presentation via Instant Presenter. We have a corporate account with the site but had not used it much before. Surprisingly, it went very well. When I’ve used if before, it has been to an ‘audience’ who were all sitting at an individual computers. This time it was on to a big screen with speakers and a microphone. One real disadvantage, is that when set up like this you get no feedback at all and it is really disconcerting just talking into a cyber silence. When it is linked to individual pc’s the participants can use a chat facility at the bottom of the screen so you do get some response. But all in all it was a successful trial and we are going to do it again for subsequent meetings if one of us cannot be there in person.

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