Mobile technologies, far from being a distraction, are increasingly recognised for their ability to enhance teaching and learning and contribute to the digital student experience.
From speaking to people in further education (FE) and higher education (HE), we know that both staff and students are benefiting from the opportunities that this technology affords.
From using mobile to provide enhanced methods of communication and more timely assessment, feedback and submission opportunities, to delivering new channels for accessing and using research, as well as promoting the sharing of resources and knowledge digitally, the list of applications is almost boundless.
For the traditional student, these opportunities are ubiquitous and often taken for granted in terms of aiding the learning process. But how does this apply to non-traditional students or those that need that extra bit of support? Do mobile technologies provide these students with the same opportunities to enhance their teaching and learning experience?
The short answer is yes! Smart phones and tablet devices can provide students who have physical, cognitive or sensory limitations (or who simply struggle with aspects of their learning) with a portable, and often less expensive, alternative to specialist accessibility hardware and software.
There are a wide range of downloadable apps to support successful learning. Apps can help these learners to plan and organise their studies as well as supporting them with reading, writing and note taking.
In addition there are a growing number of discrete apps that support students with more complex learning needs. One particular example is apps that support alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) for learners with speech and language difficulties, by providing them with visual symbols and images to help them express their moods and needs.
Many devices even come with built in accessibility features that provide a range of options to adapt the way that they can be used. For example iOS devices have become very popular with students who are blind or partially sighted because they offer as standard a VoiceOver screen reader function, which allows them to navigate the web.
While accessibility features will vary depending on the operating system and are not exhaustive, they will generally offer a suite of personalisation features that can be changed to suit learner preferences.
The added and really important bonus is that these learners will use exactly the same ‘mainstream’ devices as their peers. Taken together, this all helps to create an excellent platform for supporting an inclusive environment.
What you can do
We’ve established that there are readily-available tools that support inclusive learning – so, what can you actually do with them? Some of these include the ability to:
- Select your own visual preferences, such as changing colours and fonts, to make it easier to view a page
- Magnify text if you are print impaired
- Have the text read back to you rather than having to read it yourself
- Dictate instead of type notes
- Receive auditory alerts of important information, for example event notifications
- Add captions on video content for the hard of hearing or deaf
- Set up a personalised, icon-based environment which has everything you will need close to hand
- Use speech or simple gestures to navigate
- Add alternative input devices such as specialist keyboards or switch access for users that find typing on a smart device screen difficult or impossible
- Use alternative output devices such as refreshable Braille displays.
For many learners who might otherwise find it difficult to interact with traditional content, these features can be real game changers.
Top tips for selecting technology for inclusive learning
- It’s not about the device it's about the students and their learning. Technology should empower learners, and it's important that if staff are in the position to select specific operating systems or devices that they think carefully about the strengths, abilities and needs of the learner who will be using it before making a final decision
- Don’t underestimate the potential of what’s ‘in the box’. There are some excellent built in features with mobile devices that allow users to personalise the way that they use them
- Before committing to purchasing apps try to spend time sourcing the views of other communities of practice for advice on their functionality. British Dyslexia Association offers an overview of apps that address specific learner needs for example, as does CALL Scotland. Also look for ‘lite’ versions to test out to identify if they are fit for purpose
- Consider speaking to your IT support or learning technologist for advice on how best to manage apps on multiple devices. They should be a vital crux in helping you to understand and deliver inclusive learning no matter what the platform
- There are many excellent examples of inclusive practice using mobile learning all around you. Try to take the time to explore what others are doing by talking to peers to inspire you.
Call for resources
Last October we launched a call for participants to FE, skills and HE providers to submit their examples of using mobile for learning. The best of these were added to our updated mobile learning guide, which was relaunched to over 1,000 delegates at Digifest in March.
We are now looking for further contributions that specifically showcase mobile learning and inclusive practice. As before, we are inviting contributions in the form of video case studies, which will be added to the guide in time for the autumn term.
If you would like to share your story fill in the submission form by Friday 8 May and if you’re successful you will be invited to attend a free video production workshop on Thursday 21 May at our offices in Bristol.
We can also help if you have any questions or would like more information - contact Tracey Duffy.