International Day of Persons with Disabilities

Over one billion people, 15% of the world’s population, live with some form of disability. Removing barriers to their participation creates a better world for all. December 3rd, marks the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities and this year’s theme centres around inclusion. The Equality Act 2010 asks us to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people. With this is in mind, the Educational Technology Team have put together a set of good practice principles that staff can factor into their Learning Space module design.

  1. Involve a diverse groups of learners in the design of your online module to provide feedback and advice and help you iterate.

  2. Provide multimedia alternatives to text; close captioned videos, audio and supportive visuals can break learning into chunks.

  3. Provide a contextual description for the files you upload. Your Learning Space is your voice guiding learners through the module.

  4. Test your content using some of the accessibility features of popular browsers and devices Chrome, Apple, Windows, Firefox, Android.

  5. Read More. JISC have a range of resources published around the areas of disability, accessibility and special educational needs

We’d encourage you to pick one or two of these and act on them to recognise today’s international effort.

A Lens on… Digital Literacy

In this series of articles, the Educational Technology team will be providing an insight into existing practice using technology for learning and teaching at Falmouth University and also at projects being undertaken within the wider HE sector.Our previous articles have looked at Assessment, Feedback and Open Education.

The term ‘Digital Literacy’ has origins which date back to the 1960s as Doug Belshsaw notes in What is ‘Digital Literacy’? and encompasses comprehension and understanding around use of technologies. 

Henry Jenkins describes it as the ability to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies. It requires one “to recognize and use that power, to manipulate and transform digital media, to distribute pervasively, and to easily adapt them to new forms”. One of the best definitions in my opinion comes from Josie Fraser who describes it in terms of function and socio-cultural development:

Digital Literacy = digital tool knowledge + critical thinking + social engagement

Fraser’s work with the  DigiLit Leicester project presents an excellent framework of reference for educators in understanding how we support these literacies. It has led to the local council driving forward use of OER and giving express permission to schools and colleges to make use of open materials in the physical and virtual classroom.

From 2011-2013 Jisc ran a project around digital literacies, which built on a Digital Literacy framework developed by Beetham and Sharpe (2010) to describe 7 elements that combine to form our digital literacies (Fig.1). A further ongoing project looks at the digital capabilities our institutions need to scaffold the development of these literacies.

Figure 1 – Seven elements of digital literacies from the JISC Digital Literacy project.

Online, Mozilla continues to encourage people by using an experiential approach to learning, with Teach The Web and Code Club partners volunteering with community groups to teach coding to kids.

In Finland, digital literacies are embedded in the core curriculum and the recent House of Lords Digital Skills report urges Universities to ensure the digital competency of their graduates so that they have the necessary skills to thrive in the future workplace.

At Falmouth, the ET team organises a range of drop in events aimed at sharing practice, trying out new tools and discussing the ever evolving world of Educational Technology. Last year we ran a series of 10 workshops ranging in theme and included a mobile learning speed geek/picnic, where staff got to move around the room discussing ‘mobile first’ design approaches to learning and new apps and technologies in the mobile environment.

We’re always up for doing more of this kind of stuff and talking about developing student literacies within taught courses, so get in touch if you have any thoughts/ideas around the subject.

(re)Designing learning material for online delivery

With increasing pressures on HEI’s to accomodate increasing student numbers and enabling wider access to learning, a fully online or blended delivery is becomming a popular means to manage this.

With reference to modern web design, we take a look at some considerations for appropriate online learning content.

Screen real estate

It’s really important to make content that meets the needs of our learners as quickly and efficiently as possible.

A recent survey suggests that our current cohort of students exist in a “a world that offers them instant access nearly everywhere to nearly the entirety of human knowledge, with incredible opportunities to connect, create and collaborate” and as such any content we produce must get our learners’ attention as quickly as possible, and hold it for as long as possible. We must make important information available up front, leaving lesser or secondary information until later; such as further down the page, or on secondary pages. We can also omit decorative or non-content elements, such as decorative images, allowing students to focus easily on the content that matters to them the most.

Here’s an example of how bookmarking tool Pocket takes article content from a site and re-fromats it without any additional ‘noise’ from the original post.
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Writing for the web

We tend to be less comfortable reading online, so it’s important our writing communicates efficiently.

