On the increase: Online conferences & e-books

BDRA’s very successful annual Learning Futures Festival 2010 for a week in January was online for the first time, and I notice that the Open University’s annual Teaching and Learning Conference will also be online for the first time, June 22-23. BDRA’s was truly international. The OU one may turn out to be so too, with its title: ‘’How does openness affect learning/content/access/teaching?’

The trend to go online for conferences is likely to accelerate in the face of cost-cutting measures in many universities here and abroad. There will always be those who prefer face-to-face meetings, but there’s no doubt that online conferences offer plenty of excellent opportunities to learn and to make new contacts, besides being less costly.

E-books are on the increase too, according to the JISC national e-books observatory project. Because of research I did years ago on IT for learners with disabilities, I took a look at a new practical guide from TechDis (JISC’s agency for such matters), entitled ‘Towards accessible e-book platforms.’ It advises on matters such as magnification, colour change, keyboard access and text to speech

Research at the University of Washington has called in question the large-screen Kindle DX e-book reader. At the University of Virginia, 80% of MBA respondents said they wouldn’t recommend it.

According to Stephen Downes, that inveterate blogger, however, Sony is more optimistic.  Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading business division claims:  “Within five years there will be more digital content sold than physical content”.

It’s going to be interesting to see how students taking BDRA’s new MSc in Innovative Education and Training offered through supported distance learning, make use and take advantage of e-books and e-book readers. If you haven’t already seen the details of this new programme, have a look at  http://www.le.ac.uk/beyonddistance/miet

David Hawkridge

E-learning by learners with disabilities

DUCKLING, with its podcasts, e-book readers and Second Life, is a project that has made me think again about how learners with physical or sensory disabilities can cope with and benefit from e-learning at university.

 Years ago, I got interested in what IT could do to help disabled children and adults to learn. With Tom Vincent and Gerald Hales (colleagues in IET at the OU) and a research grant from the Nuffield Foundation I looked into what was happening in the UK and the US at that time1. Later, Tom and I extended our research to study how computers were helping UK and US children and adults with learning difficulties to gain access to the curriculum2.

 That work is now out-of-date in many respects, of course, though most of the difficulties experienced by learners with disabilities remain. Changes in IT, including the arrival of Web 2.0 technologies, have made early solutions obsolete and new ones feasible.

 If BDRA were to become interested in pursuing research in this field, it would be essential to understand first what are today’s chief research questions and what is being done now. For example, it would be essential to talk to TechDis, JISC’s advisory service, which has as its mission to: ‘support the education sector in achieving greater accessibility and inclusion by stimulating innovation and providing expert advice and guidance on disability and technology.’

 It would be important to look for knowledgeable partners, because BDRA has no track record as yet in this field. And look for possible UK funding sources, too. Anyone out there keen to work with us?

 BDRA has exceptional e-learning research experience with able-bodied learners. I believe some of that experience could prove very valuable to disabled learners.  I know that Gilly has a strong interest in learning technologies for dyslexic students- the commonest disability around.




1Hawkridge, David, Vincent, Thomas and Hales, Gerald. New information technology in the education of disabled children and adults. London and San Diego:  Croom Helm and College-Hill Press, 1985.


2Hawkridge, David and Vincent, Tom. Learning difficulties and computers: Access to the curriculum. London: Kingsley, 1992.


%d bloggers like this: