Digital accessibility course – week 2

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I enjoyed learning new and practical things in week two.

I add two things of the course design which have given me good experience.

  • It provides exercises and quiz in the section which are designed timely and not lengthy.
  • People’s comments provide extra useful resources.

Technology can be very helpful. Human can design and create assistive technology to compensate for limitations relative to mobility and speech. I suppose this is “When God closes a door, He always opens a window.” Having a disability does not exclude people from discovering and pursuing their passions in life. The incredible examples are:

I have started to aware many technologies I never heard of. I listed some below. I thought I would be able to use these technologies easily, but actually it’s complex, especially I had to try them in some way that I don’t usually do. For instance, I tried the NVDA on Windows 10. I closed my eyes, and only used the keyboard to work out what a webpage looks like by listening to what the software tells me. It’s no success I could follow and find the information easily. Listening to the robot voice made me tired and annoyed too. The exercises let me see how technologies/documents/webpages have been designed without thinking of accessibility. Online resource creators (including me) can easily forget the accessibility guidelines.

The most import point of this week is learning how to make document accessible. Here are things I learnt particularly and I have started to apply them in my own document creation from this week.

  • I never noticed that there is an “Insert captions” feature for an image in MS-Word. I often create an caption under the figure/image myself.
  • Between Decorative image, Informative image, and Functional image, I felt I haven’t used the “alt” tag in the functional images properly most of time. The W3C Web Accessibility Initiative tutorial is really helpful.
  • Using”alt” tag for Group of images
  • A mistake – using style (e.g, bold enlarged text) instead of proper headings
  • A mistake – putting blank lines between paragraphs rather than setting the “space before/after” attribute for paragraphs
  • The accessibility guideline provided in the course is very useful for auditing a document for accessibility.

Digital accessibility course – week 1

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I registered the “Digital Accessibility: Enabling Participation in the Information Society” online course, which started on 6th February.

With my previous experience of a software engineer, I knew that the good or bad of an application is largely related to how much the designers/programmers know their users. I took an “Interaction Design” course as a part of my degree many many years ago. I learnt how our own brain illusion can affect our understanding and designs. Although in my work I haven’t been involved in creating/developing products/applications any more, I see many examples of learning content delivered without thoughtful design and users complaining about the difficulty and inconvenience when use a system (including myself!). I hope through this course, I refresh my knowledge; learn this topic systematically, especially considering the disabled/elderly users, which I may not have enough knowledge of; and start to improve my practices.

This is my first MOOC experience. Because it doesn’t have a blog area in the course, I decide to write down my experience here.

First, I noticed the course itself is a good example regarding to digital accessibility. I list some.

  • It clearly presents online communication etiquette and content copyright.
  • It provides transcript for each audio/video clip. The transcript is easy to read and searchable. I can access to it at any time.
  • It provides a glossary (downloadable) which helps us to check the vocabularies used in the course.
  • The comments field supports editing and spelling check, which is very useful to avoid typos.
  • I can check my comments and progress quickly.
  • Video materials are downloadable.
  • Audio materials can be set to play with different speed.

Second, the most mind-opening statements for me are:

  • Professor Mike Wald said “Everybody can think of themselves as only temporarily not having a disability, because at some point in their life as they get older, they will have some sort of disability.
  • “… disability is caused by the way society is organised, rather than by a person’s impairment or difference. … An impairment is defined as long-term limitation of a person’s physical, mental or sensory function.” from Scope
  • The term ‘Usability’ is normally used to refer to the actual use of the technology by a particular target group of users and contexts (e.g. including whether they find it easy to learn to use). The term ‘Accessibility’ is normally used to refer to the use of the technology by everyone rather than just a specific group of users (e.g. including whether blind people can also use the technology).”  from section 1.6.
  • Up to one in seven people in Europe may have speech, language and literacy difficulties at some time in their lives.” from section 1.15.
  • As Neil Milliken said that “everyone in an organisation should have some knowledge of the issues that affect one in five of the population”. I think I never even asked myself what is the issue?

Third, the new knowledge that I knew little about:

  • I realised how little knowledge I have about the UK law/legislation. I learnt that “…only Accessibility has actual legislation making it illegal to disadvantage a disabled person through an inaccessible product or service.” In the UK, it’s the Disability Equality Act (2010).
  • Everyone can influence their organisation. However, to be able to do so, it needs a hub and spoke, effectively, and champions. More importantly, it needs an executive sponsor who is higher-up enough to support companions.
  • Subtitles and captions are different. I now know why Blackboard Collaborate product uses the term ‘captions’.
  • Seeing the examples of people who have dyslexia, hearing impairment, deaf, visual impairment, and cerebral palsy, and the discussions about the challenges they face daily, I appreciate what I have. I started to see more of people’s needs and learn the existing technologies that they are using but I haven’t heard of.

