Adventures of an Online Distance Learning Librarian

by Sarah Ison, Online Distance Learning Manager and Online Distance Learning Librarian

Time flies when you’re passionate about your work—or maybe it’s just a side effect of spending too much time on Zoom.

A cartoon image of a generic librarian.
Image generated by Adobe Firefly

This November, I’ll celebrate six years as the Online Distance Learning (ODL) Librarian at Sussex, a role that has been both challenging and rewarding. Over these years, I’ve had the joy of supporting over a thousand distance learning students, ensuring they have the resources and guidance they need to succeed.

Our ODL journey began in 2018 with the launch of our first Master’s program in International Marketing. We started with just five students, and it was a celebratory moment when they graduated. Another milestone came in 2021 when we welcomed our 1000th student, ahead of schedule. Today, we offer nine diverse online courses, catering to an ever-growing community of learners.

We welcomed our 1000th student
ahead of schedule

I joined in 2019, just in time to get my bearings before the world turned upside down with the Covid-19 pandemic. Fortunately, my role was perfectly suited for the transition to remote work. Armed with a borrowed laptop, I continued teaching via Zoom and collaborating on Teams. The transition was smooth, even if working from home with two young children (then aged 5 and 2) added a bit of chaos to the mix.

About 40% of our ODL students are based in the UK, while the rest are spread across more than 150 countries. I meet with them regularly through live sessions at the start of each intake. Given their busy schedules, often balancing work and family commitments, I keep my sessions short and to the point. Topics include search skills, advanced search techniques, referencing advice, plagiarism avoidance, and academic tips like note-taking and reading long documents. I also highlight the many useful guides created by our on-campus library team.

The pandemic pushed many universities to make all required readings available online. For ODL, this was already our standard practice. Our reading lists draw on the vast online resources of the University of Sussex Library. Each module, spanning seven weeks, includes 2-3 essential readings and up to 12 optional ones, fitting within the 20 hours of study time recommended per week. With six different start points each year, I offer live orientation sessions for every intake. These sessions, recorded and shared later, introduce students to library resources and support services. All recordings are available on the Study Online Student Support site, which I’m currently updating to make it more user-friendly and comprehensive. Students can also arrange 1-2-1 meetings with me for bespoke support, and can email our dedicated support email address too for their specific questions, often around finding access to hard-to-find articles and resources, tricky referencing questions and lots of other enquiries! I love being able to support students and help them find what they need, with one student recently referring to this ‘superpower’ of finding resources- it’s what Librarians do best!

While many ODL students may never visit our campus, they’re always welcome to use the library facilities if they’re nearby. However, most will experience student life from afar, which is quite different from the traditional on-campus experience.

I’m fortunate to work with colleagues who help keep our ODL reading lists up-to-date and ensure we have the resources needed for nearly 100 modules, with about 20 running each intake, six times a year. As I reflect on these past six years, I’m proud of our achievements and excited about the future of online distance learning at Sussex. I was delighted to receive the ‘Inclusive Sussex’ award at this year’s Education Awards, after being nominated by ODL students and colleagues.  Here’s to many more milestones and the continued support of our fantastic students.

The adventure continues…

Posted in Educational Enhancement, Inclusive teaching, Online Distance Learning (ODL)

Academic Developers: June round up

a picture of a megaphone, a mobile phone, a lightbulb, a magnifying glass and the YouTube logo on a pink background, to indicate announcing information

Second Sussex Education Festival 

Please join us for the second Sussex Education Festival, an event for anyone involved in delivering education at Sussex. The event will be held over two days. You can attend the Festival in-person (9.30-4pm on 10 July) in the Woodland Rooms at the Student Centre and/or online (10-3pm on 11 July) 

Upcoming scholarship event: Presenting your scholarship to different audiences: impact and outreach 

Dr James Williams (Senior Lecturer in Science Education) leads this face-to-face workshop on presenting your scholarship to different audiences. Whether speaking on BBC radio, writing for peer reviewed journals, his weekly column in the Argus, or a chapter in an academic book, James adapts both content and delivery for his specific audience. This hands-on workshop utilises James’ experience and provides you with the opportunity to present your scholarship to different audiences, helping you achieve recognition, impact and outreach. Location: Pevensey 1B2. University of Sussex. 

Open to all colleagues at the University. Book via Eventbrite. 

