Accessibility by design at the Dyson Institute
To innovate and create our own future, we need to think differently. And to unlock the potential of all students, we need to create more inclusive learning experiences. In this episode of Texthelp Talks, we’re joined by Rachel Nowicki to discuss all things accessibility by design.
Rae is the Disability Support Advisor at the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology. She discusses the Institute’s approach to inclusion and how this gives their Neurodiverse students opportunities to succeed with engineering and maths from day one.
Read Rae’s recent article in AdvanceHE, “A proactive approach to neurodiversity in higher education”. And learn more about the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology, by checking out their website and following them on Instagram.
Paddy McGrath (00:00:15):
Welcome to another episode of the Texthelp Talks podcast, the podcast where we chat and hopefully have some fun with a host of experts covering a range of topics from education right through into the workplace. So, make sure you subscribe through your preferred podcast player or streaming service, so you never miss an episode. And of course, you can always join the conversation using the hashtag TexthelpTalks on Twitter. I'd really encourage you to take part in the conversation that you're going to hear from today. It is a fascinating insight from our very special guest today. Just jump on Twitter and ask any questions of Rachel and we'll put those to her after today's broadcast.
So, I'm Paddy McGrath or Patrick McGrath as some of you know me by, and of course, I'm Head of Education Strategy here at Texthelp. At Texthelp of course, it's our mission to help unlock everyone's full potential, to help everyone understand and be understood. We aim to do that through technology and by helping to spread the word around inclusion. What it is, what it can be and how we get there. We love hearing from other like-minded people who are passionate about education, accessibility and technology. And today, we have a very, very special guest Rachel Nowicki from the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology. So, let's find out a little bit more about our guest Rachel, or otherwise known, and I'll be referring to her today as Rae. And apparently that, I think was designated by the Dyson Institute, and all of your colleagues do call you that, Rae.
So, Rae set out as a secondary maths teacher back in 2005 and spent over a decade in this area. Whilst teaching maths had always been enjoyable, a real passion came early on in her career for additional pastoral rules, including head of year and SENCo. She didn't. I expect, imagine that one day she would work for Dyson. However, a dream student support advisor rule came up with the Dyson Institute, bringing Rae into the world of engineering, apprentices and higher education. This role was focused on wellbeing, mental health support and coaching. Two years in now, and the passion for students to have what they need to thrive was in full swing.
After the Dyson Institute got new degree awarding powers, a disability department was formed, currently consisting solely of Rae and we'll explore that when we talked to her, in September, 2021. So far, with the support of the amazing teams at the institute, Rae has developed the policy and procedures in this area, putting many things in place, which we'll cover in our chat. Clearly a very busy role for Rae, but she's loving the challenge and opportunity to shape what disability support looks like at the Dyson Institute.
So today, we have the very, very great privilege of chatting to Rae about her work and that of the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology. And if you're not aware of the Dyson Institute, their mission is that every day they work to build challenging and enriching educational experiences, which are free, student-centric, and aligned with the needs of industry. And that ties into their vision, which is to develop engineering leaders of the future. We're keen to discover their approach to inclusive practice, particularly today, to look at the world of maths and what steps they're taking to ensure that this core subject in science and engineering is and stays accessible to all. So with that Rae, hopefully that bio did you justice. So, a huge welcome to this episode of Texthelp Talks. Hi, are you?
Rachel Nowicki (03:35):
I'm good, thank you. Thank you so much for having me. It's really exciting to be on a podcast today. I'm quite excited about this.
Great. Well, you're very welcome, but Rach, I just want to kick off with a few questions as we go through and imagine, I suppose, in your bio and the lead in there about Dyson and the Dyson Institute, and I suppose I talked about that in a way that everybody suddenly knew who the Dyson Institute was, but maybe you can give us a little bit of a background to the Dyson Institute. I mean, where did that develop from and what's its aims and objectives as an Institute?
