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DEMOS Project

Online Materials for Staff Disability Awareness

Project Background

HEFCE 99/08
Improving Provision for Disabled Students
Strand 3

Project Title: DEMOS

Joint Submission by :
The Manchester Metropolitan University
The University of Manchester
The University of Salford


  1. Details of Existing Provision
  2. Evidence of Need
  3. Use of Existing Expertise
  4. Project Management
  5. Active Commitment of Participating Institutions
  6. Longer Term Commitment
  7. Monitoring and Evaluation
  8. References

[Extract from the original project bid to the funding council.]

[This document can be downloaded in Rich Text Format (.rtf) (48Kb) or as MS Word 2000 document (.doc) (54Kb)]

1. Details of Existing Provision

1.1 Context

The project builds on existing collaboration amongst the four Universities across a range of areas, disciplines and services. In particular:

Funded projects include the Manchester University/UMIST Flexible Learning initiative, the Widening Participation (HEFCE), LMI and Work Experience Bank (DFEE/HEQE) Projects. Recent academic collaborations led to bids under the Science and Enterprise Challenge and the Learning and Teaching Support Network (Invitation 99/20).

1.2 Staff Development Provision

Each of the institutions has its own mechanisms and programmes for staff development and discharges its commitment to the training of new teaching staff (e.g. MMU Developing Effective Teaching and Learning Programme, Salford Pg. Dip in Teaching and Learning, Manchester University Teaching and Learning Course for new Academic Staff and UMIST Certificate in Academic Practice).

Ongoing programmes increasingly focus on teaching and learning techniques, but the needs of disabled students are not mainstreamed. Since its inception, the Joint Universities' Disability Resource Centre has developed training sessions and materials for admissions staff (tutors and administrative), library and other academic and support staff in areas including deaf awareness, dyslexia and visual impairment. Individual Disability Advisers have also provided in-house seminars and the Resource Centre has developed a range of information material for staff, e.g. information on Dyslexia - Guidance for Staff.

1.3 On-line Developments

The value of the Internet (and Intranet) as a powerful communication tool is fully acknowledged by the four institutions. Each has appointed staff/units charged with the development of on-line learning materials and distance learning. Staff are being encouraged to explore flexible/distance learning techniques and access examples of good practice.

At the same time, support strategies recommended for disabled students increasingly make use of relevant software and web-based material. Reference is also made to the facilities available through such organisations as JTAP (JISC technology applications programme and the range of assisted technology as highlighted through DISinHE and the Web-able library).

A number of other institutions are developing staff development packages in support of disabled students. The majority focus on awareness raising (e.g. University of Nottingham, Oxford Brookes, Nottingham Trent, Leeds Met, Sheffield Hallam) or on-line course delivery or facilitation aimed specifically at students (e.g. University of North London Technology Tower Development; University of Southampton development of on-line and CD ROM material, networks, discussion groups and video conferencing; Sheffield Hallam computerised learning packages for dyslexic and hearing impaired students).

Although increasing investment is being made in the development of accessible courseware for disabled students, the implications of a broader student base with diverse learning needs are only beginning to be addressed.


2. Evidence of Need

This is demonstrable across the three central planks of the project.

2.1 The Need for Staff Development

There is growing evidence across the four institutions and in the sector that disabled students are being admitted to higher education with little appreciation of the diversity of requirements necessary to produce a positive and successful student experience. While the complementary bid (GEMSTONE) will focus on pre-entry strategies, there are numerous examples of post-enrolment reactive approaches and lack of attention to individual student needs. Evidence is strong at three levels: institutions, sector wide and policy.

Within the Universities, case law from student complaints and appeals suggests that teaching and assessment arrangements have not been appropriately modified or that the environment is not conducive to students asserting themselves to ensure an appropriate quality of experience. A tutor from one of the institutions said "Most staff with whom I have spoken are uncertain and even anxious about working with students with disabilities. Many consider they have too little knowledge and information about e.g. how disability affects a student's learning and how individuals organise their study/learning activities, what is being understood by students in lectures, what discretion, if any, to use in assessing students work". The Salford University Institutional Audit of Provision 1997/8 made the following recommendations:

At sector level, the volume of past and current projects involving staff development testifies to the need for such provision. This is stressed by the article by David Swindells and Derek Betts [1] in the Skill Journal (July 1999).

