Reflections of a conference-goer!

So, recently I attended two conferences. The first, a teachmeet at Staffordshire University, on Accessibility in Libraries: and the second, the Social Media in Higher Education conference held at SHU:

There’s even a twitter hashtag! (Of course! :)) #SocMedHE16

Both conferences were vibrant, exciting and full of good and useful ideas! I cant possibly cover all of the stuff that I experienced and contributed to so I will choose carefully and give the highlights from both, for me…not forgetting to talk about what I am going to do with my newfound knowledge and skills!

So, firstly we had a Key-NOT (not a Key Note) speech for the SocMed conference, which involved us having to work in teams to produce a bitesize online resource, addressing one of three principles:

  1. Learners are active producers AND consumers of knowledge
  2. Learners maximise on community and networks: personal/learning/professional
  3. learners take ownership and responsibility for aspects of their own learning

Our team (The Blue Fridays) decided on a padlet, which I created, that could be shared throughout the learning community, with the idea that people contribute good ideas/time-saving tips/online information and resources that support learning. Padlet here: None of my team had used padlet before, so I had to explain how to use it and the benefits of the collaborative nature of the application. We didn’t win, but it was a good idea and I will definitely use Padlet again for this type of thing – ideas sharing.

At the teachmeet, the thing that really jumped out at me was that I hadn’t really thought about accessibility in the HE setting. We have a Disabled Students support team and also a team that supports students coming from care and those with caring responsibilities, as well as those who experience hardship during their studies. These latter are supported by the wellbeing service. But it was such things as ebook accessibility that really got me. How had I never thought about the fact that some students would find ebooks challenging? Not only from the ‘I don’t like to read things on a screen’ viewpoint, but for the fact that not all platforms provide accessibility functions (such as ability to make text larger etc). I also encountered the phrase ‘print impaired’ which means not only people who are visually impaired but those who, for whatever reason, have little or no ability to process print in any format. Ergo, simply making the text larger isn’t helpful…

So what do we do? Well, there’s a project happening at the moment, that an ex-colleague of mine is involved in, called the Ebook Accessibility Audit I passed this information on to our Library Support Team (LST), who also deal with accessible formats. For me, I just need to be aware of it and, when I am told that a student requires accessible formats by the LST, ensure that we can support the student to the best of our ability, whatever they require. This includes me factoring in providing teaching materials in accessible format for that student, so keeping a record of the name and the course is definitely something I need to do.

The other biggie for me from the Teachmeet was the Universal Design for Learning, which really we began with our project to build up a series of core slides for teaching. The UDL takes it a bit further though, incorporating the need to address different learning styles and formats and different levels of ability. Techniques include scaffolding, familiar from my teacher training days and also developing and keeping engagement. This week I had two very long sessions with the Paramedic students – 3 hours each – and I decided to try something that I used to use with the FE kids: get them on their feet and moving about, during the session. So, in the break between the induction and the intro skills, I put up three pieces of paper on the subject of how confident they would feel at that point if they had to search for a piece of academic literature (this was before I had said anything about authoritative sources). They each had a post-it and had to put it onto one of the sheets. The three themes were ‘confident’, ‘ok-ish…’ and ‘not confident’. I mostly got the ‘ok-ish’…

The activity worked well and helped to raise the energy again of the session – after they had been seated for half an hour, getting up and moving enabled them to stretch their legs, get a bit of oxygen flowing again and wake them up! 🙂 This is a tried and tested teaching strategy and one I have used before. It worked well this time with the added bonus that it got them chatting about how they search – good for me because the first question in the next part of the session was about where they would go to find a resource they have been told by their tutor to read.

I was telling a colleague about this stratagem after the sessions and he has now asked me to guide him through it so he can use it with his first years. I reckon you could do it on Kahoot, but for my purposes it was about raising the energy in the session and waking my students up. I challenge anyone to sit through three hours on a PC without their attention wandering at some point! 🙂 Anyway, it’s something I will definitely use again and it also served to help me know what level to pitch the class at – if I’d had mostly ‘not confident’s I would’ve pitched it to the lower end and slowed down. As it was, I showed them some tools that we wouldn’t normally with first years but I felt that they would be able to cope. The feedback so far has been good, but…watch this space…



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