Yeah, so the Dyson Institute was formed approximately five years ago. So, we had our first lot of graduates last year, so last summer. And it was formed from an acknowledgement, particularly from James Dyson, that there is a lack of engineers, there's an industry need for more engineers and challenging that at government level and being told, "Then set up an institution to help bridge that gap." And so the Dyson Institute was formed and for the first four years of that, I guess, I think, make sure I get that right, Warwick University have delivered that degree, or more specifically WMG, which is Warwick Manufacturing Group have actually delivered the degree, although it has been onsite at Dyson in the main headquarters in Wiltshire.
So, the course is run here, the lecturers come down and deliver it. And then during that first four years, what we did is set out to get our own degree-awarding powers, which we were then successful with. And as of September, we've now become an independent institution and we can deliver our own degree. At the moment, that is just one pathway, which is a bachelor of engineering and it's general engineering degree apprenticeship.
And is that a first in the UK, Rae, for an entity, such as a commercial entity such as Dyson to do that? I hadn't come across-
My understanding is that we're leading the way, yes. Although, I'm aware that there are some very cool other specialist institutions. But yes, I understand that we're one of the first to do that. And it's a super exciting place to be for that reason. We really are leading the way and we have some values at Dyson around being pioneering and different and authentic. I think that we get to be all of those at the institute and really putting this new way of learning. And our undergraduates are engineers in Dyson from day one and they split their week between learning and working.
You know what's funny, Rae, doing lots of chats about maths at all sorts of ages, you hear about mild anxiety, of course. We won't have time probably to touch upon something like that today, but a lot of the things you hear from students young and more mature, is the the lack of relevancy, I suppose, with maths sometimes, the abstract nature of it. I guess with the programs you're putting in place with Dyson, the relevancy is quite immediate to what you're studying there because you're in a live, engineering environment and there must be very, very tight direct links in there. So, it must really ramp up the relevancy from day one, I guess?
Absolutely, yeah. So our undergraduates can go and see real, in life situations, that are unfolding in the workplace where they can apply their learning straight away. So, from lecture room to workplace within a week, and sometimes that's not always aligned to what they're learning right at the time, so it might come at different stages, but it definitely makes a huge difference and it works both ways. So, I've heard of undergraduates because they've been in their electronics rotation for example, when the electronics module comes up, they're feeling really prepared for that and seeing what they were starting to pick up in the workplace comes into play in their learning and it happens both ways, which is really lovely to hear.
Brilliant. Well, let's think about when in our opener there, we talked about the fact that we wanted the explore inclusion within the Institute. I've read some pieces that you've written and we'll link to those in the show notes. We'll talk about them a little bit later, but a fascinating insight, but can you give us a nutshell overview of what the institute's approaching then obviously your direct approach is as leading that charge to inclusion in that learning environment?
Yes. So, I like to think that we have a bit of a three-pronged attack to inclusion, that I like to talk about. So, the first is that anticipatory side of things. So, we anticipate that people are going to come in with different backgrounds, different needs, different learning styles. And we do, I think a great job, at trying to approach that from day one. So, from day one, there's as inclusive an environment as we can possibly provide. So, some examples of that would be things like our lecture theaters are incredibly inclusive, there's screens down the side as well as at the front, there's rising desks if you need them, every lecture is recorded and you can watch it back with a transcript or we give notes out ahead of time. So, there's lots of different formats for the information that our undergraduates need to receive.
Every undergraduate that walks through the door gets given a laptop to work with, and then that's where software such as Equatio is coming in. So, we're also making sure there's a really good suite of software to support those undergraduates as well, so it's that real ... So, the first thing is that we anticipate this is going to happen and we put really good provision in place.
The next bit is designing that bespoke support that some people might need with that higher level of need, or something slightly different going on for them. And we can put bespoke support plans in place, whether that's to do with the workplace or the learning environment, exams and assessments, all those sorts of things.
Then the third one for me, and this is something that I've been really developing since I took this role on in September, is the celebration side of things, and really celebrating diversity and what that brings to the engineering community and the student body and the workplace. So it's that, yeah, so we anticipate we design, we celebrate. That would be my summary, probably.
