Friday, 29 November 2013

Summary of NADP conference, 28th Nov 2013

National Association of Disability Practitioners
National Association of Disability Practitioners
Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend an event put on by the National Association of Disability Practitioners in Birmingham. The focus of the event was the use of social media in the context of disability support services and we were fortunate enough to have two excellent speakers, Matt East from Anglia Ruskin University and Terry McAndrew from JISC TechDis. This blog post begins with five things I learned during the day, then goes on to provide a summary of the key points from both sessions and links to some of the online resources highlighted during the sessions.


Five things I learned at the NADP conference


1. Students increasingly expect to access resources via social media

 
This implies that support departments may need to communicate via an appropriate social media platform in order to maximise their reach and impact. However, choosing an appropriate platform is key in order to avoid issues of involuntary disclosure of a disability.

2. The growing ‘App Mentality’ has significant implications for student learning

 
This mentality is potentially causing students to be more critical and demanding of available services. Some of the quotes included “I want everything I need in one place”, “if I download an app and it doesn’t work first time, I delete it”, and, “I want information personalised to me”.

3. The preferred search engine for 16-24 year olds is YouTube
 
This statistic shows that students are very comfortable with consuming information in video format. Support departments could harness this by creating short videos about their services, and potentially turn these into a YouTube ‘channel’ to make it easier for students to find and understand them.

4. Transmissive teaching is not accessible
 
Wherever possible we need to encourage approaches to teaching which encourage participation. This has benefits for all students, not just those with disabilities.

5. Age and disability are not significant factors in determining whether someone becomes a ‘resident’ in a network
 
Research by Le Cornu and White (2011) indicated that social, participatory learning spaces provide a means for students to create a different identity. These spaces can empower non-traditional learners and those with disabilities as they prevent others from judging them on their appearance.


Summary of presentations

 

Matt East – Anglia Ruskin University





Matt argued that social media is a key factor in our successful engagement with students as it enables them to access support services in a way with which they are familiar and comfortable. The above Prezi contains some informative videos which provide a useful insight into the world of social media.

Matt shared a quote from a student who had revealed that, “using Twitter has become my first port of call rather than using the Library in many cases”. Typing a search term into Twitter will almost always bring up a list of useful resources ranging from social (blog posts and videos) to academic (journals and e-Books). This suggests that support departments who are seeking to raise awareness of their services would do well to ensuring that they were discoverable on social media platforms. An example might be regular tweets containing links back to departmental web pages, blogs and online resources.

However, use of certain platforms such as Facebook did raise issues of disclosure, particularly for students with disabilities. For instance, a significant attraction of social media is that it enables people to assume an online identity that is different from their physical identity. Consequently, a Disability support department might reasonably aim to push out their service on Facebook because they know a large percentage of students will see it. But if a student were to ‘like’ this page this could suggest to others - rightly or wrongly - that they have a disability, as their friends would see that they had liked this particular page. This highlights the importance of choosing a social media platform that is appropriate both to your needs and to those of your intended audience. For this example, Twitter was cited as a potential alternative as it is less ‘personal’ than Facebook – in other words, there is potentially a smaller reputational risk for a student who follows a Disability services Twitter feed.

Matt also drew attention to the excellent AMMOSSHE Social Media Toolkit. This provides helpful advice and guidance for anyone considering greater usage of social media. The toolkit contains both strategic advice for managers and departments as well as more practical tips for staff.


Terry McAndrew - TechDis


This presentation highlighted both the high-level, strategic aspects of social media use for institutions as well as providing links to a range of useful TechDis resources on accessibility. Terry reinforced the point that, when using social media, students with a disability often don’t want to let on that they have a disability. Highlighting the research by Vaughn and White?? around Digital Residents and Digital Visitors which revealed that neither age nor disability are significant factors in determining whether someone becomes a ‘resident’ in a network – i.e. becomes a regular contributor. This suggests that using social media provides an opportunity to widen participation, communication and learning experiences, and it is therefore important that universities maximise their usage of social networks.

Below are some of the key resources that Terry highlighted:
 
  • Concept Linkage - this tool enables students to enter two different search terms. The tool then creates a visual map of all the potential linkages between the two terms, and could be useful in helping all students find out ‘what they don’t know’ about a topic.
  • Web2Access - great resource by Southampton University which evaluates a range of freely available Web 2.0 tools. The Disabilities page also contains a wealth of diagnostic tests to help you match an appropriate learning tool to a disability.
  • Access For All - enables you to download a PDF Accessibility Checker, making it easier for you to check the accessibility of PDF documents.  
  • Flexible Pedagogies: new pedagogical ideas - a report by the Higher Education academy into new pedagogical ideas, including social learning, learner empowerment, crossing boundaries and decolonising education.


Me – Digital Curation: how to make social media work for you


Due to a gap in the programme I also jumped in during the afternoon slot and provided a short workshop on Digital Curation. The aim of the session was to introduce participants to some practical social media tools that they begin using in their professional activities. The session introduced a simple three-stage framework to inform usage of social media - Discover, Curate, Share – with a view to providing a reason for participants to engage with social media. My main aim was to encourage people not to fear social media but rather to get involved and have a go. Only by doing so do the benefits become more evident.

The resources for my session can be found on the Digital Curation page of this blog, and I must thank Sue Waters for sharing her excellent blog post with me on which my page is based.

Thank you also to the NADP for organising a thoroughly informative and enjoyable day.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Friday, 1 November 2013

We hear you Russell, but what's the alternative?


 
 
Jeremy Paxman's recent Newsnight interview of Russell Brand provided a platform for the comedian to wax lyrical about the woes of the current political system. The second half of the interview highlighted Brand's ability to be a convincing public speaker. After all, it takes an agile mind and flawless delivery to render Paxman at a loss for words. 

But what was worrying was Brand's call for revolution without presenting any suggestion of an alternative system of government. There have been many figures in history capable of stirring an otherwise passive public to rise up against the status quo, but these speeches usually include a proposition for an alternative system of government. To me it feels irresponsible for Brand to call for a revolution without offering a corresponding vision for how things might be different.

What struck me most about the interview, however, were the parallels between Brand's portrayal of dissatisfaction with democracy and the current debates around the future of higher education. In recent months a significant amount has been written about the viability of the current university model. Topics of concern range from the sustainability of rising fees to the impact of MOOCs and new technologies on student expectations. Anyone new to the higher education sector reading these articles could easily believe that the entire system was on the brink of a revolution.

But what is lacking, in the same way as in Brand's interview, is a convincing view of an alternative vision of higher education. While few would argue that there is no shortage of innovative ideas, pedagogic models or technologies, there is a surprising lack of debate around what an alternative system of higher education might look like. In much the same way as western democracy, western higher education has been exported across the globe. Despite its flaws, many countries strive to replicate the western university model.

The world needs people like Russell Brand and the thousands of commentators who are able to articulate the faults with our current systems of government and education. But the debate would also benefit from the voice those who are able to present a convincing alternative.