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.
What with the new 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. I have to say, I do think a working knowledge of accessibility is a key knowledge set for learning technologists and web developers. I am often surprised when people think it is something you only pay attention to when legislation changes.
University of Edinburgh has a huge corporate web estate so we are taking what we believe to be the most pragmatic and effective way forward toward improving accessibility, and thus reducing overall risk. 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. We will develop, adopt and communicate policy, standards and guidelines around accessibility as part of our continuing development of our digital governance.
Accessible design of our VLE
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.
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. 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
Accessible content in the VLE
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.
Library Website Improvements -A workstream in our Digital Library Programme is looking at making improvements in particular to Collections, but also, some changes to DiscoverEd, with the focus being on improving search for collections.ed but also accessibility and usability where possible.
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 or AV kit.
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.
Accessible work experience
In designing our projects we were interested in whether digital work was the kind of work that might be attractive to students, specifically those who need some flexibility in hours and location of work. We were aware that this kind of work might offer opportunity for employment for students with caring responsibilities, who have disabilities, or who prefer solo working.
Professional Development for colleagues
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).
Our course on Effective Digital Content (Writing for the Web) is mandatory if you need access to edit EdWeb. 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. It also includes guidance on data protection, freedom of information issues and improving performance in search engine results.
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.
We’ve fitted some rooms with lecture recording facilities ( I may have mentioned this before). We hope that lecture recordings can support a wide range of accessibility and inclusivity needs including those:
who are visually impaired
who work with a scribe to create text notes from lectures
who have dyslexia or other learning needs
who have autism spectrum disorders
who may find physical attendance overwhelming
for whom English is not their first language
who are learning complex technical terms or in translation
who experience debilitating anxiety as a result of missing classes.
We are well aware that in some of our largest lecture theatres the distance from the front to the back of the room is significant. The chalkboard recording facility with Replay allows “zooming in” when playing back, and offers an improved experience for students who might have been at the back of the lecture theatre.
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 work with FutureLearn, Edx and Coursera to make sure our content is accessible as it can be for our learners.
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.
I have a long relationship with speech-to-text technology.
In 1998 we had a room in Student Services where students would go to talk to Dragon Dictate. The more they spoke, the less it understood, the more they would laugh, the more it would transcribe their laughing. It was a very popular service as a ‘pick-me-up’.
By 2012 I managed a large collection of contemporary educational oratory -the Oxford Podcasts collection, which includes some fine examples of inspirational rhetoric and clearly communicated ideas. Our interactions with voice recognition software, however, had been frustrating. During the project the team explored various solutions including both automatic translation and human transcription services. We began a project to explore how to best represent the content of our podcasts in text. By focusing on keywords generated by recognition software we were be able to give a searchable interface to users before they listen and represent the amount of relevant content within. Blog post April 2012
Some people have asked if we are going to have subtitles on our lecture recordings as default. The answer is no, but we are exploring creative ideas on how we could do it.
My experience is that automated speech to text although improving, is not fully there yet. And costs remain prohibitive, so transcripts or subtitles are not automated in the lecture recording system. Specialist language in lectures remain tricky and are often subtitled badly. It is also difficult for the transcription to discern whether the lecturer is quoting, reading, muttering or joking. The kind of ‘performance’ and content some of our colleagues deliver would need a highly nuanced translation. All UK HE struggles with this challenge and colleagues are anxious that their speech is not misrepresented by a poor quality subtitle which might be more confusing for learners. Blog post August 2017
The overarching objective of our new project for 2019 is to establish and evaluate an initial pilot Subtitles for Media service and make recommendations for future sustainability and resourcing.
The initial focus will be on designing and piloting a service which can scale and improve the usability/ accessibility of our front facing media content through the addition of subtitles and transcripts as appropriate. The service design will aim to include all users and will be primarily concerned with publicly available University media content hosted on Media Hopper Create, EdWeb or one of the University’s Virtual Learning Environments.
The project will have three strands:
Testing the feasibility, viability and cost of a student-led transcription service
A 3-month pilot will allow us to understand what is needed to establish a sustainable programme of work to support our ambitions based on the outcomes of this pilot phase. The students will gain paid work experience and new digital skills. There is already a thriving market in the local region of students who offer proofreading, transcription, audio typing, subtitling and translation services in their spare time and from home. We will work with academic colleagues in the School of Sociology (Dr Karen Gregory) to research the emerging ‘gig economy’ to understand how best to establish an ethical model for piecework in this area.
Research and Development
The project will strike a balance between evaluating and costing a model for a growing service, and Research and Development to ensure we keep sight of technology trends in this area and understand how they might influence service development over time. We will run a series of events to engage with other organisations and our own technology leaders in this field to ensure we understand and are able to take advantage of technology developments and opportunities for funding or partnerships.
Improving digital skills and promoting culture change
We aim to move towards a culture where subtitling our media is standard practice at the point of creation, not only because of changing legislation but because it promotes engagement with our media for the benefit of our whole audience, and at the same time promotes digital literacy and digital skills.