Yeah. There's a couple of things out of that, I mean, it's brilliant and it's so exciting to hear that accessible by design is placed first there, that's in mind first. There's no bolt-ons seemingly after this, in anything that you've talked about there, of course, which is very, very exciting. I read somewhere, or did I read somewhere, that you screen or voluntarily screen all students? Is that right? Can you delve into that a little bit more just for our listeners?
Yeah. So all of our undergraduates, so this is only since September, since we became an independent institution, all of our undergraduates have the opportunity when they first arrived to take part in a screening, which is an online assessment. It gives back a profile to our undergraduates, of the ways in which they learn, their strengths, maybe the areas they might have more difficulties in. It's broken down into the different sections of the brain, things like the numeracy and literacy, but also verbal memory, non-verbal memory, executive function, those sorts of things. And for us, so that may highlight that someone has a neurodiverse need in one of those areas, if they perhaps are slightly divergent away from the norm, but it allows us to open up that conversation very early on and create an environment, I hope, that students come in and can have that conversation with us.
I suppose the fascinating thing about that is that you're able in that instance, to focus very much on strengths and on opportunities of that neurodiversity, and it's not ... being accessible by design means that you're not even considering deficits there because everything you design from the ground up has those things addressed, or at least should do, in an accessible environment, accessible way. So, it must leave you to be able to, I guess, focus on those strengths. Would you agree with that?
Yes, definitely. I do think it's been such an interesting process to bring us on and start having those conversations because it definitely discovers people's strengths. It does also talk about difficulty, of course, and I think that's so important. A large proportion of our student body is neurodiverse. That's one of our strengths, I think. I think it's the strength for engineering, to have those different ways of thinking let's say, brought into the industry. So, I never want to undermine how difficult that can be for some people, ever. However, it gives a great opportunity to focus on strengths.
I can just give an example of ... So, a colleague that I worked with was dyslexic at university, for example, and he's really happy to share that and I don't think he'll mind me saying this. I sat down with him one day and said, "This is what I want to do. There's Neurodiversity Awareness Week coming up, I really want to celebrate this side of things." I sat down and showed him some of the real positive traits that can come from different areas in neurodiversity. It was the first time that he said, "I've never considered that my dyslexia is a strength, and I can now see why I'm good at my job and why sometimes I can see things that other people can't." Just that conversation has been spreading across the Institute and that's a real joy for me.
Yeah. And it's good to see that. I mean, I've noticed recently, you mentioned dyslexia there. I mean, things like the tag dyslexic thinking on LinkedIn now, I think that was championed by Mady by Dyslexia, but irrespective of how you view that and what your individual viewpoints are on tags or labels in that, I think it gives people a voice and allows people to recognise things. And it allows people to recognise those strengths as well and the differences that exist.
And as part of that, you've mentioned there about the laptop, and you mentioned about the multiple screens in the lecture theaters, you mentioned about different ways to represent learning, so different types of learning materials as well. It struck me when I was listening to you there and in some of the pieces I read about the institute and your work before, that's very much based on universal design for learning principles. Is that deliberate on your part? Have you adopted that framework or have you almost fallen into it by simply focusing on accessible design?
It's a really lovely question. When I looked at universal design for learning, I realised we do definitely take on the key ethos that they're presenting in that framework. It is by accident, if you like. It's by approaching our learning with accessibility in mind as early on as possible, that I think we are naturally falling into that framework by chance. It's definitely something I'd like to look at closer that I don't know loads about at the moment, but it certainly seems to align with how we've designed our course.
It's interesting. I know we were talking previously about this, in previous conversation, but what I find when we talk about universal design for learning, just when you recognise the strands and you talked about reading through UDL principles, when you recognise the strands suddenly so many educators that are like yourself, that are passionate about inclusion, that are passionate about neurodiversity, they set up and they go, "Well, hold on a minute, we already do that. That's the approach we take." Sometimes these things are just good practice. They don't necessarily have to have a label I guess, around them, but it can be useful for others to have that label.
