Tag Archives: University of the Highlands and Islands

Supporting students with dyslexia

To mark Dyslexia Awareness Week Scotland, our disability support coordinator Mark Ross has gathered insights from staff who have experience of dyslexia and provides information about support services which are available.

Dyslexia has consistently been among the most disclosed disabilities within our university partnership and across further and higher education over the last few years. The university has clear processes in place to ensure the support requirements of individual students are identified, captured and communicated with relevant staff on a need-to-know basis.

Our disability and personal learning support plan processes enable us to make reasonable adjustments for students with dyslexia in line with our responsibilities under the Equality Act 2010. We also do as much as possible to ensure our provision is accessible to current and prospective students in advance and we recognise that not every student will require, or wish to set up, a personal learning support plan.

Gerald McLaughlin – Student Services Manager, Perth College UHI

The most often seen condition at Perth College UHI’s additional support service is specific learning difficulties. These conditions constitute around 40% to 45% of the students we support each year. Specific learning difficulties is an umbrella term for conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. The etymology (origin of the word) of these conditions is: dys – difficult, then add the suffix (or ending) lexis – speech (for dyslexia) or praxis – movement (for dyspraxia) and calculia – to count (for dyscalculia). The most common specific learning difficulties condition we see is dyslexia.

As a dyslexia specialist and specific learning difficulty assessor of a number of years now, it is clear that the benefits of a dyslexia diagnosis are multifaceted and, more often than not, personal to the individual. The obvious benefit for our higher education students is to unlock funding such as Disabled Students’ Allowance.

However, there is personal benefit in terms of a diagnosis too. Anecdotally speaking, after more than a decade working in additional support, you begin to see patterns of folk with specific conditions congregating in certain courses. While I have not done any formal research (although, I do believe I have a PhD thesis in here somewhere) my contention is as follows. People with dyslexia are attracted to jobs that are more practical in nature, childcare and early education being a good example.

From around 2012 onwards, colleges such as Perth College UHI saw a steady stream of early childhood practitioners come on to degree courses such as the BA (Hons) childhood practice. A number of these, usually mature, students began to struggle with the advanced literacy elements of their courses. The college support systems would kick in and dyslexia screening and eventual diagnosis would be scheduled. Having completed a number of diagnoses for these (predominantly female) students, the overwhelming feedback I would receive from is that of catharsis! The student would invariably feel a sense of relief. Some comments I would receive, would be along the lines of ‘I knew I wasn’t thick’ – ‘I always knew there was something not right’. There were sometimes even tears of relief.

Many of these students would continue their educational journey to success. They would often report a sense of achievement from their hard work and endeavour. You could see their negative experiences of education dissipate; it is almost tangible.

They would now be supported appropriately by the university support systems and have equal access to the curriculum, sometimes for the first time in their life.

My part in the student journey to success is relatively incidental. You simply give the student a key. It needs to be said though, as a specific learning difficulty assessor, being able to give someone the key that allows them to unlock their full potential is by far the biggest privilege you can have!

Dr Gareth Davies – Lecturer and Programme Leader, Lews Castle College UHI

I started secondary school in Wales in 1979 and I was told I was thick. In the late 70s there wasn’t as much known about dyslexia as there is today and there was far less understanding of the challenges that those with dyslexia faced daily. A teacher told me I was too thick to do “O” level English and the school refused to put me in the “O” level group. 

Thus, I was denied the opportunity to study for one of the most basic and important gateway qualifications. Fortunately for me, my mother was an English teacher and she did not give up on me.  She told the school that she would keep me home on a Thursday morning and teach me herself. She did and I passed, but that was not the end of the story. I struggled to gain a BTEC diploma in business studies and then got relatively mundane jobs.

One job was working in a shop on the high-street in Bangor. I spent Saturdays watching students from the university casually milling around and popping into the pubs and I thought that looked like a fun thing to do, so I signed up for “A” level English evening classes and I squeaked through with a grade D which was enough to get me into Bangor University to study psychology. I honestly thought that if I lasted until Christmas before they found out I was thick and booted me out, I would be doing well. But that did not matter because I was in university having a great time and I was not working in the shop. Much to my surprise, I made it through to the second year (a degree is three years in Wales and England). 

As part of the degree, participation as a research subject was strongly encouraged so I signed up to be a control participant for Prof Tim Miles, a name that many in the dyslexia community will recognise. He told me I had come on the wrong day and that the subjects with dyslexia should come the following day. Of course, I protested that I did not have dyslexia, but Prof Miles just smiled and said that he was pretty sure that I was dyslexic. Who was I to argue? He referred me to an educational psychologist who confirmed his hunch. Thanks Tim!

Discovering that I had dyslexia was a moment that gave me the confidence to carry on with my studies. I did and I was successful. I had the feeling that a weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I was not, after all, “thick”. It was a great boost to my self-confidence.

