Workshop practice – small group teaching and technical workshops

Pre-session

Review your session plan. There is no reason why most practical sessions should not be accessible to disabled students. Specific adjustments may need to be made to meet the needs of particular individuals. Think about how your sessions might work in practice, pre-empt adjustments that might make the planned exercises more accessible. If unsure, contact your local Learning Support Manager for specialist advice.

If running a demonstration/induction, ensure this includes learner activity and participation. Verbal delivery from the tutor/technician should be broken up and interspersed with learner activity to reinforce learning and maintain attention.

Arrive early, set out the room furniture, equipment, consumables, check the AV works, web connections are functioning, logging machines into the IT systems well before students arrive. Enable any assistive technologies that have been requested in advance. Upload any learning materials (handouts, Prezi, PPT, etc.) used in the session to MyUCA.

Ensure the studio/workshop is accessible, exits should be well signposted and unobstructed. Visual evacuation beacons should be in clear view. If any accessible furniture is present (such as adjustable height desks) ensure that it is used by those who gain the most benefit.

If you are teaching in an unfamiliar space, familiarise yourself with the location of the nearest toilets (including gender neutral and those with disability provisions).

Liaise with the relevant Course Leader to ensure that you are aware of any disabilities/allergies/conditions that may affect the delivery of your session (and if these require the control measures of your risk assessment to be revisited). You must also ensure that you are clear on the emergency evacuation arrangements for learners with sensory or mobility impairments. These are described within PEEPs (Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans). Be confident and clear that you can implement any pre-arranged evacuation plan (such as operating evac chairs). You should also be clear if the escape routes include refuges and how to use them. If not, speak up.

In-session

Introduce the session, describe the context (and any helpful content on MyUCA), state the aims, objectives and learning outcomes. Stick to your plan, and start on time. Punctuality is important to all learners, but particularly those within the Autism scale. State the scheduled break times and durations clearly (though also acknowledge that it is fine to leave the room at any point if a break is needed). Identify accessible places for refreshments at break time, e.g. the SU at Farnham has a wheelchair lift.

When delivering content, be clear, speak forward facing to your audience with your mouth unobscured to ensure ease of lip reading. Avoid irony or confusing humour, which can be challenging for learners on the Autistic Spectrum. When writing on a flip chart, use lower case with ascenders and descenders. Capital letters are harder to read for students with visual and cognitive impairments. Ensure learning materials are equally clear.

If a learner has an unfamiliar ‘non-UK’ name, it is important to pronounce it as well as possible (rather than mess it up, or avoid using it). It is fine to ask for guidance from the person while you learn an unfamiliar name. A lazy approach to such a personal issue sets a poor tone for a course and does not send a signal of value to the individual. The initial introduction and register is the first opportunity to get this right.

When using visual examples to support your teaching, take care to draw from a diverse range of sources and artists to promote diverse role models.

© Matthew Tizzard

Closing the session

Review the session outcomes with participants to recap and extract the most salient points. Allow time and opportunity to revisit areas and re-explain problematic points in a different way.

If possible, remain in the teaching space until everyone has left. This represents a further opportunity to disclose a disability.

Reflect and amend your session plan based on your experience.

Why?

Being early and organised makes for a calmer and more enjoyable session for you and your students. Like break times, this provides a window of time where a student may choose to disclose a disability (such as a hearing or sight impairment – which can be mitigated by simply sitting closer to the tutor/projection/equipment). If a student chooses to disclose a disability, you should arrange for a private discussion about the kind of support that the learner requires.

Consider the timing of your activities – lethargy can creep in for all learners straight after lunch and towards the end of the day. Changing the level of physical activity is possibly the easiest way of changing pace and holding interest.

Assistive technologies are frequently used in IT teaching and software workshops. Wacom tablets and tracker balls are the most common, which are useful for a range of impairments, including learners with carpal tunnel issues, motor skills, limited mobility, students recovering from a stroke, Parkinson’s disease and almost everyone else, including left handed learners who also benefit from Wacom over mouse (UCA mice are secured on the right hand side of Macs). Allow students to use their own laptops if they have their own assistive technologies.

Being able to leave the room quietly is beneficial to those requiring bathroom breaks but also reassuring for learners with anxiety issues such as panic attacks and stress related disorders. Ability to leave is also important for diabetics who may need to inject, breast feeding mothers and students whose religion requires them to pray at specific times.

Examples of high-quality work sourced from diverse artists is considered good practice that is proven to raise the aspirations of non-traditional student groups.

It is not intended for a session to feel like it has been designed with inclusivity issues at the forefront. Your session just needs to flow well and work for all participants having embedded many foreseeable adjustments at the design stage.

Tim Savage, Academic Development Planning Manager

Further reading:

Adams, M. and Brown, S. (2006) Towards Inclusive Learning in Higher Education: developing curricula for disabled students Oxon: Routledge

Armitage, A. et al. (2007) Teaching and Training in Post-Compulsory Education 3rd edn. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill/Open University

Barnett, R. (2007) A Will to Learn Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill

Biggs, J. and Tang, C. (2007) Teaching for Quality Learning in University: what the student does London: McGraw-Hill

Equality Challenge Unit (2010) Equality Act 2010: implications for colleges and HEIs

Hillier, Y. (2005) Reflective Teaching in Further and Adult Education London: A & C Black

Kolb, D. A. (2014) Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development London: Pearson Education

Moon, J. A. (2004) A Handbook of Reflective and Experiential Learning: teaching and practice London: RoutledgeFalmer

Ramsden, P. (2003) Learning to Teach in Higher Education 2nd edn London: RoutledgeFalmer

© Matthew Tizzard