But if you take that approach, whether it's UDL, or whether it's the approaches that you've taken, is it difficult to get your colleagues and your peers on the same page on things like this? Because they may well become, I guess, teaching in another third level institution, where these things aren't, I suppose, as maybe prevalent as they are in Dyson. So, is it difficult to get them enthused and get them on board with the strategies that you're putting in play?
I think that that's a really good question. I think we're very blessed at the institute because we are very much in our early stages of developing our own course. Of course, there's a lot of work going into that before September, of course, but we've got an academic team who want to be there, designing and creating and doing something different. I think because of that, I've got some ... The academic team are super on board. Whenever I go to any of them and talk through something, they've been so receptive to changing the look of the PowerPoint to make it more accessible, or whatever it is that they can do, and presenting information in different ways. When someone's really struggling, offering that one-to-one support with them, and they've been really brilliant. I think the challenge is everyone's very busy because we're in this phase.
So, I think it's just my job to make sure that's still in people's minds. Because I really appreciate that this is what I live and breathe every day and I feel passionate about it and I do it all the time, and just remembering that that's not everybody's every day. And so it's just bringing it to the forefront for people.
I also think I've started that journey as well with our line managers in the workplace. That's tricky just merely because of the size of the organisation and the number of line managers that might end up working with our undergraduates. They're not in the educational world, they're in the engineering workforce, so it's very different environment. So, I think again, some very, very onboard, super helpful people in there, but it's just spreading the word to as many people as possible and put it on the agenda.
Not sounding to me like you're very busy at all Rae in any way, you don't even have much to do there, but I think what's fascinating about what you said there is just that whole ... And you said at the outset, I think you used the word blessed, with that body of staff that you have, that culture that's already there and building. I suppose the challenge is always to sustain that through what are busy times. I mean, I talk to people a lot about, all these small changes you can make just to help with accessibility, just change your font, or increase the contrast. And people are like, "Do you realise how busy I am and how actually challenging you've just ... the challenge you've thrown down to me? This one thing is going to take me three weeks of my life to change my presentations." But I guess you've got a little bit of a more fresh approach to it with starting as you mean to go on and building that as you go out.
So, let's talk about ... I don't know, well, it's maybe not your favourite subject because you're here to talk about inclusion and inclusive practice, but I want to talk about maths for a bit if that's okay? Because we're thinking about the barriers that exist in learning with maths, particularly for neurodiverse students and what sort of challenges have you seen, either at the institute or your previous teaching career, what challenges have you seen that neurodiverse students actually face with maths? What are the main blockers? What are the challenges that are there? And I'm not even thinking digitally at this point in time, just generally, what are the challenges that they face?
So, I can certainly speak from the institute perspectives. I should probably just set the scene a little bit and our undergraduates, it's high achievement level to come in. We have very high-achieving undergraduates. It's a competitive process to get here and they are incredible people, very determined. They're an incredible student body. And for me, the difficulties that I've probably witnessed and I've really picked this up ... I was a support advisor for two years and that meant I met monthly with a whole year group of people and really got to understand the ups and downs of the course and what's going on. I think a lot of our undergraduates come from doing mathematical and science-based A levels and they get here and we have a big emphasis on coursework. It's not just exam. It's very 60/40 exams coursework for the first two years. And then it switches, the second two years is like 60% coursework. So, it's really important. I think it's that level of academic writing that includes mathematical content and trying to bring those two elements together. That's I would say by far the biggest challenge for our undergraduates.
