As part of our activities to celebrate Ada Lovelace Day this year, and to mark the occasion of the completion of a major upgrade project in the James Clerk Maxwell Building data centre, we are going to name the data centre after Mary Somerville, so it’ll be the MSDC at the JCMB.
I’ve written about Mary before, on this blog and on Wikipedia. While it is exciting to think of Ada Lovelace as a pioneer, she was not actually a crusader, nor a feminist actor on any political stage. If you are looking for a a female scientist and activist to celebrate, Mary Somerville is your woman. Mary Somerville played a key role in defining and categorizing the physical sciences, was one of the best known scientists of the nineteenth century and a passionate reformer. She was the author of best-selling books on science and a highly respected mathematician and astronomer. She was a very clever woman and was for several years Ada’s tutor and mentor. A staunch supporter of women’s suffrage and a great advocate of women’s education in 1868 Mary was the first person to sign J.S Mill’s petition to Parliament in support of women’s suffrage. I’m very pleased that we are able to name our data centre after her.
Mary Somerville (26 December 1780 – 29 November 1872), was a Scottish writer and polymath. She is the person for whom the word scientist was invented. She studied mathematics and astronomy, and was admitted as one of the first female members of the Royal Astronomical Society. She campaigned for votes and education for women.She wrote a number of influential and interdisciplinary science books and when she died in 1872 The Morning Post declared “Whatever difficulty we might experience in the middle of the nineteenth century in choosing a king of science, there could be no question whatever as to the queen of science.”[James Clerk Maxwell himself later commented: “The unity shadowed forth in Mrs Somerville’s book is therefore a unity of the method of science, not a unity of the process of nature”.
“Mathematics are the natural bent of my mind”
and at aged 90:
“Age has not abated my zeal for the emancipation of my sex from the unreasonable prejudice too prevalent in Great Britain against a literary and scientific education for women”
There’s a very good book called ‘Mary Somerville: Science , Illumination and the Female Mind‘ by Kathryn Neeley which describes some of the challenges in categorising Mary because her life and work crossed boundaries and assumed roles. She was a devoted wife and mother as well as eminent scientist. She was sociable with a wide network of connections which included eminent mathematicians and scientists of the day. While formal science education was already closed to women, science itself was not yet so formalised as it is today and many of the discoveries of the day were by ‘amateur’ scientists working privately and sharing their findings socially.
When we write the biographies of women scientist for their wikipedia entries, often we find ourselves telling their story as ‘translator’, ‘helpmate’, ‘illustrator’, ‘junior partner’ in scientific work of their father, husband or brother. This was not the case for Mary. Neither was she writing for female audiences to engage other women in science or for children or teachers. She had a privileged position in society and was at the heart of her scientific community. Amongst her community of friends were Caroline and William Herschel, Mary and Charles Lyell ( whose notebooks have just been bought by University of Edinburgh), Charles Babbage, Ada Lovelace and Annabella Byron.
University of Edinburgh and ALT have a long standing relationship, a long standing commitment. As well as providing a venue we have also provided some top quality speakers. Sir Tim O’Shea was a keynote speaker in 2006, Jeff Haywood in 2014 and Sian Bayne in 2017 and there are more than 20 Edinburgh University colleagues presenting here this time.
We also have a long standing commitment to CMALT , some of us have had our CMALTs for a very long time, others are shiny new getting their awards at this conference . I am proud that we have so many CMALT holders working at Edinburgh, an important part of ensuring the professionalization of our learning technology staff who provide services across all the schools. Its that discipline of reflecting on the evaluation, context and policy environment in which they work which ensures they are able to work as part of a community of shared knowledge within the institution and that is a unique business advantage for us.
Delegates were impressed by our venue, the gorgeous McEwan Hall. The name, yes it is it is name of the brewing company.William McEwan paid for the building in 1897 with the profits from much pale ale, export and 80 shillings. You may be able to tell that its been recently renovated. We had 19 miles of scaffolding in here so that the conservators could clean and restore the paintings.
The central piece of art is known as “The Temple of Fame” it has the names of muses, philosophers and students. And if you look up you will see the inscription:
Wisdom is the principal thing, therefore get wisdom, and with all thy getting, get understanding. Exalt her and she shall bring thee to honour. (Proverbs 4:7).
You might see this proverb in knowledge creation organisations. It’s also around the dome of the Manchester Central Library and the Library of Congress. I think it means that while knowledge and education have their place, it is wisdom that makes people successful. Knowledge is the accumulation of information, understanding is the comprehension and interpretation of that information, but wisdom is the application. Wisdom is learning how to take the knowledge given and apply it to our lives in a workable manner, so that it benefits us, and benefits the lives of others.
