Supporting students with anxiety

This post was created by PGCert participants in Team Neptune 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.

People frequently encounter anxiety in their daily lives. Anxiety is the tense, unsettling anticipation of a threatening but vague event; a feeling of uneasy suspense (Rachman, 2004). Barlow (2002) describes a future-oriented mood state associated with preparation for possible, upcoming negative events. Lang (1968) classified the symptoms of anxiety into three-responses: verbal-subjective, overt motor acts, and somato-visceral activity. These symptoms include worry (verbal-subjective), avoidance (overt motor acts), and muscle tension (somato-visceral activity). Some researchers have also classified anxiety into different sub-categories (e.g., language anxiety, speech anxiety, social anxiety).

Research has investigated how anxiety affects student performance. For example, Liebert & Morris’s study (1967) suggested that anxiety is mainly composed of two factors: emotion, which is related to physical reactions (e.g. nervousness, sweating, constantly watching the clock, pencil-tapping), and worry, which includes the psychological or cognitive aspects of anxiety. Worry is mainly related to the perception of failure (ibid) with worry showing a stronger negative relationship with performance outcomes than emotionality in tertiary-level students.

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Assistive technology for students with dysgraphia

This post was created by PGCert participants in Team Neptune 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.

Dysgraphia is a learning difference defined by five areas. The first three here are the most common variables:

  1. Dyslexic dysgraphia creates issues in writing (apart from copied words), resulting in incorrect spelling and an indecipherable scrawl
  2. The motor dysgraphic student often experiences pain in the hand when writing due to poor dexterity and muscle weakness. Their writing is often illegible even when words are copied
  3. Spatial dysgraphia results in illegible handwriting and difficulty writing within lines and finger spaces
  4. Students with lexical dysgraphia misspell irregular words
  5. The phonological dysgraphic student is prone to misspelling phonic sounds and uncommon words

Relatively little is known about dysgraphia compared to other neurodiverse conditions such as dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia. There are descriptions of similar conditions sourced back to the 19th century, but dysgraphia comes across as poorly understood in that different sources provide slightly different definitions, causes and scope. While, there is evidence that this particular learning difficulty (in adults) could be related to damage of the graphic buffer within the brain (NINDS, 2021), the general lack of information may be partly why it has taken years for learners with dysgraphia to be supported in higher education.
Researchers mention, often in passing, that the frustrations learners with dysgraphia experience often result in anxiety, high levels of stress and low self-esteem (Drotár and Dobeš, 2020). In addition to the physical challenges associated with dysgraphia, students who cannot or are prevented from demonstrating their knowledge and ideas face psychological challenges (Tal-Saban and Weintraub, 2019).

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How the AT Bar can help students with dyslexia

This post was created by PGCert participants in Team Mercury 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.

This summary is the outcome of research we have conducted during our PGCert course as a team. We are sharing some main learning difficulties students with Dyslexia are facing and the technologies that we consider useful in overcoming these. We also explain the use of the AT bar application, that can support the learner in viewing and interacting on web pages. A short video demonstration of this technology is included.

Main characteristics of learning difficulties with Dyslexia

We have identified some challenges for learners with Dyslexia that present themselves particularly in Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE). The British Dyslexia Association (BDA, 2018) defines dyslexia as a learning difference primarily affecting reading and writing skills but also information processing and organisational skills (BDA, 2018). Each dyslexic learner is unique (Cooper, 2009:68) and their learning must be addressed specifically.

Some of the main struggles they experience can be related to:

  • Not all students with dyslexia have the same learning needs so a flexible solution or inclusivity for all is best.
  • Although one in ten people are dyslexic (Made by Dyslexia, n.d.), students often camouflage their disability. Only 10% accept the support being offered to them. (Cooper, 2009:67-76)
  • Students with dyslexia may struggle with navigation on a text. However, they find alterations to font size, type, character spacing and larger line spacing can all improve readability (BDA, 2018:5)
  • Offering alternatives to white backgrounds for paper, computer and visual aids help with reading. White can appear too dazzling, text on cream or a soft pastel colour can stabilise lettering on the page or screen. Some students with Dyslexia will have their own colour preference. (BDA, 2018:6) (Waters and Torgerson, 2020:228)
  • Some students find proof-reading their work or reading text difficult, so text to speech software can be useful to listen back to their written work or read new, large bodies of text. (Dawson et al., 2018)
  • Many students suffer from anxiety, lack of self-esteem or depression from lack of diagnosis or experience in previous education settings. (Cooper, 2009:71)
  • Some students with dyslexia find it can impact how they are planning ideas and their organisational skills. (BDA, 2018)
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How mind-mapping can help learners with ASD

This post was created by PGCert participants in Team Mercury 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.