Keep texts short

Keeping word count to a minimum is a good way of increasing reading speeds, which tend to be around 25% slower online. Reduce by half, and then half again.

The guiding voice

Humour and attitude play an important role in information retention. By using our own voice,  we can guide learners through our content in a personal and human way to help develop their understanding of the ideas and concepts we are presenting.

Writing in a language the audience understands

Avoid use of “eduspeak”, acronyms or unfamiliar terms when writing learning content. Learning outcomes or assessment criteria should be clear and easy to understand and may need to be translated from institutional lingo to modern language appropriate to the audience.

Scannable content

Around 79% of people scan web pages on the first visit and ascertain whether the content is relevant. By designing content that is easy to scan, we make it easier for learners to pick out, analyse and synthesise relevant information.

Be concise

When writing text, reducing word count by around half is known to increase a user’s ability to scan. You may be able to remove unnecessary words (often adjectives and adverbs) without the text losing meaning.

Scannable layout

A scannable layout can be achieved using properly formatted content, using elements such as headers, bullets and lists.

  • Headers, given appropriate titles, can aid readability by being informative and acting as a resting place for the eye whilst scanning.
  • Bullets can be used to clump important ideas together, whilst keeping the word count to a minimum.
  • Numbered lists can be used where the number of bullet points becomes excessive, aiding readability and information retention.

The online presence for the UK government is a good example of minimal content that is in a language that users understand.
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Page titles

Page titles play an important role in the navigation of online content. Provided they are given an informative title, they explain what will be found of the page.

An optimal page title, designed for quick scanning, should include information-carrying terms towards the start, beginning with a word that meets the learner’s immediate needs. Page titles should also be around 40 – 60 characters in length, aiding scanning.

Page titles need not be grammatical sentences, and may read more like advertising slogans drawing people to the content and maximising impact.
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Mobile-friendly content

It is important to consider the constraints as well as the affordances of mobile devices to make sure the content we produce is always available to, and consumable by, our learners.

Large and unnecessary images are one of the main culprits for a poor mobile reading experience. Due to slower mobile download speeds, it is important that images be information-carrying and of importance to the user, and optimised to allow them to be downloaded as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Screen size also affects our reading ability online. Secondary material should be linked to as ‘extended reading’ or omitted altogether.

The context of mobile use also means that learners expect content to be instantly available, so ensuring content is concise and scannable means learners can engage at a time and/or place suitable to them.

The process of making our content adaptable will benefit  learners using a range of devices; phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, so the benefits outweigh the cost of designing mobile friendly content.

If you don’t have a mobile device to hand, the emulation mode available in Google Chrome allows you to view content as you might see it on mobile.
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Images

As mentioned, use of images should be minimised due to download speeds, especially on mobile.

Eye tracking studies have shown that images with little or no use are simply ignored by learners; therefore decorative or non-informative images should be omitted from your content. However, learners do want to see images containing important information; a course/module introduction might contain an image that represents the theme and engages the learner in the same way that a Title might.
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Avatars or profile pictures are also known to positively affect user behaviour online, as they add a human touch that is often missing in online content. This is particularly relevant to fully online courses, who might make use of Forums for posting content.
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Including meta-data, such as an image description within images posted on the web aids accessibility and means those with slower internet connections or who make use of screen readers get useful information about that image.

Video

Like images, internet bandwidth must be considered for use of video. Home based/Off campus learners may be relying on mobile internet speeds to access content and whilst they may be able to view a one minute introduction to the course/module, they may not be able to view an hour long lecture recording or interview.

Video is a good way of giving the learner a sense of personality and to introduce your voice.  Avoid “talking heads” and opt for showing movement in video, as this adds to the user experience and gives context. A Screencast may be able to explain a concept much better than presenting it in a lecture and allow learners to follow along at their own pace.

[vimeo 75034342 w=540 h=338]

However, video may be more expensive and time-consuming to produce, compared to other content types, so consider whether another mode of delivery might do the same job. Also, due to the visual nature of video, audio quality is often overlooked, making for a frustrating experience;  spoken word may be more difficult to understand and becomes a problem, particularly for those with impaired hearing or non-native speakers. Consider making use of closed-captioning to make the video more accessible.

