Event Review: The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Assistive Technology
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Assistive Technology launched one year ago. We have held policy events in Parliament on Skills and Assistive Technology, on Early Years and Play and on Literacy. But last week, for the first time, the group met outside the Palace of Westminster to explore a new model of inclusive learning in higher education. The APPG held a reception at the Sticky Campus classroom at the University of Westminster, where attendees got hands-on with an interactive learning space that incorporates assistive technology.
The Sticky Campus is called as such because it’s the kind of classroom that makes students want to stick around, to study in the space even when class is out. And as the developers of the Sticky Campus know, this means the classroom has to be designed for all students. The learning space allows for interactive group work, where disabled and non-disabled students collaborate on equal footing, each using technology in a way that suits them. As Hannah, a final year photography student, showed the group, she can organise her notes as a mind map and use the map to present her ideas to the group on a big screen. Similarly, a student with a visual impairment can use zoom technology to work on a document and show this to others without the zoom showing up on the others’ screens.
Seema Malhotra MP welcomed attendees and spoke on the importance of inclusive higher education to improve outcomes for disabled students and address the employment gap after graduation. David Atkinson from Wyvern Business Systems than explained the impetus behind the Sticky Campus project: to enhance interactive learning with assistive technology. The guests than saw a demonstration of the technology with Duncan Peberdy, an expert on interactive learning, and students from the University of Westminster, Karl Donaldson (BSc Psychology) and Hannah Davis (BA Photography).
After plenty of time to get familiar with the technology, guests heard from the Minister for Disabled People, Sarah Newton MP, via a recording shown on each of the five screens of the Sticky Campus. The Minister highlighted the importance of "identifying and sharing good practice in assistive technology provision, such as this Sticky Campus model", and the work of the APPG in taking the AT agenda forward.
Guests then heard from speakers from across the sector:
- Prof. John Stein (Oxford), on the importance of flexible teaching approaches and the positives of neurodivergence.
- Alistair McNaught (JISC) on embedding inclusive practice among staff and students.
- Sarah Howls (Higher Education Funding Council England (HEFCE)) on the recently published HEFCE report into ‘Models of support for students with disabilities’.
Finally, Lord Addington addressed attendees with a message on the vital goal of translating innovative technology into real-world change for disabled students. Seema Malhotra MP closed the event by thanking attendees, including APPG co-chairs Lord Holmes and Lord Low (who also attended to engage with the innovative learning environment)
The event comes in the context of a movement toward ‘inclusive practice technology’, where technology is used to improve learning for all students in a way that makes it more accessible for disabled students. Efforts towards inclusive practice are funded directly by universities, while individual assistive technology - such as screen magnifying software on a laptop - is typically funded by Government via Disabled Students Allowances.
This reception demonstrated the value of combining the two approaches of inclusive practice and individualised assistive technology. The Sticky Campus includes both elements: students bring their (DSA-funded) assistive technology into the space - on their own laptops and tablets - and the (university-funded) classroom technology ensures that students with different assistive software can collaborate with one another. As Seema Malhotra MP put it “increased access to higher education and delivery of outcomes for people with disabilities has got to be an ongoing partnership between the role of the state, universities and industry”.
The APPG for Assistive Technology is planning future policy events and activities on higher education in addition to a program of meetings for 2018, on issues including the industrial strategy, schools, and employment. To get involved in the group contact Robert McLaren at firstname.lastname@example.org , @AT_APPG or on 0207 202 8577.