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Goings on

I promise to ditch this URL in favour of a .blog to reflect what it is – my ramblings. Why I even make it public is another matter. Ever since I started blogging in 1999 all I ever wanted was a ‘mind dump’, somewhere to gather thoughts, express ideas and set down in one place stuff that I would then be able to readily find at a later date. Thus the tags and categories. Thus the eclectic nature of it. But remember, I am ADHD. Or was. Or still am. Depending on if I pay for a diagnosis or turn to the NHS! Or whether I am seeking medical advice in the UK or the US.

I thrive on it – most of the time. For the rest there is CBD.

I have promised a friend to make a start blogging about my activity on social media – on Twitter in particular. I used to be very content dependent – as if I could be a one-man publishing industry with Tweets at the ready, several a day, ready to fly, retweet and regurgitate every year. Now that I am reaching out to a global community of Greens I find I am more likely to be seeking out the content produced by others, identifying themes, sharing, liking, commenting … and retweeting with comments.

The outcomes are in the stats: not simply followers/following all the rest of it from Twitter Analytics: shares, likes, links and so on.

Ultimately, with Greens it has to be about influencing change, increasing membership, developing activities, nudging policy and … raising funds. Not surprising that big business and those in it are least likely to push funds our way, so I rather think we need to be attracting the wealthy philanthropist with a hankering for nature conservation and saving the planet and all the things in it: plants, animals and people. I am ready to be corrected. I would hope renewables as they take over from fossil fuels, if not an offshoot of the oil/gas industry, would wish to back us.

Meanwhile, I’ll get back to my trees, shrubs, life drawing and swim lesson plans. Trees are shedding leaves early to save water I have notices, shrubs are doing the same. My fern is dead, along with a 15 year old beech I replanted early this year and failed to water thoroughly these last few months – and the mint has died. The succulents are thriving, as is the ivy and brambles. I encourage both.

Life Drawing is on next week. I should ‘get my hand in’ a bit over the next few days reworking previous drawings and drawing anyone who will sit for me.

As for swimming? The club has a handful of elite performance swimmers at the Nationals. We’ve had several in finals, a gold and a few bronze medals too. Did I teach them seven or eight years ago when they first joined the club? Most likely. I have coached them the odd session while covering for the Head Coach. The amount of work they have to put in is quite extraordinary, truly superhuman (and the time parents need to dedicate to their elite athlete too getting them to training and galas).

Onwards. The day is young.


Start writing fiction: a free MOOC through FutureLearn with The OU

From E-Learning V

Fig.1 Something I wrote 40 years ago ! (age 13)

The last five weeks I’ve been following the FutureLearn MOOC ‘Start Writing Fiction’.

Extraordinary. I’m on my second pass. I came through early, and now return not wanting to get ahead of the conversation. Particularly useful as I am actively writing at the moment, so this is the best of all learning because it is applied. Regarding character it about giving them shape, depth and ‘points of interest’ – more 6D than even the 2D we are asked to get away from. I visualise characters as hedgehogs with many prickles, but only a few of these matter to the story – though all of them matter to the notebook which I’m gradually coming to care about more and more, cursing the times I ‘have a thought’ and don’t get it down somewhere safely. I am hugely pleased to be here and very proud to be an OU graduate already – not, sadly, from this faculty: yet!

I’m finding the oddest of balances in my life too:

  • Writing for myself from 4.00am to 8.00am.
  • Picking up work from 10.00am.
  • Evenings from 5.00pm to 9.00pm

I am often ‘poolside’ teaching or coaching swimmers.

Delighting yesterday evening to be back with some squad swimmers I last saw four years ago – now in the mid teens, some achieving amazing things in the water, all at that gangly stage of youth development my own children have come through in the last year.

The issue then is how or where or why I fit in the OU module L120 I committed to. Learning a language is daunting and outside my comfort zone. What I do know now, not surprisingly, is that all learning comes about as a result of concerted and consistent effort over a long period of time.

Where do I stand academically? Where and what next? And the madness of being.

Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) with the Open University, UK (OU)

H800: Technology-enhanced learning: practices and debates

H807: Innovations in eLearning – Learning outcomes

H810: Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students

B822: Creativity, Innovation and Change

H808: The e-learning professional

This completes the Masters Degree. I graduate on Saturday 27th April 2013

Currently (March 2013) I am taking H809 as a bridge towards doctoral research or professional consultancy. Complete in June 2013.

H809 Practice-based research in educational technology

I joined the #H817open MOOC for one component of this module. I will register for 2014

H817: Openness and innovation in e-learning.

I am applying to undertake doctoral research in education – using learning technologies.
H809 will help prepare for applications starting in January 2014 for an October 2014 start. Most are now a 4 year programme, with a Masters in research to begin. WebSciences at University of Southampton is an interesting option – I attended an Open Day in January.
Too many active interests was a stated issue on childhood school reports. Nothing’s changed.
I am looking at an MA in History with the University of Birmingham which would give me the opportunity study the First World War. (I have written extensively about this through my late grandfather’s memoire ‘That’s Nothing Compared to Passchandeale’)
I attended the School of Communication Arts, London. A full-time programme in copywriting, art direction and design and have worked in the ‘creative’ and ‘communications’ industries all of my career.
And ‘EAVE’ (European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs)
My first degree is in Geography.
My dissertation was on demographics. I love maps. Perhaps I should try to match maps, e-learning and the First World War. Animated it all and add some interviews and n ‘drama reconstruction’.
See what happens when you let something fester and wake up in the middle of the night.
Neuroscience and long term memory are fascinating too.
I need my life over. I need to split into three and start again. I need a coffee and a long walk on the South Downs. (I need to go back to bed)
And then there’s Fine Art.
And Creative Writing. And cooking. And the garden. There’s teaching, and moderating … and blogging. There’s movies. And sailing and swimming coaching. There’s family and friend … ah. Friend? I knew there was something missing in all of the above.
Scrap the lot and have a belated 50th birthday to celebrate 20 years of marriage, parenthood and the madness of being. Then sign up to crew in the Round the World Yacht Race.
There’s a reason why I call this blog ‘mind bursts’.

