As a teacher with dyslexia, I found the move online eye-opening

Many of us with learning disabilities struggle to process hour-long lecture recordings but pedagogical flexibility and online support offer new ways ahead, says Gemma Ahearne

三月 1, 2021
As an academic with dyslexia the shift online has brought a great many insights
Source: iStock

The shift to online learning has provided us with an opportunity to learn, even if it was the result of a global pandemic. As a disabled staff member who was recently diagnosed with dyslexia, a specific learning disability, I have gained a much greater understanding of the effectiveness of the micro-learning approach that I developed during “emergency mode”.

Furthermore, as an educator who is ambitious to develop a successful teaching and learning career trajectory, I agreed wholeheartedly with Alexandra Mihai’s argument that the scholarship of teaching and learning is often perceived as second-class research, and that this results in missed opportunities to advance and reflect upon practice.

Online learning, even during a pandemic, cannot be seen as attempting to replicate the on-campus learning experience. Many of us with learning disabilities, and a range of other conditions, struggle to process an hour-long lecture recording. And diverging from this traditional style of delivery should not be seen as an erosion of academic standards or rigour.

THE Campus resource: designing remote courses with inclusivity in mind

My modules are designed as a package in which the sessions do not need to be accessed chronologically; this provides students with the option to work in a non-linear way according to their own schedule.

After engaging with the material from the introductory weeks, students can access subsequent lectures in chronological order or in a different sequence if they wish. This is crucial as it gives the student a sense of the module as a whole, and gives them control over the pace at which they work through the materials. In this way, the students can tailor the course content to best meet their needs and interests.

Mihai also asserts that when organising one’s course as a series of micro-learning units, they need to be meaningfully connected but also make sense as stand-alone lessons. Students should have a sense of achievement and see their progress when completing each of these units.

It is also important to keep the segments brief so that students are less likely to tune out or lose their concentration – especially useful for those with learning disabilities. Lectures should be provided as short audio “chunks” or segments that guide students through a variety of tasks such as readings and watching short visual clips.

It is becoming increasingly clear that adaptability is a key feature of successful digital pedagogy. Online material delivered in this way provides several advantages to pre-recorded, hour-long lectures. As a dyslexic, I am overwhelmed by the amount of information we are swimming in, and a key part of addressing working memory and phonological processing issues is providing information in self-contained portions so that learners feel confident and reassured.

THE Campus resource: making online classes work for students with ADHD

One of the positives to arise from the pandemic is that it’s shown us that the world can be easily opened up for students and educators with a range of disabilities. While we are not a homogenous group, I am hopeful that more choice will be available in the future for those who wish to teach in hybrid ways.

The academy, unfortunately, remains too far from giving recognition to colleagues who wish to pursue teaching and scholarship as a career, and far from the normalisation of this continued professional development.

Like many, I used to love teaching in the lecture theatre, but this year has taught me that micro-learning for lectures can both provide students with the tools to engage in strong, student-led seminars and produce assessments that evidence high levels of critical thinking and independent study. The shift to online learning has challenged my own (and doubtless many others’) assumptions about how teaching should be accessed and how it should look and feel.

Covid has also introduced me to supportive online networks that are dedicated to developing digital practice and supporting teachers with specific learning disabilities. Rather than seeing pedagogical innovation as second-rate scholarship, these kind and supportive colleagues are dedicated to making innovative modes of learning an integral part of academia.

Gemma Ahearne is a criminologist with eight years’ experience of lecturing in UK higher education. She is currently a university teacher in criminology at the University of Liverpool.



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