Yeah, so the thing about that, so I suppose you maybe got two challenges there. You got the accessible challenge, maths that they come across in papers or in a previous thesis from somewhere else, or some academic papers, making sure that's accessible, I guess. I mean, I see that as a challenge, but it's interesting what you say and I'd never quite thought about it in those terms, that actually ... A bit of background from my perspective, when we talk about very naturally talent mathematicians and engineers, we talk about at a very high maths level. There's often, particularly for those who perhaps have had dyslexia, or live with dyslexia, they may also have dyscalculia traits, which actually do impact very fundamental basics of maths, but don't necessarily impact that very high level of maths that they're engaged with. So, I mean, that's an interesting parallel there, but I guess that ability to articulate maths, and it's maybe fair to say and you can clarify this maybe and tell me better, is that the tools can get in the way, is the frustration of the tools get in the way of, "Right, I am now writing an academic piece of coursework, or my full dissertation. And at that stage, actually it's the tools make it difficult for me to express the mathematical content." Would that be fair, or no?
Yes, I do think the ... So, for example, trying to create equations in the context of a academic report or essay is challenging. It's an added challenge on top of creating something very literacy-based, which a lot of our undergraduates are not necessarily used to, having done very scientific A levels and a high percentage of our undergraduate body are dyslexic. That's what that's our biggest need by far, but also ADHD, autism and dyspraxia also there amongst our needs. I think, yeah, so it's all the added challenges of doing this complicated piece of work, but then being able to produce mathematical content in that, especially I think if you're a gifted mathematician and it flows quite quickly, having to get that into an IT format is quite frustrating, I imagine.
Keeping pace with your brain in terms of articulating it in a piece of coursework. Yeah, that's interesting. I suppose the digital world that you live in, you talked about every student gets a laptop and I guess, the coursework that you talk about is always going to be digital. I guess the learning environment is always going to be digital. So, does that then present its own individual challenges just in the same way?
Yes. All coursework is digital. So absolutely, it is ... and we've obviously also been at the stage of setting up the systems to support that. So we're still so in early on in our stages as well, that yeah, it can create quite a challenge.
But then on, on the flip side of that then, we were talking about students and we talked earlier about getting your colleagues and your peers onboard with the inclusive approach. Does that mean that you have an education piece to do with your colleagues to make sure that whatever they're designing in terms of course assignments and coursework set through your LMS-type systems, that has to have an inclusive approach to it, I guess as well? So they need access to the same level of tools as the students do?
Yes. So, I don't think I've necessarily described this to you, but the way that we've been developing our software offering is, it's been going on for most of this academic year. I am lucky to have a lot of positive things in my role, and being able to onboard new software without much of a challenge financially is great, but actually onboarding software to a Dyson laptop that will interact with some very sensitive information that we need to protect hasn't been easy. That's a really long process for us. It needs to go through privacy measures. It needs to go through cybersecurity measures. So, the process to get some of this software has been a long one, but it's very much been planned in a staged approach.
The way that we've done that is we've worked with an external company to help advise us on what software would be great, because Dyson itself has loads of great software, but it's not necessarily based in the educational environment. So, it was about getting some more of those educational software onboard and then we had a series of training with that company that our staff are all invited to get more knowledge for them. We're currently in the phase of now bringing the undergraduates onboard and really promoting it. So, it's taken a little while, but we're at a really good stage now, but definitely part of that has been getting the staff onboard along the way.
Take a step back then maybe from that, and you talked about getting that external company involved and the support and the resources, I guess you have internally. But if you think about the challenges that you threw out with maths earlier on, that we all see, and we all identify with, and know need to be addressed, when you started to explore a maths solution for inclusive practice, what were you actually aiming to achieve in that? I mean specifically, I mean, yes, I get you want a more inclusive environment, you want all of that. You need all of that, but specifically, what was it about for you? When you said, "Right, here's my shopping list. I need to go out and I need to get a piece of software that helps me here?" What were you trying to achieve with that?
I think it is in a nutshell, I want it to be as inclusive as we could. And it's that anticipatory approach that we were talking about earlier, making this as approachable as possible, as accessible as possible. I guess when I set out, there was a slightly broader picture of, we don't have the right kind of software for an educational environment. We do have software that Dyson offers, but it's not quite fitting the educational side of things. It was about developing that and useful strategies. I will admit before doing that, so it was the external company that suggested several software and Equatio being one of them. I must admit, I hadn't even been aware that that existed and this might be jumping ahead some questions potentially, but I will say that every time I've explained to an undergrad, "We've got this software, this is what it does, I've trialed it." And anyone was allowed to come along and be part of that trial. Every single time without fail, their minds have been blown at what that software can do and the fact that solved so many problems that they had, that I possibly hadn't even identified. I just knew that I wanted this more inclusive software suite but without fail.