At policy level, the final draft of the 'Quality Assurance Agency Code of Practice: Students With Disabilities' [2] recognises "accessible and appropriate provision is not additional but a core element of the overall service... the quality of the learning opportunities on offer to disabled students in higher education institutions needs to be assured in the same way as other provision" (page 3). Paragraph 10: "institutions should consider making arrangements which ensure that all academic and technical staff plan and employ teaching and learning strategies which make the delivery of the programme as inclusive as is reasonably possible". All four institutions recognise and welcome the imperatives of the Code of Practice.

2.2 Argument for Web Based Delivery

Common to most staff development projects are relative lack of take up and inability to reach the uninitiated. Experience through Access Summit initiatives which have included targeted and more general workshops, both within and across the institutions, has shown that voluntary participation is difficult to achieve. Where an activity has been designed jointly with a course team, in view of a particular student or cohort, the process has proved more effective. Initial feedback from the current project at Leeds Metropolitan University indicates "the main challenge... is to find creative and effective ways of delivering staff development and training that will become embedded in the University infrastructure and that is not seen as an add-on". Comments from the current Anglia Polytechnic Project indicate "Our staff development programme continues but numbers have dropped".

The four Universities within this consortium are making considerable investment, both capital and revenue in web development. The growing volume of academic and related reference material on the web, combined with improvements in software and reductions in hardware costs make it an essential academic tool. Further advantages are that delivery can be managed and interactive, access is continuous and subject to individual need and a high visual and aural quality can be achieved. The ability of the web to integrate various media formats will allow the simulation of different experiences of disabled students, using text, audio and visual learning materials and to bring these to the attention of staff.

The web is increasingly being used to deliver services to students; examples include Manchester Metropolitan University's Career Management Programme; the joint vacancies bulletin to which all four Universities now contribute and the graduate employer directory for the North Midlands and Cheshire region, through shared use of a web-integrated database. Use of this medium helps to provide a better service to part time and postgraduate students. Current initiatives for staff include information skills training for library staff available via the web.

An important and relevant development is the TLTP3 project which the Faculty of Arts at Manchester University has joined (ELEN). This project brings together a consortium of HEI's to develop and implement web-based teaching and learning using the Virtual Campus system developed at the University of Lincolnshire and Humberside. Staff in the faculty are exploring the use of this environment for the delivery of flexible teaching and learning methods with a view to wider dissemination.

2.3 Emphasis on Teaching and Learning

Most staff development provision currently focuses on awareness raising. Under the protocols adopted by the Access Summit Consortium, teaching and learning implications of student needs' assessments are conveyed to personal tutors. Feedback demonstrates that appropriate strategies are not always adopted often due to a lack of understanding or pressures on the tutor. The centrality of teaching and learning strategies to the total student experience gives momentum to this project.


3. Use of Existing Expertise

As indicated (Section 1) the project will benefit from established inter-institutional collaboration. The existence of the Policy and Resources Committee (established to oversee the Resource Centre Project funded by HEFCE) and its experience over the last three years will ensure that the project is managed effectively and that previous lessons have been addressed. Involvement of senior staff within the Policy and Resources Committee will facilitate access by the Project Co-ordinator to institutional networks and personnel. Access to G-MING for instance, will facilitate the provision of technical support, access to servers and the maintenance of daily access and delivery.

Full use will be made of current HEFCE projects and funded initiatives. The exploratory phase involves a review of existing projects and materials and active contacts will be established with other institutions, web-based networks, discussion groups and mailbases. The Project Co-ordinator will visit Northwest institutions with relevant expertise, including the University of Central Lancashire, Sheffield Hallam and Leeds Metropolitan Universities and will attend relevant national conferences. Links have been established with the west of Scotland project concerned with the accessibility of courses and curricula. The Steering Group will ensure that an appropriate balance is achieved between the different elements of the project, i.e. disability-related, technological and pedagogic.

The development of the project will also take cognisance of national frameworks, initiatives such as the FDTL (Fund for Development of Teaching and Learning Co-ordination) and the facility for accreditation through the ILT. Reference will be made to HEFCE 99/05 Guidelines on Accessible Courseware [3] and to web sites such as BECTA (British Education Communications and Technology Agency) and to electronic discussion lists such as dis-forum and deaflink. Links will be made with the Manchester University / UMIST PADP Project (Development of Personal and Academic Development Plans) and contacts have been made with the ELEN project (see 4.2), whose experience will feed directly into this initiative.


