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“Don’t call me disabled – I’m a mutant!”

‘If the Paralympics is covered well, it can change the way you look at and treat people with disabilities,’ says Adam Hills, presenter of C4’s late-night show The Last Leg Adam Hills. He’s about to become a regular face on Channel 4 and did stand up show on TV Thursday 20th December which you can still get on 4OD.

An evening with Adam Hills should be the opening presentation on the module Open University H810 Accessible Online Learning : supporting disabled students

The C4 coverage of the Paralympics was engaging, insightful and very, very funny.

In his stand-up show Adam Hills says that he doesn’t feel disabled, indeed, who would no it – he is missing the lower part of his right leg. He wants to ditch the term ‘disabled’ and jokingly suggested ‘mutant’ as an alternative on the basis that he’d like people to think that he had super powers.

Live at the Lyric

 

Open University Disability Conference

Open University Disability Conference 2012

Edited by Christopher Douce, 19 November, 18:27
Visible to anyone in the world (From the Open University Student Blog)

On 14 November 2012 I attended the Open University Disability Conference held at a conference centre close to the university.  The last time I attended this event was back in 2010.   I wrote a summary of the 2010 conference which might be useful to some (I should add that I’ve had to mess around a bit to get a link to this earlier summary and there is a possibility that this link might go to different posts since I can’t quite figure out how to get a permalink, but that’s a side issue…)

The conference was a two day event but due to other things I had to be getting on with I could only attend one of the days.  From my experience of the first conference, the second day tends to be quite dramatic (and this year proved to be no exception).

The legacy of the Paralympics

Julie Young from Disabled Student Services kicked off the day by introducing Tony O’Shea-Poon, head of equality and diversity.  Tony gave a presentation entitled ‘A lot can change in 64 years’ which described the history of the Paralympic games whilst at the same time putting the games into the context of disability equality.

During the Paralympics I remember a television drama that presented the origins of the games.  Tony reminded us that it began in 1948 at the Stoke Mandeville Hospital.  The first ever Paralympic games (with the ‘para’ meaning ‘alongside’) taking place in Rome in 1960.

One of the striking aspects of Tony’s presentation is that it was presented in terms of ‘forces’; forces which have increased the awareness of issues that impact upon the lives of people with disabilities.  Relating back to the origins of the games, one force is the allies of people with disabilities.  There is also the role that role models can play, particularly in popular media.

Two other forces include disabled peoples involvement and the disability rights movement.  Tony spoke about something that I had not known of before.  During the late 1980s I remember a number of public ‘telethon’ events – extended TV shows that aimed to raise money for charitable causes.  In 1992 there was a campaign to ‘block telethon’.  This is a message that people with disabilities should have rights, not charity.  This connects with a movement away from a more historic medical and charity model of disability to a social model where people with disabilities should have an equal rights and opportunities within society. Tony also mentioned the importance of legislation, particularly the disability rights commission, explicitly mentioning role of Sir Bert Massie.

Tony brought us to the present day, emphasising not only recent successes (such as the Paralympic games), but also current challenges; Tony drew our attention to protests in August of this year by disabled people against government cuts.   Legitimate protest is considered to be another force that can facilitate change.

Deb Criddle: Paralympian

Jane Swindells from the university disability advisory service introduced Deb Criddle (Wikipedia), paralympian gold and silver medallist.  Deb gained one gold medal and two silver medals in London 2012, as well as gaining gold medals in Athens.

This part of the day took the form of a question and answer session, with Jane asking the first questions.  Deb reflected on the recent Paralympic games and described her personal experiences.  One of the key points that Deb made was that it was great that the games focussed people’s attention on abilities and not disabilities.  It also had the effect of the making disability more normalised.

One thing that I remember from living in London at the time of the Olympics and Paralympics is that people were more open to talking to each other.  Deb gave us an anecdote that the games created opportunities for conversations (about and with people with disabilities) which wouldn’t have otherwise happened.

Deb said that she ‘wasn’t expecting the support we had’.  On the subject of support she also made an important point that the facilities and support services that are available within the UK are very different to the facilities that are available in other countries.  At the time of the Paralympics I remember reading stories in the London Metro (the free newspaper that is available ever week day morning) about campaigners who were trying to obtain equipment and resources for some of the competitors.

