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Access and Barriers to Online Education for People with Disabilities original

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Access and Barriers to Online Education for People with Disabilities original


DARLENE: Welcome, everyone. It’s Darlene McLennan
here and on behalf of the Australian Tertiary Education Network on Disability, the National
Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education and the Australian Disability Clearing House
on Education and Training, I would like to welcome you to this webinar. It’s exciting
to see that we had 87 people register to attend this webinar today. The webinar is titled Access
and Barriers to Online Education for People with Disabilities. Before I hand over to the National Centre to
welcome you and to our speaker I just want to provide a few housekeeping items for those
who have not joined us before. The webinar is being live captioned by Bradley Reporting
and it will also be recorded. The recording will be placed on ADCET in the coming
week. You will notice that you have been muted, this is to ensure there is as little background
noise throughout the webinar. Our presenter, Mike, will speak for 40 to 45 minutes. Throughout
the presentation feel free to enter your questions in the question pod and I will ask Mike at
the end of the session those questions. For screen reader users please email your questions to [email protected] Also, if you are
having any technical difficulties during the webinar you can email [email protected]
and hopefully the capable Jane can sort you out. All right, now I would like to introduce and hand over
to Ian Cunningham, who is a research assistant at the National Centre, to introduce our speaker today. IAN: Hello, everyone, my name is Ian Cunningham,
I’m at the National Centre for Student Equity and Higher Education and Sue Trinidad the Director of our
centre sends her apologies for not being able to be here today to introduce the webinar. As part of its
national mandate to highlight and address issues pertaining to student equity in Australia, the National
Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education has undertaken a number of reviews of recent
findings from research funded by the student equity in higher education research grants
program. One of these reviews focuses on presenting the key findings, recommendations and future
directions for further research for the equity group of students with disability. As identified
by many researchers working in this field there is a lack of comprehensive information as to the participation
and performance of this student group, the various pedagogical issues impacting their
engagement with higher education and the best approach to developing services to support
students with disability. This webinar on Dr. Mike Kent’s study, one of the research
reports included in our review, is one we are pleased to have funded. Especially as it provides
crucial information detailing the experience of students with disability in the area of online learning.
Dr Mike Kent is the head of department and a senior lecturer in the department of internet studies at Curtin
University. Dr. Kent’s main research interests focus on the two main areas of tertiary and
online education as well as people with disability and their access to communications technology.
Now I will hand over to Dr. Mike Kent. MIKE: Thank you very much, Ian. Thank you
to everyone who is here at the webinar. It’s really nice to be able to share the research results
I suppose with as wide an audience as possible and I really appreciate the opportunity. I have written
in big letters on the post-it note on my screen “don’t speak fast”. I do appreciate this is
being captioned and I apologise, I have a tendency to speak quickly especially when
I’m excited about stuff. Today I’m presenting about the study I did funded by the National
Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education. I will talk through the slides for people
who might be having trouble either with technology or having trouble accessing them directly on the screen.
I have my opening slide here which has the title of the presentation and my name. Okay, so what
I am going to talk about today is I’m going to — here you can see the first slide where I’m giving you a sort
of a rundown of a bit of the background that I am going to talk about. I am then going to talk more
specifically about the study that I conducted and then obviously talk about the results. Then move on — in
the results section, in the actual report I have really tried to — from the interviews
— provide the students with their own voice. So there is quite a diverse range of voices.
For today’s seminar, I have tried to distil that down to a couple of key points and I have provided
a link at the end of this PowerPoint to the full study and I recommend if you find
any particular bits interesting you look there. It’s quite a detailed report. So I’m really providing
a bit of a summary today. I’m then going to be looking at the recommendations in a little
bit more detail and also some of the future directions that we’re looking at taking this
research in and then finally I’m looking forward to answering your questions. Starting with
a bit of background — I am going to talk about eLearning and higher education — there I go
speaking too quickly. People with disabilities and eLearning, the evolving legal framework
for accessible eLearning and then go on to talk about the current research project. So
eLearning, when I’m talking about it here, I’m talking about learning conducted through
the internet using either a dedicated learning management system like Moodle or Blackboard
and also associated communications technology. So social media, obviously emails and things like that.