There was a lovely moment last Friday, where what I've been doing is all of our year groups meet fortnightly as a year group, just together and as a whole institute. I popped in, and I'd just been doing a spotlight on software just to really get the undergraduates onboard. I went in and I did a bit of a stint, it was actually on some of the office features. I said, "Next time, I'm going to talk about this software we have, Equatio." And someone in the room put their hand up said, "Can I just say something?" I said, "Of course." He said, "I can't tell you how helpful Equatio has been. It is so incredible. I can take my handwritten notes in OneNote and snap it and then put it into a Word format." And someone else said, "Ah, but will it read really bad handwriting?" I just did a demo there and then, just using my finger on the handwriting tool. And just that response for me is what I'm looking for, is that buy-in from undergraduates, it's actually made a difference to them.
That must be, I suppose, the strength though in the model that you're pursuing, where you go, "Look, I'm going to line up the best tools that I or external companies can advise us to, but that you've identified and say, "Look, I'm going to give these." Students are going to have the toolkit that they need for success, irrespective of their differences or their individual strengths. They've got those tools.
But the surprising thing, I guess, that comes out of it are moments like that, where you go, "I never thought about using it like that," or, "I never thought that ... " if you give that breadth of tools and that UDL approach of, "Look, we'll just give them multiple ways to express that, or generate that, or engage with that maths thing." Then that sense of independence and discoverability of, "Oh, I can do it this way and I can do it that way." And that for me ... I agree with you on that, that's the thing. I like to think I know a wee bit about Equatio and they get me up to talk about it loads, and then you just go and you'll go into a year eight class and there'll be an 11 year old there and they'll go, "Yeah, but have you seen this?" And you're like, "No," you learn something new as well about ... Not so much about the feature, but about how they're using it to really, really help learn and I find that fascinating.
I always talk about, with technology in particular, how much we need to provide the opportunity to use it. If we provide the opportunity to use it, whatever that technology is, that we see all these different outcomes, that I started this question going, "What did you want to achieve by this?" And some of those things, I'm sure you didn't ever set out to achieve, but you're achieving them with your students.
Yes, absolutely. I think that was my point. I started out just wanting an inclusive software suite, but I couldn't predict just the outcomes that would have for the undergraduates and the impact that could have.
Totally. So, one of the questions that I've thought about in advance, actually you've almost answered, which is how do you envisage students using Equatio? But I think the thing is there for me, of the ways they're using it, you could never have envisaged. So, they're being creative with it. Would that be a fair enough summary of it, yeah?
Yes, yeah. We launched it as a lunch and learn session and people came along and we got the trial up and running on their laptops and immediately I showed them a few things, but immediately they were running with it. I think the way I like to think about it is, well, they immediately tried to break it. Like, "I'm going to push it to its limits. What can it do?" I think that's a great approach. Immediately they were telling me in that session, "Oh, but if you go into the menu and do this, you can change that." I was like, "Oh yeah." And they can run with it so much faster than I can.
Yeah. No, absolutely. And that's the great thing to watch though, isn't it? Again, it's about giving the opportunity, I guess. See, you talked about there in terms of students, you did sort of lunch and learn, but as you look ahead to next year and equipping students with the tools, beyond that simple onboarding piece where look tech deployment's one thing and then the initial student introduction, with tools like this and obviously you're using many other tools as well, how do you keep momentum with students? How do you keep that going and ensure that they're actually getting what they need from it? It's not about value for money. It's not about using the tools that you've paid for. It's about making sure, obviously, that they get their use out of it and it helps them and learn. How do you keep that going?