Making swim coaching a tad easier with SwimTag

Fig. 1. A plethora of session plans – what a year of elite swimming training looks like

Swimtag today, skitag tomorrow

Serendipity had me click on Swimtag and I’m hooked – as a swimmer and coach, but for the purposes of this note as a prospective PhD student looking for a research project for the next three years.

Fig. 2 . Swimtag

My interest is in e-learning, sport and virtual assistants / augmented learning.

Armed with a set of swimtags I’d like to research their use with a range of swimmers: masters, elite athletes, learn to swim and swimmers with disabilities. We have all of these in our 1000+ member swimming club Mid Sussex Marlins SC. Early days – I have only just completed a Masters in Open & Distance Education and am tentatively speaking to potential supervisors at the Open University, Oxford Internet Institute and Web Sciences at Southampton University with a view to submitting a doctoral research project in the next couple of months.

My vision is how swimtag becomes as commonplace as swim goggles, then translates into other sports and other fields, including business, but also as a potential prosthesis for people suffering from dementia or memory loss so potentially tied into other data capture devices.

I am seriously looking at funded PhD research for the next 3/4 years.

I am interested in e-learning, so Learning & Development particularly for v. large organisations. There is a groundswell of interest in devices/software that enhance or support memory and learning. There is a fertile crossover between health – providing support say to those who would benefit from cognitive support, what we call ‘lifelogging’ – so gathering pertinent data about the world around you, then using this in an artificially edited form (using Artificial Intelligence algorithms) to supplement memory loss or to enhance learning potential as a virtual companion. Those recovering from a stroke or with dementia included.

It may sound like science fiction but people have been working on these ideas for a decade or more.

I appreciate that simply tagging vulnerable people who may wander off and not know how to find their way home is one way to support but I’m thinking about quality of life and facilitating memory and communication too.


On creating an online learning resource for dyslexic swimming teachers

Breaststroke arms – getting it right

What is the problem?
A number of common problems occur in breaststroke as swimmers move from teaching into competitive swimming – these include raising the head too high so dropping the hips, pulling the arms passed the shoulders towards the hips on every stroke, and a screw kick. In this learning object we look at fixing the arms.

Who are we talking to?

Those who teach or coach swimming in UK swimming clubs. Typically volunteers with the  Level 1 Assistant Teaching Aquatics Amateur Swimming Association (ASA) qualification or Level 2 Teaching Aquatics, as well as those with coaching qualifications. The differences here relates to the developmental stage of the swimmer, whether they are being taught to swim in a teaching group, or coached to swim faster in a skills group. Personnel records held by clubs should identify the medical conditions and disabilities of all members, including the coaching staff.

Dyslexic pupils learn in a different way to non-dyslexic pupils, so that any support should be dyslexia specific and offered on a one-to-one basis. Putting dyslexia pupils in a remedial group for slow learners and other special needs will not be appropriate. In addition, dyslexia occurs independently of IQ and should not be equated with low ability.

Ten percent (10%) of the British population are dyslexic; 4% severely so.
British Dyslexia Association http://www.bdadyslexia.org.uk/

Colour Tints and overlays

Around 35-40% of people with dyslexia suffer with a visual stress difficulty where text appears to move around or look distorted in some way.

Coloured filters, either as overlays or glasses with coloured tinted lenses have been found to helpful. Coloured filters will help to make the text visually clearer and more comfortable to see, and therefore can aid the learning process, but they will not teach a child to read. To be effective, an individual will need assessing to find the precise colour tint.


Eyes and Dyslexia

Around 35-40% of people with dyslexic difficulties are estimated to experience visual disturbance or discomfort when reading print. They may experience one or several of the following:

  • Blurred letters or words which go out of focus.
  • Letters which move or present with back to front appearance or shimmering or shaking.
  • Headaches from reading.
  • Words or letters which break into two and appear as double.
  • Find it easier to read large, widely spaced print, than small and crowded.
  • Difficulty with tracking across the page.
  • Upset by glare on the page or over sensitive to bright lights.

In some cases any of these symptoms can significantly affect reading ability. It can also make reading very tiring. Of course a child will not necessarily recognise what they see as a problem, as this is how they always see text.

If a child complains of a least one of these problems or has difficulty at school, they should be referred to an optometrist or orthoptist with expertise in this particular field.

Many dyslexic people are sensitive to the glare of white backgrounds on a page, whiteboard or computer screen. This can make the reading of text much harder.

