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In our second 'HE Leaders' podcast debate, Jisc's managing director of higher education (HE), Jonathan Baldwin, chairs a conversation around the post-COVID student experience.

"Being connected as a community has been really important," says Julie Lydon, vice chancellor of the University of South Wales. She observes "a strong sense of collegiality" and "great creativity" among learners throughout the pandemic.

The deputy chief executive of Lancaster University, Nicola Owen, agrees:

"Students have been remarkably resilient. They've made the best of what has been a challenging period for them, and I think they have really appreciated efforts that have been made [by the university], seen that we've innovated as we've gone along, and participated in that innovation."

In a comment echoed by all panelists, Owen notes:

"We've seen really high levels of engagement."

There have been difficulties too, however. The CEO of Studiosity, Mike Larsen, says students report feelings of "isolation and anxiety" – combined with "gratitude for the efforts being made by universities to continue to support their learning and deliver their programmes."

Baldwin praises the work that has been put into make this transition successful:

"All universities are grappling with this. Leading and managing in the digital world is very different from managing and leading in the physical world." 

Overall, Lydon says:

"HE in the UK has, for many years, been exploring ways in which there can be a greater partnership with our students, from the design of curriculum and learning experiences right the way through to students being on the governing body."  

COVID has accelerated the delivery of digital, remote and online teaching and learning, and Lydon welcomes greater accessibility and inclusion, and greater student participation, as a result. 

The 'HE Leaders' podcast series develops themes from Jisc's three-year strategy for higher education

The third HE Leaders podcast will be available in June, bringing a different panel of experts together to discuss culture and leadership. 

SCONUL, the professional association for academic and research libraries and Jisc, have negotiated a national agreement with not-for-profit Our Research.

The agreement will help individual SCONUL members in the UK to use Unsub, a data analysis and dashboard tool that enables libraries and consortia to independently assess the value of the journal subscriptions they hold with publishers. 

The agreement will also allow universities to assess and share various scenarios of selecting journal titles. Modelling different scenarios gives university libraries greater insight into the value of their subscription packages, with the opportunity to share their outcomes with the Jisc consortium to enable greater oversight in support of national negotiation activities. 

Ann Rossiter, Executive Director of SCONUL, says:

"We are really pleased to support SCONUL members in obtaining greater insight into the value of their academic journal subscriptions. We believe that price transparency and user statistics will help institutional decision-making, especially in these times of financial uncertainty." 

Jisc already uses a dashboard developed by Unsub, bringing together data on journal subscription fees at a national level. This data informs in their negotiations with publishers. Members will have access to selected views of this dashboard to understand the national picture.  

Jason Priem, co-founder of Our Research, says:

"We are delighted to be working with SCONUL to support UK institutions. The Unsub dashboard will streamline workflows and can estimate the extent to which open access (OA) scholarly articles can replace existing subscription access. Due to the growth of OA, more than half of newly-published articles are now free to read."      

The agreement has been arranged in response to sector demand following a consultation by SCONUL

Caren Milloy, director of licensing at Jisc, comments:

"This national agreement recognises the value of working collectively in terms of Jisc streamlining effort through the central provision of data to the tool. Also, in working with Unsub we enable institutions to model and assess different scenarios that can be shared centrally to inform negotiations." 

Unsub is currently used by more than 400 research libraries worldwide, with the latest subscribing UK institutions being the  University of Cambridge  and  Lancaster University. However, the new partnership will allow Jisc to extend Unsub's data-driven insights beyond these individual universities, to encompass the entire UK higher education sector. In doing so, Jisc will join other consortia that use Unsub, including the  Canadian Research Knowledge Network  (Canada), the  Council of Australian University Librarians  (Australia and New Zealand), the Joint University Librarians Advisory Committee  (Hong Kong)  and  LYRASIS  (USA), among others.

This week's episode is all about teaching students on the autism spectrum, with the incredibly inspirational and creative Charlotte Judd, from Weston Bay College.

Weston Bay is the only residential autism training environment in the UK, and Charlotte paints a brilliant picture of what it's like to work, and study there. Everything from ensuring the wellbeing of students, to improving digital skills, and training students for the workplace, is perfectly tailored to the needs of each individual student.

Charlotte explains how they supported students during lockdown – including everything from online cooking classes, to work experience placements in COVID-19 test centres.

It's true what Charlotte says, every day in her role is completely different, and this chat proves how the college rises to challenges, pivoting, adapting and finding solutions that suit their students.

Charlotte also shares some helpful resources for those teaching students on the autism spectrum.

Show notes

Don't forget, if you'd like to come on the show, you can email, and if you're enjoying the series, please do leave us a review on Itunes and share with those who you think might like it too.

