A list of things to always do - or avoid to help with inclusive and accessible design.

Designing for Diverse Learners: A new dawn

Last week I had the pleasure of launching the new version of the Designing for Diverse Learners guidance at the ALDinHE Conference 2022 alongside my colleague Tom Tomlinson. It is fair to say that this release is mainly due to the hard work and dedication of Tom. He worked to painstakingly bring the Designing for Diverse Learners work out of rigid PDF formats designed for print into a modern accessible designed for the web. The one thing that has me the most in awe is how Tom has helped preserve the overall look and feel that helped make this resource so successful in the first place. It is fair to say we’re both really excited to bring this to the wider community and we can’t wait to see what you think.

Sitting behind this new release was a broader project team supported by Kate Bridgeman and Conor Start at Hull as well as Kate Wright from Aberystwyth who helped bring the original poster into the Welsh language. As part of this work, we reviewed each and every single item on the poster, refining each point for clarity, precision, and accuracy. We tweaked here and there – with the end result keeping the spirit of the original work with some added information to really hammer the point. We’ve also supported each set of guidance with a full-page that explains the why sitting behind the instruction. I think this will really help ‘sell’ these points to educations, but also provide them a quick start by linking to relevant guidance.

Designing the Designing for Diverse Learners resource

This release broke free from the confines of a PDF/poster into a fully dynamic, online website. These changes make the resource as accessible as possible for users while providing a responsive design to maximize device compatibility. This is all while retaining the original always/avoid instructions in a split format. My favourite piece of Tom’s handy work is how the resource scales, maintaining two columns for large screen and print – but switching to cards on smaller screens. Tom has written up a more detailed account of this transformation in his recent blog post.

Another significant aspect of this version is the multitude of formats. We’ve switched to HTML/CSS as the main mode of delivery, providing an accessible and dynamic experience. This is, however, still backed up with a print version for anyone wanting to keep the resource as a handy quick reference guide on their desk. We’ve also provided both PowerPoint and Google Slides to help maximize the reach.

Reuse and licensing

This version maintains the same CC-BY-NC-SA Creative Commons Licence. This license has been a significant enabler in allowing re-use and adaptation. After all, it is under the terms of this licence that our work was able to evolve the original guidance from The Home Office. As with the previous versions, users will be able to reuse, remix and adapt this work for non-commercial means as long as they too share-alike. I’ve previously reflected on this license and how it has enabled our work in the CLA Blog. One-touch that I think works particularly well is that Tom has also bundled the icon pack into a separate download package. This will further enhance the re-usability of the poster and allow others to use it in their own contexts. We’ve seen our original work significantly evolve – and we can’t wait to see where it goes next. If you want to help us take this resource further – please fill in this form to get involved.

Finally, I know not everyone was able to make our ALDinHE Conference session. Please find the slides below – in case you are interested in what we shared:

ALDinHE Conference Presentation: Designing for Diverse Learners

I cannot believe it is over four years since I last blogged about this. What else would you like to hear about this?

I did get to get to the ball [ALDinHE Conference 2021]. Kinda.

The journey to ALDcon

My journey to the ALDinHE Conference (ALDcon) was a bit different this year. In any normal year I’d have been using public transport to travel cross-country to visit another university for three or four days, staying in the nearest Premier Inn. COVID-19 put a stop to any such business travel for everyone. ALDcon, however, was not to be defeated and returned in a fully-online format for 2021. Despite that, this opportunity was not assured.

I didn’t think I’d make it to ALDinHE this year. The time of year I would usually submit a proposal and make my intention to attend known was overtaken by life. As me and my partner were in the process of adopting, we had no idea what 2021 would hold or how the timeline would work. As it turns out it was February and March that I took my mix of paternity and adoption leave. ALDcon was a possibility.

Had this year’s event been face:face, I probably wouldn’t have made it. The booking would have been closed, the train tickets would have been expensive and I may have struggled to get accommodation. None of this was an issue with an online conference. I didn’t sign up until the week before. The only pang of regret I had was not presenting on something myself – or at least submitting a poster. I think it might be my first ALDcon without at least taking a poster.

So how was the online conference?

The sharing of ideas, gaining of inspiration and abundance of LD love were all very much there. I’ve come away energised – particularly regarding work to make LD practice more inclusive. I’ve also gained some valuable insight into how we may support reading and have already committed to deliver a new workshop at Hull based on what I have learned. By committed – I mean it’s bookable by our students now. Now that is instant conference impact!

As for the other conference elements, sadly, much like any other online conference it lacked the casual talk. The conference was not socially lacking by any means. Sessions were active. There were lots of social events too! However, none of those small conversations over coffee or a pint happened. I often find these are the most impactful to my thought processes and learning.

