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Notes from the Joint Accessibility and Portfolio SIG Meeting
Sharon Perry
23rd May 2005
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Notes from the Joint Accessibility and Portfolio SIG Meeting

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Click on topic (5 topics) to move to section:
Introduction, Welcome and Notices.
Social Inclusion and e-Portfolios - Anna Home, University of Bristol.
Demonstration of an ACCLIP Implementation - Fiona Henry, Loughborough College.
e-Portfolios and Accessiblity: Alternative Opportunities and Constraints - Alistair McNaught and Sue Harrison, TechDis.
The PETAL (Personal E-portfolios for Teaching and Learning) Project - Ellen Lessner, Abingdon and Witney College.

The Joint Accessibility and Portfolio SIG Meeting was hosted by TechDis, York, on 10th March 2006.


Introduction, Welcome and Notices.

Helen Richardson, CETIS gave an introduction to the JISC-CETIS Portfolio SIG (HTML format), introduction to the JISC-CETIS Portfolio SIG (PowerPoint format - 130Kb).

Sharon Perry, CETIS gave an introduction to the Accessibility SIG (HTML format), introduction to the Accessibility SIG (PowerPoint format - 70Kb).

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Social Inclusion and e-Portfolios (HTML Format);
Social Inclusion and e-Portfolios (PowerPoint Format - 63Kb);
by Anna Home, University of Bristol.

Anna Home gave a presentation on social inclusion, widening participation and e-portfolios. The presentation began with two definitions of social exclusion. The ODPM (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister) Social Exclusion Unit states that it happens when people suffer from a series of problems; whilst the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics defines it as happening when an individual cannot participate in society's key activities for reasons beyond their control.

So why is there a lack of participation in higher education? Education is just one sub-area of social activity where exclusion can occur for reasons such as:

  • psychological barriers;
  • a low level of formal educational attainment;
  • lack of knowledge of formal opportunities.

A couple of Government reports were compared and contrasted with regard to:

  • target groups;
  • sphere of society;
  • who pays;
  • who benefits.

Examples of such reports include "Inclusion Through Innovation: Tackling Social Exclusion Through New Technologies" and "Widening Participation in Higher Education" (PDF Format - 368Kb). The "Inclusion Through Innovation" report has a section (pages 30-31) on how ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) can tackle early years exclusion and educational underachievement.

Anna visited eight portfolio projects, which were part of JISC's DEL (Distributed E-Learning) Regional Pilots, and briefly described two of them - FILE-PASS and ePistle.

FILE-PASS (Facilitating Independent Learning using E-Portfolio and Associated Suppport Systems) Project is based in Lancashire and Cumbria (the University of Central Lancashire is the lead institution), and uses MyPortfolio based on Open Source Portfolio v. 1.5. The results of the project will be available at the end of March 2006. One of its aims is to evaluate the potential of e-portfolios for "isolated learners" in order to facilitate access to HE (Higher Education) opportunities. Isolated learners include:

  • adults who have not engaged in learning since leaving school;
  • people (young and old) from deprived backgrounds;
  • ex-offenders on a Skills for Life Programme;
  • visually impaired learners;
  • adult returners studying for an NVQ (National Vocational Qualification) Certificate in IT (Information Technology).

At present, the MyPortfolio software only has limited preference settings and is not yet fully accessible to visually impaired learners. However, one of the key aims of the project is to test the software with such users and to make it accessible.

The ePistle (E-Portfolios Student Learning) Project is based in the West Midlands, lead by the University of Wolverhampton, and uses PebblePad (commercial) and ePET (open source software) e-portfolio systems. The aim of this project has been to establish the potential of e-portfolio in supporting learners' progression from school to FE (Further Education), FE to HE, and FE and HE to employment, and in contributing to student retention.

The first focus group interview had been done with one cohort of FE college students using PebblePad and two key questions were asked:

  • Would students show an e-portfolio to an employer?
  • Do students plan to continue using their e-portfolio after they have finished their course?