I asked delgates to look up, but also to look down.
As you leave McEwan Hall and head across to other sessions in Appleton Tower, as you go out the door look down. You will see one of our newly commission pieces of public art .The work is by Susan Collis it is called ‘The Next Big Thing is… a Series of Little Things ‘. It is a meandering series of little shiny dots that might go unnoticed.
It reminds us that thinking of big ideas is tempting, its exciting to imaging a technology, a magic pill or silver bullet, that one thing we are doing wrong but can correct with a single change and consequently improve the world we work in, but we should not ignore the small things. The steady drip of work which wears down things that were set in stone and changes the shape of what we do. That’s often where success starts.
A couple weeks before the conference ALT published an interview conversation with CEO Maren Deepwell and me, and the day the conference began we wrote a piece together for Wonkhe.
We are currently in the running for 2 more awards:
The University of Edinburgh Lecture Recording Team has been shortlisted for the ALT Community Choice Award. Check out our submission video and vote for us here: (link: https://altc.alt.ac.uk/2019/awardsvoting/) #LTA6 The awards are generously sponsored by EDINA and will be given at The Association of Learning Technologists Conference in Edinburgh in September. Every vote counts!
Also, Jeanette, Laura and Kevin have made it to the shortlist in the Scottish HR Network awards 2019 for our employing of students in the ‘Attraction and Resourcing’ category. Attracting around 800 HR and people professionals and regarded as ‘the’ event in the HR calendar. The event is in November.
In July I was runner up in the 2019 EdFuturists Awards as an individual ‘who embodies a vision of where education could be 20 years from now’. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Racial and ethnic diversity is a challenge for the Scottish HE IT sector. In Scotland in 2017 95.6 percent of the population identified as white. The next highest ethnic group was Asians with 2.6 percent.
‘Getting race equality right in the UK is worth £24bn per year to the UK economy -1.3%of GDP. Employers with more diverse teams also have 35% better financial results.There are persistent unemployment rate gaps, with some ethnic minority groups experiencing employment rates which are twice as high as their white counterparts. In 2016/1only 1.7%of Modern Apprentices in Scotland identified as BME’
In ISG we take an intersectional approach to addressing the multiple factors, gender, race, religion, class, sexuality, and disabilities which shape the experience of our staff. Ethnicity is also a complex category. I had to google ‘do Jews count as minority ethnic?’ and there’s a whole discipline around collecting data.
Here are some of the things we have done:
We have employed an intern (Dominique ) who is an expert in gender and race issues and how those combine to reinforce inequality. She has advised us on how to ensure that our gender equality initiatives also include race, age and class considerations.
In our recruitment, we have changed the language and images we use to communicate what it is like to work in ISG. We have also changed where we advertise, making more use of LinkedIn and the new Equate Scotland jobs board and the university careers service. As a result our new workers, and particularly our student interns appear to be a much more diverse group than the longer standing staff. Our interns are a pipeline to bringing new diversity into digital jobs.
We make sure that the images we use in BITs magazine and in other ISG promotional materials reflect the diversity of our staff and discourage the use of ‘stock’ images to do so. We have also changed the images we use to promote use of technology and online learning, ensuring that the images on our websites reflect the demographics we know we have in our community. We are exploring how we can make more use of positive action images collections such as JopWell
‘It is generally accepted that for public services to be effective and relevant for all communities in Scotland, the public sector workforce should reflect the community it serves. The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that by 2025 its own workforce will reflect at every level the minority ethnic share of the population. According to the 2017 staff diversity data published in the Scottish Government’s Equality Outcomes and Mainstreaming Report, BME staff currently comprise 1.6 % of the civil service in Scotland, an increase of 0.2 % since 2013.
The position set out in the CRER report of March 2014 is that just 0.8% of staff in all Scotland’s Local Authorities are from BME backgrounds despite making up 4% of the general population in Scotland. In Glasgow City Council the proportion of the workforce from a BME background is less than 2% although the BME population is 12%.
Given that the Public Sector employs 20.7% of the workforce in Scotland, accelerating action to tackle the diversity deficit in the Scottish Public Sector and meet the Scottish Government’s equality outcomes is, I suggest, a matter of some urgency.’
People of colour make up 9.7 per cent of the total staff numbers at University of Edinburgh and suffer structural disadvantage in pay as we can see by looking at the gender pay gap.