Although I’m really focusing on eLearning I’m also very aware that increasingly we are
finding that eLearning is seeping into the classroom through blended learning either
deliberately by us using the flipped classroom teaching techniques and the like and also
just students using Twitter back channels during our lectures and that sort of thing. eLearning
in the past has certainly encountered some resistance both from staff and students. I
think there is a sort of still a residual belief there is something magic that happens
when people are in the same room learning and teaching. I don’t particularly subscribe
to that having done a lot of eLearning but that’s certainly an element of it. However, more
recently we have seen certainly a greater acceptance of eLearning and with that a growth in eLearning.
The latest reports, I think, show one in three students in the U.S. taking at least one
online class. I think it’s also been further embraced I suppose through the development
of massive open online courses. I’m editing a book about that at the moment so it’s something
that is in the forefront of my mind. Although this certainly brought about, especially in the last few
years, that element of techno panic – that because of MOOCs universities are all going to be
disintermediated and cease existing as institutions. I think that’s probably something that we’re past now
thankfully. So looking at people with disabilities and eLearning – just briefly because it’s one of my main
areas of research. Looking at disability often different impairment types. In the social
model of disability which I’m sure many of you are aware of, the idea people may have
an impairment but it’s the way we construct society, that if it makes people disabled.
You see that changed a little bit on the internet where some impairments that might have more
of an impact on people’s day-to-day lives in the analogue world have less of an
impact online whereas others it continues to have an impact or perhaps have a greater impact.
eLearning generally is seen as fairly attractive for people with disabilities for three key
reasons. Firstly, disclosure. So the ability to determine at what point you want to disclose
that you have a particular impairment or you are a person with a disability. Online we
have a lot more — well, many people have a lot more control over that in an online environment
than they do perhaps when they are meeting someone face to face. I’m a person with dyslexia
and for me online it becomes patently obvious that’s an impairment that I have. But for lots of other people I
think they really value the ability to make that decision in the way that they might not always have. There
is the accessibility of lots of online platforms as well. When we have information that’s digitised
and for those of you using screen readers I’m sure you will appreciate this, that the information
that is held as text on a screen, once it’s digitised and on screen it can also be turned
into sound. Words can be read to us and fed to us through a Braille tablet. There are
a lot more options for accessing the same information. And flexibility. For people who
might struggle to access a traditional university or school campus. Or to be at a particular
place at a particular time, or to be forced to sit in a lecture theatre for an hour or
something like that – the internet and eLearning gives us the opportunity to choose
our own times when to access things and to access them in a way that’s appropriate to
us. Of course it’s not that this is without problems. Often information, although sort
of on the technical or intellectual level, it should be accessible in lots of formats,
we often find it’s locked into an inaccessible format. Sometimes students — it’s shown in
studies that students really value the control of their disclosure and that is often done to
the point where people won’t ask for accessible information because it would involve disclosing
they have a particular impairment. That can be a real problem. Sorry, I should
be telling you when I’m changing slides, I do apologise. I’m just changing slides. I’m onto the slide
titled evolving legal frameworks for accessible eLearning. Just going back to that element of
disclosure, it’s important to remember that when we teach fully online we often don’t meet students until they
graduate. So the assumption that we should make eLearning as accessible for as many people as possible
is very important. Now going on to the evolving legal framework for accessible eLearning. The
legal framework has not always been great. Paul Jager has written a lot about this. I have
tried to avoid having lots of references in this presentation because I’m really focusing on the content
but this is one I sort of want to include. The idea that the framework under which disability
access works is often quite different to other civil rights frameworks. So it tends to be
more passive. So that an individual has to take legal steps to demand accessibility
rather than it simply being illegal to make things inaccessible. However
it is evolving in a positive way and I think one of the interesting things we have seen over the last
couple of years is, in fact the last two years I suppose, is how the internet increasingly
is creating a highest common denominator effect. So the idea that, as I have said on this
slide, the example of Netflix. If you get Netflix in Australia you will be able to get captions for,
I think, all of the content and increasingly you can get audio description for the content. This
is in response to American legislation that it has to be accessible, or contested American
legislation that it has to be accessible. But now we are seeing once it is accessible
in America then it becomes accessible here. We see it in eLearning particularly in the
MOOC platforms. Most of the largest MOOC providers are based in California so MOOCs all have captioned
lectures and things like this, mandated to meet those particular legislative requirements even though
that might not be well established requirements here in Australia. We can see
that in MOOCs, but even before that Blackboard which is probably the most popular learning
management system back in 2010 received the non-visual accessibility gold certification
and that was after lobbying by the foundation for the blind to try and make it more accessible.