  • The use of cream or pastel coloured backgrounds can mitigate this difficulty as can coloured filters either as an overlay or as tinted reading glasses. – People with reading difficulties sometimes have a weakness in eye co-ordination or focussing and an eyecare practitioner might recommend treating this with eye exercises or glasses. If these problems are present, they should be detected and treated before coloured filters are prescribed.
  • Research in the UK and in Australia shows that people who need coloured filters, who are said to have visual stress, need to have exactly the right colour. Many optometrists and orthoptists use a special instrument, the Intuitive Colorimeter, to determine the exact colour that is necessary for coloured glasses.
  • The choice of colour of text on white backgrounds can also affect clarity e.g. using red on a whiteboard can render the text almost invisible for some dyslexic students. For information on dyslexia friendly text see Dyslexia Style Guide sheet.

Talks on Dyslexia http://www.dystalk.com/

What do we want to say?

Correctly identify the fault through careful observation of the swimmer, employ a variety of exercises and drills to address the fault, use the whole-part-whole approach to isolate parts of the stroke and put it together again. Relate the stroke to the rules governing competitive swimming and the most efficient way physiologically for a person to swim the stroke.

How do we want to say it?

In a way that communicates clearly to the broadest users and therefore includes those with the kinds of disabilities that present themselves in swimming teachers and coaches – such as dyslexia. As well as supporting swimmers who may wish to use the resource who have impairments in relation to vision, hearing, mobility and cognition.

How do we want them to respond to this?

That was very useful. I was able to extract from this learning object the knowledge I required either to fix faulty arms in breaststroke or to improve my own swimming.

What else do we need to know?

Increasingly smartphones are becoming the handheld tool of choice that offer swimming teachers and coaches the opportunity to pick up advice and suggestions on best practice poolside as they prepare for, between, or after swimming sessions. The learning object should be scalable to multiple devices – desktop, laptop, and touch screen tablets and smartphones. A downloadable PDF version for eBooks would also be of value as these too are being deployed poolside to assist teachers and to display content to swimmers.

The Learning Object is a post on the WordPress blogging platform.

It uses the theme Blaksan which is a sharp, minimalist black sans serif text on a white background. There are options to have one, two or three column displays and for a fee to alter the fonts, colours and background. It is a responsive layout that works well on multiple devices.  It is the work of designer Per Sandstrom. http://www.helloper.com/

There are 17 parts, 9 images and 2,752 words. The language is non–technical, written in short clear sentences that those at this level of swimming teaching or coaching will understand. Images, diagrams and tables are carefully explained thought not offered in alternative text versions. There is a simple narrative logic to the running order that gives the purpose of the object and what it sets out to do. The content goes from fault identification to fix and progresses from simple to advanced. Gagne’s nine instructional steps are followed.

Viewing can be enhanced with browser web tools. A screen reader will pick up the text and descriptions of the images.

It is a resource, a blog post, not a activity. There are non interactive components. It would have been nice to show a video clip, to have audio options built in say to explain the table and chart. I would like to have added a multichoice question component.

2). Compare this to a similar blog post and a Xerte learning object.


3). Evaluate the accessibility of your resource, identifying its strengths and weaknesses.

You could describe this as a universal design as it uses a platform that is readily available. Whilst there are theme choices, some which would make the text, images and layout less accessible there were none offered with accessibility in mind. To improve that accessibility would require at least some work on the code, or migrating the text to a disability designed platform such as Xerte.


4). Propose, with justification, ways in which its accessibility could be improved. (This could include suggesting alternatives.)

The rebuild in Xerte produced a refined and simplified expression of the blog post. The same logical sequence of identifying then fixing a fault was offered however in this instance the simple, clear dashboard buttons of Xerte allow the use to select a background colour and text colour so adjusting with ease the contrast levels which would assist someone who is Dyslexic while point size adjustments would immediately permit someone with a modest visual impairment to follow the text.

Design to guidelines, following the WCAG 2.0 Code.


  • 1 Perceivable
  • 2 Operable
  • 3 Understandable
  • 4 Robust


  • 1 (perceivable) Provide text alternatives for any non-text so that it can be changed into other formats people needs such as large print, brail, speech, symbols or simpler language.
  • 2P Provide alternatives for time-based media
  • 3P Create content that can be presented in different ways (for example simpler layout) without losing information or structure.
  • 4P Make it easier for users to see and hear content including separating foreground from backgound
  • 5 (operable) Make all funciontality available from a keyboard
  • 6O Provide users enough time to read and use content.
  • 7O Do no design content in a way that is known to cause seizure.
  • 😯 Provide ways to help users navigate, find content, and deteremine where they are.
  • 9 (understandable) Make text content readable and understandabls
  • 10U Make Web pages appear and operate in predictable ways.
  • 11U Help users avoid and correct mistakes.
  • 12 (robust) Maximize compatibility with current and futre user agents, including assistive technologies

5). Reflect on the processes of creating and evaluating accessible resources.

For good design in anything ‘form follows function’ an idea expressed by minimalist architects such as Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Alva Aalto, Mies van der Rohe and Gerrit Rietveld. Keeping web design simple has its proponents too, not least Jakob Neilsen (2000). This applies to those seeking an approach to accessibility through universal design too – clarity of expression, the marriage of text and images in a logical learning sequence denotes usability. These minamilist architects spoke of ‘ornament as a crime’ – which in the context of e-learning design would count against interactivity as an indulgence.

Any learning curve, shallow or steep, is exactly that and we each react differently to a new platform when it is presented. I gave Xerte a go but struggled so decided instead to use a blog post in WordPress to compile the content, and where I could with themes, layout and other choices do what I could to makes this more rather than less accessible. In reality it is a blog post like any other with little provision for greater accessibility other than adding text to describe the images and charts.