New blogs

Learning Matters have published new blogs on Guessing and Gender Bias in Multiple-Choice Quizzes with Negative Marking and Measuring educational gain through Assurance of Learning (AoL), and Learning Technologist Helen Morley has recently published a blog titled Preferred Platforms and Piloted Products 

Education and Innovation Fund 

The deadline for the next round of applications for the Education and Innovation Fund is Friday 26 July, and the winners will be announced shortly afterwards.   Please note, this is the last funding round in this cycle.  Congratulations to all the latest winning projects 

Other Educational Enhancement events and workshops

There is a full menu of events being held at the University.   One of the highlights is the Digitial Accessibility Conference, which is a distributed conference, organized by the University of Nottingham, which we are hosting on campus to bring together colleagues who are committed to improving digital accessibility for everyone in our university community.  Please register your interest in joining the event on campus by completing this form,  

Posted in Academic Development, Educational Enhancement, Monthly Round-ups

Think Better, Learn Better: Six Ways Reflection Can Transform Higher Education

by Dr Laura Clarke, Academic Developer supporting Online Distance Learning

A person (perhaps a university student) looks in a mirror, which is reflecting them as a businessperson in a suit. It is an illustration.
Illustration by Adobe Stock.

As the summer assessment period brings the academic year to an end and the halls and schools empty out and the library falls… well, silent, so it is that many of us in Higher Education start to reflect on the year just past as we look towards the new year ahead.

But why do we “reflect” and not just “look”?

“Reflect” is a tricky word with two very close meanings. It means to look back (perhaps critically) on what has gone before: like listening to an echo that returns our own words to us. It also means to look at oneself, as in a mirror, and perhaps to see what other people see every day. In other words, to reflect is to investigate what we have done and who we are. This, by definition, makes reflection in pedagogy a much more powerful process than simply looking.

This makes reflection in pedagogy
a much more powerful process
than simply looking.

Reflection promotes critical thinking and metacognition (the process of thinking about one’s own thinking and learning). It enhances students’ comprehension of the subject matter whilst also cultivating adaptability, self-directed learning, and a proactive mindset. Asking students to describe and analyse their reflective accounts of the approaches and processes they used to inform or create their work, rather than assessing solely the assessment product, can also make assessments more AI resilient as they will need to be familiar with the process of creating a piece of work, not just the product.

Reflection is a skill that is often undervalued in higher education. Students are more likely to engage in reflection when they understand that it fosters critical thinking skills that are essential for making sense of their learning experiences. Given that most university assignments involve discursive writing, which requires presenting arguments with reasoning and evidence, it is essential to help students develop the skill of reflection. It is important to provide examples of reflective writing that employ a personal style, focusing on first-person experiences that are supported by references to literature and personal insights. Providing reflective models can also help students to understand the structure and process of reflection, guiding them toward analytical rather than descriptive expression.

Some popular reflective models are:

Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle (1998). This model consists of six stages: Description, feelings, evaluation, analysis, conclusion, and action plan.

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle (1984). This model uses a four-stage cycle: Concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation, and active experimentation.

Schön’s Reflective Practice (1991). This model differentiates between “reflection-in-action” and “reflection-on-action,” emphasising the importance of learning in real-time.

Rolfe’s Framework for Reflexive Practice (2001). This model consists of three phases: The Descriptive Phase, the Interpretive Phase and the Outcome Phase.

Reflection can easily be cultivated using a variety of activities in the classroom. Below are some examples of how to do this.

Exit slips

Before students leave your class, ask them to write a quick response to a reflective question. If your students are online, they can share ideas on a digital collaborative space such as Padlet.

Think-Pair-Share

Incorporate think-pair-share activities where students have a few minutes to reflect individually on a question or prompt, discuss their thoughts with a partner, and then share their insights with the whole class.

Concept mapping

Use concept mapping as a visual tool for reflection. Students can create mind maps to connect concepts, ideas, and their own understanding, fostering a deeper level of thinking. For concept mapping tools available at Sussex, see: https://staff.sussex.ac.uk/teaching/enhancement/support/tools/apps

Diamond nine

Ask students to rank nine ideas, viewpoints, or pieces of information into what they consider highest to lowest importance into a diamond-shaped hierarchy. This can be done in person using cards or post-its or using an online collaborative tool.