Deb also shared with us aspects of her personal story.  She said that through accident and circumstance led to opportunities, journeys, growth and amazing experiences.  What was once a passing interest (in equestrianism) became a central interest.  Deb also spoke about the challenge of confronting a disability.  One of Deb’s phrases strongly resonated with me (as someone who has an unseen disability), which was, ‘I hadn’t learnt to laugh at myself’.

Deb is also an OU student.  She studied at the same time as training.  Deb said, ‘study gives you something else to focus on… trying too hard prevents you to achieving what you need to [achieve], it is a distraction in a sense’.  She also emphasised the point that study is can often be hard work.

I’ve made a note of a final phrase of Deb’s (which probably isn’t word for word) which is certainly worth repeating; its message is very clear: ‘please don’t be overwhelmed by people with disability; people coming together [in partnership] can achieve’, and also, ‘take time to engage with people, you can learn from their stories, everyone is different’.

Workshops

Throughout the conference there were a couple of workshops, a number of which were happening in parallel.  I was only able to attend one of them.  The one I chose was entitled ‘Asperger’s syndrome: supporting students through timely interventions’, facilitated by Martina Carroll.  The emphasis on this workshop was about providing information to delegates and I’ve done my best to summarise the key points that I picked up.

The first point was that people who may have been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome can be very different; you can’t (and shouldn’t) generalise about the abilities of someone who may have a diagnosis.

The workshop touched upon the history of the syndrome.  Martina mentioned Leo Kanner (Wikipedia) who translated some work by Hans Asperger.  Asperger’s is understood as a developmental disorder that has a genetic basis (i.e. highly heritable). Martina mentioned a triad of impairments: communication difficulties (both expressive and receptive), potential difficulties with social interaction, and restricted and repetitive behaviours.  A diagnosis will be considered to have two out of the three potential impairments.

Martina also touched upon that some people can have exceptional skills, such as skills in memory and mathematics, but again, it is important to remember that everyone is different.  Due to the nature of the triad of impairments, co-existing conditions need to be considered, such as such as stress, anxiety and depression.

A final question is what accommodations can be made for people who have autism? TEACCH (Wikipedia) was mentioned, which is an educational model for schools which has the potential to offer some useful guidance.  One key point is that providing learning materials that have a clearly defined structure (such as the module calendar) can certainly help everyone.

Towards the end of the session, there was some time for group discussions.  The group that I was (randomly) assigned to discussed the challenges of group work, how important it was to try to facilitate constant communication between different people (which include mentors and advocates) and challenges surrounding examinations and assessment.

There are a number of resources that were mentioned that may be useful.  I didn’t know this, but the Open University runs a module entitledUnderstanding the autism spectrum (OU website). The module is centred around a book by Ilona Roth called Autism in the 21st Century (publishers website).  Another resource is Francesca Happe’s Lecture at the Royal Society, entitled When will we understand Autistic Spectrum Disorders? (Royal Society website) I really recommend this lecture – it is very easy to follow and connects very strongly with the themes of the workshop.  There is also theNational Autistic Society website, which might also be useful.

Performance

The final part of the day was very different.  We were introduced to three stand-up comics.  These comics were not disabled comics, they were comics who just happened to incidentally have a disability.  Comedy has the ability to challenge; it allows others to see and understand instances of people’s lives in a warm and undeniably human way.  The ‘something’ that we all have in common with each other is an ability to laugh.  When you laugh at a situation that is tough and challenging and begin to appreciate the absurdity and richness of life. Tough situations don’t seem as difficult anymore; laughter gives you a power to rise above a situation.  In a way, the conference reflects this since it was all about sharing experience with a view to empowering and helping people.

The comics were Steve Day, Liam O’Caroll and Lawrence Clark.  All were fabulous, but I especially enjoyed Lawrence’s set which I understand was a show that he took to the Edinburgh Festival.  His set had a theme based on the word ‘inspiring’; he successfully sent himself up, along with others who may be inclined to use that word.

Reflections

Julie Young closed the conference by emphasising some of the themes that were explored through the conference.   Julie emphasised the importance of working together to deliver a service for our students and how this is connected with equality and rights.  A key point is that the abilities our students are what really matters.  Julie went on to emphasise the continued need to listen attentively to those who we serve.

