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.
Monday this week I had the great pleasure of receiving an email from Microsoft to congratulate me on being selected as a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert (MIEE) for 2017-2018. This was a wonderful surprise, following my application submission earlier this year. The application process involved putting together a PowerPoint Mix or Sway to overview my work. I chose to create a small portfolio in Sway which was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the last academic year. Now I am part of the MIEE programme I look forward to continuing to model the use of Microsoft technologies for learning and teaching. More importantly, I look forward to training and supporting colleagues in their own use of Microsoft technology for learning and teaching.
The year ahead
The MIEE status stays with me for a year and over this time I’ve been thinking about what I want to work on. Like any other commitment I take, I took to Twitter to outline my plans for the year:
As outlined in my tweet, I have three areas I want to work on and in this blog I’ll add a fourth – my own CPD.
Sways and Mixes
I think Sways and Mixes are fantastic educational tools. I especially love how I can quickly create a Mix in PowerPoint. While I can use more complicated tools, they take valuable time. Time I don’t have. For Sway – I love the dynamic and responsive nature. They work really well for content heavy pages that need to be accessible on any size of screen. The ability to set image focus points always ensures the most important elements of any diagram are preserved no matter what device someone is on. I am looking forward to getting some Mixes and Sways online.
Support colleagues with digital literacy and Microsoft 365
Over the last couple of years I’ve been doing a lot of work on digital literacy. My work over the last few months with Microsoft Office 365 and a whole range of Microsoft tools and apps (Learning Tools, Sway, Office Lens, Snip, PowerPoint Mix) has brought new perspectives to this work. Having built my own expertise through practice, I’m now looking forward to supporting colleagues developing their use of Microsoft educational tools, apps and Microsoft Office too. I’m also keen to update some of my existing resources with the latest tech solutions.
OneNote has long been a component of Microsoft Office. It is however, often in the shadow of Word, Excel and PowerPoint. I think it is one of the most undervalued aspects of the office suite and I always love introducing users to it. Often, students have OneNote installed on their computer but have never even opened it. I want to try and promote it more within my own institution. I think OneNote combined with Office Lens is the perfect solution to all a students note taking needs! Additional aspects of this including further experimentation with Class Notebooks, and I look forward to seeing how they can replace some wikis I am currently using in the VLE.
Technology is always developing and I aim to keep myself up-to-date on any new tools Microsoft release, and any updates to existing tools. I’m also keen to continue developing my knowledge through the Microsoft Educator Community.
Today I visited some of Microsoft’s offices in London to check out Office 365 for education. This was a very informative visit and Microsoft had a fully equipped showcase classroom where we could get to grips with some of their latest hardware and software. The day was structured to overview Windows 10, inking and the powerful combination of this with Office 365 for Education. This includes not only Microsoft Office Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Publisher, but an all-encompassing productivity solution that combines Office with OneDrive/SharePoint, Yammer, Skype, Video, Microsoft Teams and more. I’ve seen and used most of these packages, but I’ve never seen them all working together – properly linked and synced and all in the cloud. The result was convincing.
While I am a fairly confident Office and Windows user, it was a great opportunity to try Microsoft’s own hardware. I personally fell in love with the Surface Book, a hybrid laptop-tablet with a powerful processor that delivers a punch on the go. I particularly enjoyed the deep integration of ink within the operating system and Office as a whole. While I am an experienced user of Windows 10, I’ve never had an ink enabled device so it was nice to get to grips with this. I liked it. I like it a lot! I could quite easily see a device like this replacing the MacBook Pro and iPad Pro I carry, although the Microsoft Product would struggle to beat the battery combination of them both. I think I’d miss the general portability of the iPad too.
Take home points from the session
I think one thing I have learned from this process is that I need to be a bit more patient when trailing previews of software. When I tried the very first release of Mix for example I wrote it off. Yes – the outputs were fantastic but they were locked onto the Mix website. This of course is not the case anymore. The introduction of video exports from Mix solves this problem and makes it a great product. Sadly – it has been able to do this for AGES according to the trainer and I regret not playing with it sooner.