A good deal can be done here, writing in short, clear sentences, avoid jargon and keeping to a logical sequences with clear headings and subheadings – all good practice for everyday web usability and use of English.

Paciello (2005) argues that engaging users and applying usability inspection methods are the cornerstones for ensuring universal accessibility. But that automated testing on its own is ‘incapable of emulating true user experience’. Paciello (2005:01) The best solution to ensuring accessible user experience (AUE) involves a combination of automated testing tools, expert usability inspections and controlled task user testing. Seale et al. (2006)

What next in WordPress?

With the Custom Design upgrade you can make your blog look and feel exactly the way you want.Customize the fonts in your theme with ease, apply a custom color palette and background pattern, or dive into CSS to make all the presentational changes you desire.

A straightforward theme for WordPress was chosen that is less cluttered than its predecessor.Tips on writing about an image, graph or table were taken from UKAAC.

A version was created in Xerte – this forced my hand, obliging considered editing of the text and images down to the essentials. Although in the time I managed some of the basic skills creating a logical sequence of 12 pages with a selection of supportive images, I was unable to establish how to load a piece of Creative Commons video, or to create an activity, such as multi-choice questions both which would have contributed to making it a piece of accessible interactive learning, rather than simply a resource.

6). Use the research and practice literature to explain and understand your experiences of these processes.


When designing for accessibility there are two potentially contradicting approaches – user centred design (UCD) or universal design (UD), with an important caveat, unless the design is also usable, then accessibility remains worthless (Sloan and Stratford, 2004)

UCD puts the focus on the needs perceived or observed of a single student, rather like an author writing with one reader in mind, as Kurt Vonnegut put in 1999 ‘Write to please just one person’. The designer here needs to have in their minds eye just one persona, one construction of a student using their resource who has a set of traits based on their gender, age, socio-economic background, level of educational achievement, personality, educational track record and any disabilities to take into consideration. The view with UCD is that no single design is likely to satisfy all different learner needs. The classic example given to support this argument is the perceived conflict between the needs of those who are blind and  those who have cognitive disabilities. For example, the dyslexic’s desire for effective imagery and short text would appear to contradict the blind user’s desire for strong textural narrative and little imagery. However, Bohman (2003b) provides a counterbalance to this argument stating that while the visual elements may be unnecessary for those who are blind, they are not harmful to them. As long as alternative text is provided for these visual elements, there is no conflict. Kelly et al (2004) argue that since accessibility is primarily about people and not about technologies it is inappropriate to seek a universal solution and that rather than aiming to provide an e-learning resource which is accessible to everyone there can be advantages in providing resources which are tailored to the student’s particular needs.

UCD follows three principles (Barnum 2002b, Luke 2002; Gould and Lewes 1985) that 

  1. Early focus on users and their tasks
  2. Measures aspects of ease of use throughout
  3. Is iterative design – i.e. there are repeated cycles of design, test, redesign and retest.

According to Barnum (2002) UCD encourages designers to:

  1. gather information from users before product development begins
  2. identify tasks that users will want to perform before product development begins
  3. include users in the product development process
  4. use an iterative product development life cycle.

At the most extreme degree of disability the BBC recently reported (BBC 4 13th November 2012 of a man in a vegetative state for 10 years who has been able to communicate that he is in no pain. Vanderheiden speculated(2007:152) that research on direct brain control would soon allow such patients to control devices in their environment. Designing for such a learner, because it pushes the boundaries of what has been done before, would be revealing and have broader applications.

Universal design (UD) is the process of creating products (devices, environments, systems, and processes), which are usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, operating within the widest possible range of situations (environments, conditions, and circumstances) Vanderheiden (1996) although he also argues that ‘it is not possible, however, to create a product, which is usable by everyone under all circumstances’. Striving for UD results in simplicity which in turn favours usability – if this is done with disability in mind a better product will be developed that also serves the needs of all users including those who are not disabled. Thompson (2005) argues that ‘providing a clear, simple design, including a consistent and intuitive navigational mechanism, benefits a variety of users with disabilities’ – more than this inclusion not only favours disabled people, but also socially disadvantaged affected by financial, educational, geographic and other features. (Gappa et al. 2004). On the other hand, the reality is that those who aim for UD are aiming to design for a majority, rather than all (Witt and MCDermott, 2004; Bonham, 2003). There is a caveat to UD – Seale (2006) feels that there are some who feel uncomfortable with the principles of UD because they appear to relieve educators of the responsibility of addressing individual student needs. Central to the idea of UD is a commitment that products should not have to be modified or adapted – yet that is exactly what designers ought to consider offering to disabled students – the opportunity, with plugins, Apps or browser controls, to modify a universal design to suit their needs. Thompson (2005) also believes that this is how web content that is accessible to the broadest possible audience using a wide variety of input and output technologies. Whilst Bilotta (2005) believes the claims of UD are over-done, that web accessibility techniques can never replace true inclusive user centre design. With the growing use of a plethora of mobile devices – smartphones and tablets, there is a growing expectation and demand for web content to be equally accessible to all on these devices – the developing use of HTML 5 permits ‘responsive’ design where content designed once for one platform adjusts iteslf as it appears on a different device.

