The legacy of the paralympics on education

I missed most of the Olympics as was on holiday, but I watched as much of the Paralympics as possible, and I (like many others) have been blown away with the standard and the excitement that it has brought, but what has really pleased me is the media coverage (and positive media coverage) that it has achieved. When I taught, one my main subjects was around the area of ‘disability sport’ – and I remember during the 2000 Sydney Olympics the TV coverage was something like a very superficial 30minutes each evening, showing the main sports of athletics, swimming and wheelchair basketball and sports like boccia and goalball getting next to no coverage.

12 years later and channel 4 has broadcast over 400 hours of coverage, showing all sports, all athletes, and the programme ‘The last leg‘ I thought was superb, as it highlighted that we don’t have to be nervous discussing disabled people, it doesn’t matter if we occasionally get the terminology wrong (as long as it isn’t offensive) and disabled people don’t need to be wrapped in cotton wool, and treated like innocent kids all their lives.

So what impact will this have on our education system?

There is a huge opportunity for education to deliver the legacy that the games set out to create. Hopefully the physical education agenda will be addressed. There have regular media debates about the amount of PE on the curriculum, which I hope does increase, but we can also look at the attitude of PE. In the last 15 or so years there has been a move to widen sporting participation to all, which has unfortunately been translated into seriously reducing the competitive element of sport. I think there is a need for both, which the Paralympics to me has shown – many of the disabled athletes that were interviewed, echoed that competing (and winning) is what drives them and how that is an essential part of their life, and I hope a balance of meeting the needs of driven students can be met along with those that don’t like sport.

Outside of the PE agenda, there are also lessons to learn – watching the blind athletes playing football was amazing, and showed that a lack of vision does not render an individual incapable, similarly a lack of limbs is not a barrier to some amazing swims, jumps, throws and runs, and the archery competitor that used his feet to hold the bow, and his mouth to release the arrow shows the ability for some disabled individuals to find innovative ways to overcome perceived barriers. Hopefully when a disabled individual enters an educational establishment, their ability and potential isn’t prejudged by someone, that then holds them back from that point forth. The problem with the current model, is disabled students are assessed by an ‘expert’ within the organisation who comes up with a support plan identifying what adaptations are needed, and although this works for most, there are many people that end up with the wrong type or level of support, which rather than helping them, holds them back. Hopefully students, parents, carers and teachers will have the confidence to challenge these support plans if they think they need improving.

From a teaching perspective – there is an opportunity to better meet the needs of disabled learners. I have long preached the notion of inclusivity, which is rather than creating non-accessible practices and then using methods to overcome them – instead we look at what we are doing and create resources and practices that can be easily adapted (ideally by the student themselves). I know the CPD budgets are currently tight within organisations, but I think investing in CPD in this area would be a worthwhile investment, as learning inclusive techniques, will save the tutor time, will raise the standards of teaching for all learners, could reduce the learner support costs, and would help to produce a world beating education system.

One of the best training programmes for educators that would cover this, is the ITQ for accessible IT practice which I have been running for a few organisations over the last 18 months, and I think offers excellent value for money, as well as giving staff the opportunity to gain a recognised qualification.

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Adding screen tips to an image in Microsoft Word or PowerPoint

If you have a word document that contains images – there is a simple way to add an element of interactivity to it, without having to alter the appearance of the document in any way.

The basic principle is to have an image (e.g. a photo) and as the learner moves their mouse over the image – it provides a screen tip which could name or describe that part of the image. This is a very basic form of interactivity, but it is very easy to do and is a good starting point for someone if they have existing Words based resources.

This technique can be used to improve the accessibility of a resource, (in that you are providing additional information to the learning – without cluttering the screen with too much information) or to add an element of differentiation (the learner that is struggling to understand the image, can hover their mouse to get more information).

This technique is part of the JISC TechDis accessibility essential series – and can be found at http://www.jisctechdis.ac.uk/AccessibilityEssentials/2007/AE2/modules/authoring%20accessible%20docs/use%20of%20screen%20tips.html

The following video shows how to do this.

In this video, the hyperlink points to the top of the document as that is where the image was. If you are using an image part way down the document, you can either insert a bookmark next to the image to link to, or give the image a heading (and use the styles to make sure it is a heading) and link to that.

You can also use this technique in PowerPoint by just linking to the slide that you are on, as shown in this video.

The cost of running an ITQ in accessible practice

There is a new qualification that has come out recently, developed in conjunction with JISC TechDis, called the ITQ in accessible practice. It is an assessed and widely recognised City And Guilds qualification at levels 2 or 3, which I think will have a huge impact on teaching and learning, as it will help people to produce better quality resources and teaching practices for all learners – as well as those with disabilities. For people ‘studying’ this programme, the great thing is that everything in the qualification will be relevant to their work, and they will hopefully be able to use their working practice to generate the relevant evidence for their portfolios.

I have recently been working with a college to work out how much it would cost to deliver face to face training, and to assess such a course, and when you work it out, it actually works out very cheap per person.

Below is an example costing for a level 3 course (which is made up of 6 units), delivered to a group of 10 learners at an organisation that is itself a registered ITQ centre.

Cost of registration per person @£82 per person = £820
Cost of delivery of 6 training session @£250 per session = £1500
Cost of assessing the candidates @£440 per person = £4400
Cost of the JISC TechDis support pack (price still being negotiated but should be only a few hundred pounds)

So the total cost would be £6720 + expenses + the support pack, so even if the cost of expenses and support pack puts the total up to £7500 this works out as £750 per person – which I think would be very good value, to have someone like myself coming in to deliver 6 half day sessions, to provide online support, and to assess the candidates.

