Are you being reasonable?

This Blog entry was inspired by the collaboration between Dave and Luke which resulted in some spectacularly positive student feedback, the majority of which came from autistic students – and much of which was spontaneous from the students themselves. Over coffee Dave and Luke discussed how the use of technology might not only go some way towards providing equitable provision within student feedback – but also the possibility that by not offering it as an option we might be putting some students at an unfair disadvantage. We concluded that the coffee and chat were lovely – and that we needed to do something more formal about the latter.

In 2010 the UK Government set out an amalgamation of discrimination laws to create The Equality Act as a single piece of anti-discriminatory legislation. One of the areas that is covered by the Act is the requirement for public bodies which provide a service to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that persons with a disability are not at an unfair disadvantage as a result of their disability. Sounds fairly straightforward, yes? No one reading this, I suspect, would think that they might be breaking the law, sometimes on a day-to-day basis – right? No one reading this would willingly, and knowingly put their disabled students at an unfair disadvantage – right? Quite aside from the ethical side to supporting students to the best of one’s ability and the pedagogical elements of good teaching practice, teaching staff would (presumably) want to ensure that they operated within the laws of the land while going about their daily business. The following is (almost embarrassingly) simplistic – and yet serves to highlight just how discriminatory – and unreasonable – we might actually be.

Screencast-o-matic (https://screencast-o-matic.com) is free, simple to use, and could possibly be utilised to avoid unfair discrimination. If you already use it, then share with a colleague – if not, then perhaps you might not be as reasonable as you previously thought! Take the following (fictitious) case study:

Kim is an autistic student with difficulties in processing the written word. She submits work on Black Board as per her university’s regulations, and she is given formative feedback with comments on her script. Compared to students without similar processing difficulties it takes Kim significantly longer to understand her feedback – sometimes as much as three times longer.

Is Kim at a disadvantage as a result of her disability?

However…

Kim is an autistic student with difficulties in processing the written word. She submits work on Black Board as per her university’s regulations, and she is given formative feedback via a recording of her tutor’s narrative feedback in line with her written script using screencast-o-matic. She can see her own work, the grade descriptors (marking rubric), and follow the tutor’s verbal comments in line with the recording. Her processing issues no longer apply, and she can utilise the feedback in the same length of time as her peers.

Is Kim any longer at a disadvantage?

Are you using this kind of feedback as an option for students? Are you being reasonable?

One concern of identifying something as simple as using software to reduce the potential of discrimination is the fear of being patronising to colleagues; however, as one of the two authors of this Blog entry (no prizes for guessing which one) is a Senior lecturer in Autism and is only recently making use of screencast-o-matic (to the great delight of his students) despite being very aware of the legislation – having been on the Government working party for what was previously the Disability Discrimination Act – we are confident that one of us (ok – it’s Luke) is probably the lowest common denominator amongst colleagues – so we are willing to take that risk! And if Luke can be taught how to use the software within a matter of about ten minutes, then it won’t pose a problem for others. The other author (Dave) has already taught and supported a great many SIoE colleagues in using Screencasting for feedback (and for other things too) and will be only too delighted to help more colleagues with this. Luke and Dave have written a case study, which is available on the staff intranet pages if you want to read more detail of Luke’s real students’ feedback and progress as a result of his use of screencast feedback. Other colleagues have used screencast feedback for other reasons and all colleagues are encouraged to share their uses with others.

Disability discrimination can take so many varied forms – and yet our Duty is to pre-empt as much as possible in order to ensure Equality whenever we can. Our argument is that by not providing this kind of visual feedback as an option we could potentially be doing some of our students a disservice.

Luke Beardon is a Senior Lecturer at Sheffield Institute of Education

Dave Darwent is a Senior Lecturer and E-Learning Technologist at Sheffield Institute of Education