The need to design with various assistive technologies in mind also negates the universal design approach, in guideline nine of WCAG-1 it is suggested that designers use features that enable activation of page elements via a variety of input devices. For Yu (2003) these are issues in relation to the law and accessibility, while Vanderheiden et al (1997) speculated on when assistive technology used to improve screen readers would have wider use in society – some 15 years on, voice recognition and screen reading is commonplace, so much so that in new Apple products they are shipped as standard to the operating system. OS X for example comes with a variety of assistive technologies to help those with vision disabilities, including a built-in screen reader, screen and cursor magnification, high-contrast settings, and more. (Apple, 2012)

The compromise between UD and UCD is to design for adaptability – allow and expect users to configure the application to meet their needs (Owens and Keller 2000; Arditi  2004) enabling the application to make adaptation to transform seamlessly in order to meet the needs of the user (Stephanidis et al. 1998; Cooper et al. 2000; Hanson and Richards 2004; Alexandraki et al. 2004). Alexandraki et al describe  the ‘eAccessibility Engine’, a tool which employs adaptation techniques to automatically render web pages accessible by users with different types of disabilities. Specifically it was capable of transforming web pages (at that time) to attain conformance to Section 508 standards and ‘AAA’ conformance to Web Content Accessibility Guidlins. Whilst Cooper et al (2000) points out that people have different needs when seeking to use a computer to facilitate any activity, research by Seale and Draffan a decade later (2010:458) indicates that students with disabilities also show considerable agility at negotiation the affordances of various computing devices and that ‘the dual inclusion in the context of disabled learners does not always have to be understood through the dual lenses of deficits and barriers’. Which rather makes me think that following the web design principles that Neilsen (2000) set out a decade ago will suffice : effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction can be achieved by following four main design principles: make the site’s purpose clear, help users find what they need, reveal site content and use visual design to enhance, not define, interaction design.

Usability and accessibility are different as Powlik and Karshmer (2002:218) point out: ‘To assume accessibility equates to usability is the equivalent of saying that broadcasting equates to effective communication’.


Apple (2012) OS X Accessibility. http://www.apple.com/accessibility/macosx/vision.html (Last accessed 20 Nov 2012)

Arditi, A. (2004) Adjustable typography: an approach to enhancing low vision text accessibility. Ergonomics, 47, 5, 469–482.

Barnum, C. (2002a). The ‘magic number 5’. Information Design Journal & Document Design, 11(2/3), 160-170.

Barnum, C. (2002b) Usability Testing and Research. New York: Longman. http://www.ablongman.com/barnum

Bilotta, J. A. (2005) Over-done: when web accessibility techniques replace true inclusive user centred design. Paper presented at CSUN ’05, Los Angeles, 17–19 March 2005. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.csun.edu/ cod/ conf/ 2005/ proceedings/ 2283.htm> (last accessed 17 Nov 2012).

Bohman, P. (2003) Introduction to web accessibility. Online. Available HTTP: http://www.webaim.org/ intro/ (last accessed 16 November 2012).

Cooper, M., Valencia, L. P. S., Donnelly, A. and Sergeant, P. (2000) User interface approaches for accessibility in complex World-Wide Web applications – an example approach from the PEARL project. Paper presented at the 6th ERCIM Workshop, ‘User Interfaces for All’. Online. Available HTTP: <http://ui4all.ics.forth.gr/UI4ALL-2000/files/Position_Papers/Cooper.pdf&gt;. (Now available at http://ui4all.ics.forth.gr/ UI4ALL-2000/ files/ Position_Papers/ Cooper.pdf, last accessed 17 Nov 2012.)

Gappa, H., Nordbrook, Mohamad, Y. and Velasco, C. A. (2004) Preferences of people with disabilities to improve information presentation and information retrieval inside Internet Services – results of a user study. In K. Klaus, K. Miesenberger, W. Zagler and D. Burger (eds)Computers Helping People with Special Needs. Proceedings of 9th International Conference. Berlin Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag, pp. 296–301.

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Hanson, V. L. and Richards, J. T. (2004) A web accessibility service: update and findings. Paper presented at ASSETS ’04, 18–20 October, Atlanta, Georgia. Online. Available HTTP: <http://www.research.ibm.com/ people/ v/ vlh/ HansonASSETS04.pdf>
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James and Jane Bond learn to swim slinky, silent and smooth front crawl

Fig.1. James Bond contemplates a 1,600m set but he’s forgotten his goggles.

No you haven’t made a mistake – Saturday Morning’s I teach swimming. These are swimmers who are on the cusp of advancing to our club’s competitive programme. It so happens that I am working on the creation of some accessible e-learning objects using XERTE, the open source accessible e-learning tool from Nottingham University.

I’ve  decided to create something to do with swimming.

‘Flow’ is a technical term coined by a Hungarian MBA business guru with the challenging name of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. (Pronounced cheek-sent-mə-hy-ee)

Flow looks like this:

Fig.2. Csikszentmihalyi (1975) Experiencing Flow in Work and Play

  • To be ‘in the flow’ means  that things are going well. I’m playing to my strengths, not unduly challenged, not bored.
  • I could never be bored with the simple tasks of developing swimmers.

This isn’t learn to swim, these are 6-12 year olds who are well on the way to having all the strokes and skills necessary to enjoy swimming and if they like to compete at school, or perhaps one day at county or regional levels. Some might, so will I suspect, go further.

This morning we could relax – assessments went in last week.