Discuss learning from previous assessments or feedback

Lead a discussion of insights from previous assessments completed and/or feedback received, e.g.: asking students to identify what they will continue doing, need to do differently, and why. This will also help develop student assessment and feedback literacy.

Reflection is more than looking back – it’s a thoughtful process of examining our experiences and seeing ourselves more clearly. By fostering this practice in our classrooms, we empower students to enhance their critical thinking, adaptability, and self-directed learning. Let’s embrace the power of reflection to not only improve our teaching but also to inspire our students to reach new heights in their educational journeys. Find out more at https://staff.sussex.ac.uk/teaching/enhancement/

Posted in Academic Development, Educational Enhancement, Learning theory

Preferred Platforms and Piloted Products

by Helen Morley, Learning Technologist, University of Sussex

It’s me again, so you can be pretty certain this blog is AI-focused!

Disclaimer: Blogs capture a moment in time; the information and any guidance or insights in this blog is accurate on 6 June 2024. If you’re reading this and want to check if there has been an update, please visit our website here: https://staff.sussex.ac.uk/teaching/enhancement/

An AI-generated image of a man in a suit and glasses, using a laptop. Blobs of coloured light float about. He has no eyes, probably because this is an AI image.
Image generated using Adobe Firefly using HM’s prompt “an academic testing IT software”. 5th June 2024.

This semester (Spring 23/24) we have seen even more developments in the use of artificial intelligence at the University of Sussex. Topics covered in editions of this blog include:

And Dr Verona Ni Drisceoil shared fascinating insights on assessment using AI on EE’s other blog, Learning Matters.

As we come to the end of the academic year, we have some exciting news to share!

Preferred Platforms

We now have two preferred platforms at Sussex. Preferred platforms are supported by ITS and have been subject to scrutiny for GDPR and other concerns. Sussex staff and students will be able to access the platforms using their login details (abc123@sussex…) and doing so ensures that any content uploaded or created stays within our “walled garden” meaning it cannot be accessed by outside agencies.  Having preferred platforms also supports our commitment to equality of opportunity as all students will be able to access the resources.

Microsoft CoPilot

The Microsoft CoPilot logo
Fig 1. The Microsoft CoPilot logo
Screengrabs of sections of the Co-pilot app showing green "Protected" icons with a sheild and a tick. These icons indicate that the user is accessing Co-pilot with their Sussex account.
Fig 2. The two different ways CoPilot will show that you are using your protected Sussex account.

As an organisation that uses Microsoft Office, we have institutional access to CoPilot, which is Microsoft’s “AI companion” or “digital assistant”, depending on which part of their website you’re reading. You can read more about this in the news announcement from the Better Sussex team on their news article. Currently, we have the version which offers “chat” and composition options; there is a more advanced option which can engage with other Microsoft apps such as PowerPoint which we don’t have yet due to cost and other concerns. When you use CoPilot, please make sure you are logged in using your Sussex account (e.g. abc123@sussex…) to ensure you are working within the protections offered by our licence.

Adobe Firefly

The Adobe Firefly logo
The Adobe Firefly logo

We have had a licence with Adobe for many years and are pleased that they are including Firefly, which is an image generating platform, in their provision. Adobe Firefly can create images from text prompts and interact with images the user uploads. You can add specific details in your prompt, e.g. specifying a cartoon style, and there is also a menu of variables you can select from including tone, lighting and “camera” angle. As with most AI tools, please be aware of the biases Firefly has; for example the image at the top of this blog is supposed to be of “an academic” and I’m sure you all know many academics who look nothing like the output!

Support and Guidance

CoPilot and Firefly are supported by the ITS team.  If you are using them for teaching and would like some guidance, please contact your school’s learning technologist or the EE team.  Colleagues from Educational Enhancement have already started sharing tips and quick guides on the preferred platforms and there will be a self-study Canvas course available in the near future.

Piloted Products

One of (many) great things about being a learning technologist at Sussex is the opportunity to take part in pilots for tools and software. There are some pilots in progress at the moment and I’m going to write about the one I was fortunate to lead.

Jamworks

The Jamworks logo
The Jamworks logo

In January we successfully applied to be part of a pilot run by Jisc to test the notetaking tool Jamworks. Jamworks integrates with Panopto to create transcripts and uses AI to generate highlights and quizzes which are sourced entirely from recorded lecture content.

We had two cohorts of students, and their lecturers, take part in the pilot and one more group will run during vacation teaching. Responses from the academics were largely positive and we were all impressed by Jamworks’ scope as an assistive tool for students with diverse requirements.