This post is the outcome of research we have conducted during our PGCert course as a group for team task 3 on assistive technologies. We will be sharing some of the main learning difficulties students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) face, and the technologies we have considered that may be useful. Finally, we will suggest the use of mind mapping applications, including a demonstration video on Scapple, that may allow the learner to target their specific learning needs and endow them with adequate technical tools to address these.

1-Main issues on learning difficulties with ASD

We have identified that students with ASD mostly share learning difficulties that arise from anxieties around social interaction and communication especially when experiencing a huge shift in their learning environment upon starting the university (Martin, 2018). This shift entails an increased capacity in certain areas of a student’s life that may require special focus.

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Adaptive technologies to assist dyspraxic learners

This post was created by PGCert participants as part of their assessment for Unit 1 of the course. The brief was to choose two specific learning needs and evaluate technologies that could help students with these needs to learn more effectively.

This article will highlight the factors that can affect education experience for learners who have received a diagnosis of Dyspraxia (Kirby, Edwards, Sugden, Rosenblaum, 2010) and to outline what adaptive technologies can be usefully and efficiently deployed to assist their learning. We will start by introducing briefly what Dyspraxia is; this will ground the introduction of two key factors that can affect learning; planning and coordination, we will then discuss the adaptive technology ‘PresentPal’ – a presentation software tool – and how that can be used to help dyspraxic learners.

Dyspraxia is a developmental neurological/behavioural condition that manifests as a difficulty in cognition, coordination, and executing planned movements or tasks (praxis). Dyspraxia affects approximately 5–6% of school-aged children. (Goldschmidt et al. 2019).

In the recent literature there has been an sharpening of the focus on the ways in which Dyspraxia crosses over with other areas of specific learning difference (SpLD) – 52% of learners with Dyspraxia also have Dyslexia (Kaplan et al. 1998) as such there is a good deal of cross over in the literature about effective methods for supporting teaching for students with Dyspraxia and many adaptive tools are applicable to a range of SpLDs.

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Using technology to help students with partial/low hearing

This post was created by PGCert participants as part of their assessment for Unit 1 of the course. The brief was to choose two specific learning needs and evaluate technologies that could help students with these needs to learn more effectively.

1 in 6 of the UK adult population is affected by hearing loss according to Hearing Link a leading UK-wide charity.  The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that globally, there are 466 million people who have disabling hearing loss. Hearing loss affects a very large diverse community that contains a wide range of differences and nuances. The National Association of the Deaf noted some of these difference as follows;

  •  There are variations in how a person becomes deaf or hard of hearing, level of hearing, age of onset, educational background, communication methods, and cultural identity;
  • The lowercase deaf is used when referring to the audiological condition of not hearing;
  • The uppercase Deaf when referring to a particular group of deaf people who share a language;
  •  “Hard-of-hearing” can denote a person with a mild-to-moderate hearing loss. Or it can denote a deaf person who doesn’t have/want any cultural affiliation with the Deaf community. (National Association of the Deaf)
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Do mind-mapping tools help all neurodiverse students?

Ray Martin investigates…

Under the DSA (Disabled Students Allowance), students may receive some form of online mind mapping (this is often Mindview) – but they don’t all use it. Some students – neurodiverse or neurotypical – prefer the physicality of making a map by hand. This doesn’t mean they have a luddite or fixed mindset, they just prefer paper and pencil. Some want A3 maps or even bigger. (I don’t have a good feeling about this but sometimes, when a gentle suggestion agitates a student, it’s best to keep quiet, I find, and work with what you’ve got.)