Fourth, the course opens many resources to us. I am starting to think how much work I have been involved in has met the Accessibility standard, and how many of our current web resources follow the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. The new tools/resources that I can immediately use in my practice are:

Finally, I list a few inconvenient points.

  • The learning resource links are not opened in a new window/tab. When click on a link, it opens in the same window, which if you are typing some comments and click on a link accidentally, you will lose the unpublished comments. You need to type again.
  • It does not support ‘searching’ in the course.
  • It suggests that 3 hours/week studying time are needed. In fact, I have spent much more time on learning course materials, reading people’s comments, posting comments, and digesting what I learned in this week. Is it because I haven’t been a student for too long? I guess if the learner has already had the background knowledge, they can learn much quicker than I did, but still 3 hours/week seems impossible.

The Learning Technologist role (2)

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The year of 2016 ends soon. I didn’t write a post here until now. Giving a brief summary, it’s a year of half of the time spending on family responsibilities and half of the time being busy for making progress in an inefficient process (I don’t like this part, but sometimes I have to accept the fact).

At the end of the two years working on the “enablement officer” secondment role, I see the role of “learning technologist” clearer. Linking back to my previous post, I think it’s necessary to write down my experience and lessons as a learning technologist (if I dare to call myself so).

What it is and what it is not

Basically to me, there are many of us who work in this area have similar background. I use a diagram to indicate it. However, this doesn’t say people who are originally from different backgrounds do not have the capability to do an excellent job in the area. This diagram is a simple example which shows how our own biases can be in the area.


In the diagram A and B stand for people who work in the IT and the Education. C stands for people who work in Learning Technology area.

A: knowledge originally was from IT background (I mean people understand how/why a system was designed, implemented and developed in certain way). This is gained either from education or from long work experience in the area of IT. Considering a context such as higher education, people in the area need to gain the knowledge of education and pedagogy to be able to understand if a technology helps teaching and learning. Gradually the C area appears.

B: knowledge originally was gained from studying the Education subject or from adequate experience of teaching/researching. It is not easy for people working in education to avoid technology or say “digital”. Some of them start to learn IT or understand how technology works. They see the benefits and the limits that technology brings into education. They are the ones who put spurs to the C area.

C: People who work in this area have the adequate knowledge/experience in both A and B, and I think more and more people are going to work in C area. Trying to separate the IT capabilities and pedagogy support from the learning technologist’s work will make their work even harder.

I like what Matt Cornock said in his blog post “Learning Technologist – Oldest job around?“.

… learning technologists are seen as problem solvers working to understand and improve pedagogy, rather than problem makers who would otherwise try to force technology where it doesn’t fit.”

In higher education, there is a need that staff become more technologically adaptive and confident, but it doesn’t mean technology is the key. I agree that the core of the learning technologist role is not about the technology itself, rather is more about helping to resolve the pedagogic problems that the teaching/learning is facing. Understanding the user experience and help users to adapt and explore the benefits and constrains of using technology is the key.

My understanding of the required skills of a learning technologist role does not change much. According to the particular task we work on, some skills are required more than others. I list the knowledge/skill that I found is essential:

  • pedagogies in higher education (I need to improve myself a lot. This is related to my knowledge of the UK Education and policies.)
  • website, webpage, and HTML(5)
  • the ability to identify if a problem is a technical bug/defect
  • effective communication (I need to improve myself a lot. This is related to my knowledge of the UK culture to a good extent.)
  • both online and face-to-face presentation (I need to improve myself on podcasting. This is because I am not very confident as a ESL person. However strangely I feel fine with face-to-face presentation.)
  • coordinating webinars/virtual classrooms (I need to improve myself a lot.)
  • learn/share good practice and/or lessons from/to peers (Being visible and connected is the way!)

The work wasn’t easy and is still challenging. Below are the areas that I feel difficult in my work over the past two years.

An easy-reach contact/sharing structure 

I like to encourage self-directed experiential learning. My assumption was that nowadays it’s not easy to avoid using technology (e.g., pay bills online, online shopping, video chat smart phone, attending webinars, etc.). People use technology and learn how to use technology unconsciously. With the assumption, my “advocate” approach didn’t work as good as I expected. I thought with telling users where the resources are, they will learn themselves. Actually I realised that I need to work alongside with them. I work in a central division rather than in a school/department, one of the barriers is that there are often too many service/management tiers between us and the actual users. The communication process is lengthy and tardy. Another barrier is that learning technologists were not involved in working with academic/professional services staff at the beginning to avoid many problems regarding to making decisions. This is often impossible.