Observations we made included:

  • It was easy to set Jamworks up and integrate it with Panopto; it was particularly useful that students could access past recordings and not just ones that were made after we had started trialling the tool.
  • The accuracy of the notes was impressive, including subject-specific terminology which other lecture capture transcripts can occasionally make errors with.
  • The highlights were useful but in some cases Jamworks could have been a lot more discerning as they could be quite long.
  • The options for students to adjust their settings, including using a focused reading pane, was great to see and a definite win for accessibility.
  • We missed having the option to run reports on student usage and engagement, but we recognise Jamworks is fundamentally a learning support tool and not a teaching or monitoring tool.

When I reviewed my notes on Jamworks in anticipation of creating my evaluation, I watched a recording of an early meeting when it was demonstrated to the different university teams taking part in the pilot. I have taken a screenshot of my face at one point, which I think illustrates that I was seeing something I liked:

Helen Morley looking very impressed, with raised eyebrows and a grin.
Me, looking like I’ve just been shown something in Jamworks I was impressed with.

Next Steps

It is our ongoing commitment to support the adoption of appropriate and exciting technologies to enhance education at Sussex. If you’d like to take part in future pilots like the Jamworks one please get in touch and register your interest. Also, do come along to events like the AI Community of Practice (next dates tbc) and the Sussex Education Festival 2024 (10 and 11 July).

Posted in AI, Educational Enhancement, Learning Technologies

Five New Padlet Features for Higher Education To Try Today

by Rachael Thomas, Learning Technologist, University of Sussex

Since Padlet was launched in 2008, it has become one of the most popular educational tools used here at the University of Sussex. Unlike many online teaching aids, it allows for synchronous and asynchronous teaching opportunities. Padlet continues to evolve as an essential educational technology, unveiling innovative features like AI content generation, customisable collaboration tools, and an expansive template gallery to empower teachers and enhance student learning experiences. Here is an overview of some of the latest updates.

A laptop in front of a corkboard, with multi-coloured notes pinned to it. The image represents physically what Padlet does digitally.
Image generated using Firefly AI using the prompt “An exciting-looking online noticeboard showing off the features of wide posts, customised fields, pinned posts, Magic Padlet AI generated board”

Magic Padlet: Generate Padlets with AI

A screengrab of the Magic Padlet dialogue box, demonstrating the options available on Padlet for this.

Magic Padlet is an innovative tool that aims to make teachers’ lives easier by automatically generating classroom content in various formats. Here are some of the ways it can be used to support teaching:

  1. Lesson Plans: Magic Padlet can create lesson plans based on class information, saving teachers time and providing a starting point for further customisation.
  2. Map of Historical Events: Visualise historical events by entering the subject, event, and grade level. Magic Padlet places events on a map for easy reference.
  3. Timeline of Events: Generate straightforward timelines for history lessons or biographies.
  4. Reading Lists: Curate reading lists for historians and English teachers, tailored to specific grade levels.
  5. Classroom Activities: Create interactive activities, considering available resources like whiteboards, iPads, or traditional materials.
  6. Assessment Polls: Quickly generate multiple-choice questions for assessments.
  7. Custom Boards: Describe your vision, and Magic Padlet adapts to your needs, whether it’s a wall, map, or timeline format.

See here for more information about Magic Padlet. If you don’t see the Create with AI option in your University of Sussex Padlet account, contact ee@sussex.ac.uk to ask for your role to be changed to “Teacher”.

Template Gallery

Padlet’s Template Gallery is like a collection of blueprints for creating engaging learning experiences. Instead of starting from scratch, teachers can pick a template that suits their needs. The gallery offers over 250 templates, neatly organised by category. Need a template for note-taking, presentations, or research? No problem! Use the sidebar to filter by specific tasks or activities. Hover over a template to read a description of its purpose.

See here for more information about the Template Gallery

Freeze Padlets

When you freeze a Padlet, you prevent any further changes to its content, preserving your Padlet in a frozen state—no one can add, edit, or delete posts. Only admins have the power to freeze or unfreeze a Padlet. If you decide to unfreeze it later, it will function exactly as it did before

Click here to find out more about how to freeze a Padlet

Custom Text Fields

A screengrab of the custom text field dialogue box, demonstrating the options available on Padlet for this.