Some students like to be on the move to plan. They might do this on their phone or they might use stickers – and generally speaking, they need to learn they are at their best on the move (school discourages this, of course), it comes as a surprise. One support tutor suggested using the wall to plan (lots of lovely movement) to one student, but, no, he ‘knew’ he learned best when he was sitting down. She asked him to describe his journey to college with his hands palm down, unmoving, on the table. He couldn’t do it. He then planned his essay with stickers on the wall. Freedom. Facility.

I suggested to one student that she brainstormed onto scrap paper then planned her dissertation physically, putting the scraps in piles, arranging and rearranging the piles. She came back the following week having bought a washing line on which she pegged her planning scraps. When new material came, she could run up and down the line moving things, fully physically engaged.

I’ve also had the occasional student who is almost fanatical about linear planning, with every paragraph sorted in bullet points before being able to write a sentence. It has looked painful, but it has clearly been the only way they think they can control the chaos. There is fear when I suggest a different approach. Mindview and other tools are lifelines for many, many neurodiverse students – and for PhDs, you probably can’t beat Scrivener. I suspect this is a ‘must’ for neurodiverse and neurotypical alike.

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

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Assistive technology in context #1 – dyslexia and dyspraxia

Ray Martin explains how assistive technology might help a dyslexic and dyspraxic student.

Jonah is one of your ‘best’ students: wonderfully creative work that is rich in humour and considerable understanding of a variety of texts. He hands in his work on time and exudes confidence. Not a student you need to worry about. Then comes a 5-7 mins. formative presentation – which he blows completely. He has 16 slides (16 slides for a 5-7 min. presentation!) He mangles his way through six of them and is clearly distressed.

First (which you haven’t taken into account – why would you when he appears so thoroughly competent?), there’s his dyslexia and dyspraxia. It’s his dyspraxia that is particularly relevant here: ‘caged in chaos’, he needed a clearer structure for the presentation than he received.

This is the first time you haven’t made clear what is expected, and it has shown up his time management and organisation weaknesses very clearly. (The formative presentations were added late to the timetable because you felt they would help students meet the summative assessment criteria with more confidence. You vow that, if you do anything like this again, you will make sure the task is as clearly explained as it would be for a summative assessment: good intentions are not enough. And you remind yourself: get it right for the dyslexics, and you probably get it right for everyone else.)

Dyslexia and dyspraxia are evident in the anxiety he began to display during his presentation. Students with specific learning differences are likely to demonstrate higher levels of anxiety than their neurotypical peers (Carroll & Ives, 2006; Jones, 2019), and a 2014 survey found that 40% of young people with Dyspraxia/DCD aged 13-19 felt anxious ‘all the time’ (Brennan, 2017). Jonah hasn’t declared any mental health difficulties – only 1.5% students are likely to do so to their HEIs (Abrahams and Chappell, 2017).

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Planning for teaching online

Before you teach

Creating your teaching materials

  • consider pre-recording short, weekly introductions as video or audio podcasts so students can access them when convenient (if you have at GTA, get them to help you create, edit and upload these)
  • include international case studies
  • use diverse images on your slides
  • use relevant images to reinforce the key message of each slide
  • review your references and try to make them less white, western and male
  • provide a glossary of any specific terms
  • keep text on slides to a minimum
  • always use a light coloured background on your slides and handouts (green, pink, orange) to reduce glare and aid comprehension (this helps all students, not just those with dyslexia)
  • where possible, try and make learning materials (e.g. readings, videos, activities) available 2 days before a taught session. This benefits all students by giving them time to look at the materials and tackle any potentially problems before the session.

Planning your session

  • consider dividing your session into ten minute sections, and change the activity every ten minutes to keep students engaged. E.g. talk for ten minutes, then give students a question to discuss in breakout rooms for ten minutes, then recap the breakout discussion for ten minutes.
  • use the chat panel to increase engagement, e.g. ask a question and ask students to respond in the chat, or run a ‘true or false’ activity
  • ask yourself how / where might you prompt learners to find solutions to problems
  • ask yourself how might you facilitate students’ learning rather than simply delivering content
  • ask yourself how might you help learners locate content that is useful to them
  • create opportunities for students to share their experiences of the topic and their cultural references – this is especially valuable for BAME and international students
  • create regular opportunities for students to work together in pairs or small groups. Use breakout rooms, and ask each pair/group to respond to a problem or question. Students will often find it easier to talk with their peers rather than risk looking silly in front of the whole group.
  • consider using active learning activities e.g. putting students in pairs and giving them a list of questions to answer about the briefing document, rather than just telling them the information

