Tag Archives: accessibility

Universal design for learning

Emma Fletcher
Technology Enhanced Learning Advisor
York St John University

EDUCAUSE 2017

Emma Fletcher was funded to attend this event as a 2017 UCISA bursary winner

As a UCISA bursary winner for 2017, I got the opportunity to attend the annual EDUCAUSE conference, this year held in Philadelphia, PA.

The first session of Day 1 of the EDUCAUSE conference was from Dr Michio Kaku, a futurist, theoretical physicist and author. He spoke about his predictions for the future, the digitisation of society and commerce, although he admitted it is hard to predict the future. He suggested that the internet will be everywhere in the future, so we will view it in the same way we view electricity now. We will have the internet in contact lenses, meaning getting online will be as easy as blinking. This will mean we have information easily available to us, so in education memorising facts/figures will be less important with more focus on concepts being taught. He also spoke of lecturers roles becoming more of a mentoring one. Whilst it was thought provoking, some of it was rather science fiction.

Further sessions in Day 1 of the conference covered the key areas of universal design for learning (UDL) and learning management systems (LMS). In ‘A look at how an LMS can help you implement your UDL strategies’, Kenneth Chapman (D2L) and Sandra Connelly (Rochester Institute of Technology) covered the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework  principles and how the LMS can play a role in supporting some of these  They focussed on the issues around accessibility, levelling the playing field so that everyone has equal access to what is being designed, as well as ensuring that this is designed and added up front.

Resources and downloads from the presentation are now available.

 

Performance management and assessing capacity

Giuseppe Sollazzo

 

 

Giuseppe Sollazzo
Senior Systems Analyst
St George’s, University of London

 

 

 

 

 

Velocity day three – the final one – has been another mind-boggling combination of technical talks and masterful storytelling about performance improvement in a disparate set of systems. The general lesson of the day is: know your user, know your organization, know your workflows – only then will you be able to adequately plan your performance management and assess your capability.

This was the message from the opening keynote by Eleanor Saitta. She spoke about how to design for ‘security outcomes’, or, in other words, ‘security for humans’: there is no threat management system that works if isolated from an understanding of the human system where the threats emerge. We have some great examples of this in academia, and at St George’s one of the major challenges we face is securing systems and data in a context of academic sharing of knowledge. Being a medical school, the human aspect of security – and how this can affect performances – is something we have to face on a daily basis.

One of the best presentations, however, was by David Booker of IBM, who gave a live demo of the Watson system, an Artificial Intelligence framework which is able to understand informal (up to a point) questions and answer them in speaking. As per every live demo, this encountered some issues. Curiously, Watson wasn’t able to understand David’s pronunciation of the simple word “yes”. “She doesn’t get when I say ‘yes’ because I’m from Brooklyn,” David said, triggering laughter in the audience.

Continuous delivery
Courtney Nash of O’Reilly spoke at length about how we should be thinking when we build IT services, with a focus on the popular strategy of continuous delivery. Continuous delivery is the idea that a system should transition from development to production very often, and this idea is taking traction in both industry and academia. However, this requires trust: trusting your tools, your infrastructure, your code, and most importantly, the people who power the whole organization. Once again, then, we see the emergence of a human factor when planning for the delivery of IT services.

The importance of 2G
In another keynote with a lot of applicable ideas for academic websites, Bruce Lawson of Opera ASA has focused on the ‘next billion’ users from developing countries who are starting to use internet services. Access to digital is spreading, especially in developing areas of Asia, where four billion people live. India had 190 million internet users in 2014, and this is poised to grow to 400 million by 2018.

The best piece of information in this talk was the realisation that if you take the US, India and Nigeria, the top 10 visited websites are the same: Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, and so on. Conversely, the top 10 devices give a very different picture: iPhones dominate in the US, cheap Androids in India, and Nokia or other regional feature phones in Nigeria. This teaches us an important lesson: regardless of hardware, people worldwide want to consume the same goods and services. This should tell us to build our services in a 2G-compatible way if we want to reach the next billion users (91.7% people in the world live within reach of a 2G network). This is of great importance to academia in terms of international student recruitment.

Performance optimisation
The afternoon sessions were an intense whistle-stop tour of experiences of performance optimisation. Alex Schoof of Fugue, for example, gave an intensely technical session about secret management in large scale systems, something that definitely applies to our context: how do we distribute keys and passwords in a secure way that allows that secrets to be changed whenever required? With security issues going mainstream, like the infamous Heartbleed bug, this is something of increasing importance. Adam Onishi of London-based dxw, a darling of public sector website development, gave an interesting talk on how performance, accessibility and technological progress in web design are interlinked, something academic website managers have too often failed to consider with websites that are published and then forgotten for years.

As someone who has developed mobile applications, I really enjoyed AT&T’s Doug Sillars’ session about ‘bad implementation of good ideas’, showing that lack of attention to the system as a whole has often killed otherwise excellent apps, which are too focused on local aspects of design.

Velocity has been a great event. I was worried it would be too ‘corporate’ or sponsor-oriented, but it has been incredibly rich, with good practical ideas that I could apply to my work immediately. It has also offered some good reflection on ‘running your systems in house’: we often perceive this dualism between the Cloud and in-house services. This is a technology that can be run in-house with no need to outsource. As IT professionals we should appreciate it, and make the case for adopting technologies that improve performance and compliance in a financially sound way. This often requires abandoning outsourcing and investing on internal resources: a good capital investment that will allow continuous improvement of the infrastructure.

