University of Kent’s Information Services teams are so proud to win in not one but two categories in the inaugural UCISA Awards 2022:
The ‘Transformation Award’ celebrates transformations achieved through IT. We have been shortlisted for our work to transform the provision of accessible content across our digital platforms, including the public website and Moodle VLE.
It was a truly cross-institution (and cross-organisation) effort, working hand-in-hand with individuals from Kent County Council and the Cabinet Office to share emergent and sector-leading best practice. Staff members from across the University came together to form a working group tasked with transforming our digital platforms to provide accessible content – via technological change, implementation of third-party services, upskilling, training provision, and organisational cultural change.
The working group oversaw fundamental changes in how the website was published and how the content on it was presented to our audiences. Our content management system was built to ensure that accessible features were ‘baked’ into the page templates, ensuring that authors only needed to concentrate on the principles of content accessibility, not the technological aspect.
Our virtual learning environment Moodle (VLE) was augmented with third-party tooling to ensure that all documents were available in multiple formats including the spoken word. Accessibility feedback scores are provided to authors to ensure the best outcomes. This work has been widely acknowledged to be sector-leading in the UK.
The ‘Sustainable Digital Project or Initiative’ award celebrates an innovative activity that not only provides exceptional value to the institution but demonstrates a strong consideration for the future.
Our online tool, Software Finder has been recognised in this category as a sustainable, scalable initiative. The online tool empowers students and staff to find, access and install the software they need on their own devices remotely and supports those requiring assistive solutions by including accessibility and productivity tools.
This ‘download first’ approach to software is a strategic alternative to providing a full virtual desktop for ~20,000 students, saving tens of thousands of pounds in virtual desktop licenses, infrastructure and support. The online tool aligned with our inclusive and empowerment-focused ethos.
We asked academic colleagues to provide their teaching software requirements with a preference for open-source and accessible software. We met our objective to enact a technical and cultural shift from providing software via student desktops and loaning out software discs. This supported an inclusive and transformative approach to remote learning, teaching and working, as the University pivoted to an ‘available-anywhere’ model.
Positive impacts include enhanced productivity and ease of access for users through an efficient distribution mechanism of software. Staff manage and update entries in Software Finder, ensuring that it is always up-to-date. Student feedback is positive: Software Finder has been accessed over 95,700 times since launch and is externally recognized for its ‘comprehensive and accessible’ features.
John Sotillo, Director of Information Services notes: “Information Services undertake a range of important work to support the university and I am delighted that tonight we were able to reflect on the carefully planned work we do collaboratively with colleagues across the university when we collected two annual UCISA awards at a gala evening as part of the UCISA Leadership Conference in Manchester on 30 March”.
Who are UCISA?
The Universities and Colleges Information Systems Association is the member-led professional body for IT and digital practitioners in UK education, leading digital value in the sector.
The UCISA Awards recognise, celebrate and promote the outstanding achievements and innovation of staff working in or supporting technology in UCISA member organisations, and the application of digital solutions which positively transform the experience of students, academics and professional staff.
Image: l to r, John Sotillo, Director of Information Services; James McCrea, Head of Enterprise Systems; Dan Clark, Head of Technology Enhanced Learning. credit – UCISA