There is certainly elements of both I suppose, you know, straightforward legislation but
also people agitating for social change, which is both forces bringing this on. The current
research project which I’m looking at involved looking at students with disability specifically in
eLearning. There is my little line about not meeting people till they graduate. So I’m looking
at the Current Research Project slide. This was done by exploring access to eLearning through
Open University Australia. Open University Australia or OUA brings together 15 different
higher education providers and they are all providing their own online learning and teaching
content under the umbrella of OUA. Why I was particularly attracted to this institution as an area to
study is there is a wide variety of subjects and different approaches to learning and teaching,
and eLearning, which come through the different universities and institutes of higher education
teaching their own content. So we get a lot of variety to explore. I’m moving onto the
slide titled Survey. The study started with a survey conducted in October 2004. I invited
all of the students who had registered for disability support with OUA to participate.
And that was about 1,400. Of those, 356 students participated. The survey looked specifically
at first demographics which seems a bit boring but actually was one of our exciting findings, which I will
come to in a second. It looked at students’ attitudes to disclosure, and disclosing, their impairment and also
related to that the effectiveness of any accommodation that was offered to them in relation to that. It also
looked at the accessibility of learning and teaching technology. And particularly the different online
platforms used for learning and teaching. Changing now to the slide which is titled Interviews.
These were conducted in 2015. Lots of the survey respondents were indicated in the last
question of the survey they were willing to be interviewed in further research.
We ended up conducting a total of 143 interviews through both Skype and phone interviews and
also an exchange of emails. Interestingly, the exchange of emails was the way the vast
majority of students preferred to engage in this. Although I have called it interviews,
for a lot of students it seemed to be an almost open ended survey but we were able to gather
a lot of data which was fantastic. The interviews tried to gather more nuanced information from
the survey questions and also added an additional focus to look at the accessibility of different
approaches to learning and teaching across OUA. I apologise, there is my dyslexia, the slide says it is
leering and teaching. I can assure you I meant learning. Ok, so I’ve changed slides again. Now to what did we
find. I am going to go through the total survey results, some of them I’ll go through quickly because they are
less interesting. The survey also looked at specific impairment types. So we looked at hearing
impairment, vision impairment, mental illness, learning disability, medical impairment, intellectual
disability, mobility impairment and acquired brain injury. Those were the categories students
were able to indicate that they had a disability when they enrolled through OUA. So I replicated
that form in the study. Not super happy with some of the language around some of those
impairment types. So moving on to the survey results now, that’s a new slide. Looking at the
demographics, the respondents were slightly older than the whole group that I had invited.
The average age of 42 rather than 36 years. OUA tends to appeal generally to a more
mature age student demographic. The gender balance was very similar, with about
30 per cent male and 70 per cent female, which again matched the sample. When I looked at
previous education — nothing particularly exciting to benchmark this against. But most
of the students or just over half, had had some college or university but no degree. So I have
moved on to the previous education slide and am now moving onto the disability or
impairment type. This is where we found some really interesting stuff. If you look at that
chart there — it shows all of the different impairment types. And the most common type
of impairment is mental illness at 44.9%. Followed by a medical impairment
at 39.2%. These are very different – as someone who focuses on making their
online learning accessible, we normally look at things like the web content accessibility
guidelines 2.0 from 2009 from the Worldwide Web Consortium. And things like this which
really focus very much on accessibility to online content for people with perceptual
impairments, in particular vision and hearing, and to a lesser extent dexterity related impairments.
Whereas with mental illness and medical impairments, what we see is conditions which often have
very fluctuating impacts on people’s lives. So from being quite debilitating to less problems
but often fluctuating in a way that’s very hard to predict. And these as it turns out, are
the vast majority of students we are dealing with who have disabilities. This is particularly
pertinent. The next slide shows the OUA statistics on impairment types where all the impairments
that have something to do with your head pretty much apart from learning disability are bundled
up under “other”. So that includes mental illness, acquired brain impairment, and intellectual
disability. It comes in at just over 54%. But you can imagine as an educator you don’t
particularly get a great feeling for what accessibility requirements your students might
have with all of those particularly high levels of disability categories, I suppose, sort
of hidden away in the “other” category. I looked at the Length of Study of them. I will go through
some of these slides quickly because they are not particularly exciting. Showing not surprisingly
that most students are in the first three years of their three year degree.
The field of study we found a real concentration in the arts and humanities which
also sort of reflects the OUAs course offerings which often skew towards arts and humanities.
