This post will detail the Designing for Diverse Learners Project that I am undertaking with my colleague Sue Watling from Learning and Teaching Enhancement, University of Hull. This post is published on both of our blogs, and you can check out Sue’s blog Digital Academic.
The Home Office launched an excellent poster series to highlight practices for developing content for users falling into one of the following six categories:
D/deaf and hard of hearing
users on the autistic spectrum,
users of screen readers (visual issues/blindness).
We we really impressed by these posters, but also overwhelmed with how we can support educators to use them in practice. For this reason, we worked to develop our ‘Designing for Diverse Learners’ poster, combining the essential practices for all of the above. The aim of this document was not to target any one group of learners, but to develop an outline of practices that follow the principles of universal design where changes for some benefit the vast majority of learners.
The Poster: Designing for Diverse Learners
We have made this poster available in two formats, the image below and a printable PDF. For best results, print your poster on A3 paper (portrait orientation) and trim the white paper to the sides.
Why ‘diverse learners’?
The idea of ‘diverse learners’ is really important to the both of us. The practices outlined in our poster will benefit every learner, not just those who many require specific adjustments. The reason we are able to do this is that in applying the principles from the above posters to the educational context, we are able to look at them for the specific purpose of designing digital learning materials and opportunities.
One of the reasons for our initial focus on digital resources is our institutional context at the University of Hull where the majority of resources will be access via the institutional VLE, Canvas. The University of Hull has a set of ‘expected use of Canvas’ criteria which include the following:
Staff should ensure that all digital content supporting learning and teaching e.g. text, images and multimedia, follows inclusive practice guidelines.
Our poster does not claim to support every single learner or requirement an educator may come across, but we are certain that resources developed along these principles will meet the vast majority of needs. We are also keen to frame this as a working document. We are keen to get as much feedback as we can to help us make this resource event better. We’ve already had some feedback about including some text line spacing and would welcome any further ideas you all have.
As a community, we can continue to develop this resource and make it even better. We welcome input from both educators and learners as to how we can make this any better. We have set-up a Tricider to help collect feedback on the poster and to enable to community to vote on individual ideas. If you have not used Tricider before, it is very easy to contribute. Simple visit our Tricider and either ‘add an idea’ or vote on the ideas of others. You can also place comments on Tricider or use the comment area on this blog post if your prefer.
I thought I would take some time to share the invaluable Microsoft tools that I use as part of my thesis and research. I think the usefulness of Microsoft Office Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook is without question. These programs are an essential part of my work, but I will focus on other tools that I use to support my research.
OneNote is a note taking application. OneNote is like my second brain. It stores my notes for absolutely every situation. Instead of a mixture of apps and notebooks, I take a great effort to keep everything in one place. The availability of OneNote on iOS, MacOS and Windows means I can access OneNote on all of my devices: iPad Pro, iPhone, MacBook Pro and Windows 10 computers. This means I can also access my notes anywhere and pretty much on every device. I’m a big fan of handwritten notes and there is a lot of evidence that demonstrates they’re the most effective way to take notes. The awesomeness of the iPad Pro and Pencil mean I can handwrite on-screen just as well as on paper. For any situation in which I do use paper, I scan documents in or use Office Lens (see below).
Technicalities aside, I use OneNote for:
Lecture notes, keynotes, conference notes
Supervision meeting records
Thoughts, thinking, general notes
Notes on reading
Shopping lists, recipes and pretty much everything else!
The reason OneNote works so effectively is the wide range of media it supports. Not only can type or hand written notes be used within OneNote, but it supports drawing, maths, images, audio, video, tables, embedded files and a whole range of other special applications. Notes are easy to find as they are organised into sections and notebooks. Everything is searchable, tagable and easy to find.
OneDrive is a cloud storage platform. This means it stores files on a remote server as opposed to any one device. This means you can access anything you store on it anywhere you have internet. I use OneDrive to store all of my important files, with the exception of anything personally identifiable, like research data. While OneDrive achieves the same as Box, DropBox, iCloud Drive, Google Drive or any of platform, the deep integration with Microsoft Office makes OneDrive the most useful. It is also the cheapest platform as you get 1 TB for free included in Office 365, including the edition most universities provide students with.
Not only does OneDrive let you store your files and make them available, it also lets you connect to any computer you’re synced to and pull any file from it. This is really useful if you ever forget to take a file with you. As you’d expect, everything is searchable – but it is important to carefully consider your organisation system. I take great care to never get lazy when saving files otherwise it quickly ends up an unusable mess.
OneDrive is accessible within Office 365 programs, allowing you access to save directly to your OneDrive from within the software. The very latest versions of some even automatically – and constantly save to your OneDrive, ensuring your work is always safe. OneDrive can also be used for collaboration, allowing multiple people to edit an office file in real-time. This can be done with in-browser and in-program. Most people will recognise this functionality from Google Docs/Sheets – but its a lot more powerful in Office.
