Ambassadors

On Thursday last, at Guildford College, we launched the TechDis Ambassadors programme.

The purpose of the programme is to create and develop a community of TechDis Ambassadors in the south east of England. Ambassadors can be students or staff.

Our aim is to promote and celebrate the use of technologies that help the learning process, especially for those who experience difficulties with their learning. We explored a number of these at last week’s launch event.

Three TechDis Accredited Trainers were present: myself, Sally Betts and Lilian Soon; along with three TechDis Senior Advisors (Alistair McNaught, Simon Ball and Lisa Featherstone) and two representatives from the JISC Regional Support Centre in Canterbury (Amanda Riley and Artie Vossel-Newman).

Following a quick overview of the project and brief introductions, we began with a game of Taboo!  Lilian led this, with the intention of getting everyone present working together with a common aim – it worked very well and by the end everyone was talking happily to everyone else. And smiling.

We then had introductions to a variety of easily available, easy to use and free technologies. I showed some simple techniques in Microsoft® Word that might have passed people by.

  1. Scroll Wheel+Ctrl easily increases/decreases text size (not Word specific),
  2. Web View overcomes the problem of horizontal scrolling caused by 1. above, and
  3. Drag ‘n’ Drop – using simple techniques to create an interactive resource.

Sally discussed some video creation techniques including:

Lilian, Lisa and Alistair continued the theme by showing a variety of audio creation techniques, uses for Xerte and a variety of uses for everything we had shown. By lunchtime there was a real buzz about the room and everyone was keen to speak with their appointed mentor.

I’m not sure whether ‘mentor’ capture the role properly. Certainly we are there to help, to offer guidance, to train, to be a critical friend, to keep the project on track – but in the end, each person working on the various projects will be the real stars: The TechDis Ambassadors.

You can find the TechDis Ambassadors on Facebook.
You can find the TechDis Ambassadors on Twitter – #jtdambassadors

I’m looking after five projects. All are currently working on their action plans, whilst I work on the logistics for travelling extensively across the south of England ;-).

Also see my previous post:
https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2012/10/09/techdis-ambassadors/

TechDis Ambassadors

Ever since the first meting in August, I’ve been working with some delightful colleagues on the planning of a new initiative being undertaken jointly by the JISC TechDis and the JISC RSC SE.

The intention is to create and develop a community of TechDis Ambassadors in the south east of England. The TechDis Ambassadors can be students or staff.

In the first instance, interested parties have been asked to fill in a short form by 12th October and to then attend a face to face meeting at Guildford College, on 8th November. Invitations are offered to all areas of post 16 education [the further education sector] based in the JISC RSC-SE region.

The aim is to promote and celebrate the use of technologies that help the learning process, especially for those who experience difficulties with their learning. Our meeting on 8th November will explore ways in which this can be done and begin the project planning process.

A Facebook group has also been set up for TechDis Ambassadors and the hope is that this will form the basis of an ongoing, collaborative community. Anyone with tips or tricks that promote and celebrate the use of accessible interventions is welcome to join. Or, you can follow the TechDis Ambassadors on Twitter.

Toolbox

I’ve just completed two more days out on the road for JISC TechDis.

It has been great to get out and meet people again this week: in Leeds on Wednesday and Taunton on Thursday. At both venues, it was good to meet old friends and colleagues and to make new acquaintances.

One of the things I’ve missed about my most recent work (2012) being mainly office based has been the lack of face-to-face human contact. There are various points of view regarding the fitness for purpose and value of online learning/collaboration and I have to say that I have argued for many of its positive aspects in the past, yet I believe that online activities can only be truly effective if there is some planned human contact as part of the process.

Being out and about and meeting people again has been great for me, I thrive on it.

I wrote last week about the new TechDis ‘Voices’ and this week I will touch upon the new ‘Toolbox’ facility. Perhaps later, when I have finished with the RSC summer fairs, I will reflect more on online distance learning and communications.