BME staff are more likely to report a culture of bullying, racial stereotyping and microaggression (Advance HE/Fook et al, 2019; Rollock 2019). We have held staff development sessions on:
We take care not to organise all-staff events on major high days and holidays
Staff, mainly in User Services Directorate, attend cultural awareness training
We take part in projects across libraries and collections and across the sector to explore the implications of decolonialising our metadata and descriptions
We will name the next of our training rooms after David Pitt during Black HIstory Month 2019
We are meeting with Advance HE to explore how University of Edinburgh can be part of their race equality project:
‘Racial inequality is a significant issue in UK universities. It is evidenced by the BME attainment gap, the BME staff pay gap, and the lack of representation and promotion of BME staff . A number of UK universities have made strategic and public commitments to advancing race equality, but the sector has found consistent progress hard to come by.
Advance HE/ECU has been actively working with the sector in Scotland on race equality since 2013 to promote conversations and initiatives on race equality with universities and colleges. In 2016, the Race Equality Charter was launched, and the Scottish Race Equality Network (SREN) first met. This project aims to support a group of Scottish universities to make significant and meaningful progress in developing strategic approaches to race equality, and in particular develop effective initiatives to support the recruitment and development of Black/BME staff. Improved staff representation, whilst being a key longer term outcome itself, is also a necessary condition for significant improvement in the Black/BME attainment gap.’
There seem to be some Scotland-specific challenge, Advance HE report that:
Scottish manifestations of race inequality in HE are under-explored. Intersectionality and differences between BME ethnicities are underexplored in the national sector literature, and may be different, and/or particularly relevant to the Scottish context. Positive action is under-utilised to drive strategic and institutional change, partly due to institutional conservatism, lack of expertise and lack of leadership.
The teams in LTW’s Learning Spaces Technology spend a lot of time thinking about how best to provide high quality AV services to a diverse university community across a very mixed estate. We aim to ensure that our technology is universal and accessible to all and that the benefit we provide to the university is useful in enabling accessible and inclusive teaching.
We support 400 rooms and 30,000 hours of teaching every semester. We pride ourselves in providing high microphone quality across the University Estate, hence why we use high-tier quality Sennheiser models. We upgrade and improve our services on a rolling basis. Whenever Sennheiser produce a smaller or lighter model or a new technology solution we check it out. The current model that we provide in teaching rooms is easily worn on a lanyard ( as modelled). This makes it an ideal, gender neutral solution as it doesn’t require a belt or pockets and works fine with any neckline or dress.
It has to be said, we’ve tried out some smaller, wireless mics around the place, but the quality just wasn’t good enough for the serivce we provide for learning and teaching but you can look forward to ‘flexible beamforming‘ from Sennheiser. We’ll be trialling this in the new spaces on campus and in Edinburgh Futures Institute building when it is ready.
Last year, in September, the University of Edinburgh carried out an institution-wide staff engagement survey. It was the first time this had happened in a very long time. The results were fed back to directors and heads of units and schools, with an expectation that things would happen as a result. Since we had our LTW all-staff meeting this week, and in the interests of transparency and open approaches to leadership it is timely to provide an update on progress, actions and next steps around the Staff Engagement Survey in LTW.
A network of University Champions has been established to communicate and share good practice across the University as well as helping to shine a light on the actions needed to improve staff engagement in each area. Kevin has been appointed as our champion on this and is part of a wider group feeding back and co-ordinating action across the institution. At our December 2018 Staff Meeting, we reviewed the output from the survey and worked together to identify our key strengths and challenges and to share thoughts on actions that we could take. We had positive scores we received for the majority of the questions in the survey and that our positive scores were generally higher than comparative scores for ISG as a whole and the wider University.
Our highest scores were in relation to the statements:
“I have good relationships with colleagues I work with”
“I am treated with fairness and respect by colleagues”
“I am proud to work for the University”
And our lowest scoring areas for improvement were:
“Poor performance is dealt with effectively where I work”
“My department deals effectively with bullying/harassment”
“The University manages change effectively”
It is a credit to all of you and the work we do in our teams to develop good working relationships. In LTW we have regular all-staff meetings in July and December and many opportunities to come together to meet and celebrate our work achievements. In ISG we have a programme of work specifically designed to ensure that our workplace is fair and inclusive. LTW staff are the by far the largest group of participants in these equality and diversity activities.
One of the questions in the staff engagement survey was about managing change in the university. I don’t think we manage change for the whole university, but we are definitely part of bringing change in the university and I think we manage it well. Projects like lecture recording, subtitling, DLAS, VLE foundations, digital skills framework, student helpers, student interns, and chat bots are actually changing the conversations we have with colleagues about use of technology and I think contributing to changing the culture in the institution.