I also didn’t realise how valuable conferences are for time away. As a parent, I was mobbed every lunchtime and at the end of the day. I never realised how valuable conferences are for thought, reflection and writing. The journey there and back, the breakfasts, the time alone in the hotel room – all chances for me to type or pen my thoughts and make firm actions from what I have learned. This isn’t to say the conference had no impact. Not by any means. But I didn’t get as much time to process it all as I would like. I also had the inevitable creep of meeting and emails over the conference now allowing me to commit 100%.

So what did I learn?

This year I decided to approach my note creation and synthesis a bit differently. I continued to write notes in each session – handwritten, typed or mind mapped as I felt appropriate. However, I added an additional step – journaling each day to reflect on what these sessions taught me and how I would take it forward. Here are my thoughts:

  • It’s possible for professional services to share space, if not line management (Northampton).
  • I really dislike the work ‘skill’. I’ve not liked it for some time, but have been able to cope. Now, I wonder how much longer I can put up with it.
  • It is possible to run a reading ‘bootcamp’ in a short, two-hour session. I’ve already written the plan for the Hull version and made it bookable. (Sandra Eyakware)
  • A ‘resource in a box’ may be a manageable way forward for us to offer some engagement with local schools in a way that is realistic and scalable. (Amy West)
  • Magic and teaching have a lot more in common than you would think. (Will Houstoun)
  • Community, narrative, interaction, and journey is a beautiful way, to sum up the literacies of online learning (Carina Buckley).
  • I was not ready to talk about lockdown 1. I had honesty buried in my mind just how stressful and depressing the whole thing was. Admittedly, I was writing up my doctorate and was chained to my home desk for 16 hours a day which made things worse.
  • ALDinHE has revolutionized its web presence. A newly designed website, a dedicated conference website, the relaunch of LearnHigher – wow!

Did you say magic?

Yup! The day two keynote was delivered by Dr Will Houstoun. The session was titled Pedagogical Prestidigitation: Magic in Educational Contexts and beautifully drew comparisons between magic and teaching. Oh! And there was magic. Of course…

Magic is about an interaction. It is a performance. It has a narrative. There is a need to direct (not necessarily misdirect) attention. The parallels to teaching were beautiful. You can check out my notes on this one below:

And then there was decolonisation

This is a hot (but not uncontested) issue in higher education right now. There is some real concern that LD practice can propagate dominant ideas and structures if left unchecked. If LD is there to help students adapt to HE, are we not civilising students into higher education – reducing their cultural identity to make them confirm?

Difficult stuff.

Uncomfortable stuff.

I’ve spoken about this a fair bit at Hull. Higher education is generally too old, male, western and stale. I’m always cautious of decolonisation itself. Not because it isn’t important – but because a general approach of inclusive education is a better goal. While much of this is subsumed into decolonisation, I think an inclusive approach is distinct. We should teach in a way to ensure everyone is included and successful, no matter their race, religion, class, gender, sexuality, background – and so on.

There was some interesting stuff from Liverpool John Moors on this, and I’m happy to share my notes again!

That’s a wrap!

Well. It’s almost midnight now. I’ve only been able to write as everyone is in bed asleep – but even for a ‘normal’ ALDcon my train would have gotten me home by now. Definitely time to turn in for the night. ?

Learning development and student narratives – Professor Shân Wareing

Professor Shân Wareing delivered an incredibly relevant and interesting keynote today at the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education (ALDinHE) Conference. Here are my notes (in mindmap format) from this session, which include elements of the discussion and wider definitions:

See link below for accessible, linear download

Exploring possibilities for the ‘critical’ in Learning Development practice & theory; critical academic literacies?

Gordon Asher delivered a very thought-provoking session this afternoon at the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education ALDinHE Conference. Here are my notes (in mindmap format) from this session, with the caveat, that they are but a small representation of what was a VERY deep discussion.

Session mindmap:

See below link for linear, accessible Microsoft Word version
Mind map of Gordon’s session

Broader conceptual framework:

Critical academic literacies are linked to critical university studies, critical/powerful literacies, popular education, critical pedagogy and academic literacies.
Critical academic literacies and the association with other related concepts/frameworks.

What is Learning Development Scholarship?

This post forms a personal reflection of a session I attended at the Association of Learning Development in Higher Education (ALDinHE) Conference 2019.

On day one of the ALDinHE Conference, I attended the Research Funding & Scholarship of Learning Development session led by Dr Maria Kukhareva & Dr Carina Buckley. This was a really interesting, interactive session, structured around the following question:

‘What is scholarship?’

This led to a rather expansive view of scholarship, not only accounting for peer-review publications, but also wider scholarly activity such as review, conference involvement and so on. However, this led to the eventual question of:

‘What is learning development scholarship?’

This question is not as easy as it seems. Scholarly activity can be pinned down and defined. Yes – there are different interpretations, but it is easy to find something that generally applies to most people. How learning development contributes to the wider scholarship of learning and teaching in higher education is however a bigger question. There must be something distinctive about it that makes it stand out against the scholarship of language learning, education and other fields.

