In this section I will discuss my understanding of and engagement with relevant policies and standards with regard to supporting diverse learners and accessibility of education services. Given that nowadays we are faced with increasingly varied student body, supporting diverse learners should be an integral part of professional development in the sector.
In my work, both as a lecturer and as an academic developer in technology-enhanced learning, I have been engaging with issues of supporting diverse learners, especially in relation to the design and development of online and traditional content. I am familiar with the relevant policies, guidelines and recommendations, for example the JISC’s accessibility and inclusion guides, the WCAG 2.0 guidelines or accessibility information for the VLE I use on a daily basis. I have also been exploring resources on accessibility, such as this online course in design and accessibility for online learning or this excellent resource from Birkbeck, to broaden and consolidate my knowledge.
I have discussed issues of supporting diverse learners in an online article for London Metropolitan University’s eLearning Matrix.
As per s20 of the Equality Act 2010, institutions have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities, which includes providing information in accessible formats. This is reflected in my day-to-day work, where, on a practical level, I make sure to incorporate accessibility considerations in the online resources I create, thus demonstrating good practice. Examples here include:
- using alt text with images to assist users with screen readers;
- using fonts of appropriate size for better legibility;
- using h1-h6 headings as well as ordered and unordered lists to structure content logically for easier cognitive processing and easier access using screen readers;
- appropriate use of font and background colours and contrast for better legibility, especially when using screen magnifying software;
- identifying file size to help users consider download times;
- using materials in standard formats;
- providing subtitles in videos;
- utilising tools that follow accessibility standards (e.g. Xerte).
The examples below illustrate some of the practical steps I took to increase accessibility of resources I created and make sure they complied with the relevant standards.
Example of an image inserted with alt text:
Example of an instructional video with subtitles to support accessibility (if subtitles are not showing, click CC in the video frame):
Example of multiple means of representation: text in the image is reproduced underneath in case the image cannot be accessed (whether due to a disability or technical glitch). This example also shows how icons and different font sizes can be used in a VLE to present content in a more structured and legible way.
Example of multiple means of representing content and engaging students: introductory video (animation), the same content accessible as an embedded pdf and through a download link
Example of a downloadable resource with file size to help users consider download times:
Exploring the issues of accessibility and supporting diverse learners has been a good opportunity for me to reflect on what it takes for teaching and learning provision to be inclusive. Traditionally, accessibility is perceived as related to disabilities, however it may have several other dimensions, related to learners’ previous educational experiences, life circumstances, cultural background and attitudes, all of which should find reflection in learning design, including online and digital content. In this context, adequate learning support is central to high quality learning.
The HE context is a very diverse environment, involving interactions with students and staff at different points of the spectrum of accessibility needs. I believe that learner support should not be viewed as exceptional, i.e. as interventions when something goes wrong, but as an integral part of the teaching design: it should be built in at various stages of the learning process.
With regard to online content, considering accessibility made me think that most adjustments are quite common sense, and they benefit not only users with disabilities but all users in general – through improved readability and design.
As mentioned above, technical means to achieve this are relatively simple, such as adding subtitles to videos, using alt text with images or delivering content in varied ways. However, working on online resources has also made me think about accessibility at a more general level of online course/material design. Some questions that I think are worth asking when designing and developing online course provision are:
- is content structured into short, logical chunks?
- is the layout simple and consistent, avoiding clutter, to help absorb information?
- is the content presented through multiple means, e.g. is information presented in images also available as text or are video transcripts provided?
- is cognitive processing made easier through the use of images and diagrams and avoidance of “walls of text”?
- are participants provided with multiple means of expression and engagement?
- will participants require an orientation/tools tutorial to be able to participate in the course effectively?
I believe that by taking these issues into consideration, we can help all users learn more effectively and at the same time comply with the relevant accessibility policies and standards and make education more inclusive.