We then asked students about accommodation and disclosure. I’m just waiting for everyone’s screens to
catch up. In this, we asked students if they were aware of any accommodation offered. So I’m on the slide with
Awareness of any accommodation offered, and as you can see from that, 28.7 per cent of students were
aware. 44 per cent were not aware, and about 27 per cent were unsure. So there is not an
enormous awareness amongst students, and these are students who have registered for disability
support with OUA, about what accommodation could possibly be offered to help them with
their studies. I then asked: Had you received any accommodation? I’m on the next slide now. And
nearly 70% of students had received no accommodation with their study. 6.6 with all units. 7.5 with most
units and 16.1 with some units of study. Was this accommodation adequate was the next
question. I’m on the Was it adequate slide. Here we find about 10 per cent it was always adequate. 10 per cent it
was mostly adequate, 9 per cent it was sometimes adequate. So there were fluctuating levels of adequacy
in this accommodation. These are the total responses. So 70 per cent still have not received any
accommodation. The next question we asked, which was a little bit, you know, I sometimes feel I should hide
these universities but I have decided not to. We asked have you informed the institution where
you are studying that you have a disability? This is a quite a complex table and I apologise for
those of you who are using screen readers because it will be quite difficult to look at. But I have
listed all of the different institutions involved with Open Universities Australia and included the
number of sort of “yes, I have informed the institution” versus, “No, I haven’t”. OUA is quite difficult because
although the students I have surveyed have all registered for disability support with OUA, to protect
people’s privacy they have this situation where you then have to register with each institution
that you are studying at separately. What this table shows is that generally the larger the number
of students studying at an institution who have a disability tends to trend to a larger percentage
of them disclosing that they have a disability. Now I’m not sure if this is causal, so more students
equal people being happier to disclose or if it’s the case that people tend to cluster at universities where the
disclosure process is easy. Overall, about 60 per cent of students disclose to any given institution
that they had a particular impairment or disability. We asked why they disclosed or didn’t disclose. Just over
half said they didn’t think it would help. 13 per cent didn’t know they could. 14 per cent said
they did not know how. 26.5 per cent said they did not need any accommodation. Nine
per cent did not want any accommodation, and 17.6 per cent didn’t want to disclose that they had a
disability. So going back to that theme about disclosure. We then looked at access to technology and learning
platforms. I got some information which I haven’t really worked out how to make useful about
how people access the internet. The majority use a laptop computer. Then we asked: Have
you had any problems accessing online learning platforms due to your disability and impairment?
82.1 per cent of students said no. But 17.9 per cent said, yes. It was an issue for nearly
a fifth of students. I then asked specifically about different learning and teaching platforms.
Here I used a list of things that I know people have been using as learning and teaching
platforms. Once again, I apologise, this is a terrible table if you are using a screen
reader. I have listed all of the different technological platforms and then we asked
people if they had used them, and if they had used them if they had no problems, minor
problems, major problems or if it was unusable. And then the final column I have just calculated
whether there were problems or not. Disturbingly, you can see from this table that the things
that the students have the most problems with unfortunately are the platforms that are run
by the universities. So Blackboard and Moodle, the learning management systems, university
websites which were hard to access, and also Lectopia and Echo 360, which are the two lecture
recording systems, were the most problematic of the things. Which as someone who cares about accessible
higher education, it was disappointing to see that the universities were hosting the least
accessible sites. Whereas things like Facebook, Twitter, Slide share, YouTube, all tended to be
more accessible for students. I also asked if students would recommend Open University as a
place to study for people with disabilities. Of those, only 3 per cent of students said no, 76 per cent
said yes and 21 per cent said maybe, they weren’t sure. We then asked if they would be willing to participate
in further studies and as I said, a large number said yes, 63.4 per cent. So that was a broad
brush of the survey responses. As I said, I will try and summarise the interviews and
I’m aware of the time and I don’t want to … I’m quite keen to be able to answer any questions we
have at the end. We have the slide here titled Interviews and it has another table. This
looks at the number of survey responses from each of the different impairment types and
the interview responses. You can see that we have the most for mental illness in
terms of the surveys. Whereas medical impairments we actually had more interview
responders with 64 of the 130. Particularly notable in the table is for vision impairment, we had
16 interview responses from only 24 survey responses so people were very keen to provide
interviews following on from the surveys. As you can see, also, the survey responses and the interviews
both drop off markedly. So we’ve got quite notable numbers for mental illness, medical impairment
and mobility impairment but they tend to drop off once we get to hearing impairment, learning
disability, vision impairment, acquired brain injury and intellectual disability where we ended up only having
three interview responses. The interviews asked a number of different categories of questions. In
accessibility we asked how does your disability impact on your daily life. And I’m going through the slide
Interview responses: accessibility. We also asked How does your disability impact on your study? In terms of
online learning and teaching what works well and what doesn’t. And, in terms of teaching and instruction
methods, what works well and what doesn’t? We also asked about disclosure of disability. We asked students
about future directions, have your learning experiences changed your future study plans?
