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Online Learning to Deliver Staff Development Materials about Disabled Students

Mike Wray, DEMOS Project, Manchester Metropolitan University

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New legislation (the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (SENDA) 2001), which takes effect in the UK from September 2002, means that teaching staff are under increasing pressure to ensure their courses are accessible to disabled students. However, a recent analysis of need (Wray, 2002) which questioned teaching staff about disability showed that many staff, although willing, are unable to attend face-to-face sessions which explore these issues in any depth. The Demos Project, which is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) under its disability initiatives, has explored online learning as a delivery method to provide just-in-time information for teaching staff about disabled students. The success of Demos like any staff development project depends on a number of factors, some of which are contextual, such as the time available for staff to attend events, and others which are better understood using current psychological theories of learning.  Demos has sought to situate the materials within the communities of practice (Wenger, 2000) that teaching staff find themselves. It was not possible in the confines of this project to utilise the networked features of online learning. However, there is growing interest in the academic community in the support of disabled students and future projects may examine the potential for networked technology in facilitating this growth.

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