In order to achieve all this, the Subtitling for Media Project will:-
Establish and evaluate an initial pilot service of a student-led subtitling service
Develop a costed plan for an ongoing service including support and service management
Make recommendations for future sustainability and resourcing
Ensure students are trained to deliver a pilot subtitling service
Create an ethical model for student piecework in this area
Deliver training and guidance to enable best practice in media creation
Develop an understanding of current and future technology to support accessibility and ensure our developing service remains in broad alignment
As part of the ISG vision for the University of Edinburgh we aim to support all digital educators in making informed choices about their digital materials. Through this project to establish a new service, staff and students will develop digital skills in creating and using accessible digital materials. Benefits will include supporting staff and students to understand how and why to make learning materials accessible, and development of digital skills in support of wide scale engagement with digital education. The Subtitling for Media Project will establish and evaluate an initial pilot service and make recommendations for future sustainability and resourcing.
Some people have asked if we are going to have subtiles on our lecture recordings as default. The answer is no, but I’d be keen to hear creative ideas on how we could do it. ….. Any ideas which cost less than $3m per year are welcome.
Students with disabilities are, we hope, one of the groups which will most benefit from lecture recording. That is however, quite a diverse group, with a wide range of individual needs, with a variety of existing support in place. Disability Services supported our initial business case with their own papers and contribute to discussions on our policy task group. Accessibility use cases were included in our procurement and selection so we are confident that we chose a good solution from a knowledgeable supplier with a large HE user community.
Our approach is based on being widely flexible and enabling choices of formats and pedagogy. The draft lecture recording policy states that recordings are primarily an additional resource, rather than a substitute for attendance, so the recording and slides provide the ‘alternative format’ to enhance the accessibility of a live-delivered lecture.
Some lecturers’ notes and slides provide considerable text to support the recorded audio. Replay recordings will support a wide range of accessibility and inclusivity needs – visually impaired; dyslexia and other similar; various autism spectrum disorders; students who for a number of mental health reasons may find physical attendance overwhelming; students for whom English is not their first language, those who struggle with complex technical terms or latin translations, those who experience debilitating anxiety as a result of missing classes. Where students have a schedule of adjustments that includes having a scribe in class with them, a recording will help the scribe clarify and areas of subject specific terminology.
We are running training sessions for all staff on how to make accessible PowerPoint presentations, often it is the use of .ppt which has the greatest impact on accessibility. Replay itself includes good keyboard controls for the video player, integration with JAWS screen reader software, tab-accessible page navigation and a high contrast user interface.
Recording lectures will require academic staff to use microphones – we know practice is currently patchy. So the act of making a recording can improve accessibility for those in the room even if they never replay the video. We are also introducing dozens more Catchbox microphones to catch more student contributions in the recording.
The Replay video experiments with chalk boards will considerably enhance accessibility for students at the back of the lecture theatre with the ability to ‘zoom in’.
For students using ISG services our service level is as consistent across all of our learning technologies as we can make it. Replay recordings will be made available in a closed VLE environment, alongside eReserve texts from the library, PDF and Word documents, lecture slides etc. Any of these digital artefacts can be requested in an alternative format as part of supporting reasonable adjustments. In the case of the lecture recording this could be supplying a transcript or subtitles. For other artefacts it could be supplying in a larger font, or converting written text into audio format. We don’t pre-judge what the required adjustment might be in any of these cases.
With regard to transcripts/subtitles specifically:
Our experience is that automated speech to text although improving, is not fully there yet. And costs remain prohibitive, so transcripts or subtitles are not automated in the lecture recording system.
Specialist language in lectures remain tricky and are often subtitled badly. It is also difficult for the transcription to discern whether the lecturer is quoting, reading, muttering or joking. The kind of ‘performance’ and content some of our colleagues deliver would need a highly nuanced translation. All UK HE struggles with this challenge and colleagues are anxious that their speech is not misrepresented by a poor quality subtitle which might be more confusing for learners.
Even supposed ‘100% accurate human-mediated subtitling’ is not 100% and often requires a proof-read or edit from the speaker. In some cases colleagues are willing to take on this extra work, for others it is seen as a major barrier.
That said, we have purchased, as part of our bundle, 100 hours of human-mediated subtitling and transcripts ( 99% accurate) and 900 hours of machine speech to text ( approx. 70% accurate). The current planned use cases for this would be:
• where profoundly deaf students request a transcript;
• where the recordings are not a substitute, but in fact a primary delivery mechanism (e.g distance learning);
• where colleagues are publishing and sharing recordings of their lectures publicly online as open educational resources.
• Where a student with mobility difficulties has been unable to access the venue.
As part of the policy consultation over the coming year we may be able to encourage colleagues to make audio and video recordings downloadable so that students can use their own technology to make transcripts.
For the future:
If, as a result of scaling up recording, we find there is a large additional requirement for transcripts we have a number of options:
• If the institutional commitment to spending is there, we can integrate the third party supplier of our choice. For 50,000 hours of recordings each semester that would be approx $3m per semester.
• We can retain more high quality transcription services. This may need to be recharged to Schools to recover costs – capping costs would be difficult
• We can look into involving more colleagues in using their personalised, trained ‘speech to text’ tools to create transcripts.
• We are working with colleagues in Informatics to stay aware of the most up to date speech to text technologies.
• We can spend much less than $3m per semester paying students an hourly rate to transcribe lectures in their discipline.
I am participating in the University of Edinburgh digital skills course ‘23 things for digital knowledge‘. Thing 6 is about accessibility. I was listening on Radio 4 to ‘tweet of the day’ this morning while scrolling through Twitter and I mused on the possibility of having tweets actually tweeted, as in spoken outloud. A quick google search revealed instructions on Instructables on how to make it so.