What are your biggest challenges? What would you change to make study easier and what other
recommendations would you make. Apologies to the person who is transcribing this. I’m
starting to speak quickly again; I will slow down. I will go through the different impairment
types and give you some of the highlights. As I said, we really included in the report significant
quotes from the students to let them tell their story in their own voice which doesn’t
lend itself very well to this sort of relatively short presentation. But I will just go through
and give you some highlights. The first slide here is mental illness — my first point is
I don’t really like the language. The whole idea of mental illness and even mental health
invites a very medicalised view of disability, which I think is problematic, particularly
in the case of mental health for want of a better word. I prefer to use the
language of things like “madness” studies or neuro diversity. But I also find that when I
start talking in that language I often alienate my audience. Although it makes me uncomfortable
I will work with the language that OUA is using. This was the largest group of students.
This was really new. In 2008 only 15 per cent of students with a disability in the United
States for example reported having a mental illness. It had a lot of overlap with medical
impairments, with 23.5 per cent of students with mental illness saying they
also had a medical disability. They had a notably lower rate of disclosure
as well with institutions. Only 48 per cent of students rather than 60 per
cent for the total. And they did not – the reasons given whether they did not know
how and they did not want to disclose. Well at least those two answers had a much higher
response. There is obviously — not “obviously” — but there’s well documented issues around stigma
and mental illness and I think that that explains some of that. This group had less problems
with access to technology in general overall. Of the 54 interview respondents where we were
able to get a little bit more detail other than just mental illness, we found
27 of them had depression and 23 anxiety which is very consistent with the most
prevalent forms of mental health issues in Australia. 10 had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I think this
probably had a bit of an over representation due to OUA’s relationship with the military and many of the
people in the interview indicated that their PTSD had come on as part of service in the military.
Seven had bi-polar, five had impairments related to schizophrenia and one student reported Obsessive
Compulsive Disorder. This group also found a much greater impact from learning and teaching design than
other groups, although this was a common theme in the interviews, that it wasn’t just about
access to technology. It was how the teaching and learning was done that was a big issue.
And as I mentioned before, the idea of disclosure and stigma and the problem with multiple disclosure
processes in the existing system was something that was highlighted. The next largest group
was medical impairment. This was a very complex range of specific impairments and conditions
that varied from day-to-day, including Multiple Sclerosis, Fibromyalgia, Chrohn’s disease and chronic
pain and fatigue. But in the report I have had to list each respondent separately because they all
have individual ways of describing their particular impairment. This group was more likely to
have received accommodation. And I suppose parallel to that were much more likely to disclose
that they had a disability with 77 per cent doing so. With access to the particular technology, it was a
bit of a mixed bag with some platforms being easier and some being harder. This group
was very keen to talk about their varied experience of eLearning. And that variations in the
impact of their disability was a very important and common theme. As was a lack of understanding
of their condition when they were trying to deal with institutions. The mobility impairment,
which is the next group, had a very strong overlap with medical impairment with more
than three quarters of the people indicating both conditions from mobility impairment. Again
a high rate of disclosure and again a mixed response to access to technology. Again there
was a wide range of specific impairments, and results of the study were broadly in line
with previous research on these impairment types. And again, this group highlighted the importance
of learning and teaching design. The next group was hearing impairment. There has been
significant research conducted on accessibility for people with hearing impairments in eLearning.
This group was more aware of accommodation offered and more likely to make use of it.
There was nothing exciting about the rate of disclosure. I have a bullet point there
saying that, I’m not quite sure why. There were generally less problems with learning technology
although perhaps predictably the recorded lectures presented more of a problem. They were
also less likely to recommend OUA as place to study for people with disabilities which
was an interesting result for this group. Learning disability. This group seems largely under
represented in this study based on previous research that shows a much higher prevalence of learning
disabilities. Although I think some of that might be related to the language that we use around
learning disability to explain different specific impairments. Had a higher rate of disclosure
at 68 per cent. They were more likely to have problems accessing learning technology. And almost
all the respondents in the interviews indicated dyslexia as their specific impairment. Vision
impairment. Again, more likely to seek accommodation but conversely, less likely to disclose the
impairment to any given institution. There was not a noticeable level of extra difficulty
accessing learning and teaching platforms. There was a very high rate of participation
in interviews as I said before, two in three of the survey respondents went on to the interview.
