As learners start back after COVID they will be entering a new hybrid teaching environment. Hopefully, much of it will be familiar and well within their experience and expectations, but there will be challenges, particularly for disadvantaged learners. This will be an ongoing process of developing more inclusive teaching environments that promise everyone the same opportunity for success.
To ensure we can deliver an equal experience and opportunity to succeed to all learners we must identify Inclusive digital skills for every role in the organisation. These are not specialist skills, they are the digital skills that come with the new online territory. Making use of interactive functions and accessibility options on the VLE and other platforms. Using accessible document templates and promoting available productivity tools, apps and learning strategies that will encourage independent learning and increase employment skills.
As a starting point we can focus on some ‘headline’ practices that will make a difference to all learners and encourage the staff skills that will support digital inclusion. That way more learners needs are met- by default.
- Develop Digital Diversity
All staff can develop the skills needed to create accessible rich media, like podcasts and captioned videos. Different media offer different benefits to learners yet, educational practice can still be very text based. Now that teaching will be asynchronous, we will need more engaging interactive activities to support the limited ‘live, face to face’ teaching opportunities. Using video and audio clips is more engaging and has the added benefit of enhancing understanding for dyslexic learners.
- Be clear and consistent
It is good practice and good marketing to make all information as accessible as possible. It is now a legal responsibility for all essential content – including pre-course information on the website and course materials on the VLE to comply with accessibility standards. This is a good thing because it is designed to reach the widest audience and thereby reduces additional support costs. It makes sense to provide all staff with accessible templates and guidance on structuring documents using headings and styles so they can create more accessible documents with very little additional effort.
- Design for difference
Our learners are increasingly diverse. They will have a broad range of digital skills, devices, connectivity, capabilities, money and time – that will influence ability to participate. Staff will need to be innovative and that requires digital confidence. Making basic inclusive teaching practice videos available online will help ensure they can teach effectively in more challenging situations.
- Use all accessible options
Learners will be relying even more on your virtual learning environment, e-book collections and online communication channels. They need to work for everyone, so switch on the accessibility options and functions that support differentiated activities.
- Support personalisation
Encourage teachers to plan flexible lessons and give learners choices. Make sure induction sessions include how to personalise views, change font sizes or colours or use text to speech options on the VLE. Develop the VLE as a means for learners to support their own learning.
- Promote Personal Productivity
Promoting learner independence using mainstream productivity tools and apps will benefit many learners, including those with hidden disabilities. It also means learners can use these tools at home or in their work placements – therefore adding to their employability skills.
- Encouraging Proactive Processes
Policy drives practice so make learner feedback visible in quality processes, procurement and all key policies. As many as 10% of your learners may have a disability so consult them and user-test before you invest in new technologies. Involving learners in design and procurement processes will reduce risk, avoid the extra costs of adaptations and help meet their expectations.