Archive for the 'Accessibility & Inclusion' Category

[Events] Developing a High Quality and Inclusive Learning Experience for All Students

The following text arrived in my in box from the ‘Embedding equality and diversity in the curriculum mailing list’ (here’s more info on the project and how to subscribe to mailings) and I thought it was worth sharing. Please note “places are limited to three people from each institution and the workshops are only open to those working at Scottish institutions”

Workshop 1 - 18 February, Scotland’s Colleges, Stirling
Workshop 2 - 9 March, Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh

There is no charge for either workshop.

Summary

The HEA and Scotland’s Colleges have organised two workshops as part of the Embedding equality! and diversity in the curriculum programme as an opportunity for practitioners and managers to both share practice and help to shape the future content of the programme.

Aims

  • to situate the ‘Embedding equality and diversity in the curriculum’ programme within the broader context of the Scottish Funding Council’s equality and diversity framework
  • to report on the findings of a survey to identify institutional strengths and achievements, priority areas for development and support needs
  • to enable the sharing of practice and identify institutional priorities and support needs
  • to discuss strategies for embedding equality and diversity in the curriculum
  • to develop a vision for a high quality and inclusive learning experience for all students.

Target Audience

The workshops are aimed at practitioners in HE institutions and colleges with responsibility for curriculum design, delivery and assessment, senior managers with responsibility for the student learning experience, staff and educational developers and those with responsibility for equality and diversity and disability.

Places are limited to three people from each institution and the workshops are only open to those working at Scottish institutions.

More information and booking:

18 February workshop - http://events.scotlandscolleges.ac.uk/events/show/3805

9 March workshop - http://events.scotlandscolleges.ac.uk/events/show/3880

Stocking Filler: The EduApps Top 3

Stuck at home waiting for my car’s snow socks to arrive I thought it useful to remind you of one of RSC Scotland North & East’s stocking fillers, EduApps.

Our RSC has been plugging open source and freeware for ages. Why? Because it has enormous (and still largely untapped) potential in education. Who else says so? You do! Thousands of people have downloaded zillions of poundsworths of applications from our servers. What do YOU say are the most popular in education? Here we present YOUR top three, ranked by popularity through our server requests:

  • At number 3, Audacity hardly needs any introduction: it is one of the most popular open source programs in the whole world, with 72 million downloads registered across the planet (Wikipedia, today). Audacity handles your digital audio recording and editing requirements.
  • Taking the number 2 slot is Balabolka. In Russian, this word means ‘chatterer’. In software, it describes a great free text to speech utility with several neat and customisable features.
  • And at the very top of the tree is XMind, a mind-mapping tool which helps people capture ideas and share them for collaboration.  Perfect for education.

EduApps: just use it, give it, share it – all for free.

Create&Convert: Can you afford to ignore this?

A recent article in Fortune highlights ‘How corporate America went open-source’ which in turn highlights:

A Forrester Research survey of the business landscape in the third quarter of last year found that 48% of respondents were using open source operating systems, and 57% were using open source code

In reality the level of open source usage is probably higher than the reported thanks to open source projects like the Apache webserver, Firefox and the Android mobile operating system.

Within our own RSC we recognise the value of open source not just because of the potential cost savings but also because it encourages innovation. One of our flagship innovations is the award winning EduApps project, which has used the model popularised by portableapps.com to provide a range of open and freeware application which can be run from a USB stick.

Since it’s launch in 2008 the EduApps project has evolved finding new family members:

  • MyStudyBar - a suite of apps to support literacy (also available in Spanish Mi Barra de Estudio).
  • MyVisBar - a high contrast floating toolbar, designed to support learners with visual difficulties.
  • MyAccess - a portal to all your favourite and accessible applications providing inclusive e-learning options for all.  

All of these are the brainchild of Craig Mill our e-Learning Advisor (Accessibility and Inclusion). One of Craig’s continual frustrations is the amount of public money that is spent through the Disabled Student Allowance (DSA) on commercial software to support writing, reading and planning as well as sensory, cognitive and physical difficulties when there are open and free alternatives.

To illustrate this we surveyed a number of products which provide commercial alternatives to MyStudyBar and calculated an average cost of £115 per user licence. Since March 2010 through downloads from our site alone we estimate we have potentially saved, at time of writing £729,560. It is worth highlighting this figure doesn’t include all the versions of MyStudyBar that get redistributed after downloading with an entire council looking at rolling out MyStudyBar across their entire network you can arguably add another digit.