If you have any comments or have solved a challenge with technology and would like to share your story email us

Episode guest

Charlotte Judd

Charlotte Judd
Digital coach and specialist autism practitioner, Weston Bay

See Charlotte's LinkedIn profile


Episode host

Georgie Myers

Georgie Myers
Media and content officer, Jisc


Episode producer

Mark Lennon

Mark Lennon
Digital campaign manager, Jisc

New guidelines can support universities and colleges as they design fully accessible mobile phone apps that benefit all students.

Universities and colleges have come a long way in their journey towards delivering accessible content.

Following a period of transition, institutions have worked hard to meet the required accessibility regulations for website materials. The next step for all public sector organisations is to deliver on their legal duty to ensure mobile apps are accessible - and that challenge looms large.

Consideration and support

Mobile apps come within scope of public sector accessibility regulations from 21 June this year. The implications of this new requirement need careful consideration, says Chris Heathcote, product manager for the Central Digital and Data Office (CDDO, Government Digital Service) - which is why he's leading a live clinic on 12 May, which has been jointly organised by Jisc and CDDO.

Heathcote hopes to support institutions as they bring in guidelines for creating accessible apps. He explains:

"Just as institutions test their websites across many browsers, they should test mobile apps with different accessibility settings to check they function correctly."

Piers Wilkinson, student voice commissioner on the Disabled Students' Commission, agrees: "I use the accessibility functions on my mobile, so I know from experience that, when an app meets the new guidelines, it enables mobile operating systems to work as intended. If apps are not compliant, it can require Herculean effort on my part to utilise in-built functions to adequately support my usage and understanding."

Partially accessible apps aren't much better, says Wilkinson:

"They often cause anxiety. You end up in a cycle of 'is it me or the app or the phone?'. It would make a huge difference if designers could support app developers to understand how accessibility functions work, and enable developers to test their app before launching. The onus shouldn't be on disabled people to figure these things out or complain."

Taking responsibility

Many universities and colleges have staff who are already familiar with the steps involved in auditing their digital estate for accessibility and making a plan to fix problems.

Heathcote says additional support is available too.

"We've published a guide on how to carry out basic accessibility checks, on top of using automated tools such as Ally or Axe."

It is anticipated that the approach to auditing mobile apps will involve more manual testing, rather than automated tools, and this will require teams to keep their skills sharp.

Wilkinson adds that accessibility should be an integral part of any software procurement process, to ensure that both institutions and staff are confident in using automated tools.

"Including accessibility standards in conversations with software developers is an incredibly important step. It can support uptake of inclusive design and reduce adjustment support for disabled staff and students."

Within each university or college, Bethany Winkler, student experience manager at Edinburgh College, says responsibility for accessibility compliance should sit with a member of the senior leadership team:

"Whether you work in further education (FE) or higher education (HE), gaining support from above can be difficult. I recommend writing a paper as this means concerns about accessibility are more likely to be heard and considered. Also, the accessibility community is a great support for anyone working in the tertiary education sector, providing guidance and recommendations on all aspects of accessibility compliance. That can be a really good starting point if you do not know what your next step should be."

Embedding accessibility training

Without the required support – and sometimes even with it - the truth is, accessibility is often an afterthought. It should be 'built in' to all students' learning experiences, says Megan Hector, policy and research manager at Policy Connect:

"There should be an expectation that staff make all their work and resources accessible, and it would be really positive if teaching courses included training on how to do this, for people working at any level of the education system."

Students could benefit from greater awareness too, Hector adds: "What if part of studying in further or higher education was about learning how to make your essays and presentations accessible? This is a valuable skill to carry through to the world of work."

Wilkinson agrees:

"We need to embed the skills of creating accessible materials right through education. This is the answer to building a sustainable future for inclusion - and the education sector would be remiss if it failed to deliver such skills development for graduate employment."

Culture change

Culture change is needed, Wilkinson adds, to build inclusive systems that work for all learners.

"We need to break the culture that silos adjustments into disability services and support,"

he says.

"Many of the adjustments commonly seen on personal learning support plans for disabled students are just good pedagogical techniques for inclusive learning, from providing lecture slides ahead of lectures to glossaries of key terms. Similarly, a disabled student and an international student may both face a language barrier that could be overcome with the same pedagogical change, yet one has to seek support for disability services and the other the international office."

Wilkinson goes on to recommend that universities and colleges pivot away from a diagnostic focus for support towards a barrier-based conversation, explaining,

"knowing my diagnosis as a wheelchair user is unnecessary when the conversation is essentially that I need step-free access."

The power of artificial intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) developments can further support personalised teaching systems, says Kellie Mote, Jisc's subject specialist in accessibility and assistive technology.

"AI underpins speech recognition technology. I think we will see software becoming more accurate, and that it will be able to recognise more diverse speech patterns over time."