Padlet has introduced powerful features to enhance collaboration and communication among users:

Custom placeholders in Padlet allow you to convey clear instructions within the post composer. When creating a new post, you’ll find placeholder text in both the subject and body fields. Customise these placeholders to guide collaborators. For instance, prompt them to add specific information. As collaborators start typing, the placeholder text disappears, replaced by their content. Additionally, you can create custom text fields beyond placeholders. Unlike placeholders, custom fields retain the text you provide, allowing you to ask specific questions or provide additional context for collaborators. For example, ask collaborators to add their name in the subject field, then feedback on a posted video. Finally, customise attachment options are available in the post composer—show or hide specific attachment types based on your Padlet’s purpose.

With these enhancements, Padlet becomes an even more versatile tool for collaborative projects. Click here to find out more about how to customise text fields

Pinned & Wide Posts

A screengrab of the "Appearance" dialogue box, demonstrating the options available on Padlet for this. The "Wide" option is highlighted.

Pin a post to the top of your Padlet to keep important information (e.g. instructions) in view, or make your post wider, to accommodate longer posts. Click here to find out about Pinned and Wide Posts and more

Please click here to find out more about Padlet’s latest updates or contact educationalenhancement@sussex.ac.uk if you would like to be given access to the Sussex Padlet Backpack account, if you would like to update your role to gain access to the advanced features, or if you would like help or advice on how to use Padlet to support your teaching and learning.

Posted in digital skills, Educational Enhancement, Learning Technologies

How I Survived Distraction Overload and Created the Ultimate Online Learning Blueprint

by Helen Todd, Learning Technologist, University of Sussex

So I’m trying to write a blog post about engagement while WFH but I keep getting distracted.

I select the perfect track to relax but also focus the mind on Spotify, have a quick doom scroll of the news headlines and depress myself further by checking my current energy bill before realising that I’m wasting time and really must get on with work. So, I monitor emails, check my to-do-list and post banter to the work Teams chat. And this is just what’s happening online, looking out of the window I can see what looks suspiciously like sunshine – and I’m wondering if it would help to creative process to spend 10 minutes relaxing in the garden (with my phone of course).

An illustration of a person sitting at a work desk, daydreaming. A clock is on the wall behind them.
Illustration by Adobe Stock

This is what It’s like to work in the attention economy where digital platforms compete to draw us in and keep us engaged. Meanwhile our slowly evolving brains struggle to process this information overload. While trying to stay on track to complete a task, these distractions weaken our performance and increase stress. As I write this blog, I’m aware that I’m doing it with my neurotypical brain, in my first language, with functioning Wi-Fi, in a first world country, from a dedicated home office I can work in undisturbed. I’m also writing it as part of my working day – it’s not a graded assignment that I have to complete unpaid after a full day’s toil.

In the week of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, I’ll explain our Online Distance Learning (ODL) postgraduate courses are designed to support learners’ engagement and minimise distractions using principles that particularly benefit those with disabilities or impairments, but which are helpful for everyone.

Our ODL students may have chosen to study asynchronously for many reasons: because it suits neurodiverse learners to study at a time and pace that accommodates their needs or to fit round their working patterns and household commitments. Some do not have the luxury of reliable internet or even electricity connection. Also, as most are not UK based, many are not native English speakers. These students often log on to their courses after spending all day working and/or looking after family.

With so many diverse challenges for learners and reasons for distraction, our courses are designed to facilitate focus for as wide a range of users as possible.  We do this using the principle of Engagement as set out by the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework. This shows how to use tools that attract learners to the content, motivate them to stay and teach them strategies to manage their own engagement. By triggering positive emotions, the online environment can help learners initiate and persist with study despite difficulties, achieving learning that is deep and meaningful.

The UDL framework divides Engagement under three headings – I’ll now explain how we have used them to design the ODL learning environment:

  • Recruiting interest

When designing learning, we have a responsibility to create material that attracts attention. Boring content is not accessible content because it may contain relevant information that gets ignored. For example, an assignment brief which has little relevance to students’ real-world lives and interests will not be attended to as carefully as one which does.

ODL assessments are designed to be as authentic as possible. This is particularly important as our courses tend to be vocational and our students are often in well-established careers with a wealth of life experience that they can draw upon. For their Msc in Global Supply Chain management, students are asked to produce a report critically analysing the operations management of an organisation in which they work. To ensure students without the necessary workplace experience are not excluded from meeting the learning objectives, there is the option to use a case study. This kind of personalisation is very motivating as it means students spend less time on topics that aren’t relevant to them.