Craig’s latest little baby is Create&Convert. This suite of portable applications has been put together in response to the Equality Act 2010 which came into force on the 1st October 2010. JISC TechDis have prepared a Single Equality Duty guidance document which highlights that the Equality Act now means that further and higher education have a requirement to take:

a proactive approach to shaping institutional processes and the promotion of equality

Create&Convert is a free tool that has been designed specifically to help institutions or organisations comply with the Act in the way that they publish information. It brings together in one neat package a range of open source programs that can quickly and capably translate electronic documents into an accessible alternative format, such as audio or a talking book. All of the tools are the outputs of the Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) Consortium, and are therefore completely free to use and distribute.

Create&Convert interface image

Create&Convert will work with any new or existing document that is in editable form, such as the common Microsoft Word. In a nutshell, Create&Convert is a legislation-compliant, budget-friendly tool that can transform exclusion into participation for the learner.

Click here to find out more and download Create&Convert – Can you afford not to?

Android Mobile OS: Pandora’s box of accessibility opportunities

HTC Hero Android 1
HTC Hero Android 1
Originally uploaded by louisvolant

[Update (21/10/09): Google have recently announced  more accessibility features in Android 1.6]

At the RSC we were fortunate to get our hands on one of the latest Android mobile phones, the HTC Hero. For the uninitiated Android is a Open Source mobile operating system originally developed by Google, but now maintained by the Open Handset Alliance. Android is very similar to the iPhone in terms of its multi-touch interface and drop-in add-ons. The real divergence between the two platforms probably lies in the openness.

With the iPhone, whilst it is easy for developers to code applications which use the functionality of the phone, Apple maintain a very strong control over which ones can be download from the ‘App Store’ and unless you are prepared to do some major tinkering to ‘jailbreak’ your phone you are locked in. Android is different because while they have a similar official ‘Market’ where you download approved applications, with one click you can install any 3rd party application. As David Flanders puts it “we as a global community decide what we want, NOT one where a company decides how we want it”.

So what does the community want? Well Google research scientist T.V. Raman and his colleague Charles Chen see Android as an opportunity to move assistive technology to the mobile world.  They have been working on the Eyes-Free project which has created a text-to-speech (TTS) library for android. This, like Android, is an Open Source project and already other developers have been using the TTS library in their own applications. A list of applications is available here. My particular favourites are:

Alchemy Clip - Cameraphone OCR to speech

Alchemy Clip (Web Link) | Alchemy Clip (Android Link)
Allows you to take a snapshot of a piece of text using the phones camera which is then OCR’d to be read-a-loud.

AutoTran iVoiceBrowserLite – Web browser with screen reader

iVoiceBrowserLite (Web Link) | iVoiceBrowserLite (Android Link)
Web browser with built in screen reader.

Eyes-Free Shell - eyes-free communication device

Eyes-Free Shell (Web Link) | Eyes-Free Shell (Android Link)
Turns your Android into an eyes-free communication device, providing one-touch access to Android applications, as well as useful mini-apps built into the Eyes-Free Shell. Move your finger over the screen to explore; lift your finger up to run what you stopped on. See also the Eyes-Free Config Manager (Android Link), which lists the applications from the Eyes-Free Project and enables you to set the Eyes-Free Shell as your default Home application.

Talking Dialer

Talking Dialer (Web Link) |Talking Dialer (Android Link)
Another Eyes-Free project application to help with dialling.

The vOICe – Seeing with sound

The vOICe (Web Link)
The vOICe for Android translates live camera views into sound, targeting augmented reality for the totally blind through sensory substitution and synthetic vision. Includes a talking colour identifier and talking compass.

Speaking Pad – Talking notepad

Speaking Pad (Web Link) | Speaking Pad (Android Link)
A talking notepad for Android. This notepad will speak what you type.

As you would expect with such a new platform some of these applications are still a little ragged around the edges, but I believe the Android platform has huge potential in making mobile technology inclusive, accessible and affordable.

AccessApps - Portable assistive software

AccessApps: Portable assistive technology on a USB flash drive

Portable software is class of software which can be entirely run from a portable storage device (e.g. USB pen/thumb drive, memory card, mp3 player) without the need for installation or configuration on the computer being used. There is a long list of software which can be used in this portable way encompassing the entire spectrum from Internet browser to office applications such as word processing, spreadsheets and email.

The RSCs in Scotland have packaged a collection of over 40 free portable assistive software applications, ‘AccessApps’, and will be piloting there use over the next 2 months. A range of materials for this project have already been developed, including an introductory guide and a number of video tutorials. More information about this project can be found on the RSC Scotland North & East - AccessApps page.

If you are interested in creating your own, or your institutions, customised set of applications there are a number of ‘launchers’ you can use to package portable software applications. Wikipedia have a comparison of application launcher (the launcher used by AccessApps is Asuite).

About

This blog is authored by Martin Hawksey e-Learning Advisor (Higher Education) at the JISC RSC Scotland N&E.

mhawksey [at] rsc-ne-scotland.ac.uk | 0131 559 4112 | @mhawksey

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