Category Archives: Accessibility

Stakeholder Engagement Update – Students

The past few weeks have seen some increased activity using the VOXUR video units, and some initial planning for the deployment of two batches of Flip cameras into two separate student populations. The aim of these activities is to capture student expectations and experiences of university life, and identify areas where we can influence the design of curricula to better suit the needs of the students. This preliminary work is looking into the induction processes here at Birmingham City University, but it is envisaged that this work will go on to inform further investigative projects into ongoing student experience.

The project has been bolstered by a successful (internal) application to run the project as a Student Academic Partners (SAP) scheme. We were lucky enough to be able to identify two media students before the start of the new academic year with expertise in video editing techniques to take up the rolls of the SAPs. They have been an integral part in the development of the methodology for capturing the video data and will continue to collaborate with other university staff through the collation, analysis and evaluation of the data collected. This work is also in keeping with the principles outlined in our stakeholder engagement model, giving students a powerful voice, allowing them to work alongside members of staff undertaking curriculum design activities.

Details of the activity:


  • Several groups of students are being approached to use the VOXUR units to offer narrative accounts relating to induction and transition:
    • Faculty of Health
    • BIAD (Birmingham Institute of Art and Design)
    • TEE (Technology, Engineering and the Environment)
    • Students with disabilities
    • International students
    • Student parents
    • Mature students
  • Students are asked a series of generic questions on student induction (co-written and presented by one of the SAPs), followed by more specific questions to be asked relating to faculty/support services specific areas of interest.

Flip cameras

  • Being deployed to a group of five international Students – we will identify five students at the start of each intake to take part in the study:
    • July/ August
    • September
    • November/December
    • January/February
  • Being deployed to a group of between five and ten students with registered disabilities
    • This will be an ongoing study with the students for approximately ten months

Early Feedback from VOXUR Units

After conducting a ‘pilot day’ within the Faculty of Health (with around twenty five respondents engaging with the VOXUR questionnaire), we have now identified a number of factors that we are considering and deciding how best to address them when redeploying the VOXURs.

  • We asked our SAPs  to approach students and explain what the project is about in an effort to put respondents at ease and encourage them to take part.
  • Location
    • Students appeared to be more at ease responding to questions when they were approached and were able to respond in a bustling social environment such as the Students Union. They seemed less at ease responding in a quiet, empty room.
    • They seemed to be less averse to being approached in this environment compared to an empty corridor.
    • However, although the respondents seemed more amenable to Voxur in a social atmosphere such as the Students Union, they did prefer to answer the questions with a degree of privacy, separated from their peers. To accommodate for this we erected some large notice boards in a U configuration in the SU to allow them this privacy. As the event became busier, we began to have issues with higher levels of background noise, and we discovered whilst playing back some of the videos during the morning that the background noise was becoming increasingly distracting and was beginning to drown out the voice of the respondent. We feel that engaging with students in a comfortable environment, on their terms is vital, and for this reason we are now looking into the purchase of an inflatable interview pod to help reduce these background noise levels whilst maintaining a presence in a social space.

All of these issues will be followed-up on and reported back initially via this blog.

Finally, do you have any experience of using inflatable interview pods or any similar alternatives? If so, let us know your thoughts and your experiences of using them. Did you find the noise reducing properties adequate? Were there any other issues you came across whilst using them?

Any feedback would be much appreciated


Student Services, Accessibility and VOXUR units

The project team had a meeting with Student Services this afternoon to discuss criteria for usage of the VOXUR units. It was suggested that researching student induction processes (and induction as an ongoing process) has some close synergies with curriculum design – an area that the team will be keen to persue in the future. After a demonstration of the VOXUR units, Student Services are entheusiastic about engaging with the project team and could see some massive advantages and uses for the VOXUR units that we had not fully envisaged.

  • Students with hearing difficulties – the use of sign language on VOXURs
  • Students with dyslexia
  • Students with visual impairments

After discussing the usages of VOXURs, Student Services offered us some useful pointers on accessibility and how they can input into projects such as T-SPARC. Some of the main points listed below:

  • Include a ‘resource pack’ on disability and module / course design in T-SPARCs One-Stop-Shop that is in the process of being designed.
  • Could we use ‘German Film’ to produce some tactile work-flow diagrams for use by visually impaired stakeholders?
  • General advice on accessibility and the DDA (Disability Discrimination Act)

All in all, a very interesting afternoon that has raised some serious points, and generated some interesting solutions that we will certainly be using, and discussing in more detail in the future.


The Anonymity Factor

Just because somebody’s thoughts are anonymous doesn’t meant that they don’t hold value. Take these other famous anonymous phrases for example:

  • “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” Anon
  • “Don’t let yourself forget what it’s like to be sixteen.” Anon
  • “Encouraged people achieve the best; dominated people achieve second best; neglected people achieve the least.” Anon
  • “Failure is not the worst thing in the world. The very worst is not to try.” Anon

All of which could be considered to be relevant to working in the education sector.

When videoing our stakeholder interviews, one person requested not to have their videos put up on YouTube (which of course is their right). This stakeholder had some very interesting views regarding curriculum design so I didn’t feel that it was fair to discard them. If you have read our blog about you will see that here at T-SPARC we see barriers like this as more of a challenge and will do our best to avert them and try to be inclusive of everyone, after all we aim to be Agile and Responsive as our title suggests.