Authentic ‘real-world’ activities can also use fiction to engage. One of the modules in ODL’s Msc in Sustainable Development uses gamification and an imaginative twist help students learn about the topic of environmental politics without engendering a sense of doom. The novel format of this module attracts attention through various missions and quests which students undertake as part of ‘Project Dandelion’. These are designed in such a way to create situations where students feel safe enough to take risks and be creative.

  • Sustaining effort and persistence

Once we have learners’ attention, we need to motivate them to maintain it. However, as previously explained, the diverse nature of ODL students means that they differ in their ability to sustain the concentration and effort that deep learning requires. When studying online, geographically separate from one’s peers. there is also the risk of isolation.

To keep students motivated, it’s important to support them in remembering the goal of their learning. As such, they are reminded throughout each seven-week module how engagement in weekly discussion boards and tasks will help them to complete their final assessments. Academics also post regular announcements looking ahead or reviewing the progress of the modules.

Many people find it helpful to see explicit examples of what they need to achieve, so marking rubrics, models of assessments and recommendations of how to structure work are available on assignment briefs. Often tutors organise a live Zoom session before a deadline as an assessment Q and A. As ODL students are in different time zones, those not able to join synchronously can watch a recording and ask questions via a dedicated discussion forum.

To avoid the demotivating effects of isolation, ODL academics and learning environments can create a sense of community online. Often tutors will begin a module by posting a short introduction sharing a little bit about themselves and encouraging students to do the same. This can be done on a Canvas discussion forum, but a Padlet board is more visually attractive and provides many ways of presenting information.

On all ODL courses, peer-to-peer collaboration is encouraged as this is a great support system for sustaining engagement. This can be achieved via through group tasks and assessments or asynchronous discussion boards where students are asked to comment on each other’s posts. Canvas allows students to be organised into groups and by labelling these groups by time zone, students have the option to join one that allows them to arrange synchronous online meetings with their peers.

Group work is easier for some than others, so we use scaffolds to encourage less confident students. For the Media, Ethics and Social Change MA will need to peer review each other’s work, this could potentially be stressful. We make this process easier by explaining the purpose of the peer review process and providing a clear structure with prompts for students to follow.

  • Self-regulation

Whilst we can support learners by creating an environment that maximises engagement, it’s important for students to develop intrinsic motivation – and it can’t be assumed all will develop it equally. We give them access to multiple ways of improving their ability to regulate their own emotions and cope with difficulty.

One key source of support with this is the Study Online Student Support Site. This is a space focussed on giving students the skills and resources they need throughout their study journey. This includes self-access materials such as guides to the digital tools they will need and post-graduate study tips, as well as a timetable of Zoom sessions on academic writing the ODL Librarian team.

Throughout the weekly pages of our online courses, there are multiple checkpoints for students to self-assess their own learning. These may be a to do checklist or a quiz for students to identify gaps in their knowledge. This type of activity promotes expectations of behaviour which help students to reflect on their own abilities and develop their own goals.

More in-depth reflection is embedded in other tasks and assessments to encourage learners to find out what motivates them personally and how they can best reach their goals.

This is just a small selection of the ways that ODL courses utilise UDL engagement to help students maintain their focus and we are continuously working on how we can make our learning more accessible to all.

Finally, it’s important to remember that because of the way our brains evolved, some distraction is inevitable. In fact, sometimes distractions can actually boost creativity and problem solving skills. Justification, in case I needed it, for a few minutes of sunshine in the garden.

This is just a few ways we use UDL to increase engagement online. Researching this blog sent me down several interesting rabbit holes which, while taking up time, also enlightened me. For example, I learnt about the social model of disability – designing online courses which ‘don’t disable people’

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/campus/emotions-and-learning-what-role-do-emotions-play-how-and-why-students-learn

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/campus/learning-challenge-and-difficulty-calm-seas-do-not-make-skilful-sailors

Posted in Educational Enhancement, Learning theory, Online Distance Learning (ODL)

Five things you can do right away to make your in person teaching more accessible and inclusive

Photo by Joao Cruz on Unsplash

Accurate transcripts are important for people who need them, whether it be for deaf students, international students or perhaps where there is a lot of technical language. For each of these groups, inaccurate transcripts can be severely impactful when it comes to relying on them for assessment.  Accuracy is also important for the increasing number of AI enabled learning and assistive technologies. Many of them use pre-recorded content and rely on accurately captured transcriptions. Whether it be for summaries, flashcards, reviewing or searching – accuracy matters.

