Kevin Hickey and Lisa Valentine from the JISC RSC NW talking with Julie Worthington and Jane Walker from Wigan and Leigh College to discuss the use of inclusive technology used at the college, including the screen reading software ClaroRead. The discussion moves on to why it is important for publications and handouts to be made available in an accessible electronic format. Making sure that these issues are considered at an early stage of producing or preparing content can lead to greater independence for learners who have difficulty reading content and ensure those students are not put at a disadvantage.
Transcript of Interview
KH: OK. So I’m here today on a fairly miserable Wednesday morning here in Wigan and Leigh – I’m here with Julie Worthington and Jane Walker from Wigan and Leigh College and Lisa’s here as well so first of all would you all like to introduce yourselves
JWth: Hi, I’m Julie Worthington, I’m the enabling technology tutor at Wigan and Leigh College for inclusive learning
JWkr: I’m Jane Walker and I’m the inclusive learning officer enabling technology mentor also at Wigan and Leigh College
LV: I’m Lisa Valentine and I’m Kevin’s colleague and eLearning Adviser for Inclusion as part of the Regional Support Centre of the Northwest
KH: OK, we’ve been here today, we’ve been having a chat about various bits of technology that they’ve been using here and one of the things that was mentioned is Claroread – so what is it?
JWth: Claroread is a piece of software that actually enables students with reading difficulties and spelling difficulties to access text to produce assignments to have any text read back to them. A really good piece of software. I think initial problems being towards students who have dyslexia but was brilliant for anybody with any kind of reading and spelling difficulty. I really like it.
KH: How is it being used here at the college?
JWth: At the moment what we’ve done is we have it in our enabling technology resource room and that’s on every computer within that room and then as a student as identified to inclusive learning and it’s deemed that the software may be useful to them – we do an assessment and then decide yeah that may be some use – we then found out where the student accesses a computer throughout the college and have that piece of software put onto the computers within the computer rooms or the classrooms where they’re working. We’re hoping to get it networked across college – we’ve got 5 campuses so hoping to get it across college on all of those campuses as soon as we possibly can but it’s a case of it being installed. Little bit at a time so it would take us sometime but hopefully that’s where we want to end up.
JWkr: And also it’s on laptops
JWth: It’s on our laptops as well. We have a bank of about 60 laptops that we’re issued out to students and it’s on each of those as well. If the student needs it sometimes they may just need say some mindmapping software or dragon voice recognition software in which case that would just go on. I think more or less we’re just trying to get it on everything really then if the student either stumbles across it say on a network they could access it cos I feel it’s so intuitive that they can kind of get a little bit out of it without any training. If the students identified them and come to inclusive learning, I’ll do a training session with them that’s usually about two hours – we’ll go through various setups for it and stuff like that. That’s more individualised but as I say if you just stumbled across it and opened the software, I think it’s so easy to use anybody can get something out of it.
LV: Can I also say that I think it’s a really good idea to put it across campus because it’s actually a really good study aid for any learner with recognised difficulties or not, it’s a really useful piece of kit and it’s a great proof reading tool
JWth: That’s it. Yeah, yeah it’s brilliant. And I mean for us a lot of our students who prefer to access auditorally what we do is that we teach them to convert text to audio themselves or we’ll do it in here if the students’ got limited skills with IT and they find then that maybe they transfer the file or we will onto their mobile phone – off they’ll go home or to college listening to the piece of work that’s been converted so rather than take perhaps a big laptop around with them they’ve just then got a little Dictaphone, mobile phone whichever they use they’ll listen back that way. So for revision purposes if they prefer to use audio, it’s been a great tool
JWth: It’s a very good research tool as well. So if they’ve been on the internet and they’ve been set a task and they’ve got to do some background reading and maybe they’re not that quick at reading and to have something that they can say “Oh I’ll have this bit read to me” that then makes it easier. It gives them a break visually if they need it. They’ve got a lot of options
KH: Following on from something we’ve been talking about before we started the recording – a lot of this depends on having the content – whatever it is they wan t to read – having it electronically and earlier on we were talking about how important it is for learners to have that.