With conferences that have multiple parallel sessions you can sometimes feel that you’re missing out on something, which is always a shame.  During the lunch break, I heard how other delegates had appreciated hearing from students talking about their experiences of studying at the Open University.  Personal stories allow people to directly connect with the challenges and difficulties that people face, and whilst on one hand there may be successes, there are other situations in which we don’t do the best that we can or support for people doesn’t arrive on time.  Conferences such as these emphasise the importance of keeping our attention on students with disability whilst at the same time emphasising that different departments of the university need to talk to each other to ensure that we can offer the best possible support.  Talking also permits us to learn more about what we can do to change things, so meetings such as these are invaluable.

I also have a recollection from the previous conference I attended.  I remember talking to someone (I’m not sure who this was) who seemed to express surprise that I was from a ‘faculty’ (i.e. an academic) as opposed to a part of the university that was directly involved in support of students (I tend to conflate the two roles together).  I was surprised that my presence caused surprise.  Although this year I felt that there were more faculty representatives coming along than perhaps there were before, I do (personally) feel that there should be a broader spectrum of delegates attending.

All in all, I felt that I benefitted from the day.  I met people who I had never met before and the objectives of facilitating communication, sharing practice and re-energising delegates had clearly been met.

 

Some thoughts on accessibility for disabled students in Higher Education

 

“All education is about empowerment, whomsoever the learner might be”. Tennant (2009:154)

I find myself looking for a single sentence, phrase or word to sum up what is required to improve access to higher education for disabled students – a good deal is applicable to all students (I was researching Stephen Hawking‘s career out of interest).

It is the value of the personal touch, one human being, the knowledgeable educator reaching out to another who has a genuine desire to learn – tutors who are natural educators, in the vocational sense – not watching the time or doing it for the money while their heart is in research. i.e. one person can make a difference.

Who in other words is the inspiration to the student?

I too found I was building up a long list of ‘true to all students’ which I found refreshing and touching, especially the desire to belong, to make friends, even to find love – while dressing up and getting drunk.

And to be independent of parents – or in one delightfully intriguing case from their twin!

The division between able-bodied and disabled, between the Olympics and Paralympics, is a compromise. How far and in how many ways can a cohort of students be split?

Mature students form a different group.

By subject, by gender, by socio-economic background, by UK resident or foreign student? By exam grades, by type and degree of disability? By the football team they support, the college or residential hall they stay in? And when you get down to the person how are they and their many moods and responses categorised?

The point made repeatedly on the platform of the LibDem Conference on disability and access – people want to be treated like people, that’s all.

People are messy, none of us want to be a label. There can be a culture of doing things by the book, institutionally, by department or because of the jobsworth mentality of an individual. Hopefully social networks and the ease of reporting frankly on conditions will increasingly allow people to make choices about where they apply to study, and how – not mentioned as the case studies are not current (2004), e-learning and blended learning can increase flexibility and aid accommodation of people with a plethora of barriers before them.

Delays in funding are unforgiveable – more stories need to be brought to public notice so that politicians, departments and people are named and shamed. And not mentioned, but those families with the money can, as well as applying for funding, cover shortfalls, give additional allowances, fund a car or a flat.

How do you train staff in relation to disabled students?

Why do ‘teachers’ in Tertiary education think they don’t need a qualification to teach? This would cover some of the ground. In sport we are taught to coach what a person can do – taking the time to find out what a person is capable of takes … time, which is money, which anyone with an eye on payment by the hour the hours they have in a week is unlikely to give. It can ultimately only be done on a one to one basis. This comes down to the nature of the tutor, lecturer or ‘educator’ and their motivations – do they want to be thought of in their lifetime as the one who made a difference, who inspired a young person to achieve or do x or y, or think about things in a certain way?

Time is an interesting consideration – the goal and how it is achieved rather than the time required needs to be the consideration.

If more time helps get a person through or beyond a barrier, then time, more of it, or making more of it, is the answer. As above, time lost can now be recovered with e-learning or blended learning. Even a commute can, for some, be a chance to catch up on reading … even to take part in an asynchronous forum such as this.

To accommodate training and competition schedules young athletes such as Tom Daily take three years to study for their A’ Levels rather than two.

Might anyone, for a variety of reasons, take four or five years to complete an undergraduate degree – and benefit, as they mature, from having more time to get their heads around it. Life is disruptive in varying amounts for everyone.

