Faculty of Arts
Supporting dyslexic students on the web
Gabriele Neher (School of Humanities).
Art History and Visual Culture are both subjects that traditionally attract comparatively large numbers of students affected by specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia. Many of the students adapt well to the forms of assessment used on courses, which range from written coursework to oral presentations and slide examinations. All of these forms of assessment draw on skills of visual analysis, an area in which many dyslexic students excel. My main area of concern has thus been less with devising alternative forms of assessments, even though, where required, I will strive to do so. Most of my interest has focused on supporting the learning process of dyslexic students through an alternative presentation of support materials for courses taken.
As many dyslexic students find reading of densely printed materials a slow, and time-consuming process, I decided that an alternative presentation of written course materials would benefit such students. One solution that offered itself was the presentation of materials on the web.
For the construction of websites to accompany my modules, I consulted materials on accessibility and student learning, tried to read some of the literature on dyslexia, and, most importantly, talked to my students. The students consulted were very much in favour of websites, for the following reasons:
For the development of the web sites, I have used my printed module handbooks. The simple transfer of these materials onto the web, gives students choices in navigation. In addition to this first step, support materials for individual lectures are posted following each lecture. Most importantly, this includes a list of visual aids used in the class. The list will also be distributed in class. As most of my teaching covers Italian Renaissance Art, this means that students in classes do not need to worry about the spelling of unfamiliar names. The advantage of posting the material on the web is again one of navigation, and also serves as an aide-memoire of images seen when students have to tackle tasks based on images.
Feelings and observation
One of the attractions of offering support materials on the web for me was that the use of this technology offered a means of presenting text-based course materials in a different way. The textual information is not different in any way from the materials presented in 'traditional' course handbooks, yet the environment of the web permits alternative ways of navigating through the material, allowing the students concerned more control over their learning processes.
This continues to be one of the main driving factors for my ongoing interest in supporting the learning of dyslexic students. With the embedding of "key skills", which include visual skills, into benchmarking statements and programme specifications, there is an added incentive for exploring further how best to support students with learning difficulties. While changing assessments might benefit these students in the short term, the challenge for me lies in rethinking teaching in such a way as to support the learning processes of the students and in return, to learn infinitely more from them than was initially invested.
Questions for Consideration