17 February, 2010

Rewiring Inclusion: Barrier Free Learning

The Rewiring Inclusion conference in Notingham a couple of weeks ago was a refreshing look at the subject of accessibility. Perhaps it was refreshing because the word 'accessibility' was barely mentioned, and holistic, responsive ways to produce 'barrier free learning' and 'digital inclusion' were discussed.

I think that the sessions that I attended illustrated two different sides to accessibility very well.

On the one hand there is creating resources and software that can be accessed using a wide variety of input and output devices, as the user requires. The importance of this was talked about by Dr Dónal Fitzpatrick from Dublin City University.

The development approach that Google use was mentioned by Julian Harty from Google. They have a general focus on wider usability and accessibility for all, with post release improvements over time. This means that they wouldn't hold something back from release because not everyone could use it, but would aim to make it more usable for all users over time.

Julian's presentation proved to be a little controversial, as some people thought that Google weren't taking accessibility seriously enough. It is certainly a different approach than that talked about in Higher Education, perhaps due to our need to support every single student. Google users have a choice whether to use new Google services, while our students have to use the VLE for example.

Another side to accessibility that was covered was making changes to the way activities run, to meet the specific needs of individual students.

Dr Trevor Collins and Dr Jessica Bartlett talked about the Open Universities work making geology fieldwork available to students who for whatever reason, cannot travel out to the field.

They talked about working in areas with no mobile phone signals, and setting up wireless Local Area Networks to enable this. It was fascinating and showed that no-one needs to be left out of such activities.

So what should Edge Hill University's response be to all this? Is there a need to look at how can we make our online learning resources and activities more inherently accessible to a wider variety of people? How could we go about that?

[image by campuspartycolombia]

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