Audio

Audio is a welcome and often overlooked alternative to text content on screen as it provides a separate channel to the visual information on the page.

Audio can often supplement commentary or help information, without obscuring any visual elements that the user may be interacting with.

Using voice overs, we can give a sense of personality to what might otherwise be monochrome text

As well as being an alternative to text, audio may be more favourable than video due to the lower production costs.

//embeds.audioboom.com/boos/869015-higher-education-vocab-rp-british-accent-pronunciation-podcast/embed/v4?eid=AQAAAD9nt1WXQg0A

Staff at Falmouth University can subscribe to this module to find out more about presenting content in Learning Space.

Online options for taking your data with you

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With greater access to educational resources online, learning will become a lifelong dedication for the majority of people. Sebastian Thrun, the founder of online course provider Udacity, describes the future of learning as akin to a “toothbrush technology”, one which you will pick up, twice a day for five minutes and not just confined to the walls of the educational institution.

If you’re a graduating student you need to think about the data that you have amassed and the resources you have created whilst at University, as it’s likely that you may want to reference it in learning contexts later in life. You may already be in the process of creating a portfolio of work developed during your studies, or thinking about setting up your online portfolio, so it’s important to take a backup of files that may be held on University machines or in Learning Space and also any data that your institution has amassed about you as a learner.

First up, you’ll need to backup your files. Online/Cloud storage solutions are offered by a lot of the companies you’d associate with the web, like Google and Apple, but if you’re concerned about privacy and long term availability (and a bit more technologically confident) you could set up your owncloud. Here a list of some cloud storage options  and the benefits of each.

In terms of backing up your data in Learning Space, such as forum posts, you might copy and paste the text/images into a Google Doc, which will immediately be available within your associated online storage. If you’re doing this through owncloud or backing up to a physical hard drive, you might look at pasting into a document that uses the Open Document Format or .odf extension as this is likely to be compatible with most ‘Office’ software in the future.

If you’re in the process of developing a portfolio, there are a range of online options that will allow you to upload images and text and display these publicly. Each one will have it’s merits and you might look to see which is popular within your area of professional practice. For example, Tumblr is widely adopted by the art community and WordPress by writers. Ultimately, it’s your decision so choose what best fits your workflow, but it’s advisable to pick an option that allows you to export your work, or at least keep an alternative backup so that you can remain flexible as the technology changes.

The two lists associated with this post are public and collaborative, so please add any more tools that you are aware of to:

Cloud backup/storage

and/or

Blogs/portfolio Services for staff and students

On demand video streaming tools

Over the last couple of months, we’ve seen the emergence and rise of two technology tools that are competing to win us over with real-time, on-demand, video streaming/broadcast with a social media twist. Meerkat and Periscope offer the ability for mobile users to broadcast and view live video from all over the globe with the added function of connecting with other viewers using Twitter.

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Both apps do similar things, but at the time of writing only Meerkat is available on Android as well as iOS, so we’ll be looking at the experience of Meerkat to begin with.

Creating a new live stream on Meerkat will present you with a screen like this:

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At the top you see user and location details, across the video you see message details and at the bottom you have a few controls; post a message, switch on the flash, flip the camera and stop the stream.

When you start a new stream, it will post a link to your Twitter feed and then when you make any comments you have the choice for them to appear just in the app, but also on your Twitter feed:

Whereas previously, live video streaming apps have been designed around the Desktop use (Skype, Hangouts), Meerkat and Periscope are specifically focusing on the mobile experience, by having full screen video and a commenting overlay with just a few buttons for interaction.

Potential Learning and Teaching Applications

I’ve written before about DIY Lecture Capture and these new apps offer similar possibilities for mobile users. With the addition of a Swivl for example, you could stream a live session and have an automated camera operator following you around the room. You could use this for CPD in the form of a lesson observation, have colleagues comment live with their thoughts/feedback.

Live streaming might also be great for field trips. You could connect with other staff/students and potential students in real time and learners could choose to document the video through Twitter/Storify and discuss this when back on campus.

These examples are off the top of my head, the technology is new and many streams will be of people’s kitchen’s as they get used to the app, but there will be educational practitioners already putting this technology to use, so if you have an idea or learning activity that might benefit from  on-demand streaming, get in touch with the team.

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