“Good performance is recognised and appreciated at the University”
“My manager recognises and acknowledges when I do my job well”
Each year in ISG we have a round of pay rewards over and above the normal increments. 29 LTW staff were recognised and rewarded for exceptional contribution in 18/19 through the annual Contribution Reward process and a further 37 staff via the Voucher Reward Scheme. Awards were given at all grades and we ensure that we consider our grade and gender profiles as part of our nomination process.
“The training and development opportunities I receive help me to do my job more effectively”
We have approved £65k of expenditure to support LTW staff attending a vast number of training events, conferences and other development opportunities in 18/19 as we believe these activities bring real benefits to the individual and to LTW and the wider University.
LTW colleagues presented and attended in leading conferences of the field e.g.UX Scotland, Blackboard Europe, Echo 360 Europe, Open Apereo, Open Educational Resources 19, Drupal Dev Days, Institution Web Manager’s Workshops (IWMW), Frontend United, Digital Day of Ideas, Digifest, Dealing with Data, Jisc Events, HEIDS events, UCISA events, ALT events, LILAC, ICEPOPS, Pebblebash, University Learning and Teaching conference, Drupal camp, Jupyter Camp etc and delivered a dozen events for students in our Festival of Creative Learning week. We are still, by far, the largest group of CMALT accredited learning technologists in the UK, or in the world and when the ALT conference comes here in September we will be the largest group there from any one institution I’m sure.
“I found my last Annual Review or Probationary Meeting useful”
“I receive regular and constructive feedback on my performance”
“My role makes good use of my skills and abilities”
Colleagues across LTW are aware of the importance of the Annual Development Review (ADR) and regular 1:1 discussions between managers and staff. ADRs support staff to realise their full potential by reviewing their progress against previously agreed objectives, discussing future plans and development needs and setting objectives for the year ahead.
LTW reviews include specific prompts to discuss digital skills development, which reflects partly the fact that we have the Digital Skills & Training team in our directorate and partly that we aim to be up to date with our skills as lifelong learners. Reviewers and reviewees are both responsible for making annual review conversations meaningful. The Digital Skills team will collate and analyse digital skills training needs identified in this year’s ADRs to ensure that relevant training is available is to develop the skills that we need.
To support digital skills development the university’s Digital Skills Framework, based on Jisc’s Digital Capability Framework, is available to help managers and staff (and also students) to:
Evaluate current digital skill levels using a self-assessment questionnaire (Jisc Discovery Tool);
Identify and think about the digital skills required for various roles using digital role profiles;
“Poor performance is dealt with effectively where I work”
This is a always a knotty challenge. Linked to the ADR update/actions above, the University is committed to a culture of high performance and to supporting employees to do their jobs well and to meet the standards expected of them. Managers aim to support employees who are not managing to meet these standards and work together to identify and agree appropriate actions and evidence of improvements through ADRs and 1:1s. Given the sensitive nature of these discussion and actions, they will not be visible to other colleagues, but we do have relevant policy, procedures and performance improvement plans, and we do use them.
“My department deals effectively with bullying/harassment”
The University launched the Don’t Cross the Line campaign which aims to demonstrate the University’s zero tolerance stance towards bullying and harassment; raise awareness of the support mechanisms that are in place; and promote awareness of our existing Dignity & Respect policy. Within LTW, we organised a “Where do you draw the line?” workshop, which provided the opportunity to learn about factors that contribute to a work environment in which harassment and bullying occur, and empowers participants to work collaboratively to address concerns. Following the positive feedback from the workshop, we have encouraged other ISG Directorates to organise their own events and places have been offered to LTW colleagues who were unable to attend our event.
“I am satisfied with the support in place to help me manage my health and wellbeing at work”
“I feel comfortable with the pressure placed upon me in my role”
Linked to Mental Health Awareness Week, Digital Skills colleagues compiled a Lynda.com playlist of online videos and tips for managing stress in the workplace. These tips cover areas such as looming deadlines, unfinished tasks, dealing with interruptions, and more and would encourage all staff to make use of these resources. Our teams also worked with students and colleagues in L&UC to create a new colouring book for relaxation and mindfulness.
Because we take an intersectional approach to thinking about our experience of the workplace, we ran an “Overheating and stressed in the workplace” Playfair Steps event focussed on recognising and understanding the causes of stress in the workplace and thinking about how we can best support our colleagues makes sense for leaders, managers, recruiters and customer facing service teams.