I did a Master’s degree straight after my Bachelor’s degree and a few years later I completed a teaching qualification. A couple of years after that I did my PhD. The school was wrong, but to be fair, this was 35 years ago and dyslexia is now far better understood. Help and support is available in ways that didn’t exist when I was a student. There was some; I was given a computer and extra exam time and that was it. No one ever asked me how I was getting on. The university partnership has a host of resources that those with dyslexia can access so seek the help that is out there – it is far better than the help that was on offer 35 years ago. 

The lesson I have taken away from all this is never to let anyone hold you back. Having dyslexia does not mean that you cannot succeed – you can. I did.

The university’s accessibility project

To help staff ensure their learning content is accessible and to comply with accessibility regulations, the university is running a project with staff training at the heart of it. Not only will this ensure that students with disabilities are able to access learning content, creating accessible learning resources also enhances the experience for all students.  

The accessibility project team has:

  • Established a university-wide accessibility champions forum which will help staff locally
  • Created a self-directed accessibility support module for staff, comprising a suite of useful resources
  • Arranged online support which will include webinars, workshops, drop-ins and question and answer sessions
  • Used software tools to help make learning content accessible and available to students in alternative formats
  • Created an accessibility communications site which will give staff the information they need to start their accessibility enhancement journey

Students with dyslexia may find some of the available alternative formats such as audio, tagged PDF and BeeLine Reader useful. The BeeLine Reader is particularly helpful for people with dyslexia as it displays lines of text in different colours. For more information, see the BeeLine Reader section on Blackboard Ally’s  alternative formats webpage.

Microsoft Office

University of the Highlands and Islands students can download the offline versions of Office 365 applications (e.g. Word, PowerPoint, etc) for use during their studies. Microsoft Office has several in-built accessibility tools which can be useful for students and staff alike.

Accessing support  

  • Students who would like further details of available support can contact student services for advice.
  • Students can also contact their personal academic tutor for further information on the university’s accessibility project.

Student safety: drink spiking

Recent news reports of allegations of drink spiking and spiking by injection have highlighted how important it is to be vigilant when out socialising. The university’s student services team has put together a handy guide below to help you stay safe.
A group of friends at the local pub having a good time

Student safety: We want to ensure our students are aware of how to keep themselves safe when enjoying a night out and have linked online resources in this blog which highlight how you can look after yourself and where to go for support should you be a victim of spiking. Our student support teams are also on hand to speak to whenever you need us.  

A group of young women enjoying a  night out together in a social setting

What is drink spiking? Drink spiking occurs when a substance, such as drugs or alcohol, is added to your drink without you knowing about it. It can happen in any situation and may affect how you act or behave with other people. However, there are things that you can do to protect yourself. 

How to avoid drink spiking: Please be vigilant with your drinks when in a social setting – this can be a bar, club, concert, or even a house party. Try to get into the habit of never leaving your drink unattended, and don’t accept a drink from someone you don’t know.  Possible symptoms of spiking may include:

  • Feeling drowsy
  • Feeling more drunk than expected
  • Difficulty in speaking and slurring of word
  • Memory loss
A person using their smart phone at a bar in a social setting with a wine glass placed nearby.

How to seek help: If you think you or a friend may have been spiked, seek help from the venue staff or a friend as soon as possible. We also encourage anyone who believes they have had their drink spiked to contact Police Scotland by dialling 101, or in an emergency dial 999.

Police Scotland recently issued a statement including further advice on what to do if you think you or someone you know have been spiked.

More information on how you can keep yourself safe and what to do if you think you have been the victim of spiking can be found on the Drinkaware website.

Freelance February Recap: Insights from #ThinkUHI Creative Industry Experts

Did you know that according to the Creative Industries Federation, a third of the creative industries sector are either self-employed or freelance?

This article features a summary of useful insights from creative industries staff at the University of the Highlands and Islands, sharing their practical advice and links to resources to help navigate a career as a freelancer. The university ran a social media campaign labelled #FreelanceFeb throughout February to raise awareness and encourage a dialogue around the challenges, benefits and realities of being self-employed.

Build contacts and collaborate  

Stacey Toner, Creative Industries Curriculum Team Leader based at Moray College UHI, has developed her own arts organisation, providing work for freelance artists.  Stacey Toner

From the perspective of arts administration, her advice is to dedicate time to paperwork every week – and if you commit to a piece of work, follow it through.  Securing the next gig will often come from successful delivery and building a reputation of being reliable.

Lesley Mickel

 

Lesley Mickel, Programme Leader, for BA (Hons) Drama and Production based at Inverness College UHI gives advice for people doing freelance work:

“We have a flourishing performance culture in the Highlands, but this does require a significant degree of entrepreneurship and self-motivation…

Don’t wait for the opportunities to fall into your lap – go out and make them happen.”

Patience, determination and self-motivation  

Anna McPherson, Lecturer, Contemporary Film Making in the Highlands and Islands:

“It’s important that you work at your craft. Determination will get you through challenges and you’ll reap the rewards. Anna McPherson

Your work may take you to the four corners of the world.

I had the amazing opportunity to carry out documentary work in remote Nepal after the 2015 earthquake I’m planning to revisit this Easter.  Here’s a short extract of the footage.”