Office Lens is an amazing app for phones and tablets. It allows you to use the devices camera to take photographs, and save them directly to OneDrive, OneNote, your camera stream, PDF, Word or PowerPoint. What makes Lens so special is it’s ability to work with documents, whiteboards and business cards. When pointing Lens at a document, whiteboard, television, projector screen, book or whatever you want to capture, Lens detects the edges automatically and removes the background. This makes it a pretty impressive scanner! For whiteboards it also filters the photo and enhances the picture.
Most of my Lens shots end up getting stored within OneNote, embedded within whatever notebook I am working on at the time. I use it to capture a lot of projector screens – essential for lectures and conference. I also like using it for documents so I can take a photo/image of it away with me digitally rather than needing to carry a lot of paper. As I suggested above, it is this feature that also lets me digitise any handwritten notes I may take. While I don’t use it, Lens works with Microsoft Immersive Reader so it is fantastic for accessibility purposes.
Other useful tools
While I don’t have space to go into too much detail, there are some other essential apps:
Microsoft Translator is a free, personal translation app for 60+ languages, to translate text, voice, conversations, camera photos and screenshots. You can even download languages for offline translation for free to use when you travel!
Microsoft Visio is a diagramming software package. It lets you easily draw a whole range of processes, diagrams and maps. It is a lot easier to use than Microsoft Word for making diagrams, with special tools to help you keep elements in line and linked.
Microsoft To Do
Microsoft To-Do is a simple and intelligent to-do list that makes it easy to plan your day. Whether it’s for work, school or home, To-Do will help you increase your productivity and decrease your stress levels. It combines intelligent technology and beautiful design to empower you to create a simple daily workflow. Organize your day with To-Do’s smart Suggestions and complete the most important tasks or chores you need to get done, every day. To-Do syncs between your phone and computer, so you can access your to-dos from school, the office, or the grocery store or even while you’re traveling around the world.
This week I had the pleasure of attending the Association of Learning Technology (ALT) Winter Conference. This free conference was entirely online, delivered via a series of parallel sessions. Webinars, Twitter chats and wildcard sessions formed the basis for these sessions, with a good mixture of each across both days. It was my first time taking part in an online conference and so I wanted to reflect on the format here. Technologically, I thought BlackBoard Collaborate Ultra served for the webinars very well and it was nice to experience this first hand. I usually use Adobe Connect in my own practice so it’s always nice to see another system working.
The first thing that is important to note is that I attended from my open plan office at work. This of course makes a difference as I was surrounded by colleagues, and I was fitting conference sessions in alongside other work commitments. This means I wasn’t fully dedicating all my time to the event, which is a very different experience to being at an actual conference where you are fully immersed. This had advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, I was able to take part in the first place. I simply would not of had the time or money to travel to any conference at this time of year. On the negative, I felt it was not as good a networking opportunity as face:face conferences, and, that it did not provide the same ring fenced development time that you get with being away.
It would be unfair to say networking opportunities were absent. Dialogue and interactivity was present in every parallel session. There was also the #altc hashtag on Twitter for the backchannel conversation throughout both days. However, this is no different to the opportunities afforded at any conference. What I really missed however were the little conversations after sessions, in traveling, between parallels, over coffee, throughout lunch, at evening events and through drinks. I find a lot of the benefit of traditional conferences can be found around the formal programme, not just within it. I should note, the conference did have an always-on cafe for conversation. It was just empty the couple of times I tried to visit. Perhaps Twitter was the better forum?
Pacing the conference around work activities was fairly easy, and I imagine I was not the only person doing this. This did mean some times of day were perhaps busier than others, but this could have been depended on the sessions. The only frustrating thing about attending remotely is the clash between a very useful parallel and a work activity. Of course the work activity takes precedence! It just always tends to coincide alongside the one session you really wanted to see.
The aspect of time away is a difficult one. One of the things I like about a traditional conference is the mental break you get. The time away. The opportunity to focus on self-development, learning, thinking, networking, idea sharing, collaborating and more. The day job, research, writing or whatever else you are doing is placed on hold. Not forgotten, but you put yourself in a different space away. I’m not saying this is absent in an online conference, but because there is a tendency to take part from home or work, it is not the same kind of break. As above, this is advantageous as it means work does not need to stop for your to take part. But it prevents gains in some areas.
While I missed the face to face elements, I think this kind of conference is a fantastic opportunity. As I stated above, I would not have been able to take part were this a traditional conference. I also liked that I did not have to dedicate two whole days and travel to this. While I would usually gladly do this for any conference; work, my research, volunteering and general life are too busy to take all that time out! I’d like to extend a thanks to anyone running a session I attended at the conference. They were all engaging and I look forward to enacting some of this stuff in practice. Huge thanks to ALT too for putting it all together and making it possible.
Maybe I should also celebrate the fact an online conference helped me avoid a few wet days!