A review of funding for students with disabilities has led to the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) placing duties on further education colleges to develop an evidence-based access and inclusion strategy.
It’s just the latest development in a range of key strands in education policy across the UK, focusing on the need to widen participation and ensure that everyone has equal access to educational opportunities.
Our role to deliver inclusive practice
Jisc accessibility and inclusion subject specialists are working daily with members across the FE, skills and HE sectors to help them find practical, effective ways to support non-traditional learners in the widest sense. That includes people with physical and/or mental health difficulties, returners, people from poorer socio-economic backgrounds and others such as carers, whose personal responsibilities have so far limited their learning and employment options.
As you’d expect, our approach to promoting inclusion emphasises the use of digital technologies, and this is very much in line with government intention.
It is clear that digital technologies are expected to provide the key that unpicks the lock on the inclusion door. This is exemplified by the SFC guidance with their request for FE colleges to produce access and inclusion strategies and in changes to the Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA) for English domiciled students.
Making equality of opportunity happen
Universities, colleges and skills providers are under mounting pressure from policy makers to shoulder the responsibility for making equality of opportunity happen – and if it all sounds very much like a challenge, it is also an opportunity to stand back and take a good look at how you can make better use of technology.
Back in February 2016, when my inclusion team colleague Alistair McNaught blogged about changes to the DSA and ways to support learners his message was upbeat, talking about practical ways to tackle barriers to accessibility and create an inclusive learning environment that’s better for everyone, including teachers.
The truth is, while inclusive practice is an important part of a fair and just society, it also makes sound business sense.
As learning providers strive to increase efficiency and expand into new markets, it’s obvious that they’ll need to extend participation, improve learner attainment and employability, and make sure they can report effectively on how they’ve achieved these improvements.
We want to help our customers develop more inclusive digital strategies by enabling them to identify and implement the digital infrastructure and tools they’ll need.
So what does a good inclusive digital strategy look like?
It's flexible and responsive
...to the needs of the majority of learners. It promotes learner independence, improves staff digital skills and encourages innovation.
Tip: It’s important to involve learners and staff in planning IT. Take a similarly collaborative approach to infrastructure development and you’re likely to find that there are fewer additional needs (and costs) at critical points down the line.
...and gives learners different ways to engage and participate; it designs out unnecessary barriers.
Tip: Through effective use of technology, learners can take part in fieldwork even if they can’t get out into the field.
It improves engagement
...because it enhances teaching practice with well-designed, rich, media-based activities.
Tip: Interactive quizzes enable learners to collaborate, work at their own pace and check their understanding as they progress. At the same time, teachers can check easily on a learner’s progress and intervene if needed.
It drives expansion...
...by identifying opportunities for wider access. Learners who can’t (or choose not to) attend campus can access their course remotely and collaborate in online activities. They can learn when, where and however is best for them.
It provides a framework for extending technology-based teaching
This is required by the Further Education Learning Technology Action Group (FELTAG) recommendations and the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) in England.
Inclusive use of technology will support differentiation and personalisation and encourage accessible curriculum design. So it could transform teaching practice without the risk of excluding people.
Tip: Different approaches become possible for learners who struggle to take notes in lectures, and essays need no longer be the go-to assessment vehicle. How about videos or podcasts instead?
It enables every learner to be more independent...
...improving their outcomes and cutting the cost to providers of supporting their learners. It’s the ultimate student-centred approach. Enough said!
In the meantime, you might be interested some further reading from the following blog posts:
- Describing how digital technology can transform learning for someone with a physical disability
- Who needs to be considered and involved in development of a digital strategy
- Having an inclusive vision for ILT
- The cost of non-compliance with funder requirements on inclusion
Updates - 20 January 2017
This blog was updated with a new introduction, rephrasing around the SFC guidance and wording to reflect that the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) applies only to England.