Snapshot Session - 10 Minutes
NUI Galway launched a rollout of the National Forum's digital badge in Universal Design for Teaching and Learning in September 2020, just a few weeks before the government direction to move almost all teaching fully online at the start of the new academic year. This was the first time that the digital badge was offered to all those who teach in our University. The National Forum's open-access programmes can easily be facilitated in each institution's local context, and provide the flexibility to move online given the current circumstances. While many in the sector are noticing webinar-fatigue, facilitating a short course online has had the opposite effect. Peer groups are using the space to meet and collaborate, and attendance at drop-in sessions and webinars has highlighted that our local UDL community is blossoming online. The digital badge is a light touch - we offered three lunchtime webinars and five lunchtime virtual drop-in sessions, where participants could join us for a chat about their redesign activity and all things UDL, between September and November. Participants were encouraged to form peer groups with those in other areas of NUI Galway, preferably with people they had not met before. In this way we hoped that participants would be exposed to, and learn from, practices in other parts of the University. The feedback that we have received so far suggests that the peer group activities were crucial to the success of the badge. In this session, those involved in the rollout will discuss the merits and drawbacks of the digital badge as a means to promote and embed Universal Design across the University, even in the midst of a global emergency. We will reflect on how the badge created opportunities for informal connections and exchanges during a time of unprecedented upheaval, and helped to form the basis for an informal network of UDL practitioners across NUI Galway.
Snapshot Session - 10 Minutes
This academic year I have trialled a very successful project at DMU aiming to help Autistic students build friendships and a sense of belonging through Minecraft.
Minecraft was ideal because it is a popular game and has a nostalgic appeal for students who may have happy memories of playing it when they were younger. These students could interact completely on their own terms: as much or as little as they wish. Some played alone and just shared the space with others; some interacted with other players and worked together. We added a Discord channel to add an extra layer of interaction for those students who wanted to. I involved student ambassadors, who are existing Autistic students, to join the server too.
This enabled students to begin playing the game while they were still at home, in familiar surroundings so they could build up lots of happy, safe, contented feelings playing the game at home; which they could associate with when playing the game in their university room where everything is unfamiliar and they might be feeling lonely and homesick. Students were able to feel a sense of belonging before they even arrived, and had started to make some friends before their first day at DMU which helped to reduce students anxiety.
Minecraft enabled new students to reach out to others in a safe, controlled way with little chance of rejection. Within days a welcome sign appeared and welcoming messages at the entrances to individual houses.
We invited existing Autistic students, to join after Freshers Week, enabling students to make friends across year groups, not just restricted to their course or flat mates.
During the term students were required to self-isolate. Minecraft ensured that students still had an opportunity to make friends, despite other opportunities for making friendships being reduced.
Deeper Dive - 25 Minutes
This presentation will begin by addressing a paradigm shift in Irish education where mainstreaming of supports is driving changes in both policy and practice. While UDL may not be a new concept, in Ireland, our educational systems are finally witnessing UDL permeate into all facets of our Irish educational system from primary to postsecondary and further education and into initial teacher education. While the process is slow, change is occurring. Nowhere is this change more evident than across our HEI institutes. The presentation will argue this change as a real opportunity to bring UDL and accessibility to the fore of Irelands educational policy and practice.
The presentation will focus heavily on one accessibility practitioner's approach to drive inclusive and accessible practice under the guise of a UDL lens, an approach that aims to target all students and not just particular cohorts. It will emphasise the inherent relationship that exists between UDL and accessibility and the symbiotic relationship that can often bind technology to these two drivers of inclusive practice. It details the experience of changes in accessible practice and changes in leadership reinforced with national and European legislation. It discusses the formation of the technology driven community of practice which began to promote UDL and inclusive practice. It discusses the fluid and dynamic nature of this community of practice has is manoeuvred to meet a changing educational landscape. It discusses new strategic projects aimed at supporting inclusive practice under UDL, catering to the needs of all students.
Furthermore, it will discuss the on-campus collaborations on UDL and accessibility, the growth of UDL through the influence of national agencies and calls for the creation of a Community of Practice linking other UDL community of practices.