This post was created by PGCert participants in Team Saturn as part of their assessment for Unit 1 of the course. The brief was to evaluate technologies that could help students with specific learning needs to learn more effectively.
Introduction and Theoretical Background
In this blog post we explore the complexities of WP and software as a technology solution to partly overcome those complexities to achieve more success with widening participation.
Widening participation has been a national priority in the UK for more than 20 years and a significant investment has been made as acknowledged by academics such as Thomas (2020) and the UK government (Gov.UK). According to Jisc (2021), which is a government of UK initiative, widening participation is part of the Gov.UK’s digital inclusion strategy to include those from a non-traditional background and those who are expecting high-quality education similar to students from traditional backgrounds. This initiative encourages participation, with the inclusion of learners from a non-traditional background because they also deserve to succeed. However, there are several complexities in terms of implementing and evaluating this initiative (Thomas, 2020).
Complexities in implementing Widening Participation (WP) appear as there is definitely not a one size fits all model to support WP students (Moore, Sanders, Higham, 2013) as different groups of students e.g. part-time, full-time, mature, adult, special needs, etc., may have different needs and experience different challenges and perceptions in higher education. Within the above mentioned groups, students will have differences in the ways they engage, or experience a sense of belonging, or express their identity or lack of an identity. So, a WP student has a varying number of characteristics which are complex and inter-related such as having academic concerns, isolated feeling, feeling of being a misfit, or someone who may be highly worried about lack of achievement in relation to future aspirations, as acknowledged by Jisc (2021) and Moore et al. (2013).
Complexities increase in special circumstances as experienced with the impact of COVID, which has been huge in terms of the widening gap with digital poverty for students from low socio-economic backgrounds as well as a lack of spaces conducive for learning. Mature learners especially may face challenges to learning with barriers such as financial difficulties due to unemployment, lack of space, lack of technology including hardware or software access, lack of experience in using technology, lack of guidance for completing tasks which may otherwise be considered as basic by many, or emotional barriers such as having a sense of shame or loss of face in learning technology which may otherwise be quite common.
Pre-entry level interventions for helping with widening participation in higher education include ‘providing information’, ‘setting information expectations’, ‘nurturing a sense of belonging’ while ‘developing academic skills’, as researched by Moore, Sanders and Higham (2013). These points act as transition activities to develop supportive peer relations and simultaneously staff-student relations, putting more meaning into those relationships.
Retention level interventions for WP also include provisions of social care, addressing language differences, overcoming physical and mental health challenges (Jisc, 2021; Moore et al., 2013). By using software technology, education providers could attempt to address the challenges and we discuss some of the technologies such as Miro as mentioned below.
Technology / Software interventions for WP
Looking at software as a solution for WP, MIRO has a number of features as a collaborative software tool that helps students to feel connected. Use of such collaboratory tools fits in with the collaboratory nature of interventions as suggested by research by Moore et al. (2013) and blends in with the UK Government’s initiative with the objective to help those from a non-traditional background to develop meaningful networks, with a sense of belonging. For example, as a member of staff at an academic institution, you can sign up for a free Miro account and your students do not need to register for their individual account.
With digital poverty as a challenge, many students may be accessing learning materials from their phone – all of Miro’s features are available via the Miro mobile app. With simplified access and an intuitive interface the use of this software then falls in line with the works of Thomas (2020) who talk about a theory of change tools and what works
MIRO meets some of the goals outlined by JISC https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/widening-participation by enabling learners in remote locations to feel part of a community – you feel like you are in the same room.
With the collaborative boards, students can work at unsocial times to contribute to projects if they need to. MIRO also helps students employability skills by helping to build their confidence in new digital technologies. Digitally diverse software is fun and helps students to feel visually engaged. However, while MIRO as a software solution for WP has strengths, it does have weakness and now we reveal the results of our SWOT analysis as below:
Strengths: Miro cites itself as “bringing interactivity” and the “power of visual collaboration”.
Weakness: It can be overwhelming to use at first but Miro offers free webinars that showcase all of its features. As with all software, it is not flawless e.g. it may be that it will not help the visually impaired.
Opportunities: Miro offers a way for educators to centralise all of your communications. This is important for WP students to help create a supportive learning environment. And with continuous developments Miro is an ongoing effort to be as inclusive as possible.
Threats: As with all software, it is unpredictable to know when and if any bugs would affect the performance. Beyond all claims for stability and inclusivity we observe that MIRO still lacks the complete nature of being accessible, e.g. not being accessible to the visually impaired.
Additional software to support ADHD and Widening Participation students
Why is Miro inclusive for your students? Miro is a free collaborative platform that allows students from remote locations to work together in an intuitive learning environment. It offers functions such as brainstorming, working effectively together in digital meetings, and organising ideas together on a whiteboard. With “communication on the go”, students can download Miro to their phone, you can run online workshops, signpost easy-to-follow guidance, and students feel connected with functions such as video chat, all learning and teaching can be done in a seamless, flowing way that makes students feel part of a community. Digital collaboration is made easy with Miro where you can create whiteboards, quickly communicate, collaborate, and get work done effectively as a team, and more importantly see areas where your students need support. Although Miro is not flawless and is still developing as a tool, it can help students and staff have the right conversations at the right time and with useful information to support rich and positive discussion.
Jisc. 2021. Widening participation | Jisc. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.jisc.ac.uk/guides/widening-participation. [Accessed 28 January 2021].
Moore, J., Sanders, J. and Higham, L., 2013. Literature review of research into widening participation to higher education. Report to HEFCE and OFFA. AimHigher Research & Consultancy Network.
Thomas, L., 2020. Using logic chain and theory of change tools to evaluate widening participation: Learning from the What works? Student Retention & Success programme. Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning, 22(2), pp.67-82.
Appendix A Additional Literature
- Widening participation in technology design: A review of the involvement of children with special educational needs and disabilities. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S2212868915000033
- https://educationaltechnologyjournal.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s41239-018-0117-y as accessed 14.01.2021
- https://www.advertisemint.com/how-to-develop-a-social-media-strategy-for-educational-institutions/ as accessed 14.01.2021
- https://www.teachthought.com/technology/37-ways-teachers-can-use-pinterest-in-the-classroom/ as accessed 14.01.2021
- Burke, Penny Jane. The Right to Higher Education : Beyond Widening Participation, Taylor & Francis Group, 2012. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ucreative-ebooks/detail.action?docID=979022
ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
- DuPaul, G.J., Power, T.J., Anastopoulos, A.D. and Reid, R., 1998. ADHD Rating Scale—IV: Checklists, norms, and clinical interpretation. Guilford Press.
- Weiss, G. and Hechtman, L.T., 1993. Hyperactive children grown up: ADHD in children, adolescents, and adults. Guilford Press.
- Gaub, M. and Carlson, C.L., 1997. Gender differences in ADHD: a meta-analysis and critical review. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 36(8), pp.1036-1045.
- Lindstedt, H. and Umb-Carlsson, Õ., 2013. Cognitive assistive technology and professional support in everyday life for adults with ADHD. Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, 8(5), pp.402-408.
- Sonne, T., Marshall, P., Obel, C., Thomsen, P.H. and Grønbæk, K., 2016, November. An assistive technology design framework for ADHD. In Proceedings of the 28th Australian Conference on Computer-Human Interaction (pp. 60-70).
- Sonne, T., Marshall, P., Müller, J., Obel, C. and Grønbæk, K., 2016, June. A Follow-up study of a successful assistive technology for children with ADHD and their families. In Proceedings of the The 15th International Conference on Interaction Design and Children (pp. 400-407).