Inclusion is not my specialist area but I do think that one of the main strength with using digital technology in teaching and learning is how it can support inclusive practice dramatically, if used well of course.
It is now common thinking that inclusion should not only be for students with spLD but everyone- So when planning for a ‘Using digital tools for accessibility’ workshop I based it on how in education we tend to be always surrounded by lots and lots of text. Text is obviously very important in academic life but shouldn’t we also include other ways of communicating? Maybe involving more visual processing for example. Indeed I recently attended a workshop with David Roberts from Loughborough University where he argued for a balance of delivery where images and text work together. Apparently research has shown that we all have the capacity to process learning through dual pathways; one being visual while the other is more audio-textual. A balanced learning approach means easing pressure on our working memory so that we can grasp and understand more. (To find out more check out his blog:http://blog.lboro.ac.uk/sbe/2017/06/30/teaching-dyslexic-students/)
The ‘Using digital tools for accessibility’ workshop was then about sharing practical ideas as well as looking at some hypothetical student questions about how we can include them.
To practice what I preach I used the presentation tool Nearpod. Before the workshop I did a bit of a flipped approach and sent out a communication asking participants to prepare by reading up on how the Nearpod app works, I also asked them to bring in their favourite mobile device, that was not necessarily their phone. Once in the session with everybody logged on some specialists in the group straightaway set to testing Nearpod from an inclusion angle; the feedback was:
- Great for dyslexics who can focus on listening to the speaker without the distraction of trying to look at the slides in front of the room-instead they could refer to their device to see the text; so were able to focus on the content more.
- On mobile phones and other devices- it works very well including zoom features to support visually impaired students.
- A selection of interactive activities, including an open answer mode, are available. However, if you are a lecturer with dyslexia the open answer mode is probably not a good one for you as the app asks if you want to moderate students’ responses. So possibly a bit too much to juggle. Nonetheless, Nearpod has other excellent interactive options so when planning you need to keep in mind what is the most suitable for you as the teacher as well.
- Anonymous options in quizzes- if sharing results in front of class names do not have be seen.
Overall, Nearpod came out positively on the inclusion front mainly because it is a collaborative tool which can be run on the student’s own device, even though I had personally thought not to use mobile phones because the screens are so little. Furthermore, according to an accessibility consultant in the session, the fact remains that when a disabled student is expected to use a “standard” computer device they are at greater risk of being excluded as they have to focus their time on using the technology rather than participating in the class.
So with the importance of the personal mobile device very much in mind- we asked ourselves a student question:
Can I participate in a group activity using my own device?
Answers where varied and some of them non digital! However, the common tools that were mentioned, that can be used with students, were Padlet; possibly the easiest and most flexible collaborative board tool around. Others were Answer Garden and Nearpod (of course!). For quizzes Nearpod again with its ‘on the fly’ function where you can set up quiz questions on the spot for some quick formative assessment. Then Mentimeter and Polleverywhere seemed to be popular as well as Moodle’s very simple Choice tool-always good to check the wifi in the room before you run a quiz session though.
Our second student question was:
Can I listen and review or prepare for lectures?
Well, of course we now have lecture capture but also personal capture so that means that teachers can create presentations in their own office and then upload it onto Moodle for a bit of pre-learning. Or even use free tools such the Explain Everything app as well the PowToon templates which are great for creating simple but very visual introductions to basic concepts. Moodle resources of course were mentioned as well as the reading lists that the library supports.
Lastly, we looked at some of the tools that that can support students with their learning. For example all mobile devices have a text to speech functionality. Text to speech can be such a powerful tool, again not only for students with spLD but also international students for example; sometimes some of the challenges that international students face are probably quite similar to the challenges facing a dyslexic student; such as fluency in reading or being able to grasp meaning rapidly from a complex text. Even if we look at the university’s student PCs we can find tools such as ClaroRead or the Mindmapping tool Mindview6; these can be incredibly useful for everyone.
There are also free text to speech tools such as Balabolka that saves texts as Mp3 files, as do most text to speech tools. Great to have Mp3 Files on your phone if you are commuting to work or university. Chrome itself has some free accessibility add ins including a web version of Claroread as well as a high contrast app and much more. Though a warning here with the free stuff- it might one day suddenly disappear- this happened to me recently with one of my favorite collaborative tool TodaysMeet which is now no longer.