Posted by: MandyS | November 29, 2011

Activity 25.1 – Lecturer’s perspectives

At long last, something which is focused on my context. Not that the previous readings were not relevant but, as a tutor, this is particularly so. In some respects, much of the chapter highlights issues I had already begun to observe, so is good to see I was on the right track.

Seale identifies that the issues important to lecturer’s are:

  • how can I make materials accessible
  • what is my role and responsibility in ensuring accessibility.

However, she then goes on to consider that lecturer’s are accused of ‘being resistant to accessibility and negative about their own responsibilities’ (p.68). The reasons she puts forward are:

  • Challenge to ‘academic freedom’ i.e. being able to teach in the way they consider appropriate to achieve learning outcomes
  • lack of awareness of accessibility issues
  • academic have little control over the courseware they use
  • accessibility is framed as a technical issue rather than a teaching one.

From my experience with W201, I can relate to these issues. Law as a subject is predominantly text-based and perhaps does not lend itself as easily to online teaching as other subjects might e.g. languages. This does not mean to say it is not possible, but, as I discovered in transposing the module activity into the online learning object, a great deal of thought is required as to how to achieve the learning outcomes in the same way. I think tutors probably gain an ‘overall’ awareness of accessibility as an issue from equality and diversity training, but not the ‘real’ accessibility issues gained from a specific course like H810. In some respects, I would imagine that most tutors feel they don’t need to know about these issues in any detail simply because they are, as Seale identifies, “mandated to use specific courseware” and ” the most they have control over is the content that they place in the system” (pp.69 & 70). As Brown (2011) points out “the OU had ‘access’ in the widest sense as its founding principle – so it’s kind of in the DNA of the organisation which pervades the culture.” For tutors, like myself and Brown, we are very much in this situation. The material I add to the system is purely supplementary and there is no obligation on the students to use it; in fact, there is an emphasis placed on the fact that study of the manuals alone is all that is needed to achieve success. I don’t use this as an excuse, but it explains why I have not really given much thought to accessibility in the past. In some respects, the fact that tutors have little control over the content of the system is probably also the reason why accessibility is seen as a technical problem rather than as a pedagogical issue. If a student was unable to access the material via their assistive technology, my solution would be to refer them to disability services to rectify the problem rather than think it was anything to do with the design of the course.

Having an understanding of how various disabilities impact upon the learning of disabled students may be one way in which lecturers could see accessibility as a teaching issue; a “proactive consideration of student diversity” (Seale, 2011, p. 72). Listening to and watching the experiences of students with diverse disabilities and their learning experiences has helped me focus more on what I can do to make my tutorial material accessible than any of the guidelines. Creating the accessible learning object was also a step forward for me in this regard. I envisaged transposing the module activity into an interactive learning tool as being relatively straightforward, when in actual fact, it was quite a challenge. As Seale (p. 71) suggests, ‘there are different legitimate ways for students to meet various defined course objectives’ and, as I discovered, it is a matter of ‘exploring the multiple teaching and assessment measures,’ which itself may involve some input from the disabled students themselves as to what works and what doesn’t.

I suggest that Seale defines the key principles that underpin different design approaches as follows:

  • Inclusivity – the inclusion of students with disabilities is a ‘forethought rather than an afterthought and that there are different ways for students to meet various defined course objectives
  • equity – the design is ‘useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.’
  • holism – start with the pedagogy and then address accessibility, which may be any accessible learning experience.
  • proactivity – thinking about the needs of students at the beginning of the design process.
  • flexibility – thinking about appropriate ways to offer equivalent and alternative access for disabled students.

To me, these are basic principles which can be easily followed. The whole point is that catering for disabled students from the outset is likely to involve far less work than having to consider how to make subsequent adaptations. Yes, it may encourage a ‘one size fits all’ approach but as Seale argues, it also provides a ‘sufficiently broad base’ (p. 73), which can then be used as a starting point for lecturers to tailor their teaching to meet specific needs.

References:

Brown, C (2011) H810 Clive’s Tutor group Forum, 27 November 2011, 18:04 http://learn.open.ac.uk/mod/forumng/discuss.php?d=786219#p6211905

Seale, J. (2006) E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education: Accessibility Research and Practice, Abingdon, Routledge; also available online at http://learn.open.ac.uk/ mod/ resourcepage/ view.php?id=569013&direct=1 (accessed 28 November 2011)

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