4. Project Management

It is essential that all stakeholders in the project are fully involved. The project will be the formal responsibility of the Policy and Resources Committee, which was set up to manage the current Resource Centre project and whose brief will be modified to include other successful initiatives. The Steering Group will provide the mechanism for development and support of the project; it has met in embryo as a planning group since June 1999 and will be augmented by student representatives, an external member, project evaluator and representatives from the pilot teams.

The senior staff representatives on the Policy and Resources Committee are responsible for ensuring appropriate lines of communication and consultation within their own Universities. Each representative reports either to a University Registrar or pro-VC who are kept regularly informed; reports are also made to Directorate/Senior Executive meetings and fed into relevant channels of communication.

The Steering Group will ensure, on behalf of the Policy and Resources Committee, that financial and time parameters are adhered to.


5. Active Commitment of Participating Institutions

It has been agreed that this project will be located in MMU. Whilst this is partly pragmatic, it also recognises some issues which have arisen through experience of the Access Summit Resource Centre. Location within a University will facilitate early and rapid familiarity with University processes and smooth access to facilities, networks and relevant technology. Current initiatives described in 1.1 operate at all levels and provide a firm base for collaboration. The Steering Group will be concerned to maintain an independent and balanced approach; this will be reflected by the diversity of the pilot projects. The Project Director is also involved in a number of other inter-institutional initiatives and will take a broad overview. Commitment to this initiative has already been demonstrated through the contributions made to the planning group by Senior Managers, representatives from Staff Development units (Salford and UMIST) and a member of tutorial staff (MMU). Where direct involvement has not been possible, contacts have been maintained with other institutional units e.g. Educational Services at MMU and Enterprise Unit at Manchester University/UMIST. The Project will be underpinned by an inter-institutional agreement.

Letters of support from the Vice Chancellors have been obtained; the time of Senior Management contributions, together with representatives of functional areas across the Universities has been costed into the proposal and has been discussed throughout its development.


6. Longer Term Commitment

The Universities believe that the rationale for this project and the proposed method of delivery are consistent with the current agendas for:

Its eclectic nature, the broad base of the Steering Group and the existing commitment of members of senior management will ensure that it is adopted within each of the four institutions. The Steering Group will continue to meet after funding is completed, in order to monitor the continuing effectiveness of outcomes. Since these materials are intrinsic to the academic process, it is intended that they become embedded within institutional practices and the Steering Group will ensure a shared approach to maintenance and updating.

There is already evidence within the institutions that previous funding initiatives have been embedded, in particular the outcomes of the 1993/4 Special Initiative at Salford University and MMU and current strategies to continue the Access Summit Resource Centre. The flexibility of web-based materials will facilitate dissemination across the sector and could, in due course, be located on the Internet. It is also believed that this project could form an appropriate base for future bids under, for instance teaching and learning initiatives.


7. Monitoring and Evaluation

Effective and sustained evaluation is an essential component. An experienced evaluator will be appointed prior to commencement of the project.

Evaluation will have two parallel foci, i.e.:

The criteria for project evaluation will involve:

The evaluation strategy will reflect both the FDTL Project Briefing 3 and Equip Project Briefing 2. The evaluation of the pilots will be within a shorter time scale and will be in partnership with the Project Co-ordinator. Evaluation of the first pilots will focus on the effectiveness of the materials, impact on stakeholders and changes necessary. Implementation of the outcomes of the initial pilot evaluation will form part of the macro summative evaluation. Evaluation of subsequent pilots will use the same criteria, adjusted to reflect changes made to the materials and other elements e.g. methods of delivery. The appropriate methodology for evaluation will be discussed with the evaluator and will form part of the contract. In view of the wide-ranging nature of this project, it is envisaged that this will be ethnographic in nature, and may involve interviews or e-mail dialogue with students and staff. The timescale will allow an element of triangulation.

The evaluator's brief will include the requirement for an annual formal report to the Policy and Resources Committee and also for a follow up, post-project report. The outcomes will be referred through the appropriate formal channels within each of the institutions, and will be available to HEFCE and the Sector.


8. References

[1] Swindells, B. & Betts, D. (1999) Research into staff development needs - working with students who have learning difficulties and/or disabilities. Skill Journal, Research Supplement, 64, 1-7. [Back to text]

[2] The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (1999) Code of Practice for the assurance of academic quality and standards in higher education, Section 3: Students with Disabilities, http://www.qaa.ac.uk/public/cop/COPswd/contents.htm [Back to text]

[3] Higher Education Funding Council for England (1999) Guidelines for Accessible Courseware: HEFCE 99/05, http://www.disinhe.ac.uk/library/article.asp?id=24 [Back to text]