I'm Greg Alchin. I work as a Collaborative Learning Technologies Officer with the NSW Department of Education and Communities' Rural and Distance Education Unit in Bathurst.
I feel very excited about the work we undertake at the Rural and Distance Education Unit. The work is exciting, varied and challenging and we all feel we are making a difference to student outcomes in rural remote NSW.
A key priority of my role involves providing professional support to teachers in rural remote and distance education settings about learning design and its application to learning materials for distance and blended learning.
There are several factors that have made a huge difference to me in how I undertake my role within our unit. Firstly I am part of a cohesive and supportive team with a common focus. Our team's spirit is worth its weight in gold! The other key factors are the support from the Technical Equipment Program (TEP) and the Staff with Disabilities Network (SWDN), both of which have had a significant impact upon my career.
My left eye is a prosthesis and through my right eye I am classified as legally blind. The equipment I have been provided with through TEP certainly has allowed me to undertake all of my duties in an equitable and competitive fashion. The exciting thing is that some of the technologies I use daily such as the iPad has also led me to 'pay it forward'.
In one example in 2011 we conducted a series of professional development sessions on mobile learning via video conference with an average of 400 teachers from across the state in each session. The opportunity to share with my education colleagues how the iPad can support a diverse range of learning needs was a rewarding experience.
As mentioned, access to professional development has also created new opportunities for me. In 2011 I was privileged to receive financial support from the Staff with Disabilities Network to undertake professional development in the area of Usability - in particular, how people behave when using the Web, and how to design websites to improve engagement and comprehension for online learners
One of the key points was that applying traditional paper based information design rules to digital online learning environments can create disabling situations and lead to a 20% decrease in reading efficiency. This training was invaluable to me particularly in light of my role within the Rural and Distance Education Unit and the fact that many of the students enrolling in distance education are identified as having significant support needs.
The professional development funded by SWDN has also played an important role in other opportunities that have become available to me. The professional development in usability led me to apply for a NSW Premier's Teacher Scholarship in special education. As I write this article I am currently working at the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) in Boston, USA, as part of the scholarship I was awarded.
CAST is a world leading research and development organization that works to expand learning opportunities for all individuals, especially those with disabilities, through Universal Design for Learning.
I would like to thank the Staff with Disabilities Network for the work that they do and the opportunities they provide. I have found their support invaluable. I hope that the work I am undertaking now as a result of the support of the Network will assist teachers to better support all students achieve their potential.