3. The wider context

CMALT Guidance

Core area 3: The Wider Context

Candidates should demonstrate their awareness of and engagement with wider issues that inform their practice. Candidates must cover at least one legislative area and either a second legislative area or a policy area. That is you need to cover a minimum of two areas, at least one of which must be legislative.

a) Understanding and engaging with legislation, policies and standards.

b) Policy.

Full guidance [PDF]

Original submission

a) Legislation

As part of my role for the Online Masters Programmes, I undertook an evaluation of updated accessibility standards (WCAG 2.0) and legal requirements (DDA, S508) to check how compliant the programmes were. This area of work is of particular interest to me, and I was asked to report back to the whole team. Rather than presenting a technical list of measures to the teaching and administrative staff, I wrote a presentation [Appendix 3a] outlining simple, key improvements to daily practice that would ensure compliance to standards. The advice was adopted by the Online Masters team, and a similar presentation will be made to the Department as a whole in the near future.

b) Standards

The content of the Online Masters Programmes was written in 2002-3 by TALL, Oxford, and coded using HTML 4.0. I am committed to standards-based development and initiated a renewal to replace duplicated code, with a sleeker XHTML 1.0 document that drew upon a central style sheet and JavaScript library. For some of our international remote students who are dependent upon dial-up connections in hostile environments, the reduction in bandwidth overhead by moving to a standardised XHTML-CSS approach made viewing course content online more efficient. This renewal was iterative over two years, for the next run of each of the 22 online modules. The code was restructured [Appendix 3b] and I also included a set of accessibility extensions I wrote as part of the JavaScript library (such as an accessible tool-tip popup, and a programme wide implementation of customised background colours and font-face changing to support dyslexia sufferers who read content on screen rather than printing). In continuing to use standardised XHTML, the code has become more portable between systems and easier for colleagues to maintain.

Appendix 3

Portfolio update

a) Legislation: Accessibility

Higher education institutions have a legal duty under the Equality Act 2010 (s.91) to make reasonable adjustments so that disabled students are not discriminated against in the way it provides education. As the VLE is an integral part to the education of students through delivery of materials and online interactions, as part of the central VLE team I am committed to developing practice that ensures disabled students are not at a disadvantage.

I have undertaken a CPD course on web accessibility that questioned the real-life application of WCAG standards. This immediately prompted me to consider how useful technically-driven standards are to supporting disabled students learning, challenging my previously held belief that if the standards are met it must be accessible. The course also provided an opportunity to understand how disabled users interact with online tools, and has encouraged a more critical approach to accessibility. One of the approaches demonstrated through the CPD course was to have a disabled user verbally walk through the steps they are undertaking and where user interactions are not as they would expect. I extended my knowledge in this area further by undertaking an accessibility module within my Masters studies. Through this I found a new perspective looking at the context of higher education and how students, as individuals, have to adapt to both the new context and unfamiliar systems, terminology and expectations. Together these have informed the way I have provided support to disabled students, for example writing guidance for Mac users of VoiceOver [PDF] based upon a walk-through of our VLE with a student explaining how they used their assistive software and what they were expecting the user interface to do. Simply writing technical guidance would have made too many assumptions about users’ preferred ways of operating their devices and assumed intricate knowledge of the assistive technology they had installed. By developing guidance considering the student and their experiences, the advice is more realistically grounded than purely technically-driven guidance would be.

My approach to accessibility awareness for teaching staff has also been informed my MA studies, in particular instead of treating accessibility like a separate check list of actions, to encourage all staff to consider it as an embedded and integral part of professional practice and delivering education. In writing the York TEL Handbook, I have taken accessibility considerations from discrete documents and incorporated them within the guidance. In particular see:

The effect is to encourage staff to consider the different students in their cohorts as they develop and design programmes and learning resources. This is further demonstrated through my inclusion of subtitles and text-equivalents for the multimedia resources I develop for staff training and in the York TEL Handbook. The text-equivalent provides the content in an accessible way for students with specific impairments, such as subtitles for hearing impairments, text descriptions of images or diagrams for visual impairments. With my support of lecture recordings, I have discussed the issue of text equivalents with the University’s E-Accessibility Forum. I was conscious of the time requirement of subtitling all recordings, and yet keen to ensure that core learning content was accessible to students, so needed to create advice for staff on this matter. As such, the recommendation was that any multimedia resource that is the sole means for conveying content must be fully accessible, so that a student may not be disadvantaged through lack of access to the content. This may take the form of subtitles, but other equivalents such as bullet summaries would be applicable in some cases.

As an example of my work in accessibility and how I convey this to others, see the following YouTube mini-lecture which was written for staff and students on the social media project I convened.

b) Policy: Institutional lecture capture policy

For policy, I draw upon recent work on devising policy for lecture capture across the institution. There are institutional policies around intellectual property and copyright, local policies in terms of who and what will be recorded, and practical considerations over recording retention in part steered by what is pedagogically appropriate, i.e. not keeping out of date content, and part by funding of hosted file store. The guidance I wrote draws upon these different policy constraints, setting clear expectations to staff about the limitations and affordances of the system. The service guidance document did not detail all these elements originally, but on entering my current role I identified inclusion of key concern areas (notably intellectual property) as a priority to address in order to gain buy-in with staff.

The original iteration of the policy document attempted to reiterate other institutional policies. However as contradictions and lack of clarity emerged with staff interpreting the document, I rewrote the policy to link to the institution’s IPR regulations instead of repeating them. This involved drawing upon expertise in copyright licensing and IP management at the institution. Of note is how captures are referred to as learning objects. From advice received, I then suggested a rewrite of institutional VLE guidelines which govern how intellectual property rights of learning objects are determined. Thus, the policy work applies not just for lecture captures but for all online learning resources, harmonising the guidance and avoiding contradictions.

On reflection, there is a clear balancing act between trying to gain buy-in with a new technology, maintain clear and unambiguous guidance and adherence to the (potentially unclear) institutional policy. In future, when developing policy I aim to create a draft to issue to our Steering Group which includes academic staff, in order to understand issues with misinterpretation and clarity.

I can now demonstrate this approach through the recent revision of the policy document, the draft of which was commented upon by the Steering Group:

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