My role in online learning and accessibility

Activity 1.2: Write notes for yourself or create an entry in your blog about your role and context in education and how they relate to accessibility and online learning. Describe what you would like to achieve from the module. 

My working contextE4H
I work for an educational charity providing education and training for healthcare professionals, primarily primary care nurses. We offer both face to face and elearning and a blended approach. I am in a management and support role, responsible for the content development and technical side of our elearning and future developments. I’m just getting settled into my role, having started six months ago. 

We offer undergraduate diploma and degree level modules with a focus on application in clinical practice. We are proud to be an OU accredited organisation, able to offer academic awards to our students.

Our learners are healthcare professionals, predominantly UK based with English as their first language, and they have a wide range of experiences of elearning, many with very little experience and low confidence levels in studying online. This provides me with the opportunity to respond by developing our student support services, something I’m very interested in. With regards to accessibility for those with impairments, we see a very low incidence of declaration of disability – dyslexia is the commonest with less than 0.25% of our annual student population declaring this (although I’ve already acknowledged from my first few days studying H810, that not everyone feels comfortable declaring their need for additional support as a result of an impairment, so this number could be higher, (Seale, 2006)).

Our elearning and accessibility
Our elearning is delivered through a bespoke virtual learning environment (VLE) and is highly visual and text based with animations, some audio and interactive assessment activities  for the learner to participate in. I can see that some aspects of our learning design are to accommodate different learner preferences and do also address some accessibility issues, such as the provision of transcripts for the audio files. However, I can see that other aspects such as the way we link to websites in the text may cause difficulties for screen readers. I’m already realising that our elearning may cause problems or create barriers for example for those with visual, hearing impairments or motor impairments. I’m keen to improve upon this.

My experience of supporting disabled students
Now it’s confession time, I don’t have any previous experience of supporting disabled students. I am embarrassed to note that I don’t even have experience of studying or working directly with disabled people, which makes me sound like I’ve had a very sheltered life. I think my one experience has been colleagues or friends with hearing impairments, although the way they managed this meant it didn’t come across as an impairment for them, although I’m sure it wasn’t so easy for them as it appeared. 

Accessibility wurdle

So, my lack of experience in this area makes me feel very inadequate – as a result of my lack of knowledge, insight or experience; my lack of awareness and exposure to the issues that disabled people face. This is more acute when I consider my role in online learning and the need to consider accessibility.

I’m really looking forward to developing my knowledge and experience and therefore my confidence by studying H810. At the moment I’m afraid that I’ll use the wrong terminology, be inappropriate or offend or make stupid remarks in discussions; show a lack of understanding of the issues that those with impairments face and what needs to be considered so that they are well supported for studying online. This is a great opportunity for me to engage in discussions, explore areas of policy and legislation in this area. To learn about assistive technologies, reflect on my own work context and in particular from the perspective of the disabled student.

Seale, J.K. (2006) E-Learning and Disability in Higher Education: Accessibility Research and Practice, Abingdon, Routledge.

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About Mel B

Residing on the edge of the Cotswolds enjoying the great outdoors and getting creative, inbetween studying the Open University taught Masters in Online and Distance Education (MAODE).
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