With a nod to Deaf Awareness Week last week and on today’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day, this short post will highlight a few ways in which we can make our teaching more accessible as well as being more useful for transcription based AI tools.  

1. Who and what is in the room? 

Knowing who in your classroom can go a long way to mitigating some of the accessibility challenges your students will face. Having awareness of their needs and any software or interventions being used can help you in planning and thinking about where you stand or where you focus your attention when speaking. Even better and more often than not, your students will tell you what works for them, or offer advice. 

2. Be seen 

Some with hearing impairments rely on lip reading, this can be challenging in dark rooms and impossible when the lips are facing away from them. Ensure you have lights on at the front of your lecture, speak clearly at a relaxed pace, focusing your attention to your deaf students as much as is practically possible. Also avoid covering your face with your hands or microphone when speaking.  

3. Be heard 

In most teaching spaces, microphones are available for use by teaching staff. It’s critical that these are used, whether they be desk mounted, lapel or wireless mics, there is a solution for most situations. Never assume you can be heard without them. People with hearing aids may use the Hearing Loops available in teaching spaces, using a mic is critical for this to work. When taking input from the students, either repeat what is said or pass the wireless mic around.  

4. Live captions 

Using Zoom or PowerPoint it is possible to display live captions on the screen during your session. Whilst this is not required, it can certainly be beneficial. 

5. Check in 

Finally, follow up with your students, is it working for them? You may not be able to meet all adjustments they want, but we should absolutely be meeting the adjustments they need. 

When it comes to the transcript, obviously a well-lit room isn’t going to have an impact, but clearly spoken dialogue at a reasonable volume will produce much better results. Whilst automatic captions may still fall short of 100% accuracy in most cases, if your students have been in the room and able to hear through Hearing Loops, or lip read during the session, they’ll be better able to fill the gaps or self correct any technical language inaccuracies.  

What have I missed? Are you a student who relies on good audio and transcripts, what helps you? Let me know in the comments. As ever if you need support for your teaching at Sussex, then get in touch with your Learning Technologist or Academic Developer for support.

Posted in Accessibility, AI, Inclusive teaching

Academic Developers: May round up

A picture of a megaphone, a mobile phone, a lightbulb, a magnifying glass and the YouTube logo, to indicate announcing information

Guidance for students from the Library on use of AI

A new using generative AI in your assessments page has been added to the Skills Hub by the library team, created with colleagues from across campus who support academic skills and academic regulations. 

Learn how generative AI works and the issues with using it in assessments; discover what Sussex regulations do and don’t allow; and develop your AI literacy so that you can work with academic integrity. 

You’ll also find recommended alternatives to generative AI: academic tools and skills you may not be aware of that give better results for particular tasks e.g. dedicated reference management software like Zotero. 

Find out more about using generative AI in your assessments

Save the Date- Sussex Education Festival 2024 

Please save the date for the Sussex Education Festival 2024. We will have a day of in-person content on Wednesday 10 July and online content on Thursday 11 July.  

We were delighted with the response to the Call for Participation- we received three times more proposals than last year. We are busy putting the programme together- watch this space for registration! 

Learning Matters 

A number of new posts have recently been published on the Learning Matters blog. Learning Matters provides a space for multiple and diverse forms of writing about teaching and learning at Sussex. We welcome contributions from staff as well as external collaborators. All submissions are assigned to a reviewer who will get in touch to discuss next steps.  

Send all submissions to: educationalenhancement@sussex.ac.uk 

Encouraging attendance and engagement through portfolio assessment 

The Evidence-Informed-Teaching Infographics Project: a novel and engaging way to communicate scholarship 

Assessment in a world of Generative AI: What might we lose? 

Remember to update your Advance HE status 

Staff who have recently joined the University should update their Fellowship status with Advance HE to ensure that they have the correct details about you, and can continue to send you updates and information. 

Posted in Academic Development, Educational Enhancement, Monthly Round-ups

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We are the Educational Enhancement team at the University of Sussex. We publish posts each week on using technology to support teaching and learning. Read more about us.

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