Some of barriers to using an e-portfolio which were identified included:

  • Lack of access to the internet;
  • Lack of access to download Flash at work if non-work programmes are not allowed to be installed;
  • People who already work with a computer could find that it is too much to keep an e-portfolio updated;
  • People who do not work with a computer could find that there is not enough time or are too tired after work to update an e-portfolio.

When PebblePad was first developed, it was designed to be easy and fun to use. Developers are now working to make it accessible and accessibility testing in collaboration with the RNIB (Royal National Institute of the Blind) is planned.

Accessible design benefits everyone, not just people with special needs and e-portfolio tools must be usable and accessible, especially for learners who may not have much confidence. On top of this, supported e-portfolio processes (where trained tutors support learners) have the potential to contribute to lowering barriers to participation in HE. If they are well-designed, they can help to build self-confidence.

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Demonstration of an ACCLIP Implementation (HTML Format);
Demonstration of an ACCLIP Implementation (PowerPoint Format - 820Kb);
by Fiona Henry, Loughborough College.

Fiona Henry gave an introduction to the e-portfolio work in Loughborough and, in particular, their work in implementing the IMS ACCLIP (Accessibility for Learner Information Package) Specification.

Loughborough College's progress file is an e-portfolio and was part of the LP3 (Developing Learning and Teaching Aspects across FE) project being run in partnership with Loughborough University, the RNIB Vocational College and DfES (Department for Education and Science). One of the aims of the project has been the transfer of student data from FE to HE or work.

Accessibility has been foremost in this work and although the view has always been inclusive, due to the nature of the funding, this initially led to a narrow to focus on visual impairments. At present, only the display component of the ACCLIP Specification is being implemented but work is underway on changing cursor size and access keys are available for JAWS users.

Generally, students have liked the e-portfolio process. All 16-19 full time FE students and work-based learners in the college are supported by a progress tutor. Electronic (interactive) portfolios seem to have a greater impact on helping learners to develop their skills and to record their learning - perhaps more so than when using the two dimensional paper versions.

The implementation of the ACCLIP Specification allows students to modify display properties. The system already recognises their AT (Assistive Technology) preferences and automatically sets it up. The font, font size, text and background colours can all be changed and a preview function allows the user to see if the changes are appropriate, before changing the whole screen. Many of the tutors have black text on a pale blue background as it is easier on the eyes, while the fashion for the students is a rather Gothic red on black! Feedback so far has been very positive as many students find it easy to use. Once preferences have been set up, they can then be used across all Loughborough's websites (a "one-stop shop") so that students do not have to change their preferences on each site (this feature is only available in the e-progress file at the moment, but it has been tested across the whole site and does work, although it has not yet been fully implemented).

As well as developing the electronic progress file for FE students, a version for KS3 (Key Stage) and KS4 is being piloted in ten Leicestershire schools, and an adult version is due for launch at the end of March. Each school piloting the KS3 and KS4 version has the school's own branding and is a simpler version of the FE system to take into account the younger age group. It has a smaller number of fonts and background colours and is similar to the original ACCLIP implementation developed at the beginning of the project, which now has more functionality. However, if it is adopted across Leicester and Leicestershire, then the released version will include the same features as the post-16 version. The KS4 version is slightly more complex than the KS3 version and data is stored on Loughborough's server. The adult learner version has less guidance packs but combines more in the way of assessment.

A demonstration of the progress file was then given. The progress file is linked to the colleges' MIS (Management Information System), so the student does not need to re-enter data (this was tedious in the paper-based version). The progress file helps students develop their UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admission Service) statement and students can develop a number of personal statements for various contexts. There is also student tracking in the College and electronic registers will soon be available for tutors to use in conjunction with the e-progress file. This will enable progress tutors to have a more complete view of their tutees so as to monitor their progress on a more regular basis. Students are not able to change any institutional content but can change and amend their own content. Students can also set permissions on who can see what data.