What does learning development contribute? What is unique about learning development research?
Boyer’s model of scholarship (1990)

What makes learning development scholarship distinctive?

The real challenge of defining the distinctiveness of learning development scholarship perhaps lies with the difficulty of defining learning development. Our practices are incredibly diverse and sometimes disparate. If practice is so varied, can the scholarship be coherent enough to be classed as distinctive? While I struggle to answer this one, I ‘feel’ there is something distinctive about learning development. This is not so distinctive as to pry away from the disciplinary foundations of education as a discipline (psychology, history, sociology and philosophy), but I believe it is distinctive enough to carve out it’s own corner in the higher education literature.

This *feeling* I have regarding the distinctiveness of learning development has roots in my practice. This is because I *feel* my practice and approach is distinctive in comparison to traditional lectureship. This is because I am supporting the development of attributes, competencies, skills, approaches and so on – just not the development of disciplinary knowledge. This does not mean I have no knowledge base and convey no knowledge, just that such knowledge is of ‘being a student’, learning, writing and so on.

So – back to the question at hand. What does make learning development distinctive. We were encouraged to approach this question creatively, and this is the model the group I was part of ended up creating:

A conceptual model answering the question. The paragraphs below explain this in detail.

In the above photograph, you can see some of our core ideas. One of my primary contributions was the ‘lens’, as I feel learning development has a different view and approach to scholarship than other areas. In short, it is distinctive. There IS a learning development way of looking at things, even if we can’t exactly define it. I also built the pile of rubble and labelled it as ‘What is learning development?’. I promise you that the answer to that question is under those bricks. It just isn’t uncovered yet. Interestingly, I paired ‘lens’ with ‘reflection’. I think this was to highlight the reflective nature of our practice (or at least the development of it).

We also had knowledge, philosophy, inquiry, evidence and discipline(s) also on the table. These are all ideas long associated with scholarship. Once again, we had an interesting debate about what learning development brings to the table. The one we were really unsure about was ‘Mastery’. I’m still not sure how I feel about that, and this is the reason I picked it up. I think it is perhaps better related to scholarship with ‘status’ – a term another table has picked up.

I added the term ‘validity‘, because any research and scholarship must be ‘valid’ – but I think we can take this further as it links back to the question.

What makes learning development as a distinct approach a valid contribution to the wider higher education literature?

Reflection on what learning development is

This does not answer the big question. The closest thing we have to this are the ALDinHE values:

  1. Working alongside students to make sense of and get the most out of HE learning 
  2. Making HE inclusive through emancipatory practice, partnershipworking and collaboration
  3. Adopting and sharing effective LD practice with the HE community  
  4. Commitment to scholarly approach and research related to LD
  5. Critical self-reflection, on-going learning and a commitment to professional development 

Beyond these values, we did have a nod to practice on our model.

On the model, you can see a precarious bridge from one table to another. To fall of this bridge is to plummet between the tables. This kinda represented the journey students are on, with each step of this bridge further and further apart. While the definition of learning development is buried on our model, one thing is clear. We exist to fight anyone who would push a student off the bridge. We exist to help them over it – not to lead them, but to give them the abilities they need to take themselves over it.

You will see this bridge is hidden behind a wall. Sometimes the way ahead is unknown. It is difficult. It is hidden. We often tear that wall down to help students see where they need to go – and enable them to get there.


Boyer, E. L. (1990), Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. [PDF], Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

ALDinHE Conference 2016 – Herriot Watt

It is with great sadness that I depart on the 17:00 train back home from the ALDinHE Annual Conference. It has been a fantastic three days in Edinburgh and I am already planning my return visit. I seem to fall into the nasty habit of always being here on business and I am determined to come back for leisure.

I fully intend to post a few blog posts spawned from the conference and in particular, a few more details about my presentation from today. I wanted to make this very quick post to solidify that commitment as I often tend to find myself *busy* after such an event. I do however believe that no matter how busy I am, it is important to make these reflections, ideas and thoughts a bit more concrete. At least, in the digital sense.

One thing that strikes me surrounds the reoccurring themes through the conference. This in itself is not surprising as the conference had four key themes: professional identities, social justice, students as partners and diversity. I was however surprised by the reoccurrance of freedom, civil liberties and belonging. This has linked to a lot of the conversations at the Freedom to Learn Conference in Hull, The Liberal Democrat Spring Conference and general discussions with my peers on the Hull EdD. I think this gives a real feel for some of the genuine concerns people have about education, freedom and government policy. There is every chance I am working hard to find these themes as they are important to me, but I feel their prominence is real. Let’s keep this conversation going!

I really appreciate the energy, enthusiasm and ideas from my loosely related learning development buddies at ALDcon. I am looking forward to getting back to Hull and working on some new ideas based on what I have heard. I also can’t wait to write up my own paper and look forward to trying to get it published. A big thank you to our ALDinHE Steering Group and to Andy for his hard work with the conference.