Richard: It's the second year of Biogeography teaching that I've been doing now for 6 years, and the lectures, like most lectures, they change a bit. But the core of them stays much the same, and to be quite frank I was getting a little bit bored of saying the same sorts of things over and over again, just with a little bit of updating, and that was perhaps the last thing that pushed me into doing it.
But it was something I was thinking of anyway, which was instead of just standing and spouting in front of the students in the very traditional lecture format, actually to deliver the material that could be done very similarly year after year as a podcast. So, record the voice, use the same PowerPoint slides and marry the two up on the web using Web CT (which is what I use for all my teaching anyway)...
...and so deliver if you like the core, fairly standard content electronically, and then I could free up the lecture slots to do mainly discussions, perhaps also updates. So have a look at some of the latest stuff, get the students to read articles and discuss them in class and that sort of thing.
Richard: I'm also the disability liaison officer, so I do a fair bit of research about, well, reading about dyslexic students and have been on various courses about it. And one of the things that's known about dyslexic students is that they do find lectures difficult because it's that - ok, all dyslexic students are a bit different - but on average it's difficult for many dyslexic students to listen and take notes, especially at kind of full lecture speed.
And I think the fact that these MP3s and the associated files which replace the lectures are so portable - the student can go at their own speed, they can do them anywhere, anytime - that really fits in much better with the way that dyslexic students cope with the difficulties of lectures and tend to organise their studies. Possibly the mind map approach also helps.
I think it just, from what I understand about how a typical dyslexic student goes about their studies, it seems to fit in almost exactly with the way they like to do things on average. This wasn't the intention when I developed the course - I mean obviously I wanted to make sure it was dyslexic-friendly and disabled student-friendly generally - but it was by no means the intention to put in something specifically designed for dyslexic students.
It was much more about convenience, this portability factor. The students can put the audio files on to their MP3 player, take it to their bedroom, print off the slides, take it on the bus, wherever they wanted to do it they could go through the lecture material and that was the main motivation, really. But it does happen to fit in very well with dyslexic students as far as I can make out.
…exams and exam performance…
Richard: The exams we keep exactly the same. Obviously questions change as they do every year, but the format of the assessment has been the same, so I can do a direct comparison, and the average level of answers has remained about the same as before. But one thing I really noticed was that the dyslexic students have done better than they typically did and indeed have tended to do better than the other students in this.
Now it's a small sample, we've only had it for one year, and it was only about five or six dyslexic students in the class so it's early days and it may be just a very good group of dyslexic students in this case, but it did seem that they did rather better than they normally would.
So when I kind of looked at the spreadsheet review and saw which ones of dyslexic it was noticeable that their marks were better than usual and a little bit above the average for the class.
…the student response…
I think some of the students initially thought it was a good idea, and probably still do, but realise that it's actually quite a lot of work because they can go through the material in their own time - which means they tend to go through it rather more slowly than if they're sitting in a lecture theatre.
So that does take a fair bit of time, and then we have the contact time over and above that. The specific articles - its always been the last 2 years so kind of a research front journal articles published very recently that we then discuss in class.
And so the students would have gone through what they would normally have had in lectures, then done some directed reading, and I expect them also to do a bit of their own reading over and above that. So it's no more than lectures or modules are supposed to have in terms of what they have in them, but I think the students actually have to do it all.
Produced: June 2007, in collaboration with the University's Promoting Enhanced Student Learning (PESL) initiative.