In LTW we are trialling a number of ‘playful approaches’ for engagement and innovation at work. One of these is the playful engagement trolleys which include all the kit and caboodle you need for making meetings more creative and fun.
“I am satisfied with my physical working environment”
The Argyle House User Group (AHUG) regularly requests input from colleagues and looks to identify actions that can be taken. One key area of concern has been the temperature/working environment in our building and some actions around thermal blinds and A/C are being taken. In addition the Digital Skills Training team have acquired a line of merchandising which proclaims ‘I’m a Digital Skills Programme fan’. If you would like one of these hand fans, come along to a digital skills training event and pick one up.
“I am able to strike the right balance between my work and home life”
“As long as I get the work done, I have the freedom to work in a way that suits me”
LTW managers promote achieving a healthy work/life balance and support activities coordinated by the Healthy Working Lives group. Colleagues will be aware the LTW SMT agreed to refrain from sending emails outwith core hours of 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday and encouraged this approach to be cascaded within their teams. In addition, we continue to support flexible working requests in line with UoE policy and we have staff working across LTW on a variety of working hours / patterns / arrangements.
We now have access to the data from the survey and have produced MI/charts focussing on various demographics, which we can share with the groups and use to inform our action planning. We will continue with the work to identify opportunities to celebrate those areas where we achieved our highest scores and look for things we can learn and apply to areas where we did not score so well.
Our Edx Micromasters(TM) pilot aims to address how online education programmes at scale can be configured and supported in such a way to ensure an optimal learning experience for the student by using new educational research in the pedagogic design of the new programmes. We’ve learned a lot from MOOCs and our online masters programmes already, but this is new. Our new pedagogic model, originally scoped by Professor Sian Bayne and Dr Michael Gallagher, works to address the challenges and advantages of distance education by offering discipline-relevant approaches to at-scale provision.
We have spotted some risks inherent in doing a project which focusses on scaling up online learning:
learners may not feel part of a community
academic colleagues may not feel sufficiently supported to deliver high quality teaching
colleagues or students may consider lower-cost education to imply lower quality.
We’ve thought about these risks and we are building an academic /staff development programme to get colleagues working together to think about these challenges. The Edinburgh Extension Model development programme will extend teaching reach, practice and the university by ensuring that tutors involved in the design and delivery of Micromasters programmes understand research evidenced best practice and available tools to:
Help students to feel like they are members of a learning community, a sense of belonging within their department, programme, and the University of Edinburgh
Provide capacity for regular and substantive feedback on students’ work across different media
Provide for visible, and visibly engaged, teachers who are experts in their fields
Work on the staff development training resource is progressing well. We’ve got a cracking team working on it. The core development team for the course consists of:
• Stuart Nicol: Learning, Teaching and Web Services
• Dr Michael Gallagher; Centre for Research in Digital Education
• Andres Ordorica; Instructional Designer, Learning, Teaching and Web Services
• Sheila MacNeill; Consultant expert academic developer
At University of Edinburgh, now that we have near-comprehensive coverage of lecture recording facilities, we plan to give students across the University guidance on how to use recordings in their studies.
The excellent guide has been created by colleagues from other universities cited below. I recommend it. It’s available for adaptation and we have added to the ‘Do Not’ section: ‘Do not share, publish or sell recorded lectures outside the University of Edinburgh.’
Please cite these guides as Nordmann et al. (2018).Lecture capture: Practical recommendations for students and lecturers Preprint: https://osf.io/esd2q/
Emily Nordmann1, Carolina E. Kuepper-Tetzel2, Louise Robson3, Stuart Phillipson4, Gabi Lipan5 and Peter McGeorge5
1 School of Psychology, University of Glasgow, 62 Hillhead Street, Glasgow, G12 8QB
2 Department of Psychology, Scrymgeour Building, University of Dundee, Dundee, DD1 4HN
3 Department of Biomedical Science, University of Sheffield, Western Bank, Sheffield S10 2TN
4 IT Services, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL
5 School of Psychology, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, AB24 3FX
What with the new digital accessibility legislation coming into place, I am gathering together a list of things/projects/initiatives and services we offer in Learning Teaching and Web Services to support accessibility online. We have a support service in ISG which provides practical testing and advice on meeting the requirements of legislation. At a strategic level we take a broad view on accessibility and inclusive learning.
We will be presenting the University of Edinburgh experience as an institutional case study at UCISA.