What I learnt is that learning technologists are the people whom the academic/professional services staff need to contact directly at first when they are starting to think about adopting technology in practice. Learning technologists help them to identify their pedagogic problems, choose tools, learn the tools quickly and prepare/deliver activities. Learning technologists share the user cases with other users, evaluate the technology adoption, and feed the experience/lessons back to the technology providers and user community.

Various methods are essential

Following the point above, another barrier is that users are at different levels in terms of essential digital skills/knowledge, so does the learning technologists have different level of expertise in terms of learning technology support. For example, from my experience of delivering support resources, it showed that working on a single approach to encouraging self-directed experience learning is inefficient. I may have created information-rich resources and made them available for users, however without going through the resources with users, some may say they don’t have time to read, some may say they don’t understand, and some may say they can’t find the specific information. Relating to where the resources were, who created them and who updated them, I realised that we need to provide various types of key resources and deliver them to users by different channels. For example, delivering a user guide in a way that users can learn easily may need us to provide a step-by-step one page printable guide, a 3 minutes audio/video clip to explain the guide, a diagram that shows the relationship between this guide and relevant resources, regular webinar training sessions, and follow-up user experience Q&As and feedback. It requires a lot of work from learning technologists as sometimes many of them are different formats, but similar content; sometimes it needs creativity, and sometimes it’s about project management.

Teams and organisational knowledge

By my own experience, I got the impression that individual learning technologist rather than a team is seen as key resource by institutions, and they have been managed like they can do any other learning technologists’ work at a same quality level, or say, hold the same set of knowledge/skills. In many cases, core values of teams are unseen and not identified, and team knowledge is not addressed. Many learning technologists work on their own without supporting/understanding from the institutional level. What kind of knowledge is shared and how knowledge is shared are determined by the individuals. Meanwhile, likely we only bring users a short-term satisfaction because the technologies are delivered before a responsible robust team is ready. Here what I mean a “team” is that people feel they belong to and work for a team goal rather than a team in an operational framework.

Community of practice is a way that tries to bridge the gap, however learning technologists team building and organisational knowledge management are weak.

Leadership skills

I noticed that it requires good leadership skills in the learning technologist role. One of the important aspects of the role is that learning technologists provide recommendations and work with users toward the most workable solution. They need be creative due to the tight budget. In addition, their work impacts on user’s views, user’s experience, and the proliferation of a technology. They even need to shove people’s (particularly the senior managers, senior academic staff, and “conventional” users) perceptions of IT and learning technologies. There are few opportunities for learning technologists to develop leadership skills. I like this simple video that explains what is leadership; it’s different from management!

At the time I wrote this post, my colleague Dewi Parry sent us a blog post “A Learning Technologists Dilemma” written by @KerryPinny. It’s a helpful post that encourages me to think about what I can do next.

Understanding the situation more

I read a book “Scarcity: Why too little means so much” recently. Although the empirical research was from economists’ focus on the problem of scarcity, that is, on how people allocate their resources in the face of many competing demands, I recommend this book to everyone. I found that I was in the situations too many times like the cases discussed in the book. I was thinking it’s about self-control, people’s ability to learn or a part of the individual’s natural characters. However, this book sheds light on human cognitive tunnel, which explains the limits what we are able to see, and therefore what we do. It may help us to understand the situation we are in.

The learning technology awards and winners in 2015

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A list of the awards of Learning Technology in 2015:

Don’t ignore the web design concepts in your interactive materials

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Nowadays many web-based tools are designed easy-to-use. Users can quickly deliver content through webpages. However, we notice that people may not consider the web design elements when they create interactive teaching materials online.

Questions we often come across are like below. It’s hard for people to know everything of web design and their user experience. So I list some quick resources that may help you to design online materials better.

  • I want to use an image on the page, but where can I get good free images?

There are massive image resources on the Internet. However finding a suitable image from a reliable resource and using the image legally are the key. The UK Intellectual Property Office has published an Intellectual property – guidance: Copyright notices. Before you searching images, read it first. Below are useful resources for you.

  • Why does the image look differently on other people’s machine from mine?

Your audiences view the page using different mobiles, tablets and browsers. Different web browsers that are created by different companies may not display web pages the same way. Thus, make sure you have tried on different devices if possible and make sure your webpages are cross-browser compatibility. Using some of the recommended tools to check your webpages.

  • What highlight colour on the page should I use if I want call people’s attention?

Think about what theme colours you have on your webpage. Who are the audience? Does the page or image on the page contain red/green colours combination that may affect colour blind users? Do you have more than three key colours on the page? What do you want to highlight, for instance texts or a specific area. Is it possible to call user’s attention without to use highlight colours? Ask random audience to have a look at your webpage and see how they respond to it.