“[Toolbox] is a collection of resources which give useful hints and tips on technologies that can help individuals work smarter, quicker and more efficiently. JISC TechDis has a history of providing simple easy-to-use resources for tutors and lecturers. Here we have shifted our focus and Toolbox is aimed directly at the end users – the learners themselves.http://www.jisctechdis.ac.uk/techdis/news/detail/2012/ND2012Launch

As the above quote suggests, the Toolbox resources are aimed at learners rather than at teachers (although teachers are learners too!) When I was asked to create one small section of the site, it was suggested that I put myself in the shoes of someone who had never opened a computer before and to try and explain to that person how they might ‘Get started with Windows (7)’. That was an enlightening exercise, I can tell you because I’d never used Windows 7 at the time. I had stopped using Windows Vista in some despair and had become a Mac enthusiast. That ‘distance’ made it much easier for me to imagine the virginal adult user and hopefully, the resources I made are as acceptable and usable as those created by my fellow authors.

The Toolbox page is divided into ‘drawers’. Following the Toolbox semiotic, each drawer contains a different type of tool:

  • Using Technology: features subjects like Working in Windows, Microsoft Office, Working in Mac OSX and many more.
  • Planning and Organisation: featuring; managing your messages, finding information (amongst others).
  • Communicating: Presenting yourself, Reading tools, Writing tools (and so on).
  • Teamworking: Team planning, Team communication, Collaboration etc.
  • Different needs: Vision, Hearing, Mobility to name just a few subjects in this section.

You may well recognise some of the different voices featured in each section (drawer) – and hopefully, you will recommend this site to colleagues and friends who may find something useful amongst the many resources to be found there. Let us know what you think.

Jess and Jack

Last week I found myself in Glasgow hosting a stand on behalf of JISC TechDis at the RSC Scotland ‘Here Be Dragons‘ summer fair.

It was good to get back out on the road again and to meet friends old and new. It’s been a while since I was in Scotland to work, and therefore great to catch up with members of the RSC Scotland team.

This was the first of five RSC summer fairs I will be attending this month.

TechDis have recently launched two major new tools, which are aimed at improving the online lives of a significant range of people, not just learners. Although ‘Voices‘ can only be accessed by post 16 learners in England, ‘Toolbox‘ can be accessed via an open site. Other new tools, similarly sponsored by BIS are also planned for release in 2013 and it was my role to discuss all of these initiatives with callers at the stand.

I will concentrate this blog post on Voices.

The TechDis voices are two high-quality, youthful and modern voices (Jack and Jess) that can be used with text-to-speech (TTS) tools. Across England, staff and learners in higher education institutions and further education colleges as well as the skills, adult and lifelong learning sectors will have access to these voices.From:

Many of us will have heard the robotic voices installed on our computers and shied away from using them ourselves, but many computer users can and do benefit from text-to-speech facilities. Jack and Jess have been developed to make listening to computer generated speech that little bit easier. Go to Control Panel > Ease of Access > Ease of Access Center (in Win 7) and ‘click’ Start Narrator to hear the robotic Microsoft Mary. Previous versions of Windows and other operating systems present similarly dire voices.

Now go and download the new TechDis voices to hear what good quality voices CAN sound like.

Jack and Jess are available for both Windows and Mac machines. They work with the computers own facilities as well as freely available text-to-speech software like Balabolka and DSpeech, both of which have featured on either AccessApps or MyStudyBar.

If you’d like to know more, visit the TechDis site, or pop along and see me in Leeds [13th June], Taunton [14th June], London [27th June] and Sunderland (I think) on 3rd July. You’ll find more details on the respective JISC RSC web sites.

ITQ for Accessible IT Practice

I’ve just finished another enjoyable day. This time, I’d gone to Bolton Arena to speak at a JISC RSC Accessibility event about the new ITQ for Accessible IT Practice.

Earlier speakers had discussed Visualisers and Audio Pens (e.g.) as well as the use of My Study Bar: MyStudyBar is a tool which helps overcome problems that students commonly experience with studying, reading and writing. The tool consists of a set of portable open source and freeware applications, assembled into one convenient package: See also MyStudyBar On-line Training. I’d found these inputs quite invigorating and because of the audience responses to the inputs, I’d found the event as enjoyable as (and for much the same reasons) as last week’s accessibility event. https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2011/02/06/accessapps-workshop/.

My presentation had been agreed weeks ago, when I’d expected the ITQ to have been launched and well under way, so it was a relief to finally get hold of marketing materials from TechDis just yesterday. The ITQ gives practitioner’s a way of being rewarded for the work the do every day of the week. It has been developed by TechDis over the last 12-18 months and is authenticated by City and Guilds. Because ITQ’s allow a spiky profile to be certificated, it means that most workers (e-Skills UK say that 92% of jobs advertised in Education require IT skills) can easily achieve the qualification. In these uncertain days, the more qualifications we have, the better?