Samuel Persse, who has been developing the progress file implementation with Fiona, then gave a demonstration of importing ACCLIP preferences from another system. TILE (The Inclusive Learning Exchange) also implements the ACCLIP Specification and Samuel wanted to see if it was possible to import TILE preferences into Loughborough's system. TILE's preferences are a little more complex than Loughborough's at the moment. However, once the ACCLIP preferences were created in TILE, a web service was used to import them into Loughborough's system. A small amount of "tweaking" was necessary to account for the extra functions which TILE uses, nevertheless the concept has been proved. The next stage is to determine whether it is possible to import and export ACCLIP profiles from other places.

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e-Portfolios and Accessibility: Alternative Opportunities and Constraints (HTML Format);
e-Portfolios and Accessibility: Alternative Opportunities and Constraints (PowerPoint Format - 123Kb);
by Alistair McNaught and John Sewell, TechDis.

Alistair McNaught and John Sewell, facilitated by Sue Harrison, gave a virtual presentation on e-portfolios and accessibility. Alistair McNaught began by outlining some of the constraints regarding accessibility of e-portfolios. These included:

  • Authentication, which can be very difficult for some learners, e.g. pre-literate students or students using a screen reader. Many technologies do not consider AT as standard and lock it out.
  • Whether accessibility standards should apply to the student's content - if learners put potentially inaccessible content, such as a video, into their e-portfolio, should it be accessible?
  • Use of e-portfolios can be time-consuming or confusing.
  • People who are not skilled at using a computer are at a disadvantage. Also despite the fact that a disabled user may be a competent computer user, there is still an extra layer of AT with which to contend.
  • There is little accessibility guidance available for e-media.
  • One size does not fit all.
  • A solution for one set of users may provide a barrier to other users.
  • Over 50% of respondents in David Tosh and Jeff Haywood's study Students & ePortfolios: Making It Worth Their Time" (PowerPoint format - 2Mb) stated that system technology was the main barrier.

John Sewell then addressed the balance by showing examples of accessible e-portfolios:

  • Linkage College in Lincolnshire has a timetable on each student's e-portfolio. There are shortcuts and simple accessibility options available with just one key press. Students can add photos and videos to their e-portfolio to show their accomplishments, which are then measured against their ILP (Individual Learning Plan). For example, a student's progress through a course can be demonstrated in a series of photos at each key stage of their achievement. Commentaries can also be added that play as the slide show runs and photos and videos can be displayed sequentially.
  • The Orpheus Trust in Surrey is a residential performing arts centre for young disabled artists. Students record their progress using Digital Blue video and still cameras.
  • The HFT (Home Farm Trust) Life Stories Programme uses technology to store a student's life events. Students use PowerPoint to put together their life story and this can increase their student confidence and communication with others.

These examples show the power of portfolios and they can bring great rewards, but these rewards can only be gained if the system is accessible. Therefore, system usability, accessibility and interoperability are critical to ensure compliance between a student's preferences and the technology that they use.

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MyWorld e-Portfolio Project: Accessibility Issues (HTML Format);
MyWorld e-Portfolio Project: Accessibility Issues (PowerPoint Format - 1.5Mb);
by Ellen Lessner, Abingdon and Witney College.

Ellen Lessner gave a presentation about the use of the MyWorld portfolio system in the PETAL Project. Part of the PETAL project is looking at setting user preferences in the MyWorld software, which has great potential. A viewlet builder may be developed to allow users to see the effects of their preferences before actually going ahead with them. Although there are a few accessibility and usability issues with the software, these are being addressed by the project.

On the whole, users have thought the idea of using an e-portfolio worthwhile and one particular benefit of the software is that presentations can be customised for different audiences. Students are encouraged to use the e-portfolio software in order to gain tutorial credits.

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