Office Mix Snip
This fantastic little tool is in preview at the moment. It basically replicates everything I love about the Camtasia capture tool I use on Mac. It allows a user to ‘snip’ any area of the screen, annotate and share. The tool is far more developed than the in-built ‘snipping’ tool and it takes full advantage of inking in the OS. You can try the Snip Preview yourself.
Ok. I like Sway. I really like Sway. However – students and staff are not really that aware of it. This session reminded me of the important gap it fills in the presentation market. I think we need to really push this out as an alternative to PowerPoint or Word for certain kinds of presentations.
It is getting better and it isn’t as bad as it used to be. I think it is some time away from being a stable replacement for Chrome or FireFox, but I could see this being a contender really soon. I loved the seamless integration with OneNote, but this is replicated within the OneNote plugins for other browsers so not too much a selling point.
Everything is better with Ink. I’d only really played with this on the iPad before, but seeing it across all the Office programs and across the Windows 10 OS I was overwhelmed with the potential. I am so sad I don’t have access to this on a daily basis.
I’ve used OneNote in patches over the last decade, but recently decided to commit to it as my main note taking application. I transferred all my stuff from Evernote and I couldn’t be happier. Today really convinced me I have made the right decision. I already have it up and running across iPhone, iPad, Window 10 and Mac OS X.
While I learned nothing new about OneNote today, I did discover OneNote Class Notebook. This has some amazing potential and I look forward to seeing it in use within higher education.
Training, support and change
I always get excited about the latest shiny technology. However, not everyone is as confident as I am. I work with a lot of novice users and technophobes. The powerful combination of all of these Microsoft products is kind of overwhelming. While this combination can deliver amazing efficiency and savings, it is problematic from a user training perspective.
For some users, the change to 365 solutions for their existing tools (e.g. Slack, DropBox, Evernote) presents a huge transition. This is no where near as large as the transition for some users who have yet to even move to a cloud tools. It is a new way of thinking. It requires all new business processes. Online training can only go so far and an institution rollout that maximises the user of this software and the efficiencies it can deliver seems like a mountain to climb.
All of the exciting stuff we saw today surrounded Ink. No one in the whole team I work for has access to any Ink enabled hardware. This would represent a significant investment and it is one I don’t see coming. At present, a lot of our work relies on BYOD (Bring your own device) and we all pretty much have an Apple iPad. While that allows us to use some Office 365 apps, these are lighter versions than those you can install on powerful Surface equivalent. While these app versions support Inking, the feature set is nowhere near as good as the program.
Ultimately, it made me realise just how amazing it is to be able to pick up a pen and draw directly onto something running full Windows. It’s just something I am not going to be able to afford to do for some time… although I should note there are some excellent devices from companies like HP that do not destroy the bank.
Most of my use of Microsoft Office is on a Windows PC, although I am a frequent user of Word on my Mac. With Word, I notice little difference between Windows and Mac. There are a few differences, but nothing I miss too much. Today I realised there are larger gaps between Windows and Mac in some of the other programs. Ink is one of these gaps but with my MacBook Pro it isn’t something I had even looked for before. Then again – it is little use on my MacBook Pro.
I hope OS X and Windows versions become more aligned over time and I would like to see versions of other programs like Visio and Project joining team Mac too.
Office 365 is amazing. But it is only amazing when you go whole hog. Unleashing the full power requires integrated versions of Office, Skype, Teams, Outlook/Exchange, OneDrive/Exchange and Yammer. It is the totality of all of these tools, speaking and syncing with each other that really brings the power. Access to Ink helps too 🙂
A big thank you to the team at Microsoft and their consultant for hosting us in London. Lunch was excellent and it was a great opportunity to see all of this in practice within education.