All those boxes are ticked, or not. Come January some, most, will go to the next grade. Some, as they are struggling with their technique or just haven’t cracked all parts of a stroke at their level will stay on for another term. Trying to make this sound good is always tricky. I like to say that children ‘level out’ for a period or need a specific skill fixed that they will get in time (especially if they put in a second swim). Sometimes, say being unable to dive or a persistent screw kick may benefit from some additional tuition.

How did this become the Bond Session?

Front Crawl is a stroke they can all do, so are rather good at it. Its the fastest stroke and of course the stroke of choice if you are swimming across a crocodile  infested lake a night.

  • After a warm up of between 100m and 200m Front Crawl (these swimmers are our Grades 4,5 and 7, ages 6 to 13 with a mean of 10) I then had them push off and swim one length of their best FC with an emphasis on rotating left to right while swimming directly above the black line up the lane.
  • This they repeated with a dive from the blocks.
  • I just wanted to get a measure of their stroke skills and judge  how far I think they’ve got after 10 weeks or so. Smooth, stronger, more streamlined. Higher elbows, steady flutter kick.

Not too bad, some lateral deviation, some kicking showing a bit of knee … some elbows not as high as I would like, some a little cross-over as their  hand enters the water.

Most a good long glide and dolphin kick transition into the stroke.

Kicking is part of it, so a 50m kick with board before some ‘fun stuff’.

Then I get out the iPad and show them ‘Dead Swimmer’

I’d done a quick screen grab of a sequence that I call ‘dead swimmer coming to life’ – courtesy of the brilliant ‘The Swimming Drills Book’ by US former Olympic Coach Ruben Guzman.

Fig.3. Dead Swimmer from Ruben Guzman’s ‘The Swimming Drill Book’ (2007) Here on the Kindle I usually have poolside. Having let the battery go flat I risked the iPad this morning.

They haven’t done it for a few weeks, but this time I wanted perfection. The first group got into the spirit of it, indeed it was one of the swimmers who said, ‘have you seen the new James Bond?’ He proceeded to tell in detail the best scene in the film. We got on with the swim and I wondered at the wisdom of his parents. What is it rated as 13+

(I gather from reviews after the session that ‘You could take most kids.  The length of the film will lull many of the younger ones to sleep.  Older school-aged kids and up will appreciate it the most’.)

First they had to show me could do the above well – from floating head down, raising the hands into a streamlined position, then the legs until they were stretched out and streamlined. Next step, standing facing up the pool on the ‘T’ at the end of the lane they drop into ‘dead swimmer’ unfurl, then dolphin kick into FC. We repeated three times until they all had it right. At the deep end I started them off under the 5m flags – the idea here is so they don’t have the wall to kick off against. (And that they are far enough away from each other that someone doesn’t inadvertently get a kick in the face).

We then went for a 50m swim, competitive dive off the blocks, ideally a tumble turn but some are yet to learn this, good transition though.

In the streamlined position they jump and bounced the length of the pool. Then another dive, glide and transition into the stroke. Each time I make a mental note of their strengths and a learning point. Each gets praise and a tip – the classic sandwiching of praise wrapped around constructive feedback – I do this because it works – especially the praise bit.

They are so responsive at this age to hearing their name and told they are doing well.

Then a pull-buoy on the head. In breaststroke this is a drill. In this case they simply had to transport a ‘bomb’ to the deep end without touching it with their hands or getting it wet. If the bomb fell off then they had to take a forfeit and swim to the bottom of the pool and up. They then did some regular arms only front crawl with the pull-buoy between their thighs. The grade 7 swimmers did a bit more of this and added a woggle (or noodle) at one stage which created greater resistance so had the swimming harder.

Then a game of ‘Bond and baddies’

Bond is on the blocks, the baddy is in the water under the flags looking down the pool. On the whistle the chase begins. We had a laugh about ‘James Bond’ and ‘Jane Bond’.

Was there more?

An IM, so depending on their level all four strokes, or backstroke, breaststroke and front crawl as 75m with the butterfly as a separate swim.

Hand Stands to work, again, on the streamlined position getting them to have long straight legs and pointed toes.

Ending on a deep breath, sitting on the bottom of the pool, having a cup of tea with ‘M’.

So much for the first session.

With the next two sessions we did more of the same, the only variation with the Grade 7 swimmers was for greater distances and a race pace swim over 50m. They also did an underwater challenge, thinking of the pool as a river at night that is closely guarded. They have to get to the other side undetected, so they only surface once or twice or more.

This group (Our Grade 7) also did the ‘Shark Fin’ drill.


Csikszentmihalyi, M (1975) Mental state in terms of challenge level and skill level. Beyond Boredom and Anxiety: Experiencing Flow in Work and Play, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN 0-87589-261-2Related articles


Activity designed to provide an insight into scripting content that is image rich for the visually impaired

English: Breaststroke 2 ‪中文(简体)‬: 蛙泳2

English: Breaststroke 2 ‪中文(简体)‬: 蛙泳2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fig.1. Kindle by the pool. Taking swim sessions armed with a Kindle edition of ‘The Swimming Drills book. A perfect aide memoire for the coach. A tool that grabs the attention of swimmers (I use this with 5 year olds to 75 year olds)

As part of the Masters in Open and Distance Education (MAODE) module H810 Accessible Online Learning : supporting disabled students we are looking at how best to describe visual content for the visually impaired. This fascinating exercise sees me refreshing my ideas on scriptwriting.