 

Meeting the accessibility challenge

I attended a session at the Educause conference on accessibility. This has become more of an issue in the US as a number of universities have faced litigation because of their lack of compliance with disability discrimination legislation. The number of cases is, in the overall context of the US education industry, relatively small but the amount of the awards made against institutions has made some university executives nervous and has driven moves towards greater compliance.

Temple University was one such institution. The University Board set a project in motion to review the current level of provision and take the steps necessary to comply with disability discrimination law. The initial analysis showed that Temple were not compliant with many aspects of that legislation – essentially in the same boat as many other institutions. I suspect that this is much the case in the UK too – there is some awareness of the disability legislation but not of what is required in order to comply.

However, Temple’s Board sought to address this, recognising that they needed to tackle to problem on a number of fronts. It was necessary to define the policy for the institution but then follow it through so that considering accessibility started to become business as usual. A broad based committee was established to oversee the project. Led by the CIO, it included representatives from the service departments but also Estates and the institutional counsel. The policy the group established was clear – we will be accessible. Responsibility for accessibility was devolved to the person providing the technology or information – so faculty were responsible for ensuring their materials were accessible and heads of service were responsible to ensuring compliance in their areas. Will became the watch word – where there were items that could not be made accessible, those responsible were challenged to think of another mode of delivery or whether the items were necessary at all.

After the initial audit, Temple instigated departmental liaison officers that were responsible for promoting the accessibility message within the department, ensuring departmental accessibility initiatives were funded and evaluating accessibility during the procurement process. The group established standards for the web services, learning spaces and IT labs with each bearing in mind the principle that accessibility should be standard provision, not the exception. Checklists were prepared to assist faculty in assessing their materials. Once the preparation was complete, the CIO promoted the policy and available support to a wide range of institutional groups through a series of roadshows.

There were some quick wins once the policy began to be implemented. The largest and most used IT labs were upgraded first bringing an instant return. Web accessibility standards were introduced and processes established to ensure compliance. Control panels in smart classrooms were upgraded. However, not everything gave so rapid a return. Although the processes were in place to ensure the web sites were compliant, adoption was slow. The guidelines for instructional materials took over 12 months to complete and a larger group was established to review and amend them as required. The initiative wasn’t cheap – Temple spent over $600k in their move towards compliance.

Not all institutions in the US had followed the same road – some opted to steer clear from even establishing an accessibility policy as they felt that doing so would put them at greater risk of litigation. I suspect the reverse is true – if you have a policy in place and plans to implement it then I believe you are less prone to litigation as you have recognised that you have a problem (in not being compliant) and are taking steps to address it. I wonder how compliant UK institutions are with the Disability Discrimination Act. My gut feel is that there probably aren’t that many. Will it take litigation in the UK to change that?

Pre- Educause thoughts from a UCISA bursary award winner

sally_bogg

 

Sally Bogg
IT Help Desk Manager
University of Leeds
Member of UCISA-SSG

 

I was thrilled when I heard that, as part of the UCISA 21st birthday celebrations, I had been awarded a bursary to attend Educause, not only because it is in Orlando, Florida (what a fantastic venue!) but because the overall programme for this conference is jam packed with topics and sessions that I am really passionate about.  I generally find conferences and events useful and I always come back fully energised with loads of ideas and things to implement.

The topics on the Educause programme that have so far sparked my interest are those that align closely to the work of the UCISA Support Services Group and my own role as the IT Help Desk Manager at the University of Leeds. I am really keen to find out more about accessibility, the consumerisation of IT, mobile computing, IT Service management and support services.

Two specific areas have really jumped out at me, and that is because they were identified as key strategic challenges for IT in the UCISA Strategic Challenges for IT report that was published in September 2013:

Accessibility – the potential to make learning technologies more accessible to students living with disabilities and to support the widening participation agenda by supporting a range of other learners
This is a completely new topic for me and the Support Services Group. Support Services staff are on the front line and may often be the first point of call for students with specific access requirements and needs. I would love to be able to pull together a Best Practice Guide around the topic of accessibility and the widening participation agenda.

Consumerisation of IT – the need to fully understand student expectations, particularly those of a generation that has grown up with superfast broadband and ubiquitous IT
This area is of great interest to me as it was also a key challenge that we highlighted during the recent UK HE Benchmarking report. This is a great opportunity to seek out international contacts and broaden the scope of the Service Desk benchmarking exercise to include Universities from across the globe.

Hot topics for Support Services Conference

So what do I hope to get out of this conference? I want to be able to feed the hot topics from Educause into the programme for the UCISA Support Services Conference 2015 – the whole Support Services Group works tirelessly each year to keep the event fresh and interesting and this is a great opportunity to pick up some ‘hot topics’. I am also hoping to network and make new contacts with Service Desk support staff to see if we can expand on the benchmarking report and take it global!

I love tweeting at conferences! It makes the whole experience much more engaging and lively, so for those of you that follow me on Twitter expect to see a steady stream of Educause related tweets over the coming week or so. I have also made a commitment to UCISA and to my own organisation to regularly blog about my experiences and I am hoping that I can pull everything together at the end into an action plan so that I can implement some of the good practice that I get to learn about.

Sally