A working knowledge of accessibility is a key knowledge set for learning technologists and web developers and I’m very proud of how well we do in this area. I am often asked to support colleagues when they are writing up their CMALT portfolios and describing the policy environment in which they work, it is important that we reflect on what is quite a nuanced area of work.
I wrote my initial CMALT application in 2008 about the policies which shaped the context of my work. At that time those were: The new HEA UKPSF framework, the University of Leeds strategy and vision towards 2015, the HEFCE e-learning strategy, SENDA legislation on accessibility, copyright and emerging Creative Commons and CETIS -led technology standards. Back in 2004 I employed one of the first institutional web accessibility officers at University of Leeds. The second edition of our book about designing accessible learning is due out any day now…
University of Edinburgh has a huge corporate web estate so, as a central team, we are taking what we believe to be the most pragmatic and effective way forward toward improving accessibility, and thus reducing overall risk.
University Website, MyEd, Web Search and our content support widgets have all accessibility statements published reflecting on our capabilities and access to support and report inaccessible content etc. What really helped was the use of EdGEL consistently across our services.
We will proceed with our ‘Future Web Services’ project, in conjunction with a migration to Drupal 8. We will take a stringent approach to accessibility throughout design, development and testing, considering both the end users’ experience and accessibility needs. We will proceed with a content audit with a view to decommissioning and archiving portions of the estate as appropriate and rationalising the remainder, redeveloping content as needed and with accessibility in mind. We will target agree key user journeys giving us a prioritised backlog for more in-depth accessibility assessment. Our web teams will develop, adopt and communicate policy, standards and guidelines around accessibility as part of our continuing development of our digital governance.
We attend every year, the UK webmasters conference the event typically covers a wide range of topics or relevance to this sector including digital transformation, website/digital governance, university strategy, digital strategy, UX, accessibility, design, development, user-journeys and tasks, team management, leadership, content, measurement and analytics, change management, student recruitment and retention, tools, technologies and communications.
Accessible VLEs and platforms
Our VLE and media platform teams have been battling to get our accessibility statements and roadmaps straight. Karen’s team have been working with colleagues across the sector to gather best practice guidance for Learn. Some of our platforms are cloud hosted and vendor supplied which makes things challenging.
Accessible course design of our VLE
Our EDE teams offer advice on how to deliver inclusive and accessible technology enhanced learning. We are currently working with six Schools and a Deanery to implement a new site structures in Learn. The new site structure is being rolled out to Schools with the support of a team of student interns during the summer break to create consistent courses within Learn in preparation for the start of the 19/20 academic year. The aim is to create a new site structure that will provide a consistent student experience by making course specific materials easy to find as well as supporting staff in delivering rich, online courses. It will ensure courses are more accessible and inclusive and the terminology used relating to learning and teaching is more consistent. We are finding a huge range of lefthand menu options being used, as many as 400+ in one school.
Digital accessibility is a particularly strong example of the universal benefits of inclusive practice. Students enjoy more usable and flexible learning resources, listening to lecture recordings or podcasts while traveling on the bus, or using heading styles to go straight to the important part of the course handbook. An inclusive approach allows all students to learn in ways that suit them best. If we can respond effectively to these regulations, all students will benefit from a better experience.
Accessible content in the VLE
The student interns are working over the summer to complete accessibility audits of course areas with a view to reporting back to heads of schools. They are sampling course materials and producing accessibility scores. This work is gaining a lot of interest from VLE support teams in other Universities. If you are interested in talking to the project team or looking to find out more information regarding the project contact the Learn Foundations team and we are presenting about it at ALT Conference in early September.
The University provides a selection of assistive software to staff and students. One such piece of software, and one which we are excited about is called SensusAccess . We believe this is a really useful piece of software for staff and students using the VLE. SensusAccess allows you to convert electronic documents into alternative versions of the document – such as audio, e-book or digital Braille formats. It even tackles less accessible documents such as image-only PDFs and PowerPoint files. It is quick and easy to use, and free to students and staff of the University. You upload the document you wish to be converted to another format to the software and it is then emailed to you once the conversion is complete. You can then upload this version of the document to the VLE. Students can also use it themselves to create a version of the document which suits them best.
Accessibility and equality compliance: Links to relevant documentation
Written resources are available in alternative format on request, as indicated on each resource. Resources are all available online.
Slides and visuals used on our learning events are designed with accessibility in mind.
Training rooms in Argyle House are installed with hearing loops and have a height-adjustable desk in each room.
All videos developed in house can be viewed at different sizes and have captions.
An Equality Impact Assessment (EqIA) has been carried out on Lynda.com.