Then we look at acquired brain impairment. The numbers now are starting to get quite low.
We had only 15 survey responses and five interviews. The people in this category were
mainly stroke survivors. Someone had been in a car accident as well. Very high overlap
with medical and mobility impairments. And notably high use of tablets to access the
internet, which was an unexpected result. And then finally, intellectual disability. Very small
sample, six surveys and three interviews. Everyone interviewed was on the autism spectrum.
There was an extremely high rate of disclosure, I think it was 100 per cent, in just about
every case. And issues around communication and interaction were very significant. Particularly
for this group in a learning and teaching environment. Keeping my eye on the time. Five areas
we looked at – and this in a way perhaps gives you a better summary of the information than
just those brief impairment categories/summaries that I have just given in the survey. It’s quite funny, you
should see me, I’m waving my hands around, like everyone can see me; and I appreciate that you can’t.
The five areas, we looked at policy compliance, staff training, unit design, assessment design and
implementation, which is a linked unit design and then future directions. From a policy
and compliance information distribution seemed very important. The idea that statistics
don’t reveal there’s a large group of people with mental illness studying. This always
seems to be a massive problem. There were issues around disclosure and the difficulty
for students to disclose to each new institution. And within institutions often, even if you
disclose to the institution, you then have to separately disclose to all of the learning
and teaching staff. Some students highlighted the fact that it was their choice and they
wanted to do it or not do it on their own. Whereas others highlighted the fact that it
was really difficult to have to front up to each new person and disclose their particular
impairment. Trying to streamline or better control that was one of our recommendations.
The study period organisation and implementation was another area we focused on. This
was really around in particular people whose impairment might fluctuate in the level that
it impacts on their life, particularly the medical impairments and mental illness.
The OUA runs back to back 13-week study periods. One of our suggestions was
that trying to make this more flexible would be really beneficial for some students who
might struggle to do a full 13-week period. At the moment students can withdraw without
penalty. But then they have to start the unit all over again and again have to wait to get
13 weeks in a row when they are able to do it and they can’t resubmit assessment they have
already done because it’s considered self-plagiarism. So you get caught in this sort of catch-22 of not quite
finishing and then having to go back and start again. And we suggested perhaps some ways around that
might be a good way forward. One of the things students often suggested was promoting universities as
having a disability friendly environment. So saying that we are very accommodating of people with disabilities,
people with different impairment types. And I think also being able to model, you know, if you are a person who
suffers from anxiety you can study at university successfully. We as an institution are very accepting of
that and here are some people who have done it successfully. So you can see yourself going
on and succeeding in the way they did. The other area that they asked for was an
online forum for students with disability studying through OUA. That last one seems pretty easy
to set up. We recommend staff training about policies and procedures for working with students with
disabilities. This is particularly important in that it’s often a voluntary, certainly at the
institution where I work, you can do training around disability but it’s not compulsory.
When I look at some of the other compulsory training we do it seems that perhaps those
priorities might be revisited. Also in terms of staff training, the appropriate use of
learning technology to make sure that it is as accessible as possible to the widest group
of students. Again, unit design, the way the units learning technology is used comes up again. The
role of having multiple access pathways. Allowing students to engage with the unit content and the unit
learning and teaching process from different ways. Some would prefer synchronous communication, some
asynchronous. Some preferred different types of assessment. The thing about eLearning is
that you don’t just have one classroom full of people so you can engage in a little bit of,
to use the internet jargon, “mass customisation” so that different people can have access to the things
they find easiest to access and that’s a real feature we could take advantage of. One of the really
interesting things that actually came up was trigger warnings. A couple of students indicated that
as a result of their studies they had considered self-harm. And that was quite, for me as
the interviewer, quite startling and disturbing. Things like one student indicated
they were a person who suffered from depression and then they were studying a unit on meta
physics in their philosophy unit, why is there something instead of nothing and dealing with some
really big and quite scary ideas and they found that this really brought on feelings of depression and self-harm.
So perhaps trigger warnings around the content of units is a sensible path to go down in
the future. Assessment design and implementation – the number of stories of students who would
rock up to have an invigilated exam at a place where there was no wheelchair access
or someone who had to lip read who was placed in a position where they could not see the
invigilator give instructions for the exam. That was a recurring theme over and again.
