H810 Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students – a catalyst for change

Post written by MA in Online and Distance Education student Gemma Holtam

Having a personal and professional interest in how technology can be used can create accessible learning, in September 2014 I enrolled onto the Open University masters level module H810 ‘Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students’.  At the time little did I know of the great effect that this course would have on my professional life and the lives of the students at my institution.  For example, as a direct result of studying this course I was offered a new post, led a funded research projected into creating accessible study skills resources and disseminated the findings of this research at national conferences. I am now involved in creating institutional change with regards to how technology is used to support students who are in receipt of Advanced Learner Support. Furthermore, I am part of the Association for Dyslexia Specialist in Higher Education (ADSHE) working party in relation to inclusive design.

The new job

When I began studying H810 I was working as a Learning Technologist. However, having a background in pastoral support this was an area that I was keen to return to, therefore I applied for a post as a HE Study Skills and Progression Coach. As part of the role involves creating online study skills resources I was able to include the accessible learning resource that I created as part of the H810 assessment criteria within my interview pack.

Funded research project

During the course I was offered a research grant from the East Midlands Centre for Excellence in Teacher Training (EMCETT). This was used to investigate a topic entitled ‘Removing barriers, creating accessible online learning’. The timing of this project coincided with the UK government’s indication that they would be reducing the Disabled Student Allowances funding and placing greater expectations on institutions to provide inclusive learning environments for disabled students. I was able to utilise this research opportunity, and what I had learned on H810, to create an accessible online study skills course. The aim of the course was to increase the accessibility of the study skills provision at my institution, whilst providing examples of good practice to inspire other staff and demonstrate how they can create inclusive learning environments.

As well as disseminating the findings from my project at the EMCETT Practitioner Led Research conference I have also presented my findings at the Association for Dyslexia Specialists (ADHSE) in HE annual conference. A copy of my slides from the ADSHE conference can be seen below. An accessible version of the PowerPoint presentation, which also contains a written commentary, can be downloaded here.

Creating institutional change

I am now working with the college’s Advanced Learner Support team to increase the use of both assistive technology and learning technology across our FE provision. This includes creating video and text-based help guides on the different tools that can be used to support a student’s studies. In addition to this, I am part of the Association for Dyslexia Specialist in Higher Education working party, whose aim is to increase the use of inclusive design in HE.  H810: Accessible online learning: supporting disabled students has certainly been a catalyst for personal and institutional change, with the ultimate outcome of improving the student learning experience.