I found after following a link to ‘TAG’ by UCLan on Twitter. This link led me to find a rather humorous video on plagiarism, after which had an advert for Xtranormal. I decided to explore the site and found that it would be a great way to make anonymous stakeholder videos. 

Take a look at our anonymous stakeholder below, talking about holistic and distributed approaches to curriculum design. This is on YouTube, with the captions created in Overstream.


T-SPARC’s most useful websites of 2009

printed internetHappy new year to you all! As 2009 has now come to a close we thought it was appropriate to have a look back at all the wonderful technologies we have found throughout the last year. Below I have listed some of the Internet based tools and sites we have come across when exploring options for disseminating the activity of the T-SPARC project.

Random Useful websites

• Zamzar –
Free online file converter. A life saver when your ‘PDF’ really needs to be a ‘JPEG’ for your blog!

• Tiny url – and –
Both equally good for cutting down URLs for ‘no mess’ tweets and blogs. Although Tweetdeck has its own ‘URL shortener’

• TED –
‘Ideas worth spreading’ indeed! Some free lectures/ speeches/ talks from some truly inspiring and fascinating people on a variety of topics.

Video sites

• YouTube –
All T-SPARC’s stakeholder videos in one place (including xtranormal videos and captions)

• Xtranormal –
This is an excellent tool for anonymity of our stakeholders in interviews. Also great that it is compatible with ‘YouTube’ and ‘Overstream’.

• Overstream –
Overstream is a fantastic tool for captioning videos to create greater accessibility. To find out more about T-SPARC’s use of ‘Overstream’ read this blog:

Twitter and other sites

• Twitter –
Twitter is a new and innovative way to connect with like minded people and has proved invaluable in creating an online community here at Birmingham City University. It is a quick and easy way to communicate with only 140 characters available in a tweet  so your message must be quite concise. I feel that it is best used in a project management style to update stakeholders on the project’s progress and to also send out links to the project blog or other informative websites.

• TweepML –
A very useful way to keep lists of people from certain groups. The above link is a list of all the ‘tweeters/ twitterers/ tweeple’ in Design Cluster B, and here is a list from Birmingham City University

• Tweetdeck –
A superb way to manage more than one Twitter account, with quick and easy viewing of direct messages and mentions and a facility to search for words, phrases and hash tags, as well as a ‘URL shortener’.


Other T-SPARC sites

• Flickr –
A place to keep all of the project’s photos and pictures. We’re hoping to add a lot more to this over the coming months.

• Netvibes –
Netvibes has proved to be one of the most useful tools that I have found. Through this marvellous site I have built our own web page for T-SPARC which brings all the information and technologies we need together. I have created 3 tabs: ‘T-SPARC’,  which has the T-SPARC blog, our Flickr and YouTube accounts all easily accessible as well as education news websites and Birmingham City University website. There is also a ‘Twitter tab’ which has links to #dcb09 and #jisccdd aswell as the T-SPARC twitter account. I have also created a JISC tab where there are links via RSS feeds to various updates from the JISC.

• WordPress Blog –
This blog has also proved invaluable.  It is a space where we can document the trials and tribulations of the project and keep people up to date with the project with more than 140 characters! 


The Accessibility Factor

accessibilityAs our project is described to be ‘Agile and Responsive’ in our title, we thought it was important that our work reflects this and that we are as inclusive as possible with our stakeholder engagement, therefore making sure that our resources are accessible to all stakeholders is imperative to the T-SPARC project.

After discovering this article on twitter ‘YouTube introduces automatic captions for deaf viewers’ it got me thinking about the baseline review video we have loaded onto T-SPARC’s YouTube Channel. I began to wonder how accessible it really was, because at that time it was the only video representation of T-SPARC on YouTube and it had had quite a few hits. I realised that without at least a transcript it meant that the deaf and hard of hearing communities as well as people for whom English is not their first language, would struggle to access this resource as well as people who did not have speakers on their computer.

I decided to do some detective work and look into captioning. You may notice that I am writing about ‘captioning’ and not ‘subtitling’. ‘Captions are usually in the same language as the audio. Subtitles are usually a translation.’ (See point 6). When researching captions and subtitles I came across ‘Caption it yourself’ which recommended I began to explore overstream and was surprised at how easy it was to caption our 3 minute video. In fact the most time consuming part of it was writing the transcripts –putting them onto overstream was a breeze, all you need is a little bit of patience…

The service was free, all T-SPARC needed was a log in.  After having a bit of a play around with Overstream I began to realise how crucial this tool could be to the accessibility of our work. Not just in the case of a deaf person trying to access it – but it could also be argued that captions can actually assist learning. (see ‘The benefits of captions’)

Our Cluster has also had some interesting discussions around accessibility issues at our most recent Cluster meeting in Cardiff  (see: “No CAMEL route is long, with good company”) in October. We were joined by Katya Hosking, the Inclusive Curriculum Officer at Cardiff University to discuss Equality & Diversity issues around curriculum design and the accessibility of programmes. It was a fantastic session which made a lot of us in the room question the way that we were doing things, hence my thoughts on captioning.

I must admit that I do have a personal interest in this as I am currently working towards my Level 2 certificate in British Sign Language so who knows – perhaps in the future you may see me signing away at the bottom of the screen!

To enable captions on this video please click ‘cc’ on the right hand side of the screen.