Asked to find an example of an online learning resource from my own context I decided to turn to swimming

Teaching breaststroke : symmetrical whip kick and glide, arms in front of the shoulders during the pull, head still looking no further than in front of your hands.

Coach Marlins – my swim teaching and coaching blog.

A personal resource, reflection on swimming (masters) and coaching for Mid Sussex Marlins Swimming Club.  A first step towards creating a mobile resource. Below is an excerpt from a typical morning teaching four groups – three grade groups (4.5.7) typically 7 – 11 year olds) and a disability swimming group of children and adults.

See ‘The Swim Drills Books’

Grade 7 are technically superior and have more stamina and may be a little older. The ones I watch out for are the 7 year olds in with 10 and 11 year olds as they need a different approach, TLC and play.


  • 3 x 50m warm up of front crawl and backstroke

Always giving a tip before starting them off (and accommodating the odd swimmer who is invariably late), say ‘smooth swimming’ or ‘long legs’. i.e. reducing splashing and creating a more efficient swimmer.

  1. Make sure too that there is a 5m between each swimmer.
  2. 25m of Breaststroke to see what I’ve got and potentially adjust accordingly.


Fig. 2. Breaststroke kicking drill from ‘The Swimming Drill Book’

  • Kick on front with a kicker float.
  • Taking tips from ‘The Swim Drill Book’
  • I remember to put as much emphasis on keeping the chin in.

The glide is key – this is where to put the emphasis.

  • May start the ‘Kick, Pull, Glide’ or better ‘Kick, Pull, Slide’ mantra to get it into their heads.


Fig. 3. Breaststroke arms from ‘The Swimming Drill Book’

Standing demo of the arm stroke, from Guzman, forming an equilateral triangle and keeping the fingers pointing away.

  • Will ‘describe’ the triangle poolside then ask what it is and what kind of triangle.
  • Anything to get them to think about it a little.

Fig. 4. Breaststroke arms from ‘The Swimming Drill Book’

  • I show this as a single action.
  • Other things I might say include ‘heart shaped’ *(upside down).
  • And making a sound effect ‘Bu-dooosh’ as I push my arms out.

Fig. 5. Breaststroke arms from ‘The Swimming Drill Book’

Repeat the need for a pronounced glide, even asking fo a 2 second count (one Mississippi, two Mississippi)

I support by showing images from ‘The Swimming Drill Book‘ on an iPhone or the Kindle

Leading into the turn we do in sequence (from the shallow end):

    • Push and glide for count of 5 seconds
    • Same, then add the underwater stroke and See how far you can go.

Legs Only Drill (Advanced)

Arms outstretched above the head. No kicker float

  • The whole BR transition counting 3,2,1.

Which visual content needs describing?

  • The objects that need describing might be photos, diagrams, models, animations and so on.

In the resources I was impressed by the clear, logical, analytical description of some of the complex bar charts, flow charts, pie charts and others. This is how all descriptions should be. In 2010 or 2011 the BBC reviewed how weather forecasts were delivered. It was determined that they were far too flowery. A plainer, clearer approach – overview, identified the region, immediate and forecast weather. Move on. Much more like ‘The Shipping Forecast‘ was wanted and worked better. No more ‘weather-caster personalities’ then. It isn’t entertainment, it is information.

What kind of description is needed?

‘Before beginning to write a description, establish what the image is showing and what the most important aspects are’. UKAAF

‘Consider what is important about the photograph in the context of how the image is going to be used, and how much detail is essential’. UKAAF

In swimming, any description of these visuals should emphasise the purpose of the action, the key action in relation to the physics and physiology of the pull, the action in relation to the rules of competitive swimming.

  • Keep it simple
  • Get to the point
  • Choose the right words

Kick without a float. Arm pull practice standing in water or on the side of the pool.

If you can, ask someone who has not seen these visual objects to read your descriptions. Then show them the object and the context. What was their reaction? (If you have online tools to share visual resources, ask another student in your tutor group to do this activity with you.)

Which aspects of this task were straightforward or difficult?

  • Knowing that gender is irrelevant. Putting it in context.
  • Take care not to use terms or metaphors that the swimmer may not be familiar with if they have never seen them.

Reading text on a diagram and wanting to shut my eyes so that I can hear the description without the image.

  • To get this close to right I need to use a screen reader or record and play back.
  • Working with someone who is visually impaired is of course the best approach.

‘Remember that blind or partially sighted people cannot skim read, so let them know how long the description is likely to be’. UKAAF

Knowing what to leave out, being confident to leave something out then knowing how to handle it.

‘It is important that information provided for sighted people is also made available to blind and partially sighted people, even if the way the information is given is different’. RNIB (2009)

An author should write with a single reader in mind – in this instance while visual impairment is the modus operandi – they are first of all a swimmer or swim teacher/assistant – so the description must be given with this in mind, which in turn defines the writing/editing process of what to put in or what to leave out.

What might have helped  improve my descriptions?

  • Physically moving the student athletes arms and legs through the positions. With their consent, allowing a visually impaired swimmer lay the hands on the arms then legs of someone as they go through the movement.
  • An artist’s manikin or a jointed doll, male or female action figure,
  • Braille embossed outline.