I don’t think there was any deliberate malice involved in this, but certainly being able
to have this prioritised, I think, is a really easy change that could be made and
very important. Assessment pacing and the role of particularly students with anxiety,
having one big essay was often a real problem, or two big essays, they asked for alternative
pathways for assessment. Perhaps like just about all university students you ever talk to, no-one
liked group work assignments. But particularly for students who had trouble with interpersonal
communications, this was a real problem, and the lack of alternatives offered was quite stark
in that particular area. Finally, looking at extension policies for assessment. At my
institution, if your partner dies, you technically are required to produce a letter from a priest or a
psychologist saying you are upset about it. I don’t think that’s particularly rigorously
enforced, but I think some of these policies need to err on the side of helping the students complete
their studies rather than sort of rigid compliance with documentation. Some of the future directions
we would like to look at is trying to come up with a better understanding of what universal
design in eLearning looks like. I suppose to accommodate this new and wide range
of impairment types that this study has found. What is universal design when you are dealing
with someone who has anxiety or depression? Or fluctuating chronic fatigue syndrome symptoms?
The other area I think would be really important to gather is staff voices. And particularly
staff who may be people with disabilities. This year WCAG 2.0 was released by the World Wide
Web Consortium which is the author tool accessibility guidelines. So flipping around Blackboard and saying,
not just as a student how accessible it is, but as staff member who may be a person with a disability how
accessible is it? And just briefly, I’m currently engaged in a further research project where we are looking at
extending the survey out to a global audience. So we are partnering with institutions in North America, Africa
and Europe and hopefully Asia (I’m still working on that region) and South America, where we
are going to see how these results from this OUA study match up when we look at the global
higher education student population. Certainly, I have already started this at Curtin University and
we can see very analogous results, so very similar results, from students studying either
on campus or through blended learning or remotely. So that’s certainly an area that is interesting,
and it will be interesting to is see when those results come in hopefully next year.
This is one of my last slides, it’s just further reading and resources about this presentation.
That’s just some of the sources, some of the places where this research has been
written up in more detail and also other research which I have done which is informed, I suppose
this research. You can see some of my research there with Katie Ellis. That’s my formal presentation.
I would be very interested to hear any questions or comments that people might have.
DARLENE: Fantastic, thank you Mike. For people who may have some questions, we have got
a couple, but please feel free to write some more in the question pod. One of the things that you spoke about,
Mike, was around the data that is collected by Open University. That data set for the students identifiying is
actually the higher education student data collection. And just as an aside note, ATEND has actually spoken to
the Department of Education about looking into those categories. So it may be expanded to include mental
health and autism and so forth. We will keep you posted on that.
MIKE: Great. So just a couple of the questions; recommendations for
academics re: format and lay out on online content. Is there anything that is out there for people, specially for academics, for screen reader users that can assist. MIKE: Yes, there is. It’s an interesting problem.
Moodle, which tends to be more accessible, for example, than Blackboard often renders
itself inaccessible by people adding too many links and not putting in the accessibility modules and
that sort of thing. But there are some guidelines available for accessible content for screen readers.
Often the guidelines are things like: Don’t have PDFs that are effectively a photo of a page. Make
sure it’s a text based PDF so that screen readers work and stuff like that. So that’s at the really basic level,
through to things like how to effectively lay out a particular web screen so it flows naturally for screen
readers and isn’t too badly cluttered. There were certainly some problems after the first web content
accessibility guidelines came out where people would be crazy about compliance without thinking
about the impact. So you would have, you know those, the web 2.0 thing where you always had a shadow behind an image and someone would give alternate text saying “This is a shadow behind an
image”. Which, while technically it was very good of them to comply, if you were using a screen reader,
it just slowed everything down remarkably. DARLENE: Very good. Somebody is asking for any ideas on how you can help faculty colleagues think
about the practical provisions for diverse student groups. Have you got my comments?
MIKE: At this stage, we are at almost a raising awareness stage. I think that most of the
disability discrimination that occurs in higher education is in no way through malice, it’s
just through lack of thought and ignorance. I suppose it gets back to that recommendation
about training, making staff aware there is a large student population who are people with
disabilities. And that is something that should always be a consideration in pedagogical design
as well as thinking about the technology we use and things like that. I have gone around
and given quite a few talks and seminars based on this research because I think the most
useful thing I can do is try and raise awareness about these issues.
