Reflection from me

This talk reminded me a lot of a keynote I saw at Strange Loop this year by Felienne Hermans on "How to Teach Programming (and other things)". The talks started from the same general idea - that research on educational pedagogy can be useful for those hoping to teach cutting-edge topics like programming and accessibility. The contents were different enough, and valuable enough, that I think you should watch them both.


I'm watching a talk on Teaching Accessibility by Dr. Sarah Lewthwaite as part of Inclusive Design 24 (ID24).

Accessibility is a mix of:

  • conceptual knowledge
  • procedural knowledge
  • technical expertise

Pedagogy is a term for the methods and practices of teaching and learning. It's important that the word is not just about teaching - it has a direct connection to learning.

Research on "Who teaches a11y? A survey of US Computing Faculty" by Shinohara et al in 2018 found that one of the biggest barriers to teaching a11y in the US is a lack of clear educational directives/learning objectives, and a lack of dedicated learning materials. (As opposed to general accessibility overviews and very specific resources.)

Principles for Effective Pedagogy

Principle 1: Effective pedagogy equips learners for life in its broadest sense. "This is about those deeper dispositions toward knowledge."

Established professionals in a11y tend to think in the social model of disability, whereas newcomers to the field often see disability as a medical tragedy. So effective pedagogy here involves expanding the learner's understanding of what disability is: a condition created by a lack of accessibility in the world.

Principle 2: Effective pedagogy engages with valued forms of knowledge.

What are the key skills and processes? What does quality look like? What are the expert practices and how do they vary by context? Teach that accessibility values go beyond checking off boxes on a compliance sheet.

Principle 3: Effective pedagogy recognizes the importance of prior experience and learning.

Take advantage of what learners already know to build them up to their next step.
You see this when a speaker asks for a show of hands like "Who here has ever done X" or "Raise your hand if Y applies to you". Learning is not just about this one moment; make this particular a11y conversation draw on a larger lifetime of experiences regarding a11y. If you have experts in the midst, draw on their knowledge, too, to make the conversation richer.

Principle 4: Effective pedagogy requires learning to be scaffolded.

Scaffolding = temporary support for learning that can be removed as learners become more proficient. Scaffolding to support learning in a11y might mean making a lesson interesting, drawing useful parallels, demonstrating and modelling a11y practices, providing time for learners to talk to each other to cement their understandings, using hands on activities to reinforce skills, hackathons and other kinds of experiential learning, and providing links for students to read more on their own if they're interested. This principle also highlights the importance of mentoring.

Principle 5: Effective pedagogy needs assessment to be congruent with learning.

Learners are more motivated in classes when there will be some assessment they want to do well on. Recognize that learning is directed to certain outcomes, but what other modes could we use to judge the success of learning?

Principle 6: Effective pedagogy promotes the active engagement of the learner.

How can we promote independent learning?

Principle 7: Effective pedagogy fosters both individual and social processes and outcomes.

Learners should be encouraged and helped to build relationships with others. Learning doesn't happen in a social vaccuum; it's a social process too.

Principle 8: Effective pedagogy recognizes the significance of informal learning.

There is value in using informal learning in formal learning settings. This might mean asking people to bring in their own experiences and their own personal context into the classroom.
Informal learning also includes meetups, workshops, webinars, hackathons, W3C WAI materials, MOOCs.

Principle 9: Effective pedagogy depnds on the learning of all those who support the learning of others.

How do we support each other in teaching and learning accessibility, as people who want to help others learn?

Principle 10: Effective pedagogy demands consistent policy frameworks with support for learning as their primary focus.

Do the policies at your workplace (or wherever) support learning as a primary goal? A11y is not a one-off learning objective; it's a lifelong journey as the tech we deal with change and our understandings of disability and aging change. If we don't invest in ongoing learning, we won't get the benefit we expect from teaching a11y.

Next Steps

  1. Developing pedagogical culture.
  • Build a community-level discussion
  • connecting disciplines and sharing research and practice
  • creating diverse research and teaching spaces
  • additional reflective and cross-case research
  1. How can we better document and share effective teaching methods?