In their own words: learners’ strategies for effective e-learning
Type of snapshot
What was the context for this snapshot?
Whole institution – Southampton was founded in 1862 and is one of the leading entrepreneurial universities in the UK and its success in commercialising academic research has been favourably compared with top US university Stanford. In 1949 a Professor of Electronics of electronics was appointed and the department of electronics and Computer Science (ECS) began in 1985 and is the leading university department of its kind in the UK, with an international reputation for world-leading research. There are ten research groups in the department and the Learning Societies Lab hosted the LexDis Project. The lab specialises in developing and applying leading-edge technologies to enhancing formal and informal learning in personal and collaborative settings.
The initial challenge was to help disabled students make better use of the technologies available to them, in light of evidence they were struggling, particularly at transition, with the many new demands of study in a university context.
The research which led to establishment of the LexDis database was funded by the JISC. The two-year research project highlighted that disabled learners were in fact very flexible, agile users of technology, who were highly motivated to explore alternative functions of familiar software, and were often technology pioneers among their peer group.
The LexDis approach was highly participative, and the students involved contributed many ideas for using and personalising technologies to support their learning. These strategies, described in learners’ own words, were collected into a searchable database.
What kind of learners were involved in accessing this provision or support?
The University aims to enable all disabled students to take part as fully and equitably as possible in every aspect of university life; not just academic activities and offers a wide range of support including mentoring, assistive technology services and study skills advice.”
All learners at the University of Southampton and beyond can now access the LexDis database and associated guidance materials:
- Staff can also use the materials to help develop more accessible e-learning materials and approaches.
- Although disabled students provided the original strategies and were the focus of the original project, the ideas are relevant to all students who are choosing and personalising technology for their learning.
- During the past year the database has been used for staff development workshops held within the university especially during the Learning and Teaching enhancement week. It is used on PCAP modules for new staff and also with post graduates for modules on web accessibility and assistive technology. Workshops have been held at several JISC Regional Support Centre events and these are ongoing. It has been presented at international and national conferences. *More students are coming forward to share their strategies so that it is being constantly maintained and updated. The statistics for the website show that from January 1st 2009 there are on average there are 50 visits a day mainly from UK but also from 110 other countries with the highest proportion coming from USA. 15% of the hits are already coming from referral sites rather than just a search engine (61%) and 25% are from direct traffic where someone has been given the web address. We have received positive feedback from disability officers, those assessing students for the use of assistive technologies and lectures seeking support for making their learning materials accessible. Interesting enough most students seem to get in touch when they wish to share a strategy and this has been a successful way of keeping the content up to date.
What skills or literacies were particularly being addressed?
The type of literacies addressed have been those related to personalising technologies, general ICT skills for learning contexts, and e-learning skills such as working collaboratively online. The database can be searched by learning task, making it suitable for supporting general learning to learn skills. The LexDis resources also supports staff skills, providing strategies for developing accessible teaching and learning materials and offering ideas for e-learning approaches in general.
Who provided the support? How was support provided?
Via the database, students are supported entirely by other students describing how they have found solutions to learning and ICT issues. Students can be referred to particular sections of the database by staff.
Staff working with students in the university Assistive Technology Services, Learning Differences Centre supporting those with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia and the centre that carries out assessments have all said they have been using the database to show students how others have used technologies when learning online. They have asked for updates and guides for certain strategies, in particular those related to the use of wikis and blogs and other social networking applications.
Teaching and Learning coordinators have also contacted the project team and it has further been supported by the Teaching and Learning Enhancement Unit to maintain and update the staff guides on making documents accessible and in the future Web 2.0 applications. Deskside coaching has been taking place for academic staff. Packs with a USB pendrive containing certain assistive technologies and guides will continue to be developed in the coming year for staff at the university.
Benefits, outcomes, and lessons learned
The project had both student and academic evaluators with many comments coming from those working on the project and the focus group. The content and actual database format and web pages were developed by students with much debate about the categories and type of data included as well as the look and feel of the site.
Participation at this level can delay schedules but it results in a very rich and rewarding experience.
The students were very positive that the project addressed real difficulties they encountered with certain tasks during their learning experiences. Staff found it hard that disabilities were not at all emphasised in the original search facility: this had to be added as an extra facility for staff and not at the behest of the students!
Advice for future developers: beware time constraints – the gathering of data takes time, adapting it for use online in some cases can also be difficult when students are using a wide variety of formats and sending the strategies via email, mobile phone, Skype, MSN or directly onto the database.
The LexDis database at present remains on the University of Southampton server and will continue to be expanded with support from JISC TechDis with additional links to other project sites that support the concept of encouraging the use of accessible and easy to use technologies in teaching and learning environments.