CONCLUSION

It is a compromise, but there is a reason why the Paralympics are run separately, indeed, if this part of the Olympic Movement grows even more it may perhaps have to be split again simply to better accommodate to variety and range of disabilities. By bringing, for example, wheelchair users together you are better able to provide for them – the specially commissioned multiple wheelchair access train from Paris to Stratford International has to be an example. An entire university, built as if on an Olympic Village format, deigned above all else to give access to people overcoming a variety of disabilities would, like the Olympics themselves, probably have to draw on students from an international, even a global pool. How about, in collegiate universities such as Oxford, Cambridge and Durham, a college is financed to meet specific, or a set range of impairments? Are there not economies of scale, could services across the board not be better, or are we once again segregating people with disabilities rather than making efforts to bring down barriers of access to the mainstream?

Life is an obstacle course.

It isn’t even the case that the person over the line first wins. If access adjusts as many of the obstacles to a height or level of challenge that is equal to all would we not have everyone crossing the line at the same time. In educational terms, certainly at tertiary level, if only those with similar levels of attainment, and this includes people with a variety of disabilities, then the test has been an intellectual one. Playing devil’s advocate might it not be equally valid to put barriers in the way of the able bodied? Examination papers in a tiny font, a power-cut so all papers have to be read and written up in the dark, the dominant arm tied behind the back … alternatively, an assessment system that is designed to elucidate what the student knows, however they can express this, so more viva voces, more applied and modular assignments as part of the submission …

FURTHER LINKS

Thoughts on access from the conference floor – Liberal Democrats 2012

From where I sit videos

“I learned JAWS, the screen reading program that I use. I learned to communicate with my professors to advocate for my own self, talking about what I need when they use the three bad words, which are: “this, there and that”. For example, if they’re talking about a bell curve “it goes up like this in the middle and then it goes down like that”. That doesn’t help me”.

Sounds like a CPD on writing and presenting for Radio would go down well.

Cal – deaf – assistive technology in a US School.

So for the lack of an available interpreter or several interpreters, instead I use Assistive Technology. There is a person off-site who uses a headset and the teacher has a lapel microphone and when the teacher speaks, the person off-site can hear the teacher’s voice through their headset and type into their off-site computer. And that information goes through an Internet connection to my laptop in the classroom. And I read the captions on the laptop while the teacher is lecturing in real time.

Stephen Hawking has a motor neurone disease related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a condition that has progressed over the years since diagnosis in his early 20s. He is now almost entirely paralysed and communicates through a speech generating device.

The important influence of teachers and parents.

Stephen Hawking has named his secondary school mathematics teacher Dikran Tahta as an inspiration,[5] and originally wanted to study the subject at university. However, Hawking’s father wanted him to apply to University College, Oxford, which his father had attended. As University College did not have a mathematics fellow at that time, they did not accept applications from students who wished to study that discipline. Therefore, Hawking applied to study natural sciences with an emphasis in physics. University College accepted Hawking, and he gained a scholarship.

Christine – Juvenile Chronic Arthritis

Slow to take up DDA, delay in getting kit. Mature student. Kit only does so much, no transcription software for digital recordings of lectures.

Dave Extreme stress and abxiety disorder

GeoffreyMaths PhD Student with Friedreich’s Ataxia, a condition that impairs the functioning of nerve cells gradually over time. It eventually leads to a loss of ability to move, though the brain is unaffected –

John – Cerebral Palsy

John identifies the support of his parents and professional assistants as having been vital in his success. He credits his parents for encouraging him to become as independent as possible, and instilling a pro-active attitude to life.

SKILL – student experiences

Laura – Brain Tumour age Five

The shift from living at home to semi-independence away from home in a hall of residence, or greater independence in a student digs, requires considerable adjustment. Far better if the transition from school and home to university is a gradual, or at least a stepwise progression – something those who attend sixth form college find marginally easier, but for those who have been at boarding school find easier still. Otherwise, some kind of compromise needs to be accommodated, or recommended, the simplest one to live at home at first – or, which some can do, home comes to the campus.

Simon – Cerebral Palsy

Courage, self-belief and compromise. Like all of us? Common to all students completing a degree and seeking employment.

Kirsten – Blind

Who are we to advise on the suitability of a course? Significant distances to placements with no compromises.

Acceptance for what I am rather than prejudiced with the label ‘blind’.

Inadequate testing – CRB forms not available in Braille, assessments couldn’t be read by the Screen Reader.