While you teach

Be mindful of your delivery

  • keep the briefing as short as possible
  • speak slowly and use simple language, avoid jargon and slang
  • make sure any spoken instructions are also provided in writing

Set clear ground rules

  • explain the rules of the online classroom e.g. please:
    • respect everyone’s opinions and viewpoints
    • keep yourself muted unless you want to speak
    • keep your camera switched on
    • be mindful of what is behind you
    • use the chat to post your questions

Talk about the challenges of group work and effective collaboration

  • for example, different cultures perceive being interrupted during conversation. in some cultures interruption is rude, but in other cultures interruption shows that you are engaged in the conversation, Spanish/Greek/Italian students often talk over each other, whereas Japanese students are likely to expect pauses in conversation and active listening. This can prevent the latter students from contributing effectively.
  • consider asking students to assume different roles in group work – e.g. someone who takes notes, someone who ‘chairs’ discussions and ensures that all group members have an opportunity to contribute their views.

Use appropriate technologies to improve learning

  • record your session and make it available online
  • if you have a GTA, ask them to edit and upload recorded sessions
  • consider using Rev Live Captions to provide real-time captions (currently $20 per month direct integration with Zoom)
  • consider using tools such as Padlet to create opportunities for collaboration
  • consider providing an online discussion space and asking students to respond to a weekly question or prompt, then bring their responses into the next taught session. This enables students to learn at their own pace during the week, and contribute at a time and pace that suits them. However, an online discussion space will only be successful if it is actively used by tutors – you will need to decide whether you are happy/able to commit time to it. If you have a GTA, one of their weekly tasks can be to monitor the discussion space and respond.

Explain the amount of ‘learning hours’, not just ‘contact hours’

  • give students a clear indication of what they need to be doing each week, and an estimate of how long each task will take them
  • give guidance on what they might need to prepare for the next scheduled session

Explain assessment clearly and regularly

  • a key problem for all students is a lack of clarity regarding assessment. Consider asking a Learning Development Tutor to run a session about the unit assessment for all students, and possibly one specifically for international students.
  • take time to explain how the brief is designed to help students meet the learning outcomes (LOs) and assessment criteria (ACs)
  • refer to the LOs and ACs at the start of each taught session, so students can see how the session aligns with the LOs and ACs
  • explain regularly that you are assessing students’ learning, not what they produce at the end. This is really important, as it can help students gain a clearer understanding of what you are looking for in their assessment.
  • consider using short, reflective breakout activities which ask: What have you learned this week? How can you apply what you have learned? What do you need to learn next?
  • where possible, provide a range of ways for students to evidence their learning e.g. pre-recording a presentation, producing a video essay, creating a portfolio.

Be mindful of the specific needs and behaviours of international students

“online instructors need to design courses in such a way as to remove potential cultural barriers, including language, communication tool use, plagiarism, time zone differences and a lack of multicultural content, which may affect international students’ learning performances…a culturally inclusive learning environment needs to consider diversity in course design in order to ensure full participation by international students.” (Liu et al, 2010).

  • attendance: be mindful that students from Confucian Heritage Cultures (e.g. China, Japan, Korea) are heavily conditioned to view the timetabled lecture as ‘teaching’, and anything else (e.g. workshops, seminars) as not important. This can often explain why many international students don’t turn up for a lot of timetabled sessions unless they are formal lectures. Also, you will also need to consider time-zone implications for some international students when timetabling sessions.
  • group work: group work using breakout rooms can help international students by giving them more opportunities to learn socially. Manage group composition and mix international students with home/EU students to encourage cross-cultural learning. If possible, keep students in the same groups for a meaningful number for sessions to enable students to get to know each other. Set clear expectations regarding participation and etiquette.
  • encourage speaking in taught sessions: ensure that you receive any spoken contributions professionally. Even if an international student has missed the point, thank them for their contribution and encourage another student to offer a different point of view. Remind all students that obtaining a range of viewpoints is essential in developing a deeper understanding of an issue or a topic.
  • ask students to use the ‘chat’ tool to share their thoughts, and respond to your questions: remind students that their contributions in the chat must be in in English, and also respectful and constructive.
  • remember that ‘have you got any questions’ translates as ‘have you got any problems’ in Mandarin!

Competencies for effective online teaching

(adapted from Shé et al (2019) Teaching online is different: Critical perspectives from the literature)

Tutor roleHow to be effective onlineCompetencies required
Be socially presentEncourage student-tutor contact as this establishes presence that will encourage a supportive learning communityCommunication skills, written and oral; modelling of good online behaviour; maintain a cordial learning environment.
Facilitate learningEncourage cooperation among studentsPromote interactivity within the group;Facilitate interaction; manage group work and build communities; advising/counselling skills; facilitate participation among students; resolve conflict in an amicable manner.
Facilitate learningCommunicate high expectations which will provide clarity and relevanceCreate significant real life problems with rubrics for guidance; Demonstrate commitment and favourable attitude; Sustain students’ motivation, demonstrates leadership qualities;establish rules and regulations.
Support studentsEncourage active learning and be agile in how you move between different learning and teaching approaches    Create and facilitate novel, reflective and pedagogically sound activities; use teaching strategies/models and general education theory; Use internet tools for instruction; access various technological resources;select appropriate resource for learning; suggest resources to the students.
Support studentsGive prompt feedback and timely responses which supports students success  Provide opportunities to perform and receive feedback; Monitor individual and group progress; assess individual and group performance; Suggest measures to enhance performance.
Support studentsRespect diverse talents and ways of learning Provide clarity and relevance through course structure and presentationAcknowledge when students are succeeding in their work and treat them with respect;provide different types of learning activities;address Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles in all created materials; comply with ethical and legal standards; suggest measures to enhance performance; provide guidance based on student needs.
Manage the courseEmphasise time on taskTime manage activities to provide student time efficiencies; Manage the time and course;Establish rules and regulations.
Create an effective learning environmentDevelop and maintain an online environment that supports effective learningDemonstrate managerial skills; structure online learning resources so materials are one click away.
Be currentBe a content expert who is research-informed about both the topic and the teachingContent knowledge; library research skills;undertake efforts to update knowledge;suggest resources to the students; conducts research on classroom teaching;interpret and integrate research findings in teaching.

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Dealing with bullying and harassment

‘Alarming levels of bullying and harassment … exist in the higher education (HE) sector.’ (Unison, 2013:8)

Equality Act 2010

Under the Act, the following nine characteristics are protected from discrimination at work and in society generally:

  1. Age
  2. Disability
  3. Gender reassignment
  4. Marriage and civil partnerships
  5. Pregnancy and maternity
  6. Race
  7. Religion and/or belief
  8. Sex
  9. Sexual orientation

The public sector duty

The Public sector duty is designed to:
. Eliminate unlawful discrimination.
. Advance equality of opportunity between people who share a protected characteristic and those who don’t.
. Foster or encourage good relations between people who share a protected characteristic and those who don’t.

‘72% of BAME staff are ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ subject to bullying and harassment from managers and were ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ subject to cultural insensitivity.’ (UCU, 2012:1-2)


Unwanted conduct that has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for another individual.
(This relates to a person’s characteristics as defined in the Equality Act 2010.)


Bullying can be defined as offensive, intimidating, malicious or insulting behaviour which intentionally or unintentionally undermines, humiliates, denigrates or injures the recipient. Bullying does not need to be deliberate; someone may demonstrate bullying behaviour, which falls within the above definition, without intending to.
(This is independent of The Equality Act 2010)

Community responsibility

Any member of staff or any student who witnesses an incident that they believe to be the harassment or bullying of another member of staff or student should report the incident in confidence to their line manager/course leader/head of school or member of the Human Resources Dept.

Adapted from ‘Inclusive Working’ workshop (UCA Farnham 5.3.2020) by Joe McCarron, UCA’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity Manager


UCU (2012) ‘The experiences of black and minority ethnic staff in further and higher education’ at:  (accessed 1.6.20)

Unison (2013) Tackling bullying at work  at: (accessed 1.6.20)

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