Last week I presented on the iNorthampton project, at the Blackboard User Conference in Durham. The theme for the conference was ‘openness’, which links with the key aims of the mobile project – to open up access to information, and opportunities for learning, in new contexts and spaces.
For this session, I focused on two key elements of openness – inclusion (that is, making learning and support available to the widest possible range of users), and making University data more accessible. You can view the slides from the session, titled ‘The University in your pocket’, on the LearnTech Slideshare pages.
Inclusion has been an important concern for the team from the very start of the project. Thanks to the mobile survey that ran last academic year (and is just closing for this year), we are already aware that not all students and staff have smartphones. We’re also aware that some users find using a mobile device challenging. The project team has a number of measures in place to try to address these issues where possible:
- All of the information in the app is available in other places, usually via the University website or NILE. This means that in most cases, the app is simply another option for accessing information, and although it may be a benefit for those who prefer to use smartphones, it is not a requirement for those that don’t. We have also tried to cover as many platforms as possible – there are versions of the app for iOS, Android and Blackberry, as well as a mobile web version for those with other types of phone.
- For users who have smartphones, and who prefer not to use their own data allowance, the University is continuing to extend wireless provision across the campus. The LearnTech team also has some mi-fi (mobile wi-fi) units that staff can borrow for field trips etc., although the coverage, bandwidth and speed of these are still quite limited.
- For specific learning and teaching projects, we have a small number of mobile devices available that staff can borrow, to allow those who don’t have smartphones to take part in planned activities.
- For users with additional needs, we still recommend to staff that they provide alternative options for any mobile learning activity. We are also working closely with the suppliers to test the apps for accessibility*.
- Training and support is available for any users on request.
The other important concern in opening access to University information was in surfacing information from a range of complex University systems, and presenting it in a coherent and user friendly way. To enable this, the project team included key staff from the web team, Marketing, Corporate Information Systems and the Library, as well as Student Services, the LearnTech team, and the Student Union (please note that some of these teams have changed post-PSR). If you would like more technical details about how the data is fed in to the app, please contact the team.
The project team will be getting together next week to start thinking about the next phase of iNorthampton. if you have any feedback you would like us to consider, please send it to the dedicated email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Although there are no independent accessibility standards for native apps, there are some for mobile web apps, and the main platforms all publish their own accessibility guidelines for developers (see this blog post from Henny Swan for more links). With help from Student Services, we have tested the iOS app using VoiceOver (Apple’s built-in screen reading software), with some positive results, although the Android version is currently less readable. We are also working on improving the high contrast view of the app.
The iNorthampton app is developed by a US company. For more information about section 508 compliance and VPAT documentation, or if you’d like to contribute feedback or help us with testing, please contact the team.
For more general information on accessibility and web content, see the Accessible information page on the University website.
For more info on mobile accessibility, see the TechDis Mobile Learning for Inclusive Practice page.
We have recently discovered that some assistive technologies do not work well with Turnitin. Screen readers like JAWS work when non-standard settings are selected, but are hard to follow and navigate.
So, if you anticipate asking a student with additional needs to submit their work online, please contact the team for advice, at least two weeks before the first submission is due.
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