Emmanuel – Dyslexia

Sense of independence at Sixth Form College

Stuart – Wheelchair user after neurological illness

Adaptable with regard to my disability – working with what he could do, rather than trying to overcome a barrier unnecessarily. Disabilities and life experience a lesson to young students.

Laura – Profoundly Deaf

DSA for note taker Friends, travel opportunities, lip-reading different languages.

DIARY 1

  • Space requirements according to the disability or use of a wheelchair.
  • Socialising, nightclubs, flashing lights, layout and signage.
  • Feeling left out – the asthmatic and cigarette smoke.
  • A week can seem like a really long time sometimes, especially if in that particular week existence as you have known it for the past 19 years changes as completely as is humanly possible.

DIARY 2

  • Expectations about splints and stories of injury rather than genetic disorder – humans looking for things in common.
  • Embarrassment and disappointment when trying to initiate a social get together.
  • A learning process on both sides when it comes to lectures – is that good enough?
  • Tiresome visits to the GP for simple things
  • A Dictaphone serves many purposes – for lecture notes, but also recording other stuff and having a laugh. Yes, like all people, a disabled person has a sense of fun and mischief too.
  • A wheelchair user having to climb onto a washing machine to read the instructions.

DIARY 3

  • Making friends. ‘It’s nice to know that people are ready to help when my usual attempts at total independence fail’. Texting to meet up if she gets lost. Sarah Butler.
  • Just ask
  • Three weeks in and adjustments still being made to bed, bathroom and bathroom door to create easier access.
  • Don’t be patronising -lectures who need training or to gain some emotional intelligence in how they behave with other people.

DIARY 4

  • Week 4 and no note taker in place for a tutorial so a fellow student stepped in.
  • This reminds me a bit of pushing my four year-old brother in his pram. Said one student to her.
  • It would, both needed to have a laugh about it.
  • Personal assistants aren’t around all the time so friends need to help. This in relation to moving into a student home.
  • I was so nervous but it turns out I really had nothing to worry about. Academically it’s going fine and socially it’s just going even better. Visual Impaired Student, Sarah Butler.

 

DIARY 5

  • Bored with a lecture – like any student. Lumping herself in with the 70% who are likely to fail, hasn’t found a suitable way to revise as writing and typing are out – so understands the need to work with the content but hasn’t received help with ideas on what she might do instead.
  • Makes too much socializing the excuse for possibly doing not so well in an exam rather than the disability.
  • Required a friend to take the initiative to ask about the risks to an asthmatic of smoke machines at a choir concert.
  • Some people just thought I’d come as Superman and then I had to go and explain the subtle difference between coming as Superman and coming as Christopher Reeve, to which some people again just laughed hysterically and some people just looked shocked and didn’t know what to say and went quiet. But I thought it was a great idea and very funny and I had a good laugh.

 

OUCH

CHARLOTTE’S DIARY

A quadriplegic with three full-time carers, one in her flat, the other two next door – them depending on her for further training after the initial inductions with her mother in the first two weeks.

  • Straight out to a fancy dress party – then to the shops.
  • Not used to having to remain alert for such long periods
  • Being young and wanting to fit in as much as possible
  • I feel I’ve been an outsider for quite long enough and it’s time for a change.
  • Thinking about … men.
  • Getting up at 6.45 to be ready for the first lecture of three at 9.30.

Introduced to scan and read technology – rather than during the second week of a course couldn’t this be done ahead of the new term?

Catering for every kind of student includes the selection of music played

I don’t know how much help tutors/lecturers are supposed ro give – this in relation to quantities of new terms in sociology.

Aware of the challenges, the risk to her health, even to her personality – but feels the degree will get her out of a more dull future otherwise.

  • Falling in love
  • Forthright advice applicable to anyone.

Baillrigg Lancaster University

  • Personal flaws quite distinct from the disability such as expecting too much from a situation.
  • Wants idependence, but my need parental involvement.
  • I want people who don’t have such problems to be less intimidated by people like me and learn to appreciate them as normal.

ASPERGERS STUDENT

Lee’s Diary

  • Importance of catering for different needs and interests – not everyone is a drinker.
  • Important I would have thought to have a very large and diverse incoming cohort, or good mixing between year groups, and a way for students with similar interests and outlooks to find each other.
  • A frenetic desire to get stuck into sll kinds of things, not just course work, but sports, activities and church groups.
  • Aspergers and Tourrettes – so he wants to learn BSL and Mandarin of course.
  • I did my first load of washing today which was a success, but the dryers were rubbish so I have wet clothes hanging on shelves and doors in my room.
  • Got laptop, scanner, dictaphone.
  • Ranges within Aspergers, in terms of response to emotions, or not. ability to communicate, or not.
  • Cross correlation insight between need for facial expressions in BSL and meanings of the four tones in Mandarin.
  • We do not suffer, which implies pain – fed up of media talking about people who ‘suffer’ from Aspergers or Tourettes.

