Digital, interactive and inclusive at Sussex #melsigus

On Tuesday 9th September, the University of Sussex was pleased to host a Media Enhanced Learning and Special Interest MELSIG_logo
Group (MELSIG) event. ‘Digital Media Interaction and Inclusivity’ explored accessibility, inclusion, and some of the ways in which digital media can be used to address disadvantage in teaching and learning.

The story of MELSIG

Andrew Middleton, Head of Innovation & Professional Development at Sheffield Hallam University and Chair of MELSIG, delivered a lively introduction and overview of MELSIG’s history. Initially funded by the HEA and formerly known as ‘Podcasts for Pedagogy’, the group is now self-organising and self-financing.


Andrew Middleton, Chair of MELSIG

Speakers from the University of Sussex shared examples of innovation from the host institution while external colleagues from across HE, FE and industry presented a range of practical approaches and unique teaching techniques, from face-mapping to app swaps to location-aware games – all united by a common aim to work towards making education, and the world itself, more accessible via a considered, compassionate and, most importantly, inclusive use of technology.

Innovative ideas presented on the day include;

  • using social media to reduce researcher loneliness
  • developing apps to assess venue accessibility
  • gaming to engage students with wildlife and reading
  • using audio feedback as a tutor to cope with dyslexia
  • lecture capture for enabling students to revisit concepts
  • accessibility design methods used by the BBC

Innovation among US

  • From boundary transgressions to live twitter sessions

Dr Denise Turner (Social Work and Social Care) discussed how social media, especially Twitter, can be used to reduce isolation in researchers. Drawing from her own experience  of Denise's quote from Kranzberginvolvement  in setting up a Twitter-based live chat called #ESWphd (Education and Social Work Phd Twitter chat), which led to motivation and support in the form of the hashtag #TeamTurner.

Denise referred to one of Kranzberg’s six laws of technology – one that is useful to keep in mind when thinking about technology.


  • Designing Location-aware Nature Games: Widening Participation in Informatics and Product Design

To maintain children’s interest in the natural environment, Dr Kate Howland (Informatics) and Catherine Grundy (Engineering and Design) created location-aware nature games. Young children readily engage with wildlife activities, but can commonly lose interest by the time they reach the age of 8. The gamification of wildlife can prevent children from disengaging.

Kate and Catherine impressed the audience with their use of Morfo – a 3D facebooth that can turn a face into a talking tree or animal, as well as location-aware games which made an interactive game of the campus map of Sussex.

  • Comfy Birds: Orchestrating reflection through individual, paired and whole class work

No angry birds, just comfy ones. Dr Nicola Yuill (Psychology) demonstrated a game which she and her team have developed to help children reading through small group game play. The game helps learners  to understand a text-based joke and this was found to improve the reading level of children with learning difficulties.

Kids using tech

School children using Comfy Birds for learning and play

Innovation beyond Sussex

Sussex staff were joined by colleagues and students from all over the UK who shared good practice in teaching and learning, innovation and even business ideas that supported inclusion. In order of appearance –

  • Access Earth (@TeamAccessEarth) impressed the audience with a personal story of how they created an app in response to experiencing an inaccessible venue.
Access Earth Team

Team Access Earth winning the ImagineCup

Matt McCann, Donal McClean and K.C. Grant created Access Earth after booking a hotel online, advertised as ‘accessible’ in order to stay in London for the Para Olympics. Upon arrival, it was clear that the hotel was not at all as advertised. Barriers to access included;

  • a number of steps that led to the main hotel entrance
  • a hotel room with insufficient space to manoeuvre a wheelchair
  • a lift which was only accessible after climbing a number of steps

In response, the team of programmers created Access Earth and used their coding skills to create an app which would allow people to rate venues for accessibility. With plans for the app to be in place in time for 2016, Access Earth hope that people with access needs will be able to confidently plan journeys and accommodation for the next Para Olympics. You can read more about Access Earth on the Imagine Cup website as they were award winners in this prestigious international competition sponsored by Microsoft.

You can help make Earth more accessible. Log in to and upload the accessibility details of your favourite restaurant, hotel or venue.

Access Earth image

  • Social media for all Andrew Middleton introduced a SM4L: Social Media for Learning Framework – a joint project with colleague Sue Beckingham, Educational Developer at Sheffield Hallum. The framework includes the following aspects to ensure inclusivity in learning when using social media;
  1. Socially inclusive
  2. Life-wide and lifelong learning
  3. Media-neutral
  4. Learner-centred
  5. Co-operative
  6. Open and accessible
  7. Authentically situated

What do you think? Andrew and Sue invite you to comment on the Social Media for Learning Framework in the comments section.

  • The Adjustment Bureau – Fiona MacNeill, Learning Technologies Adviser at the University of Brighton, introduced the audience to the Adjustment Bureau for Apps. Fiona put apps unders the spotlight asking, does your favourite app allow you to change the settings of backgrounds to make it easier for you to read? Fiona Macneil created App Swap Breakfasts to help colleagues and students explore  mobile applications in relation to teaching and learning. Fiona urges colleagues at other institutions to create their own App Swap Breakfasts using her App Swap Breakfast plan.
  • 12 Apps of Christmas – Chris Rowell of Regent’s University discussed how he successfully engages academics with technology. A activities were based around ‘ShOOC’s’ – Short Online Open Courses, including Blogging 4 beginners, 5 Days of LinkedIn, and The 12 Apps of Christmas. You can read more about Chris Rowell’s methods of engagement on his Totally Rewired blog. Ten Days of Twitter – an online introductory course created by Helen Webster, Academic Developer at Cambridge University to Twitter available under Creative Commons license, also proved very successful.
12 apps of Christmas

Chris Rowell delivering 12 Apps of Christmas

Thank you too to Claudia Megele (Middlesex) who gave a brilliant presentation on the ENABLE framework (Developing e-Professionalism and embedding Social Media and Technology Enhanced Learning in Higher Education Curricula), Roger Holden (Chichester) who talked about inclusion through the use of lecture capture, Henny Swann (The Paciello Group and previously BBC) who gave the audience a fascinating insider view of BBC inclusivity practice.

Thunderstorm presentations included contributions from Anne Nortcliffe (Sheffield Hallum) who visited us via Google Hangouts to discuss how using audio as a feedback method had helped her as a tutor with dyslexia and John Webber (Sussex Downs) who talked about his experiences as a Professional Learning and Development Manager.

Katie Piatt (Brighton University) created a Storify of the day. The full programme is available on the MELSIG website and presentations from all speakers will soon be available.

If you would like to explore any of the technologies discussed above, or have any ideas on using innovative techniques in teaching and learning, please contact your School Learning Technologist.




Image with thanks to ImageCup creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by ImagineCup:



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