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Designing and developing accessible e-learning experiences: the learning technologist’s perspective.
- There is a debate surrounding who is responsible (or most responsible) for accessibility. How helpful is this debate in ensuring that people working in post-16 education change their practices?If those with technical skills, such as learning technologists, are not ultimately or solely responsible for ensuring accessibility, what responsibilities do you think they should have and why?
- On pages 82–83, Seale uses an archaeology metaphor to try to encourage learning technologists to dig deeper beneath the surface of accessibility guidelines and standards. This is intended to develop a greater understanding of approaches to accessible design. How helpful do you think this metaphor is?‘Using archaeology as a metaphor, it can be argued that accessibility legislation, guidelines, standards and evaluation tools are not the most helpful or informative place to start. The legislation, guidelines, standards and tools are merely archaeological artefacts that have been scattered on the surface of a significant archaeological site’. Seal 2006:83
This doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t ring true to the metaphor. a) Archeology implies something ancient and long buried whereas these guidelines are ‘scattered on the surface’ like rubbish dropped at a later stage. The rules and regulations are recent and changing, both in what is said, how interpreted, executed and policed.
Can you think of an alternative metaphor, image, analogy or visualisation that could be used to help develop learning technologists’ thinking in this area?
Not only is collaboration in learning coming of age it needs to happen in practice, as increasingly it does in industry. There continues to be a good deal of resistance in higher education, partly this is because of how academics in particular came into managerial positions – if they are. My experience of most academics is that either they want to be left alone to do research, or they want to be left alone with their students – they didn’t chose to ‘go into business’ or join the ‘real world’ because of the stresses in relation to managing tasks such as this and working in a team where they might not be top dog. It would help enormously if those in Higher Education could spend some time working in business and to take these models and employ them on in their department of faculty. For a start, take on roles such as project manager, learning designer, lead programmer, art director, author and so on. Then find a metaphor that works for everyone that evokes both team work and organic growth. A rock band works for me – I resist the orchestra analogy as it is such a cliché and leads to some people wanting to be the conductor or composer. A theatre troupe might be the thing. Or a circus act! But all performing together and dependent on each other. Academics in particular most stop behaving like premadonnas – ‘out here’ they are the ‘subject matter expert’ – less than a writer, just a conduit for knowledge, a talking and responsive version of information that is readily available online anyway. i.e they can be a hinderance. Perhaps the metaphor I would use, which is close to the reality of creating interactive content – would be a film production unit where there are specialists skills, and a hierarchy: executive producer, producer, line producer, director, first assistant director, camera operator, sound engineer, actor 1, actor 2, script writer, script continuity, art director, props, costume … editor, publicity and so on. One weak link and the entire project might fail.
As it has currency in learning and e-learning circles an even better metaphor might be that of an architect’s studio given the way in which e-learning has to be designed, constructed in a programmer, shared, adjusted, tested, built, tested again, added to with various layers from foundations to walls, plumbing and electrics, then internal and external decor and furnishings. Christopher Alexander’s 1970 book ‘The Timeless Building’ which he developed into a methodology for computer software design is often cited.
- On page 98 Seale discusses the tensions regarding the use of technical tools versus human judgement to evaluate the accessibility of learning resources. What is your position concerning this issue? Can we trust human judgement? If so, whose judgement should we trust – learning technologists working within educational organisations or external experts?
We have to trust human judgement, which includes the decision to expect the technology to provide the answers, or do the donkey work. Instead of relying on one piece of software to come up with a myriad of answers that to the uninitiated can look like some task set by a wicked wizard in a fairy tale. I’m in favour of having a large and diverse testing team drawn from a community of learners, including of course those with visual, hearing, mobility or cognitive impairments – to offer opinions – as we have reviewers and editors in things like Wikipedia. i.e. use the power of the numbers online rather than simply the power of a piece of software.
Make brief notes in response to these questions. Your notes should reflect your own context. You can do this as bullet points or just a sentence or two about each question.
Choose one of your answers and post it for discussion in your tutor group forum. If you disagree with Seale about any of the points in this chapter, you could also discuss this in the forum.
Fig.1. Maria Montessori
My journey into accessibility guidelines, legislation, principles and case studies in week nine of the Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) Module H810: Accessible Online Learning – supporting disabled students, quickly diverted me into the nature of multi-modal learning.
I knew as I started this module that I was looking for or expected when I term the ‘Montessori Effect’.
Maria Montessori was ill-treated because of her gender, finding resistance to her desire to study medicine and further resistance once she got there. I wonder if there is resonance here for a disabled student meeting resistance or faced with prejudice of any kind when pursing their academic studies? Montessori’s early studies involved children with disabilities and it is through this that she developed her educational philosophy that has come to influence the ways we teach. I can see that her work is something I shall have to study too.
‘Montessori experimented with allowing children free choice of the materials, uninterrupted work, and freedom of movement and activity within the limits set by the environment’. Wikipedia (last accessed 31st October 2012)
Turning to reading up on accessibility guidelines I read through the following:
Software and tools
Educational Issues for Students with Disabilities
Accessible interactive software can bring the benefits of multimedia and experimental learning to students who may otherwise be left out.
Interactive learning experiences will be especially enriching for students who may otherwise have more limited experiences. Because students with disabilities may not be exposed to as wide a range of activities as other students, accessible software can contribute positively toward filling in some of those gaps.
These guidelines then detail specific needs for a variety of users, my interest is with low-vision, dyslexia and mobility via cerebral palsy.
Low-vision students may still learn from a visual program, provided it is well designed.
Software should allow:
- fonts to be adjusted
- provide clear contrast for objects that students must locate and manipulate
- include keyboard commands to reduce mouse dependence
- provide a system cursor that moves with important screen events so that magnifiers can track them.
Benefits of Multimodal Learning
Making software and digital publications accessible to students with disabilities has benefits for other students as well.
These benefits are especially important for students learning English as a second language and those with reading difficulty. Accessible textbooks and software often provide multi-modal access to information, combining text with audio.
Tindall-Ford and colleagues showed in several different experiments that when information is presented in audio and visual form, performance on complex tasks is improved (1997).
‘The intellectual complexity of information, generated by the degree of element interactivity, may determine the conditions under which the structure of presented information is critical and thus, when cognitively derived information-presentation techniques such as integrated and audio-visual packages are most useful. Finally, the measures of perceived mental effort used in this article lend further support to the notion that cognitive load is a critical and major factor when formatting information’. (Tindall-Ford et al 1997:283- 84)
Installing a new keyboard this morning this popped up from Microsoft. As you scroll down the index list the keys are highlighted. This would NOT be best practice in the eyes of Tindall-Ford et al, rather the instructions relevant to each key should appear as an annotation in situ.
Fig.2. A contemporary example of dual-mode learning?
‘When two sensory modes are better than one’ deserves a class of its own. I’ve migrated discussion on this to an e-learning group in Linkedin while opening it up to discussion here and in the H810 Student Forum.
J.R. Williams reviewed about 100 studies from the literature on use of multimedia in instruction and found that combining visual and verbal information can lead to enhanced comprehension (1998).
A example of dual-learning created by Tindall-Ford et al for the purposes of research:
Fig.3. An example of the integrated instructions used by Tindall-Ford et al (1997)
Could there be lessons here on how best to design a user interface with accessibility in mind?
Tindall-Ford, S, Chandler, P, & Sweller, J 1997, ‘When two sensory modes are better than one’, Journal Of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 3, 4, pp. 257-287, (Last viewed 31st October 2012).
Williams J.R. (1998) Guidelines for the Use of Multimedia in Instruction Proceedings of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting October 1998 42: 1447-1451,