This ITQ has been developed around the use of those accessible techniques made available by IT. The level 3 has 3 core units:

  • User Fundamentals
  • Text to Speech
  • Improving productivity with IT

Plus three from seven optional units.

See these and learn more here.

There are four stages to the ITQ.

  1. Update skills gaps and knowledge
  2. Create evidence portfolio
  3. Have portfolio assessed
  4. Submit completed assessment for certification

TechDis have created a bank of learning materials and advice strategies that are available for a small charge:

(current indicative prices – subject to change)
Less than 100 FTE staff – £225
100 – 249 staff – £325
250 – 500 staff – £425


Which includes 90 minutes online IAG from TechDis Accredited Trainers who have already undertaken the qualification. I am one of this very small group.

Should your institution find assessment of the ITQ a problem, those same advisers/trainers are able to undertake assessment activities too. They can even arrange for City and Guilds registration and certification. But these activities are outside the TechDis pricing deal and need to be negotiated with them individually.

Contact me for more information: dm @dsugden on Twitter.

Reflections on 2010

Looking back (as we are apt to do at this time of year) I see that it is almost twelve months since I first blogged about the accessibility functions of the iPhone. [Link to first blog] Since then, a lot has happened in the digital world. That blog post had dealt with my then recent introduction to the Apple iPhone 3GS and how to operate the accessibility features. Since my post, Apple have launched the iPhone 4 (with iOS4) and the iPad, both of which have increased and improved accessibility features. See: https://eduvel.wordpress.com/2010/09/28/iaccessibility/

The iPad has been a real game changer. Unimagined (in its eventual form) in January 2010, it’s difficult now to imagine how such a tool had never previously existed. It is in no way a laptop replacement and cannot cope with some of the tasks [See earlier iPad post] even a netbook could cope with – yet it is becoming an increasingly important actor on the educational stage. This site by Ian Wilson is worth a look if you’re interested in learning more about the iPad in Education: http://www.ipadineducation.co.uk/iPad_in_Education/Welcome.html.

As the financial crisis continues to bite, many trusted and familiar Web 2.0 provisions have begun to teeter. For example, NING, the D.I.Y. social networking site, following years of adequate free provision started to charge at the end of summer 2010. I’m certain that this wasn’t a problem for too many educators but it was a harbinger of things to come. By December Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia was appealing for cash on every one of Wikipedia’s information pages.  Delicious was also under threat from its owner Yahoo! [See news of this] and although there was a form of retraction; the writing is still on the wall – even for this hugely popular and widely used site.

If we take the time to read figures, many such giants of the Web 2.0 world are feeling the pinch. Even Flickr, another Yahoo! provision, despite having a well supported ‘paid for’ membership, is seeing more competition from mobile-based tools such as Instagram and several other App-based photo sites (which will in time come under threat themselves).

Some people say that even Twitter will die – [See James Clay’s blog]

None of this is a bad thing, unless we invest time, effort and/or money into individual sites and provisions. I hope to expand upon this in a future post. Maybe I’ll title that ‘stick to basics’?

Happy New Year to everyone. I hope the financial crisis (caused by reckless banking) does not strike you too hard and that your wishes all come true. 🙂

Full Stops

This won’t be a long post, I just want to share something I learned recently.

Yesterday, I visited my friend and colleague Lilian Soon at her home. We were discussing the potential for supporting and delivering the new iTQ in Accessible practice across our region. Part of this discussion was to compile a proposal for the local Regional Support Centre.

During our discussions, and whilst compiling the proposal on a shared Google Doc, Lilian remarked that we should really put full stops at the end of our bulleted lists, as this helps screen readers to know what they were reading and therefore to make the whole list (of bullets) clearer to the ‘viewer’. Aesthetically, I’d always thought that bulleted lists looked better without full stops or commas, but the minute Lilian mentioned screen readers – I ‘got’ it.

This is a prime example of how small changes to practice, often quite irrelevant to most people’s thinking can make significant benefits to the way in which learners access learning. That’s it. that’s all I wanted to say: put full stops at the end of your bulleted lists, to make screen readers function better.

UPDATES:

I forgot that Lilian (in a Tweet of her own yesterday) and then @petejbell (quoted) in a Tweet today said: “Y11 pupil suggested “why not make full stop same colour as background?

Also @didaw said on Twitter: “otherwise screen readers won’t catch a breath!”