Using some of the resources to improve your pages.

Notes from the Blackboard Teaching and Learning Conference 2015

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The three days Teaching and Learning Conference by Blackboard was over. I wrote down some important notes based on the sessions I had attended.

  • Graham Brown-Martin’s keynote speech are based on his past two years work. He interviewed those educational leading thinkers, such as Seth Godin, Sir Ken Robinson, Keri Facer and so on. You may have a look at his website and his speech (which has similar ideas) on TED before it’s available on the Blackboard website. His new book Learning {Re}imagined is available now.
  • Dr Anne Campbell and Graham Storey from the Open University shared their course design for staff development training on Blackboard Collaborate, which is a good practice example.
  • The University of York (presented by Simon Davis) has developed their own Anonymous Assignment feature in Blackboard according to the user requirements. However, I don’t think we will do it. I would prefer to support staff by providing clear policies and demonstrating good practices. The session activity is available here.
  • The speech of Valerie Schreiner shows the focus of the Blackboard products. It includes portfolio, peer-to-peer assessment, calendar, LIS 2.0 standards, SIS (Students information systems) and grades, Blackboard Offline, Blackboard Analytics, Blackboard Grade App, Blackboard Student App. I like her emphasis on course design should consider four aspects: simple, continuous, mobile, and engagement.
  • Gilliam Fielding’s presentation shows the UCISA Digital Capabilities survey 2014. She pointed out that digital capability is role-based rather than technology-based. The executive summary was published in April 2015 and the full report will be issued in Spring 2015. You may also have a look at the results of UCISA Survey of technology enhanced learning 2014 that was published in September 2014.
  • The Blackboard Exemplary Course Program Rubric helps instructors and course designers to recognise best practices by considering four aspects: course design, interaction & collaboration, assessment, and learner support. The Blackboard exemplary course past winners are viewable here.
  • Calum Thomson presented Dr Rod Cullen and his research on webinars. We used to vote and see the vote results in the session activity. You may have a look at his presentation at the MELSIG event (which has the similar information) before it is available on the Blackboard website.

A note of the ITIL training

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I attended a 3-day ITIL foundation training last week. My department requires as many staff as possible to attend it.

ITIL is a brand owned by the AXELOS Ltd, where you can find learning materials. ITIL provides best practice guidance to IT Service Management (ITSM); it’s not a method or a standard, and it doesn’t tell you what to do.

How could we learn so much in 3 days? Well, I suppose it’s because (1) we all to some extent use IT services; (2) the work we have been involved in more or less is embedded in the ITSM process; (3) we all have taken some role somewhere that fits in ITSM.

Without touching the training materials, I jot down my thoughts here in case it’s washed off by my daily work, which is more about how to facilitate using technology in teaching/learning and actually do it.

The difficult bit in learning ITIL:

  • To some degree, we all have previous experience of ITSM. We have our own terms in the team/project/management. The tricky point is we need to understand/remember what the concepts mean in ITIL without thinking too much about our own concepts first. Then we need to link the concepts what we have used to ITIL and make sense of it. For me how well we can channel ITIL into our own experience is the challenge in the short course because first we can not get rid of our preconceptions in such short time. If our preconceptions about something in ITSM are diverge from the direction that recommended by ITIL, we can easily get confused. Second, we often think about what we need to do. Actually it’s a step farther than the ‘knowing where we are and where we want to go’.

The key things I’ve learnt:

  • It shows us what are the right direction to do things in ITSM and what we had done badly to some extent in certain aspects.
  • The RACI (Responsible-Accountable-consulted-Informed) model is crucial and essential. (see a RACI Matrix demo)
  • The service catalogue is essential. It needs to be available and to be managed by the service owner.
  • Differences between proactive and reactive (see a resource written by Neven Zitek).
  • What are ITIL functions, processes, activities and roles.
  • It’s about management, not about operation.

The key points about the exam:

  • Keep a balance between using previous experience or not in answering the exam questions. Some questions can be answered well based on my previous experience without learning ITIL. Some are simply about remembering the definition.
  • I was nervous in the real exam as earlier I was too relaxed at home to complete the mock exam paper. So do have a serious mock exam yourself!

What’s next?

  • My colleagues and I talked about it in the office. It’s not about passing the exam, rather it helps us to think things more logic and strategical.
  • I can start to use it in practice now and I had a couple of things/ideas on my to-do list for my next 2-3 months.
  • Hopefully we all speak the same ‘language’ and we can understand the terms used by different teams easily.
  • Shall I attend another ITIL exam after I put ITIL into my practice? Could it help me to see how much knowledge of ITIL I have really gained?

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