Frank ToFrank To, Art and Design Lecturer, Inverness College UHI.

Frank To (instagram @Frank_To_Artist) is a celebrated artist using gunpowder to promote peace. “You have to be prepared to go all out and break your limits. It’s better to strive to be the best than to settle for less.”

Develop diversity and be innovative

Professor Keith McIntyre, Interim Director of the Centre for Rural Creativity at the University of the Highlands and Islands:

“The notion of the artist working in self-imposed isolation is not an unfamiliar story. Keith McIntyre studioHaving private creative spaces are essential, however, I have found enormous benefits to collaborating with other artists or technical specialists.

Do seize opportunities to work on multi-disciplinary projects. It can be creatively and professionally rewarding. Returning to the privacy of the studio can be reinvigorated by this valuable process.”

Simon Reekie, Contemporary Art and Contextualised Practice leader at Perth College UHI: 

Simon Reekie, Trying to Understand detail 1“Outside my work at the university, I work as a self-employed artist and freelance art therapist.

Through working as an artist and art therapist, I have learned that it is vital to find meaning and joy in all the work that I do.  I have found a way to follow my passions and hopefully be of use to others at the same time.”

Faye Hackers is a technical knitwear designer and mixes freelance work with her contemporary textiles Programme Leader role based at Shetland College UHI:Faye Hackers

“Freelancing helps me keep my practice fresh and informed. I work predominantly with trend forecasting, technical structure design and technical shape design for kids and women’s knitwear at a high street level.

Staying on top of trends is a key part of working in design. I have a home studio, containing all the machinery and equipment I need to take on design jobs from afar.”

Katie Masheter, Curriculum Development and Employer Engagement for the Creative Industries Subject Network:

“Seize all the opportunities flung your way or seek them out. Never underestimate the power of your network and potential connections you meet day-to-day. There are lots of mentors out there who can help you hone your practice. Someone recently said to me; if not you, then who? If not now, then when?”

Develop good organisational and planning skills

Pete Honeyman, Creative Industries Subject Network Leader, musician and wood turner:

“Take care of business. Be proactive and professional with contracts, communications and finances, be aware of and plan for your responsibilities.  With that taken care of you create a safe and less stressful space to work and express yourself – which is the important stuff.”

It’s important to manage your money well, @HMRCgovuk have online resources to help you understand the different tax thresholds & what you can claim as expenses – all key if you don’t want to end up with an unexpected bill!

Mandy Haggith Literature Lecturer based at Inverness College UHI comments on the benefits of being freelance:

“The beauty of being freelance, for me, has been the ability to organise my work as an activist and researcher to make sure I always have time to prioritise my own creative projects, like writing my historical novel trilogy, The Walrus Mutterer, The Amber Seeker and The Lyre Dancers, plus grabbing opportunities for pieces of work that directly support my writing by helping with research for the books, such as working with archaeologist as a writer on an iron age dig.”Mandy Haggith 2

Mandy’s top tips for working freelance are:
1) cultivate a couple of really strong, core relationships with client organisations and be reliable and consistently available for them;
2) have a sense of where you’re trying to get to and regularly pitch for work that will take you there, even if it’s a long shot;
3) there will be times of feast (too much work) and times of famine (not enough), don’t worry; 4) take inspiration from trees, which root deeply, work hard when the sun shines and take time for resting;
5) don’t let work take over your life, otherwise what’s the point of being free?

Make use of the #supportingresources available and network, network, network! 

Blogs | Do you want to know how to make the most out of your camera? Llewellyn Bailey from the university’s webteam shares his top tips for video production, featuring short informative videos from our YouTube channel. Check it out

@CreativeScots support the arts, screen & creative industries across Scotland. As well as a helpful resource for funding and reports, the ‘Creative Scotland Opportunities’ page is where you can find and promote any role or position for free – sign up for a regular newsletter that helps keep you in the loop.

Business Gateway offers practical help for new and growing businesses. Online resources, tailored advice, workshops, events and business development programmes. Not sure if they can help you? Just ask!

Check out the Creative Rebels podcast – inspiring interviews with creative people who have rebelled against the 9-5 (and advice on how you can too). Hosted by David Speed and Adam Brazier, co-founders of Graffiti Life & Parlour Tattoo.

Scotland’s first Impact Hub serving the Highlands and Islands offer a flexible co-working space in the heart of Inverness. It brings together lone workers, to combat social isolation and encourage social entrepreneurship. A space to work and to connect with like minded individuals and organisations. Rent a desk for an hour, a day, a week, a month. Book a meeting room, join for coffee or a networking event.

With thanks to all the contributors and the University of the Highlands and Islands Careers and Employability Centre and the webteam for producing the #FreelanceFeb campaign.

The University of the Highlands and Islands Careers and Employability Centre offers all students and graduates support with personalised careers advice and support with skills development. Book at appointment via Future Me

Check out the list of Creative Programmes on offer to study at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Feel free to share your own advice and tips in the comments

Reference: Creative Industries Federation website https://www.creativeindustriesfederation.com/statistics accessed on 28/02/20