Great day for March’s Inclusion forum at Treloar’s. Set in their amazing technology hub where we had great fun playing with all their technology.
Once we settled down Treloar’s Helen Cronshaw showed us how tablets have become very central to a lot of what they do as students themselves are coming with their own ipads for both leisure and study. With the advent of tablet technology there is a real sense of things moving forwards. Ideas that seemed so far out are now achievable such as the development of an experimental ‘independent space’ with environmental controls all via ipad. We also heard how technology is used for topics such as ancient Roman history where simulated chariot races are re-created using a big screen and fans to blow the wind in students’ hair as they soar in their (cardboard) chariot.
This and other activities means that learners are getting out of the class in order to experience and interact with different types of learning. But there is also the Mobilibus (which I gather is not actually a bus but a trolley) that goes around the school setting up different types of experiential events for learners with complex needs who do not have easy access to the hub itself.
The use of tablets also means that a lot of simple but bespoke solutions for learners can be devised and the technical team showed us how they are coming up with ingenious ways of adapting switch devices and conductive mouse tips, according to need. They were very clear that it is not only about the technology but also about the importance of good communication with therapists, learners and their family. We were also shown how access technology works on wheelchairs; for example using the joystick on the wheelchair itself to choose a specific function on the ipad.
Ipads however,are not the only solution as some of the A-levels students use Windows 8 PCs with Grid 2 software and Dragon for their coursework.Smartphones are also being used by learners to create work and then send it to a P.C using bluetooth.
We then heard from Alison Gardener from Mid Kent College who is also the chair of the AOSEC (Association of South East Colleges) Learners with learning difficulties network which focuses on LLDD in the Further education sector. F.E colleges are interested in developing their support and places like Treloar’s are obviously an inspiration. One of the key ideas that was coming through was that the approach to technology,as seen at Treloar’s, is exciting for all learners even those without special needs (or who unaware of them).So these networks are very interested in having an input from Inclusion specialist colleges,like Treloar’s,for some cross fertilization of ideas. Then we also talked about exam concessions and supportive technology and how this is such an important issue. Alistair McNaught from Techdis pointed out that Techdis has been working very hard on this by looking at how exam boards can provide exams in digital forms and it has also produced a detailed guidance on creating accessible PDFs specifically for exam boards.
Alistair McNaught was next to tell us about some of the accessible technology that is inbuilt in everyday tools such as the Speak function in Microsoft word, other free text to speech tools and more, that can be found in the Techdis tool kit. We also mentioned the Techdis voices, high quality voices which are free to all providers. All these accessible text to voice tools are really only effective if the quality of the sound is high and the standard robotic ones that we tend to come across are not always the best.
Then we split up into groups to look at some of the resources that are on the Discover jisc website and my group particularly got into the presentation example of a local History group studying the impact of bombing during the Blitz in their local area; A.R apps, Google maps and digital copies of old maps were some of the suggested Jisc resources.One teacher felt that these kind of resources would be great for her learners who can not get out and about so easily and that this learning would bring some of the world to them.
Lastly, we were very excited to hear from Orchard Hill, that recently got an outstanding in their inspection and we certainly saw why. With their dynamic e-Learning lead,Simon Gale, in place a Facebook type of environment called Sharespace was created, a sort of stepping stone to the real world of social media.
Here music videos as well as virtual induction tours for anxious new learners,blogs and discussion groups can be accessed. It enables learners from different locations across the college to interact with each other in a safe place and their walls have all sorts of interactive features for embedding videos and more.Furthermore,Skype is also used in Sharespace where learners talk to teachers. The visual aspects of Sharespace are very similar to Facebook with a cover and profile picture yet with bigger icons for sight impaired learners.Simon also showed us how they use iBook author to create some beautiful high quality learning objects with interactive elements.
So, overall a really interesting day with lots of inspirational ideas. In fact we are really looking forward to Treloar’s talking about their fantastic work this coming Friday (28th March)at RSC London annual e-Learning showcase for boroughs and WBL sectors-which will definitely be of interest to everyone interested in accessible learning.