AI presents other opportunities to remove barriers, Mote adds:

"For example, Jisc recently supported a knowledge exchange project with researchers from the Open University to share experiences using an AI-powered virtual assistant as an alternative to form-filling. Working with educators across the country, the project explored potential benefits, and enabled participants to reflect on what is needed to get these tools working effectively. We know that administrative burden is a particular barrier for disabled students, so using AI to remove this obstacle is an example of using tech for good."

Seeking to develop a portfolio of tested, trusted AI tools to recommend to universities and colleges, Jisc's new national centre for AI in tertiary education will support the use of ethical AI for teaching and learning.

Looking to the future

There's much to be positive about as universities and colleges continue to improve the accessibility of their digital materials. As Winkler concludes:

"A positive byproduct of the pandemic is that online learning has incorporated some reasonable adjustments, such as recorded lectures. It has also highlighted a number of digital inequalities, which have required a response at a national level. I hope the insights gained during the past 12 months will result in institutions' greater and continued awareness of the gaps that exist within accessibility, thus demonstrating a strong need for inclusive design, sector-wide".

This article has been developed to address audience questions following a panel debate 'What's next for accessibility and inclusion? Getting it right for students', that took place at Jisc's Digifest event on 11 March 2021. Registration for the Jisc/GDS live clinic on 12 May, sharing guidelines for creating accessible apps, is now open. The next public sector accessibility regulations deadline is 23 June 2021.

In addition to his role as digital innovator at the Basingstoke College of Technology (BCoT), Scott Hayden trains schools and colleges around the country as part of the government's 'EdTech Demonstrator' programme. That means helping other teachers - and students - use meaningful and relevant digital teaching, learning, and assessment tools to enhance their practice.

Hayden is a big believer in the value of edtech, though never for its own sake, describing it as "a tool and never a panacea".

He considers digital tools a great way to engage students, and that can take many forms, from answering questions posted on the Wooclap platform during a live lesson, to creating vlogs and websites that enable learners to promote themselves to future employers.

Why is this so important? Hayden gives four reasons why every teacher should work on optimising student engagement:

1. It's good practice

Hayden believes it is "just good practice" for a teacher to include a starting activity or a check on learning in a lesson. Speaking to students for half an hour without interaction or interruption simply isn't as effective as inviting them to participate. Unlike traditional teaching methods - the "sage on a stage", as he calls it - Hayden sees lessons as a collaboration.

Yet with many courses in higher and further education currently taking place online, Hayden fears many students are logging in without actually engaging - or learning. According to him, having students passively listening and watching - whether in-class or online - is not good teaching. Hayden has found Wooclap useful in allowing students to show they are present. He said,

"At any time, you can throw in a poll or a "true-or-false" and get a snapshot of where the students are. That's really powerful. When I'm explaining a difficult concept or idea, I can quickly check whether the students have got it. It's fun, it's interesting, and that's engagement."

2. It prepares students for the workplace

When he first started using the cloud and collaborative platforms to teach media production, sharing files with his students through dropbox and wetransfer, it hadn't occurred to Hayden that he was doing something out of the ordinary.

"In real life, people use blended and flipped approaches,"

he reflects.

"You're expected to be independent, to engage a client, to interact and show good communication skills, and to think critically. It's my job to infuse that into the curriculum and ultimately prepare learners for jobs. Particularly in lockdown, we've noticed that interactivity has become crucial."

Taylor Ellis, one of Hayden's students, agrees, saying:

"Wooclap allows students to engage as a team and helps with using creative features in coursework".

3. It's how people learn

Hayden and his team are always looking for new tools and interactive methods of engaging, because:

"That's the nature of the world, and that's how young people learn. If lessons aren't as interesting or engaging as a great podcast or YouTube video, then shame on us as teachers."

To that end, he emphasises the need to listen to the students and learn from them, finding out what they are interested in and how they like to learn.

Once the pandemic ends, Hayden wants to focus on hands-on, activity-focused learning that benefits from being in a physical classroom – and he will complement these in-person sessions with independent, self-paced tasks. 

Hayden says Wooclap can:

"Give teachers the evidence of engagement we need when facilitating groups through project-based learning tasks as well as in-class and outside of class learning".

Ellis agrees: 

"Wooclap helps to engage students and keep their minds focused."

4. It gives teachers feedback on their own practice

Student engagement is not only beneficial to learners. Teachers can also improve their practice by interacting with their students, listening to their preferences, discovering what works and what doesn't, and even learning from them.

Hayden observes:

"Every lesson has its objectives and milestones, and Wooclap allows teachers to stop and ask themselves if they are explaining things clearly. It gets the students to reflect and check whether they understand the lesson, and helps consolidate that learning."

This gives Hayden confidence as a teacher.

"It helps me to be secure that what I'm teaching is being understood."

This post is sponsored by Wooclap.