Recent Updates to our Modules/Projects
By: Lauren Fong, Business Analyst for BIBC (NHLC Tech Case 3)
As the pandemic continues to evolve, I find myself becoming more and more grateful for what I have. One of those things is accessibility to learning - in safe, welcoming environments.
After speaking with Mary Lorette, VP of Technology Operations at BIBC, I realized that our current platform (eLISA) needed to further drive engagement and deliver learning content for students - primarily those with disabilities.
Throughout the design process and with much research, I realized that many students face various disabilities, and have different needs when it comes to accessibilities.
Take personas, Mark and Julie - both students enrolled in BIBC and benefiting from the eLISA program. But Mark and Julie are different people. They have different needs, they learn differently, and may face varied challenges related to accessibility or personal disabilities.
Mark has difficulty staying focused, and was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) at a young age. Through school, he’s received some support from his teachers and school staff, but he still had difficulty adjusting to learning online once COVID-19 hit. He also learns best when instructions are given to him slowly, and needs help when planning out big projects.
Julie, on the other hand, prefers planning over action. Though she was never diagnosed with a medical disability, her parents always told her teachers and mentors during her extracurriculars that she learns by doing, and that she’s a kinesthetic learner. However, over her years of schooling she’s also learned that she likes to generate ideas by thinking, going for a walk in the park to clear her head and reflect on the ideas buzzing around her mind.
Two very different people, with drastically different needs. But until now, Mark and Julie were presented the projects and learning material in the same way.
Is this fair?
While asking this question to myself, I realized that many businesses or online courses host a wealth of information available to students or lifelong learners. But it was all presented in the same way, to people with different needs. Mary, our eLISA team and BIBC realized that quite frankly, that did not make sense. BIBC needed to leverage technology in order to deliver learning content in an equitable, exciting way.
So my team and I got together and, after many discussions and drafts, we are proud to present eLISA-A: The same learning material and unique value the eLISA projects bring to BIBC, but with a more accessible, equitable user experience & interface.
eLISA-A aims to leverage technology by combining the pre-existing eLISA platform with various accessibility features, including an accessibility student diagnostic, buttons for inclusive learning, and various integrated learning features that students can use - recommended for them with “Accessibility Badges” that they receive after completing the diagnostic. Here’s how it works:
The first step in delivering learning content for those with disabilities (as well as creating a more curated environment for those who don’t have disabilities, but rather cater the projects to their learning styles) is Training and Development. Staff members are required to partake in accessibility, disability and inclusion training (over a 1 week period) to familiarize themselves with the various types of learners (visual, audio, kinesthetic), and common disabilities often faced by students. Our staff are determined to create the best experience for ALL BIBC learners, and that starts with education.
Next is the implementation of accessibility and integrated learning features. Over the span of 1 month and with the help of BIBC’s partners, we’ll be able to fund many new technological features (here are a few of my favourites!):
Student Diagnostics & Badges: After taking the student diagnostic, their webpage will take them to their own profile page, whereby a collection of 4 badges with their descriptions will pop up. These badges are representative of how the user learns best, and users are encouraged to choose projects that have their corresponding badges in the project name (it shows them that so far in our development, the BIBC team has made Project X compatible for people with Y badge). Check out the profile badges for Mark and Julie, below:
More technological features include:
New buttons on the learning site: Within each project/modules, the following buttons will be available for students to aid them with their learning:
Break it Down (More) Button: Also identified with the diamond “Clear Cut” badge, the Break it Down (More) Button is used to simplify instructions or textual information in a clear, succinct manner. It summarizes key information in easy to understand vocabulary (such that those with all levels of intellect can benefit fully from the project), which may serve as a tool for those who have trouble with reading or processing large amounts of complex information at once.
Pause Button: Created for students who may be experiencing stress and want to take a break from the project (due to a surplus of responsibilities, mental exhaustion, etc) for a set amount of time (choose between 3 days, 1 week or other) before returning to it. Notifications and deadlines for activities within the project will be halted and students can “unpause” at any time.
Pre-recorded Audio & Assistive Listening: Available such that students can pause the audio to process the information, speed it up or slow it down to their liking, and listen to it on their own schedule. Users can also “Follow Along” with the audio while reading the text to enrich comprehension.
Action Activities: Provide users with many more “hands-on” experiences, including activities that they can perform from the comfort of their own home (often for kinesthetic learners).
Draft Builder: Includes graphic organizers, planners and flow charts that can be used to help plan ideas for activities or tasks that are assigned in projects.
Parent/Guardian/School Support Portal: Designed so that all users of BIBC have the option of seeking out additional support during their learning journey, eLISA-A will bring forth a “Support Portal” so that parents, guidance counsellors, mentors, or teachers can help support students as they learn. Once the student and parent consent to linking their accounts, parents/support members will be able to monitor progress, gain access to resources that can be used to help their child/student grow or best learn with their badges (they can see and track the success of learning strategies), and ask questions to BIBC staff through a forum. Portal users will also be given discussion questions or activities they may do with their child, such as “What did you learn in this project that excited you?” or “What parts of the project were difficult?”.
