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14.00-15.20 Parallel 1: Themed Presentations

A collection of presentations - both snap shots and deeper dives - concerned with this week's conference theme, Assistive Technology (AT) and Customised Learning.

Learning With a Little Help From my Friends: Inclusive and Structured Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) Programmes Through the Lens of UDL

Deeper Dive  – 25 min presentation

Access Foundation Programmes are a widening-participation initiative designed to encourage engagement in higher education among under-represented groups, including socioeconomic and educational disadvantage. The transition to tertiary education can be particularly challenging for these groups, and more so if they have a disability. In the TU Dublin, we have developed and implemented a Peer Assisted Learning (PAL) programme to support Access Foundation Students with traditionally difficult subjects like computer coding.

PALs are student-led tutorial sessions run by cross-year PAL Leaders that provide subject matter help, college guidance and a supportive social learning environment. These sessions have been shown to offer students a positive support structure that can help with their transition and acculturation to tertiary education. Feedback from students on our PAL programme suggests that these PAL sessions have an overall positive effect on subject comprehension as well as enhanced learner confidence.

But more crucially, the recent Covid-19 pandemic has introduced the need for conferencing technology to move these PAL sessions to an online environment. Accessible virtual conferencing technology has created a more inclusive and supportive environment for disability students. In particular, we demonstrate how this kind of accessible conferencing technology enabled a visually impaired former Access Foundation student to undertake and excel at the role of a PAL Leader, running his own virtual PAL Sessions with Access Foundation Students in computer coding. We feel that sharing the experience and learnings from this PAL Leader reinforces the concept of inclusion that is central to all Peer Assistive Learning programmes.

Nevan Bermingham

Lecturer, TU Dublin

Speaker Bio

Paul Geoghegan

Undergraduate Student, Technological University Dublin

Speaker Bio

A Whole-Systems Holistic Approach to Designing an Enabling Higher Education Setting for All

Snapshot Session – 10-min presentation

This Irish Research Council-funded research project aimed to (1) to examine the experience of students with disabilities using or requiring technology in HE in Ireland; (2) to examine how technology supports students with disabilities accessing, progressing through and fully participating in HE in Ireland and the role of technology in promoting inclusive HE; (3) to identify what enhances and inhibits the provision and use of technology in HE; (4) to identify key guiding principles and features of a technology-friendly inclusive university campus; and (5) to make recommendations for future action to realise these principles and key features and to develop technology-friendly inclusive HE campuses. A whole-systems participatory research approach incorporating the central role of student and wider stakeholder perspectives informed the two-phased research design. Phase 1 consisted of in-depth interviews with 18 students with disabilities and 28 wider stakeholders, including representatives from HE institutions, HE support services, academics, policy-makers, non-profit organisations, and advocacy groups; whereas, Phase 2 consisted of a virtual Dialogue Forum (World-Café) (n=50) with students with disabilities and wider stakeholders, in order to bring together and explore diverse perspectives, to develop a shared agenda to inclusive HE, and to identify and prioritize action points for designing and realizing a technology-friendly inclusive university campus from a whole-systems thinking perspective. This presentation focuses on preliminary findings on some of the key interrelated aspects of promoting inclusion in higher education through technology. Implications for policy and practice will be discussed.

Dr Klavdija Zorec

Post-Doctoral Researcher, Dublin City University

Speaker Bio

Opportunities and Challenges of Assistive Technology during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Snapshot Session – 10-min presentation

Covid-19 heralded an emergency pivot to remote teaching in third level institutions across Ireland in March 2019.  This paper explores the experiences of assistive technology (AT) users in the transition to remote learning. Semi-structured interviews (n =13) were conducted with students who were already recruited to an ongoing qualitative longitudinal study exploring the role of AT in the identity of students with disabilities in higher education. Students with any type of disability using any type of AT, enrolled in a Higher Education Authority funded Higher Education Institution in Ireland were eligible to take part. Data reported here are drawn from the second interview with each participant which were carried out between May and June 2019. Thematic analysis was used to interpret the data. Emerging themes identified include: 1) Reduced sense of autonomy due to difficulties with AT and unavailability of personal assistance support; 2) Positive and negative experiences with AT and remote learning; 3) Greater reliance on and appreciation of AT due to deteriorations in health and/or learning remotely; 4) Changes in perspectives on AT with reference to universal design for learning practices; and 5) Opportunities and challenges of AT and disability beyond remote learning in a COVID-19 world. The findings underscore to the need to ensure equitable attention to the voices of students with disabilities in sectoral responses to crisis mitigation and in planning of supports to empower and enable continued participation. 

Aoife McNicholl

PhD Candidate, Dublin City University

Speaker Bio

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This article appeared in the AHEAD website. Visit www.ahead.ie for more information