I don’t wanna be an inpsiration.

Interesting insight into ignorant, well meaning churchgoers who blamed Jesus for giving him a cold and would pray to make him hearing if he had been deaf. Shows who responses are so strongly influenced by context and experience.

Seeking independence from parents and finding ample respect from fellow students.

VISUALLY IMPAIRED – ANDREA

A 1.5 hour trip from Coventry to Warwick Uni, two buses and a guide dog. Youngest person ever to get a guide dog at 15.

DSA and assessments in August for a late September start. Netbook, scanner, JAWS, dictaphone. Also a helper as well as a request for a GPS device. NONE of the kit turned up in time, still none a week later. Nor her maintenance allowance, although everyone else has theirs. Still nothing by the end of October. End up being leant a zuni laptop that was too heavy to take into lectures or transport.

  • Very helpful with introductions, 3rd Year Student Support and lecturer support. Given advice about the dog too.
  • Don’t assume she requires lecture notes on PPT enlarged, actually reduced as she has tunnel vision. In 12pt can only see two or three words at a time.
  • Note takers and helpers funded by DSA. Three in all.
  • Individual induction to the library.

TWINS – CONGENITAL MUSCULAR DYSTROPHY

  • Wanting to be independent of each other!

INDEPENDENT LIVING AND A PA 24/7

What DSA does or does not cover. Does not cover the PA costs. Inadequacy of being handed a mobile phone and told to call a nurse across campus should he require to go to the toilet – but he can’t even use a mobile phone that easily.

  • Several agencies to approach.
  • Package must include becoming an active participant at university.

Key problems:

Attitudes, finance and poor or inadequate advice. Cara an excellent ice-breaker for someone living at home not on ca

DSA includes ink cartridges and a taxi if it is raining or to get home later.

The irony is that potentially the most support and understanding of the issues will come from a parent – but like all young people growing up, they want Independence and are prepared to make sacrifices. However, their ability to manage their needs, costs, people, access, work load, mobility, socialising, kit and so on, is, as for anyone, in part down to that person’s personality and resilience – can they manage people, are they thick skinned, do they have a sense of humour …

Washington

The Paralympic Categories

Paralympics categories explained

What do categories mean?

Guardian on the classifications

Channel 4’s LEXI System

REFERENCE

California State University (CSU) (undated) ‘From Where I Sit’ Video Series [online], http://teachingcommons.cdl.edu/access/materials/fwis.shtml (last accessed 23 September 2012).

BBC Radio 4 (2004) Disabled Student Diaries [online], http://www.bbc.co.uk/ radio4/ youandyours/ transcripts_studentdiaries.shtml (last accessed 23 May 2012).

Tennant, M (2009) chapter 10 in Contemporary Theories of Learning – Lifelong learning as a technology of self.

Ouch (2009) Disabled Student Diaries 2009 [online], http://www.bbc.co.uk/ ouch/ fact/ disabled_student_diaries_2009.shtml (last accessed 23 May 2012).

Ouch (2010a) Disabled Student Diaries update: Charlotte [online] http://www.bbc.co.uk/ ouch/ features/ charlotte_s_diary_update_2010.shtml (last accessed 23 May 2012).

Ouch (2010b) Disabled Student Diaries update: Lee [online] http://www.bbc.co.uk/ ouch/ features/ lee_s_student_diary_update_2010.shtml (last accessed 23 May 2012).

Ouch (2010c) Disabled Student Diaries update: Andrea [online] http://www.bbc.co.uk/ ouch/ features/ andrea_s_student_diary_update_2010.shtml (last accessed 23 May 2012).

 

Some ways to improve the e-learning experience

Fig.1. Jeremy Hardy

1. Teaching is a performance Jeremy Hardy, The News Quiz, Episode 78, Series 3.

He’s got a point, teaching (and coaching) is a performance – we should plan for performance too, but can I quote him? In a discussion, but not in an assignment – though I have little doubt there are those who I can cite from education and sport who say the same thing or something similar. Not only does Jeremy Hardy quip about teaching as ‘performance’ but he suggests that teachers who were ‘characters’ provided a benefit too – that and the Grammar School Experience.

Where do we get characters in e–learning?

Where indeed do we get humour or spectacle? Both are ways to create memories and so embed learning, even to motivate students and create a following. How can a tutor do this in e-learning, and if they did a Robin Williams ala Dead Poet’s Society would they be sacked? I can think of a tutor who ran a forum who was the heart and soul of the module – probably cost him 15 hours input for the 5 he was paid for. however, if he decided to run a module on basket weaving in the Congo Rainforest I might do it – for the fun of it. Education can be entertainment.

Fig 2. Contemporary Theories of learning

2. There are ‘Multiple approaches to understanding’

Howard Gardner (1999) – reading this in ‘Contemporary Theories of Education‘. Join me on Twitter @JJ27VV as I share. I have highlighted 60% of the content, there are several bookmarks too and it is only a few pages long. Some key thoughts:

Students do not arrive as blank slates:

  • Biological and cultural backgrounds
  • Personal histories.
  • Idiosyncratic histories
  • Nor can they be ‘aligned unidimensionally along a single line of intellectual development’.

So I wonder if there is a reason why at school children are taught in year group cohorts – it matches with a developmental stage.

It may not cater for cognitive ability or drive. A mix of learning abilities and backgrounds affects the learning experience and quality though, it always struck me that, for example a young musician studying in a driven, step by step fashion, largely on a 1 to 1 basis, can progress fast. Far greater tailoring of a range of lessons, combined with the cohort, paced to challenge the style as the Khan Academy does, has to be an improvement.

Fig.3. Sebastian Coe’s parting words at the London 2012 Paralympic Games

3. There are multiple reasons why the Paralympics and Olympics are mot merged – there are benefits of such segregation for learning too – not exclusively, but to focus and scale up expertise and support for specific types of impairment.

The needs of the plethora of disability groups are better catered for separately. Or are they?

When the Games end they must re–integrate with a world where access is far less certain, accommodating or even a shared experience. Is this relevant to access to e–learning? One size does not fit all – creating content that is clear and easier to read, or follow is a reasonable adjustment – however, is it not the case that once along a certain spectrum of impairment, say legally blind rather than sight impaired, or deaf, rather than hearing impaired, or an arm amputee rather than having some mobility impairment that both in sport and in learning – though not all of the time or exclusively – that these people should learn together, as occurs for example through the RNIB or the RAD.

Whilst clearly provision of an audio version of a book, or video with captions and a transcript should be common practice, when it comes to some approaches to e–learning, say gamification, and certainly any social, or synchronous forms of learning then, like the Paralympics, they would benefit from coming together – indeed, if distance and travel is a barrier, and getting a number of sight impaired students together to study, for example, English Literature, was the desire then distance learning as e–learning may be beneficial.

Fig.4. Our guinea-pigs – reversioning nature’s way!

4. Might the approach to responsive e–learning where using HTML5 allows the same content to be used on multiple devices be applied to creating version for devices that are pre–programmed or the hardware is different, to suit a variety of disabled people?

As we live in a multi-device world we increasingly want the same content reversioned for each device – personally I expect to move seamlessly between iPad (my primary device), iPhone and Laptop (secondary devices) and a desktop. I don’t expect a Kindle to do more than it does.  I wonder if a piece of hardware suited to the sight impaired might do a better job of tackling such versions? Ditto for the hearing impaired, as well as for people with physical impairments who require different ways to navigate or respond to content.

Fig.5. New keyboard App

Or Apps that do the same job?

And the module that has set me thinking about the above:

H810 Accessible online learning: supporting disabled learning

With a final thought – we are all equally able and disabled in some way. We share our humanity … and too short lives.

REFERENCES

Gardner, H (1999) Multiple Approaches to Understanding. Second part of a chapter first published by C.M Reigleuth (ed) Instructional Design Theories and Models: A new paradigm of instructional theory, volume 2. 69–89pp.

Hardy, J. (2012) The News Quiz, BBC Radio 4, Sat 23rd September. Episode 78, Series 3.

Marcotte, E (2010) Responsive Web Design (Last access 23:45 21 September 2012) http://www.alistapart.com/articles/responsive-web-design/

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