*VR Is still here! With the addition of accessibility to eLISA-A, Virtual Reality experiences will remain available for those who have the appropriate membership, headsets and wish to enroll in the (now more accessible!) projects.
What does it all boil down to? Our technology’s unique capabilities:
Personalized learning curriculum developed for each student and their learning needs - done with their profile, badges, and buttons
A wide variety of learning options that promote accessibility (using VR, audio, draft-builder & other software/tech)
Safety & protection: Parent & support portal to support student/user success, discussion forums, the "Pause" button
While developing the plan for eLISA-A, I also had some time to reflect. Inclusion and accessibility for learning has often been something that I’ve taken for granted - I consider myself lucky that for almost my entire educational career, I’ve had access to resources and support that I need to help me succeed. Guidance counsellors have always been there when I had questions about applying to university, have helped me search for and served as references for scholarships, and teachers have always tried their best to make sure I had everything I needed to succeed in their classrooms and beyond. I think that’s why this project was done with such fervour and passion; while working on it, my team and I realized how important it was. I can’t imagine how different my learning experience would have been if I didn’t have access to the support systems I needed, and I believe it’s imperative that we provide all members of the BIBC eLISA community with the tools they need to succeed as well.
Beyond eLISA, inclusion and accessibility remains important within our everyday lives. It can range from ensuring everyone (regardless of physical disability, race or sexual orientation) has the opportunity to share their thoughts in a safe, accepting space during a discussion, to talking to someone at eye level (I recall that as a Link Leader during training, we were reminded of the importance of this - if someone was sitting in a wheelchair, everyone should sit in a chair instead of on the floor, such that we would all be at eye-level). We should learn to celebrate our differences and what makes us unique, instead of viewing them as setbacks!
As many educational institutions move forward with online learning in the fall due to COVID-19, it remains of the utmost importance to continue keeping accessibility in mind - as not everyone will learn best in a virtual format. I recall that as a tutor, I learned that it’s important to teach my tutee in a way that works best for her - and that this does not necessarily mean what worked well for me. Having a narrow mind or claiming that “this is the best, only way to learn ____” can often lead to more struggle, stress and disappointment (this also applies to teachers during class lessons). There is no one way to learn, and being inclusive and accepting of various strategies is always something one should keep in mind.
User Stories: What did Julie and Mark think of eLISA-A when we first showed them our early developments?
“eLISA was an amazing platform before they added the accessibility features, but now it’s even better. After I took the diagnostic, I not only learned about where I could gain more support and succeed more, with the badges, but I even learned more about myself! The discussion badge led me to try another learning method, and I love it so far. Not enough platforms do what BIBC does, they’re taking a step towards a better future for sure. I can’t wait for more final developments!” - Mark
“WOW. I originally enrolled in BIBC to help me prepare for the workforce, but my experience has provided me with so much more than that! The addition has made my experience much more personalized, and I can tell that I’m getting even more out of it than I was previously. I’ve already recommended BIBC to all my friends, but I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn! 10/10” - Julie
Of course, we’re always getting better. Tracking Key Performance Indicators, regulating user growth, and making improvements to ensure that the BIBC platform becomes more and more accessible are just a few things we have planned as we move forward. Our team is doing everything we can to continue demonstrating inclusion and to embrace accessibility, but what can YOU do?
Take a look at my advice for building a more inclusive world with students with disabilities, as we move forward into the new school year:
1. Listen and ask
You don’t know what challenges people face - not all disabilities are physical! Take the time to listen to their needs, their stories, and their accommodations to best help them. When in doubt, ask!
2. Have an open mind
Do your part to eliminate prejudice. Be open to new ideas, perspectives, and ways of life. The way you may choose to do something is probably great for you, but it’s not the only way to do it, and perhaps more importantly, it’s not the only RIGHT way to do it!
3. Utilize & promote accessible, inclusive platforms
Whether it be BIBC’s eLISA-A or another learning environment, such as a virtual classroom for school, make sure you’re promoting and supporting inclusivity. Ensure that everyone has equitable access to learning, and that the voices of those around you are heard.
4. Re-evaluate your current environment
Reflect and ask yourself, are you in an environment where you have access to all of the tools you need to succeed? If not, how can you better surround yourself with the resources you need, especially before the school year starts up again? Evaluate your own life, and determine what tools you need moving forward.
5. Talk about it!
Disabilities are often stigmatized, especially in classrooms. Bring it up and have a (respectful) conversation about what current measures are in place within your school. Talk to your teachers, administrators, and school staff - how are they maintaining equitable learning practices, both in the classroom and online? What resources are available for students - and is this information well known?
By implementing eLISA-A, the BIBC team and I believe we can help to slowly eliminate prejudice, further inclusivity and accessibility, and leverage technology to help develop the leaders of tomorrow. Together, we can reimagine the future of learning!