If centres are not ITQ centres, then they can still do this, but would have a slightly higher cost of registering through an other organisation. The above costing is provided as an example, as different organisations would have different needs and requirements, but it gives a ball park figure which shows that it is financially viable to run such a course in an organisation if there are a few people that want to do it, they have managerial support to be able to attend the training, and a room in which the training can be run. Some people want to do the training, but don’t want to be assessed, in which case you save a lot of money, and any sessions that are run of this nature, could be opened up to other practitioners who are not on the course.

If anyone is interested in running this qualification in their organisation and wants to discuss the options, then please feel free to contact Dave Foord – his details can be found at http://www.a6training.co.uk/contact.php

How to use DSpeech to convert text to audio

DSpeech is a free piece of software which can be downloaded to a computer, or can run from a memory stick as part of the eduapps suite, and it allows a user to convert text to audio in MP3 format (so they can listen to it on computer or music player)

I like this piece of software, as it puts the learner in control of their adaptions rather than having to rely on someone else to either dictate for them, or to do the conversion, and this isn’t just useful for students with disabilities, but any learner who may not want to read a long piece of text, they can listen to it instead – and if they listen to it a few times (e.g. whilst doing something else) then they can pick up useful information that they would easily miss if just trying to read the information.

Using DropBox as a portfolio of evidence

I am currently working on my ITQ in accessible practice (so that I will be able to teach it). Although the qualification is not an NVQ, it does require the collection of evidence in a portfolio. Originally I was planning to use this blog, but I was concerned that some of my regular followers may not be interested in my evidence. My next thought was to set up another wordpress.com blog, which would be very easy to do, but one problem with this, is that I cannot attach an Excel spreadsheet directly to a wordpress.com blog, which would be a limiting factor as I am doing the Spreadsheets unit in the qualification.

So instead I have used DropBox, which is working very well indeed. The way that DropBox works, is you create an account on it, and you can download a little application onto your computer. This then allows me to save files to this area (which works as a folder structure, just like any other folder system on a computer). What DropBox does, is it keeps a version of the file on my computer, but also synchronises to a version on the web (in the cloud), so that I can retrieve these files from any other computer that has web access, and if someone else is another dropbox user, then I can give them access to specific items or folders, which is great, as I have given the assessor access to my evidence folder on my dropbox account. We have a single spreadsheet which as I produce evidence, I add an item to it, telling the assessor where the evidence is stored, and which criteria I think it covers. My assessor can then edit this document herself providing feedback.

So although a crude mechanism, that isn’t sophisticated, that doesn’t lend itself to natural reflective practice, in this situation it has worked very well.

Screenshot of web view of Dropbox

Screenshot of web view of Dropbox

And another nice feature is there is a free iPhone app for dropbox allowing me to view my files from my iPhone.

Changing the menu items on AccessApps

Anyone that follows my work, or this blog will be aware that I have been a big fan of AccessApps – the suite of free software that you can download from http://www.eduapps.org and put onto a memory stick, and then give to learners and staff. Something that a lot of people don’t realise is that you can actually edit the appearance of AccessApps, so it is possible to rename programs, hide ones that aren’t likely to be needed, and change the arrangement of the menu structure.

For some learners, there may be only 2 or 3 items on AccessApps that they need, and these could be made more obvious (and the others hidden if necessary) to make it easy for them to find them, as with the full range of options in AccessApps the software itself could present barriers.

Another thing that people often don’t realise is that it is possible to add other software packages to the sticks, so for example if you are giving staff the sticks, and your organisation uses SmartBoards – then you can download version 9.1 of the SmartBoard software that runs off a USB stick, and you could then add this to AccessApps so that it appears in the menu.

I worked on a project recently, where we gave the learners a copy of AccessApps, although we created our own version (by using the MyApps option on the eduapps website) to remove some of the software that we thought that they may not need. We then renamed some of the items (e.g. we renamed RapidSet – to ‘Changing background and font colours’ as this made more sense. We also changed the names of the items within OpenOffice to ‘Wordprocessing, Spreadsheet, PowerPoint alternative’ etc. as this made more sense to the learners.

I have created a short screencast to show how it is possible to add software to the sticks, and then a brief description of how to format the menus.

When you start looking at the folders that come within AccessApps, you will realise that you could create your own ‘launch page’ using Word, PowerPoint, Excel or similar. All you need to do is create the file and save it to the memory stick, then add the names of items that you want to link to, and then hyperlink to the .exe file for each piece of software in turn. With this the learner would open this file to access their software, rather than launching the application (which puts the little blue capital letter in bottom right corner of screen) – the beauty of this is it is then very easy to make the menu much larger, in different colours, or even be based on images rather than text.

Accessible Apps – the best thing this year!


Accessible Apps

Originally uploaded by Dave Foord

A few weeks ago something called Accessible Apps was launched. This is a collection of free tools, that you have on a pen drive, so when you plug the pen drive into the computer, all of the tools are there to be used, without any problems with profiles, downloading software, permission etc. This is brilliant for learners with disabilities, but could be used by any learners – for example it has audacity on it – a program for creating sound recordings.

the only cost associated is the buying of the pen drives, which nowadays are very cheap, and if you buy in bulk can even be stamped with the college, university or school logo, so I think it is viable to give every learner one of these pen drives when they start a course. To download your own version of accessible apps, you will need a 2G memory pen (for the full package) and then go to http://www.rsc-ne-scotland.ac.uk/accessapps/