DARLENE: Someone said thanks, Mike, which is great. But you mentioned demographics, can you
elaborate on the location of students with disabilities, e.g. rural versus city? Did your research cover that at all? MIKE: No, it didn’t. It would have been very
skewed obviously by looking at OUA, which has by virtue of having no campus, all students
are remote. We certainly, anecdotally I have had students who live in villages in Nepal, you
know, through to inner city Sydney. So there is diversity, but this research didn’t, sort
of, highlight or gather data on that. DARLENE: Okay. The next question, close to
my heart at the moment because I’m studying online: Were you able to gauge as to
where the threads in Blackboard discussion board were effective for people with
disability. As somebody without a disability I don’t think they’re effective, but anyway, what’s your thoughts Mike?
MIKE: I was going to say that. I think Blackboard was designed initially in about
1997 and it’s discussion boards probably mirror UseNet, which is very old school pre-web internet
discussion forums. Certainly in my other research I have often championed using things like
Facebook groups or the equivalent as things that students have more literacy in how to
engage with the discussion there. And Blackboard were very much at the mercy of other students and
how they format their responses and that sort of thing. So I’m not a huge fan of Blackboard
discussion forums. I think they are problematic for all students including those with disabilities.
DARLENE: Yes, I’ve just written to my lecturer the other day, but haven’t heard back saying can we please start a
Facebook group to ease the pain. In the area of reasonable adjustments, such adjustments are often
made in the area of face to face. What things should we as practitioners, put in to place to make reasonable
adjustments in eLearning environments, eLearning courses? There was also another question around: Is
there a list of common adjustments or accommodations that can be
put forward to staff in this area. MIKE: I think that tends to happen at a very institutional
level at this stage which I think is a bit unfortunate. I think the most common adjustments or things
that need to be considered are course content in terms of online resources, even through
e-reserve in libraries and things like this. Often these are locked by the publisher so that
they don’t work with screen readers, which are used not just by students with vision
impairments but often other cognitive issues. That was a recurring theme, for people
who really had problems accessing content. It was the content that is provided as a picture
of text rather than as actual text. DARLENE: Yes, that’s great. Just a final question,
any alternative suggestions for timed online assessment tasks or engaging in virtual groups?
MIKE: I think engaging in virtual groups, there is a real pedagogical argument for group work.
And students being asked to work cooperatively with each other. But there
are particular impairment types of disabilities which make that really impossible. We need
to be able to provide alternative assessment for people who are unable to engage in that
sort of assessment. I think that’s a really important step that came out of this research.
Similarly for timed assessment, certainly there is an argument that people need to
be able to meet deadlines because if they go into the work force they are going to have to meet
deadlines and this is a way of reinforcing that. I think that often comes from us assuming
all students are coming straight from high school, which is not always the case. I also
think that sometimes that’s an excuse so that we can make sure we hire our sessional staff to do
the marking at the right time. There should be really, as long as people can do the task
and show that they have done the learning, and get whatever formative nature of a particular
bit of assessment through. We shouldn’t be timing stuff for people who are unable
to do it within a particular time. I think it’s one of those things that is so bound
into the idea of higher education that saying we shouldn’t do it almost sounds radical.
But actually it just seems pretty straightforward as a way forward to say, “Have as long as you like
as long as you can get it done.” DARLENE: Fantastic. Thank you so much Mike. I will just
do a quick plug for ADCET. On our website we do actually give a really good overview of adjustments,
accommodations for different disability types, under our inclusive teaching site, under our students with disability site and under out disability practitioner area as well. But it’s also given me an idea that maybe we can produce
some content around online learning and the adjustments that can be made around different disability
types as well into the future. Thank you for that idea. I just want to finally thank you.
I found your presentation really wonderful. It was great to hear. I actually look forward
to reading your research paper now. I hadn’t had the chance but It’s motivated me to do that.
On behalf of the sector and on behalf of ADCET, the National Centre and ATEND I really want to thank
you Mike for your time, and for the presentation. MIKE: Fantastic. Thank you very much for the
opportunity. It’s been great to be able to share my research and I hope that it was valuable for people.
I have got my last slide here which is my contact details, should anyone wish to contact me
with any sort of further questions or comments. DARLENE: Fantastic. Thank you, everybody,
for joining us. I look forward to seeing you at our next webinar, which is on a Curtin
project which is around autism mentoring project. We will have information up online hopefully
by the end of the week. Thank you, everybody. Cheers.
MIKE: Thanks very much. Bye bye.

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