Promoting universal design
We have specialists in our LTW teams who promote and train in universal design, whether that is design of digital materials, web sites, communications, rooms, spaces, signage or AV kit. Neil’s team have led the development of the new look for MyEd designed for mobile first, making it easier to use on any device, wherever you are. The menu-based navigation makes it easier to find content, and avoids the need to load content-heavy tabs, making it faster to get to the content that you need.
Our LTW graphic design teams offer expert advice on accessibility in print and design. With design for print, we always do our best to comply with University standards and where we need to, we will add the accessibility strapline to printed materials. Design for print often requires a balance of aesthetics with accessibility and Sonia’s teams have to carefully consider the purpose of the thing that we are producing. Finding that compromise is always a challenge that we do our best to make as a design team. We endeavour at all times to ensure that we are following best practice in terms of accessibility. This may be through looking at the following guidelines or consulting directly with experts from the very start of the project at the initial design consultation. Here are some of the links we may refer to for our information.
We also ensure that our newsletters and graphics are available in a variety of accessible formats. We make sure to check that our LTW comms officers understand about accessible and inclusive communications.
When writing a blog, it is easy to forget that some visitors have vision impairments and disabilities that can come in the way of their reading experience. It is our responsibility to make our websites as accessible as possible so we don’t discriminate against any of our users. Anne-Marie’s teams offer advice on how to write an accessible blog on our WordPress serviceAccessible data
Through our wikidata projects we are sharing data sets online and making them accessible to the world to use, adapt and interrogate in creative ways.
Increasingly users interact with internet content via voice interfaces such as Siri and Alexa and text based chat bots. In LTW we are leading in the development of conversational interfaces for student support. We are running training sessions for students and staff.
The Subtitling for Media Pilot was established to investigate the feasibility, viability and cost of a student-led transcription service, alongside improving the digital skills of staff and promoting a culture change in our approach to delivering accessible content. The team subtitled public-facing audio and video content within Media Hopper Create, with a focus on content that was embedded in the main University website. Automated subtitling services are notoriously inaccurate and require checking before publication. In the pilot, subtitles were automatically generated and the student team acted as human mediators, checking and correcting the subtitles and drawing on their own knowledge and expertise of Edinburgh and University life. As a result of the pilot more media content is open and accessible to all users and new training courses are available for staff and students on DIY subtitling, aiming to move to a position where subtitling of media is standard practice at the point of creation as far as possible. Following the pilot, we’ll be establishing this as a service in 19/20. In the pilot service, subtitles were automatically generated and the student team acted as human mediators, checking and correcting the subtitles, drawing on their own knowledge and expertise of the HE sector in the process. Automation is effective at quickly processing large amounts of content; people are good at ensuring the right meaning is conveyed and that accurate sector–specific terminology is used.
In this project we subtitled 228 media [a total of 53 hours, 07 minutes play time] during the 12-week pilot. We established average times to subtitle, and identified things that will impact the time taken (accents, technical/scientific words, sound quality) and shared these finding with the sector. We produced a style guide that can be used as a subtitling aid for staff and ran four 2-hour workshops to develop University staff skills in subtitling, developing a successful format for ongoing training provision.We published two videos and five blogs to disseminate information about the pilot .
Accessible work experience and workplace
In designing our projects we think carefully about how we employ students. We are interested in whether digital work is the kind of work that might be attractive to students, specifically those who need some flexibility in hours and location of work. We are aware that this kind of work might offer opportunity for employment for students with caring responsibilities, who have disabilities, or who prefer solo working, and so we make sure to design these job opportunities with this in mind.
We have a number of staff in LTW who have visible and invisible disabilities and we listen to their feedback on how to ensure we have an inclusive workplace.
Professional Development and training for colleagues
We offer role-based training of staff, including webmasters, developers, designers, content creators, instructional designers.
Our University of Edinburgh PgCap Learning and Teaching includes a session on “Building accessibility & inclusion into your teaching & learning with technology”. We are going to develop this into a stand-alone session, and we’ve talked about developing a baseline e-accessibility resource (either on the open website or as a self-enrol course in Learn). We have recruited Tracy as an accessibility expert to our learning technology team.
Our course on Effective Digital Content (Writing for the Web) is mandatory if you need access to edit EdWeb. Bruce is our expert in web accessibility. It is open to all staff and students and available online or in person. This editorial training course covers good practice in writing and structuring information for the web. Nurturing a community of practice can help build leadership in and commitment to IT accessibility. That community of practice can and should reaches across unit and campus boundaries. Institutional challenges require institutional responses and our trainng includes guidance on data protection, freedom of information issues and improving performance in search engine results.
