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 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.
When talking about the lack of women in digital technology, the focus tends to be on engaging the interest of girls and supporting women to become qualified in relevant areas. Without change within the industry itself, however, the women who pursue digital technology qualifications will still not remain in or be attracted to the sector.
The ‘leaky pipeline’ is definitely a thing so we must think about ways in which we can create a more inclusive and attractive work culture where women aspire to stay. Business-wise it make sense to retain valuable, experienced staff rather than having to train new staff.
Do we know what older women in the workplace want? do we ever ask them?
When we take an intersectional approach to recognising that people’s identities and social positions at work – particularly in the technology industry – are shaped by multiple and interconnected factors. We have to pay attention to how long people have been working and where they are in their careers.
We are a big recruiter, with a high turnover and a lot of innovation, so we need to attract and retain talent. We advertise placements and returnerships via Equate Scotland. We also need to explore how age and length of time in the organisation influence staff engagement.
RETAINING WOMEN IN WORK
In ISG we monitor the age profile of our staff, and because of course, we want to retain in our organisation, or in the sector as many women as we can, we invest in training and development including, personal development for women. We have a number of visible examples of Positive Action Measures which include:
Personal development programmes
We have coaching programmes and mentoring for women- we take part in the Aurora and Connections programmes and we run specific ‘Renew You’ and ‘Speak up‘ personal development programmes for women. The participants on these courses seem to find them valuable and so it seems like a good investment, but I don’t have any actual data for evaluating impact.
We have run sessions specifically about the impact that feminist mangers ( with Prof Fiona MacKay) can make and about how promotions and annual reviews work. We have data on who gets sent on leadership programmes.
Raising awareness and widening discussions
We organise events and discussion on topics which raise awareness of gender issues in the workplace such as gendered communications, inclusive language, shared parental leave and menopause. Menopause is an intersectional issue of gender, health and age and it is an important issue for managers and service teams. For many women it is experienced as a double or triple whammy, coming as it does just at the time when your children are teenagers, your parents are elderly and you have just made it back from a career break. We are figuring out how to promote a menopause -friendly workplace.
One of the first steps is to make sure everyone has access to fans to cool down. The aim is to normalise and destigmatise the use of fans- but it has to be said this is not such a great challenge as we work in one of the hottest buildings in Edinburgh!
The next step will be to gather some actual data about how many work days are lost because menopause symptoms go unreported and to think of ways to bring that number down.
We need to do more in really under-represented areas though, to think about how to involve more women in AV, VR, IoT and GIS.
Universal design in technology
There are moments in the workplace when you may suspect it has not been designed with you in mind. As a technology provider we can promote universal solutions ( such as how to wear a radio microphone pack with a dress) and disaggregate our data by gender and age where ever we can.
Recognise and rectify historical wrongs
Those of us who have been around for a while have heard the stories of historical wrongs. We can do things now to help our institutions to address some of that history , such as the degrees finally given to the Edinburgh Seven.
Professional and skills development
I have anecdotal information that middle-aged women are the group least likely to attend ( or be chosen for) new skills training in tech. We are very aware that we have a large group of women who have already chosen to work in information services, who could develop skills more specifically in data science, so we have been running ‘Developing Your Data Skills’ Programme for staff and students at University of Edinburgh this year.
The programme has been very successful and we have now had more than 130 learners on course. It wasn’t targetted exclusively at women, but we managed to attract 65 % women to participate. We have designed the course to fit with participants’ busy working lives and thought specifically about how to attract mid-career learners to upskill in this area. Since our staff live and work in Edinburgh and the region, I think this can be seen as part of the investment we are making in retraining and upskilling in data skills for the city. We have evaluated the programme and gathered feedback, so we will be able to report on the ISG KPIs.
We have pretty good flexible working arrangements and policies in ISG. It is not clear though whether they are consistently applied.
Developing male allies
We know that male allies are a big part of the success of any equality and diversity initiative. At ISG we have a Fathers Network which provides a space to discuss the experiences of the fathers in our teams who juggle work and family responsibilities. We are also working with CIPD to develop a new personal development course for men. This will focus on emotional intelligence at work and the challenges faced by men in managing workplace expectations in relation to their roles. It is important to acknowledge some important intersections, and where men can see that they also face intersections of identity which may influence the experience of other men, then that can carry over to understanding what that may be for women.