‘However converting a visual graphic to an appropriate tactile graphic is not simply a matter of taking a visual image and making some kind of “tactile photocopy”. The tactile sense is considerably less sensitive than the visual sense, and touch works in a more serial manner than vision. Therefore the visual graphic needs to be re-designed to make sense in a tactile form for blind and partial sighted readers’. RNIB (2009)

In some subjects, interpreting an image or diagram could be a key skill that students are expected to learn.

Drill-down organization

Descriptions should follow a drill-down organization, e.g., a brief summary followed by extended description and/or specific data. Drill-down organization allows the reader to either continue reading for more information or stop when they have read all they want.

Keeping this logic rather than imaging the sighted eye skipping about the page, so I imagine I am not allowed to lift the stylus from the screen … it has to be in a continuous, logical flow. Constructing a narrative would add some logic to it as well.

Can descriptions be done in such a way that you are not giving students the answers?

This was an interesting and relevant point regarding humorous cartoons ‘Cartoons and comic strips need to be described if necessary. Set the scene of the cartoon without giving away the joke Provide a brief overview of the image.’

The same therefore applies to ‘giving the answer’ – treat it as the punch line but leave it out. and like a quiz book say, ‘answers on page x’.

What do you think your strategy would be if you can’t find a way to give a description without compromising the learning outcomes?

Script differently – this is after all a different audience – and all students are ultimately an audience of one. Perhaps all resources will become highly personalised in future?

12) How can providing descriptions be included in the workflow process of delivering an online module? (This was touched on in the discussion for Activity 17.3.)

  • I liked this quotation:

“When organisations send me information in formats that I can read myself it allows me to be independent, feel informed and appreciated – just like every other customer.” End-user UKAAF

From Describing images 2: Charts and graphs

  • Definition of print disability
  • A print-disabled person is anyone for whom a visual, cognitive, or physical disability hinders the ability to read print. This includes all visual impairments, dyslexia, and any physical disabilities that prevent the handling of a physical copy of a print publication.


RNIB Tactile Images : http://www.rnib.org.uk/professionals/accessibleinformation/accessibleformats/accessibleimages/Pages/accessible_images.aspx

RNIB Image Descriptions : http://www.rnib.org.uk/professionals/accessibleinformation/accessibleformats/accessibleimages/imagedescriptions/Pages/image_descriptions.aspx

Gould, B., O’Connell, T. and Freed, G. (2008) Effective Practices for Description of Science Content within Digital Talking Books [online], National Center for Accessible Media (NCAM), http://ncam.wgbh.org/ experience_learn/ educational_media/ stemdx (last accessed 10 November 2012).

Guzman, R (2007) The Swimming Drills Book.  Human Kinetics Publishers ISBN 9780736062510

UK Association for Accessible Formats (UKAAF) (undated) Formats and Guidance: Accessible Images [online], http://www.ukaaf.org/ formats-and-guidance#accessible (last accessed 10 November 2012).

University of Aberdeen (undated) Keep It Simple [online], http://www.abdn.ac.uk/ eLearning/ accessibility/ checklist/ keep-it-simple/ (last accessed 10 November 2012).

Creative Technique: Working with Dreams and/or Keeping a Dream Diary

This from B822 Creativity, Innovation and Change which ended in April.

Several reasons why as a technique it is out of the reach if most of us and impractical as a management tool.

a) What good is it ‘dreaming up’ something at random.

b) That has nothing to do with the course.

I found myself giving a presentation to an eager group in a crowded boardroom. I don’t know why.

‘and Jonathan is going to give you the criteria’.

And up I step, in a two piece suit with the manner of Montgomery addressing the troops – effusive, informed, consided and persuasive.

It went something like this:

“We human are blessed with an innate ability to float in water, though not necessarily fully clothed, or carrying a backpack and rifle.”


“We should encourage swimming for a number of reasons: for the love of it, as a life skill, as a competitive sport and for fitness’.

At which point I am full conscious, which from a dream state meant ‘I lost it’.

Why this dream?

I am reading a good deal on the First World War and I am swimming four or more times a week again after a long, slow easing back into the sport over the lt five months. I even got papers through yesterday which I only opened late in the evening before going to bed to say that I had passed the ASA Level 3 module on Sports Psychology (which makes 10// modules down on that ‘Front’.

What will e-learning be like in five years time?

I just completed a survey for the Amateur Swimming Assocaition on the use of e-learning in swim teaching and coaching, something I have banged on at them about for the last five years as I did their Level 3 Coaching Course and the Open University’s Masters in Open and Distance Education. Asked to sum up where we would be in five years time this is what I wrote (where I will be with the swimmers I teach and coach even if the ASA is lagging behind)

‘Like the belt that holds up your trousers, an earing, watch, ear-piece. Universally the ‘university or universe’ in your pocket. Tablets in all sizes: I want one at least the size of a kicker float that can get wet or project video clips and lesson plans onto the swimming pool roof, or activate pace lights along the bottom of the pool! So waterproof.

An earpiece to swimmers so that individual swimmers can take coaching in situ without deviation or hesitation, a catalogue of programmes on the electronic whiteboard, all the detail I need on a swimmer at the tip of my electronic tongue (currently in FileMakerPro data files).

E-learning in 2012 is where Ford was (a hundred years ago at a guess) when he turned to mass production of motor-vehicles – e-learning is becoming a product that can be mass produced replacing books and linear video, while supporting facilitated classes, lecturers or tutorials. ‘Blended learning’ is the best way forward, some human interaction, face-to-face as well as online, always a key part of attracting and retaining students (and educators who want to see their craft skills working in practice).

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