Things 5&6 in our ’23 Things’ course are diversity and accessibility and our collection of online digital skills courses offers dozens of courses on accessibility and these are available for free to students and staff including ‘Accessibility: Creating Accessible Documents in Microsoft Office’ and ‘Creating Accessible PDFs’. We run 2-hour workshops to develop University staff skills in subtitling and a range of courses in creating accessible media and learning content.
For many students the most useful thing colleagues can do to make the content of their lectures accessible is to use the microphone. The microphone in the room is linked to the induction loop which is essential for students with hearing loss and is the best way to capture high quality audio as you talk. We provide advice on how to wear a microphone and pack with a dress and on a lanyard. We’ve learned from our rollout of lecture recording that the best quality and most accessible recordings are produced when the most suitable microphones are used.Whether you have a loud voice or small group, all microphones will pick up only the closest speaker. Lapel mics work best for presenters, handheld mics and Catchboxes work best for audience interaction. In the largest teaching spaces, there will be a throwable microphone called a Catchbox. In rooms without Catchbox or a handheld microphone, you should repeat questions to ensure they are picked up on the recording. Find out more about how lecture recording can support accessible and inclusive learning.
Accessible online courses
Our distance learning and MOOC platforms have very clear and rigorous rules about the ways in which content is presented. We recognise that some of our learners will have particular needs and circumstances and we will strive to identify and respond to barriers to participation in our courses so that these can be reduced or removed. We view the diversity of our learners as a resource that enhances their learning experience and the experience of other learners.
The University of Edinburgh University Accessible and Inclusive Learning Policy is due for a review, not least to reflect the technology environment on campus which has changed significantly in the past 6 years and to include the fact that we have online courses and students to whom the policy would also apply. Much of the technology referred to in the policy is owned by LTW and since the policy is out of date it no longer reflects the technology we provide. Policy development meetings are well underway with contributions from web, AV, online learning and digital library teams.
Teaching excellence exemplars
We are working closely with the assistant principals responsible for reviewing the promotions criteria for academic teaching and developing exemplars of excellence to include digital and accessible teaching.
We all know that moment when you realise that the AV tech is going to want to fix the radio microphone pack to your dress. We all know that the single most considerate thing we can do to make our content accessible is to use the mic supplied. As a woman who always wears dresses and those dresses rarely have waistbands or pockets here are my top tips:
1) Stay still. Clip the mic to your dress, put the pack on the lectern, and don’t stray far. This has the added advantage of offering a chance to hold on to, lean on or bang the lectern to punctuate your talk.
2) Use the fixed mic instead. In many of our teaching rooms and some of our conference venues, there’s a mic fixed on the lectern for you to use.
3) Hold the pack in your hand. I realise that some women have small hands, but the packs we have are not much bigger than a mobile phone ( yes, I know some phones are too big for women’s hands, but it’s not a problem I’ve ever had).
4) Use a hand-held mic. If you like to walk around and your hand is big enough to hold it.
5) Use the lanyard round your neck. The universal design solution. All University of Edinburgh staff, and most conference delegates will be wearing a lanyard with a staff card or ID on it. These lanyards are perfect for clipping the mic on to and the pack will hang easily on your tummy next to your staff card.
6) Use your shoulder-bag. If you happen to be wearing a cross body handbag, or you have one you like which matches your dress, put the mic pack in there with your card, phone and keys and wear it as you present.
7) Knit your own attractive accessory. The perfect gift for the female professor and definitely a gap in the market.
Now, you might be outraged that women’s dresses rarely have pockets. That’s certainly a feminist and historical issue which could get fixed. Or you might suspect that radio mic packs have been designed by men for men. You might be right, but I’ve looked into the technology (I asked an expert) and those mics are not going to work without the pack and those packs are not going to get much smaller any time soon*.
So my last tip is:
8) Be glad you are not on Love Island. Those women are wearing radio mics with their bikinis. They have no pockets and their waistbands are too skimpy for much weight. They wear their microphone packs on belts around their middles, moving them regularly so as to avoid unsightly tan lines. It is what it is.
We have a range of these belts with microphone pack pouches available from ISG if you would like one. Its a very practical solution, but please don’t jump into the swimming pool with it on.
*If you are interested in the next generation of technology coming, you should check out ‘flexible beamforming‘ from Sennheiser. We’ll be trialling this in the new Edinburgh Futures Institute building when it is ready.