Academic journal article Journal of Information, Law and Technology

Making Law Teaching Accessible and Inclusive

Academic journal article Journal of Information, Law and Technology

Making Law Teaching Accessible and Inclusive

Article excerpt

Contents

Abstract
1. Introduction
2. Learner Characteristics
3. Practical Advice for Specific Needs
  3.1 Users who have difficulty seeing things
  3.2 Users who have difficulty hearing things
  3.3 Users who have difficulty accessing text
  3.4 Users who have difficulty handling and manipulating things
  3.5 Users who have difficulty communicating with others
  3.6 Users with other needs
  3.7 Technological Needs
4. Questions to ask
Summary
References

"If a teacher today is not technologically literate--and is unwilling to make the effort to learn more--it's equivalent to a teacher 30 years ago who didn't know how to read and write." Fisch, 2007, winner 'Most Influential Blog Post, EduBlog Awards 2007

1. Introduction

Innovations in teaching have the potential to provide and liberate, but there exists also a responsibility on lecturers to ensure they do not prevent and restrict access to learning. This is not the same as suggesting all teaching materials must be accessible to all learners, which can be an unhelpful approach, resulting in the stifling of innovation. The key is to ensure all students, regardless of any impairment or disability they may have, can access the learning and achieve the learning outcomes--sometimes this may mean modifications to a mainstream resource, and sometimes it may mean creating separate resources, which usually carry added benefit for a range of learners in addition to the intended beneficiaries.

There are a vast variety of types of teaching styles and resources with many purposes and myriad audiences. All of these factors play a part in the actions that must be taken to ensure the teaching is as accessible as is appropriately achievable. Teaching resources may be simple or complex, textual or graphical, they may be for undergraduates or postgraduates, for information provision or skills development. They may be for consumption by the wider public (for example MIT's Open Courseware (MIT, 2009)) or a known subset of them (such as students enrolled upon a particular university course or module) with known characteristics. These factors must be determined before any consideration of accessibility can be made.

The increasing pervasiveness of ICT into the realm of the law teacher or lecturer offers an opportunity for increased engagement with a wider variety of learners. In some instances the characteristics of these users are known and can be directly catered for, but in some cases the user audience (or at least their specific requirements) are not known. The range of possible characteristics and needs across this audience is potentially as large as within the general populace, and online resources must be designed and created with this factor very much in mind. However, this does not mean that creativity need be limited, or that materials that are inaccessible to some cannot be used to bring benefits to others. This article will highlight the effects that good and poor teaching practice can have on the learner's experience.

It is important to note that the designers and creators of learning materials are not expected to be experts in assistive technology--the scope and function of the technologies available are always changing and there are experts who can advise on the way they interact with the web. Rather, teachers and lecturers should be aware of the ways in which learners interact with their materials, regardless of the technology they use to do so, and ensure their teaching meets all types of need so far as is possible. If that is done, then the only barrier to a learner will be technological, and usually in time technological barriers can be overcome with expert assistance.

Some basic principles may be worth bearing in mind with respect to developing inclusive law teaching (from LSIS Excellence Gateway, 2009):

* there is no single solution for accessibility;

* the optimum "reasonable adjustment" may depend on the nature of the learner, the nature of the impairment, the nature of the resource, the learning objectives and the context of use;

* the most time-consuming and expensive adjustments are not always the most effective;

* staff supporting learners often have a range of alternative adjustments they can make in discussion with the learner. …

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