JWth: I think from our point of view we’ve always struggled with accessing PDF files particularly. The other documents Word and stuff, it’s been fine. PDFs have definitely been a problem and of course you’ve now got tutors preparing handouts that sometimes insist on actually saving it rather than a doc document, they’ll save it as a pdf document. So again although they’re doing it for reasons such as limited space on our network or on their own part of the network, for us it’s not actually been helpful so we’ve tried to encourage them to save back as doc documents but what we’ve found is we’re really pleased with the trial we’ve had of Claro 5 that that now seems to be reading pdf files really really reliably so from that point of view that will help us, but again we’re still trying to make sure that the students have as great access as possible as easy as possibly and I’m sure we’ll come across some PDF files that still wont be read despite the improvements in version 5 so we’re trying to always get through to tutors that it’s really really important to provide the students with documents that are obviously suitable to be read by this kind of software. So Jane and I we concentrate on doing that quite a lot throughout the year. Particularly Jane who tends to see the tutors more than I do
JWkr: It just opens their eyes – there’s so many more possibilities of changing the format to make it more suitable for a student. And we find the students that we come across they’ve got far ranging needs and complex sometimes and for a student to have a handout that’s in one format is very very limiting. It’s getting tutors and students to realise that once you’ve got an electronic format the possibilities by comparison are endless.
KH: What would you say to tutors out there who maybe would think that any learner who does have special needs in accessing this kind of content – if they give them a handout, they’ll know who to take it to and they’ll know that they can eventually get it converted – are there any tutors…
JWth: It’s the speed of processing. As soon as you give the student a handout, they are straight away at a disadvantage if they’re printing paper in any way they are at a disadvantage because everybody else is accessing that information immediately for a student then to have to go somewhere else or for an inclusive learning officer to take that handout and go somewhere else in order to adapt it, that is putting that student at a disadvantage where already they are disadvantaged so with an electronic version the student themselves can adapt it they can click on a button – they can change the font size – they can change the colour – with Claro they can use ClaroView they can make the changes that they themselves need. They can access the accessibility options and they are then independent but also they are accessing that information at the same time as everybody else in their class.
JWkr: We’ve tried to setup provision which has been working very well with our Business Admin department whereby if the tutors just take their work – maybe it’s a handout that they’ve copied themselves or a journal or something and they might want it converting to text so student can access it immediately within the classroom that service from Business Admin just means that all they have to do is go along their with their scanned document that they want converting to Word – it’s usually Word that’s the easiest thing – and then the Business Admin department just get the students that work in there who are providing that service and are always desperate to do that kind of work, get them to copy it up get that back to the tutor either by email or snail mail so they getting it back fairly quickly within a couple of days usually. So if the tutor has pre-planned the week before, “this is what I’m going to be using next week for next week’s session” then it’s quite an easy task to get it converted to electronic format and as we said before, that makes access for that student instant which is what we’re all about really.
KH: It’s great that you’ve got that service here as well – not everywhere has that.
LV: I was just saying that that’s absolutely brilliant that there is that support for staff
JWkr: Students is used to then working in a real environment where there are real deadlines. We take stuff along and we say usually we’re sort of last minute – we try not to be – but sometimes that the nature of what we do. The student that is then taken that request knows that is a real job it’s not a paper exercise that some tutors come up with that’s going to assimilate the real world. It’s the real world. This is what we do.
JWth: and because they’re able to split the work between several students eg just before we broke up for Summer we had a full text book converted in a day which was absolutely wonderful
JWth: It can be done, but obviously you’ve got a lot of student there who are taking maybe a chapter each – a ten chapter book or something takes no time at all. That’s really good It think that’s working so successfully and we hope to maintain that forever
LV: Setting a dangerous precedence there
JWth: They are lovely. Just give them a plug
KH: Have you got any advice from a tutors point of view if they are thinking – well – any advice from getting content available and if there going to be using Claroview within – would they need to know much about Claroread – sorry.
JWth: What we try and do is when the student comes in for their training, by the time they’ve gone away we ensure that they’re pretty aux fait with what they need to do. It always helps the earlier we know say for instance a text book that might be needed for the course, the earlier we know what that book is, the earlier opportunity we’ve got to order it in pdf and then obviously now we wont have the same trouble because Claro5 will read it OK but it just means that the process of actually accessing that new information is as smooth as possible. So from my point of view things like the students being appropriate trained in the first place is one thing; having knowledge of what that student is likely to need as far in advance as possible is another thing; but I think also staff development needs to be encouraged as much as possible so that the curriculum areas staff – so the tutors – can they say “oh yeah, it’s not new to us this stuff, we’ve seen it we’ve had a go on it – we know what it does” and I think once you’ve been through the training that Jane and I both do with our tutors, I think it’s kind of a bit of an eye opener really cos they realise how simple it actually is to make a document such as scanned article or journal easier for that student to read and at the end of the day if the student’s engaged with the curriculum you’re gonna get the best out of them. You’re not going to have a student that’s sat there creating all sorts of nonsense because you’re thinking that there bored or they don’t like this or their behaviours not being easy to manage today when actually if you’d planned the session and got in place the resources that that student needed and could access easily then that session would have probably gone a whole lot smoother so I think if we can get round to doing more and more staff development – as I say we do do some but you can always do that little bit more – I think that would be an important point for me
JWkr: I think it also means when you are faced with a student when a tutor is aware has difficulties especially maybe even when they’re enrolling and you’re faced with a student – a student might disclose that they’ve got various difficulties. If they’re aware of the type of technology that we’ve got – the software that’s available they’re then able to enrol students with far greater integrity because they know OK, the resources that I’ve got at the moment they’re not set up exactly as the student may need to access but yes they are in electronic format and we’ve got this department – inclusive learning – we’re aware of this software and we know then that this information that they’re going to have to use and convey to the student that they are then going to be able to access easily at the same time as all the other students on their course. They have a chance then to complete the course and to succeed. No-body likes to be faced with a student where you think I might enrol them but I’m not sure that they’re going to be able to access what I’m going to teach. To have that doubt in your mind at the beginning of the year must be an awful thing and quite a stressful thing so it’s all about, for us, trying to convey what’s available and yes, they might need to make a few adjustments their end but we will also we’re here to help accommodate that and facilitate that student. As a team all together we can succeed.
JWth: I think it’s important that Inclusive Learning are actually seen as somebody that isn’t the enemy for curriculum staff that actually we’re there to help them whenever we possibly can and I think sometimes – tutors they’ve got a lot on and you know you’re going to get someone in with some kind of learning difficulty or disability and it must be almost natural to think “well this is going to mean extra work” and usually at a time when they’re pulled out “oh yeah I’ve gotta get this thing prepared and it’s going to take me ages”. I think they see Inclusive Learning more as a “well all you’ve gotta do is come seek advice see what we have got to offer”. That’s gotta make it easier. I think sometimes they are a little bit afraid of us sometimes in Inclusive Learning and also the other end of the scale of course is well we can take this student on because of course inclusive Learning will be able to sort whatever problem the student might throw up and they have to realise also that that isn’t the case. I think the more close liaison we have with curriculum staff, the better for everybody
KH: From what you were saying earlier it’s not just curriculum staff I know we were talking earlier about having other resources available in the college such as the college brochure
JW: Yes. Yes Absolutely.
KH: having to make available in Braille format.
JWth: And usually those jobs come in and need to be done straight away at the wrong time when you are also busy
KH: People think about these kind of issues when they are creating content or when they’re putting things as early stage as possible then
JWkr: That’s one of the biggest parts of our job really – it’s making people realise why we need things in this way and every opportunity we get we’re explaining
JWth: and to see that it only all functions as a college as a whole if you start looking at “Well they’re curriculum staff and they’re Inclusive Learning” you don’t want that division, we’re all part of one big team and the more closely that team works together then obviously the more successful the students’ are going to be and get out of it at the end. I think that’s really really important and we do try.
JWkr: I mean a lot of it’s not that people are wanting to be difficult it’s just that they don’t know the implications of them creating something in say pdf or when marketing are creating their brochures they look absolutely fantastic and they try to make them as colourful as user friendly as possible, but then when you try to ready it with a piece of software all of a sudden it’s a nightmare. It’s getting them to be aware of what students who have got difficulty the software that they need in order to access it and then all of a sudden it’s just well give us the information before you do all this fancy creative stuff and we can work with it. Then everybody’s happy. Easy.
KH: So there we go, it’s easy.
JWth: If only
KH: Well on that point, thanks for speaking to us today, it’s been great coming along and having a chat to you today
JWth: You’re welcome