I've thought about this in a lot of different ways actually, and I think it's so important because the lunch and learn I did during Neurodiversity Celebration Week, as part of that awareness piece of things that we're doing at the institute for inclusion. It was really important to me that we don't only talk about those things during Neurodiversity Celebration Week, that it becomes an ongoing drip feed of information that's really important to our undergraduates.
So we've done this, as I mentioned, this spotlight on software, where I'm going into regular meetings and I'm going once a month for each year group and just presenting something more and just keeping that conversation going. I think it's also about getting staff onboard and the more that we see staff perhaps using it in the lecture environment, for example, that that can help keep that momentum going. The other thing for me is moving forward, because this has been quite a new thing for us, what's really lovely about the site license approach is that our undergraduates who are under Warwick or WMG can also access this, which is great, but around about October time, once the initial induction period is settled and people are at work and started their lectures, I intend to ... The external company that supports us to come in and run workshops and I would like that to be an annual thing so that during the first term, that any of our undergraduates are with us, they will have the opportunity to attend workshops that are designed specifically to help them understand what software is on their computer and how that can help them in their course and in their workplace, and that will become an annual thing. Then it's, I think all opportunities.
So the other thing is, I've not mentioned these people and they're incredible people, the student support advisors. So, each year group has a student support advisor, and that means they get access to a one-to-one conversation on a minimum of a monthly basis to discuss anything they want, whether that's time management, whether it's stress management, whether it's learning independent skills about living away from home, or whatever it is. I think making sure that team of people are really aware and they can see that when there's perhaps an issue coming through on a one-to-one basis that they know they can suggest software that will support that, or come talk to me and we can take it through. So it's that I think, coming through the staff from different ways, whether that's the support team, whether it's the academic team, the workplace team, or myself, that these conversations are just able to happen as often as possible.
Yeah, no, absolutely. Really important and solid plan. You mentioned something there and I just want to come back to it and I apologise, it's going to sound horribly commercial and I genuinely don't mean it to sound horribly commercial, because what's interesting is the conversation in higher ed and in further education, even in schools, about software. It's that you mentioned it in almost a commercial sense there, where you said, "Oh, we have a site license," right?
And of course, for anybody listening, who go on site license, every student then has access to the same tool. But obviously there's always that conversation ongoing where a school, or a college, or a higher ed institution go, "Well, can I not just give it to the pupils and the students who need it, and that have been assessed, or that have expressed to me that they have a particular challenge?" I'd just love, just as we start to wrap up here today, what's your view on that? Because you talked about it earlier about giving everybody access to the laptop and all of the tools. Why is that so important that everybody has access to the same thing without asking?
It's so important to us because, particularly for our environment and for engineering for us, collaboration is really important. Well, that's just one reason. So, a lot of our course work is group-based and it makes it so much easier when people have access to the same software and can edit things and that sort of thing. So, that's one reason. But also, one thing I've really learned since being here, is people come here with unidentified needs and there will be, for all the people that are diagnosed or highlighted with something, there are other people who may have similar struggles that are currently not diagnosed or highlighted. I've seen that a lot because of the type of student we get, we are doing an engineering degree apprenticeship that naturally attracts a lot of neurodiverse people, which I think is incredible. A lot of them have had lots of support and masking strategies up until this point.
Then at our level of learning, a lot of challenges come into play. We talked about that independence of learning, but it's also the independence outside of learning. They're learning to manage life and all of these challenges and a workplace. For some of them, that might be the first time they've been in a work environment. All of these challenges. I think sometimes we start to see needs that hadn't been previously identified and what this, allowing the software for everyone does, is it supports those that are either identified or not identified, as well as allowing that collaboration between all the different styles of learning. People who like to dictate, people like to hand-write, people prefer to use the LaTex coding, it suits everyone.
Yeah. I tend to talk a lot in a similar way that you've talked, about that learning iceberg and it's a keynote and a presentation that I do in lots of places. But I think the importance of that is to reinforce exactly what you've said, which is we're familiar with that 10%. I know they're just rough figures, the iceberg analogy, but that percentage of students that sit above the waterline, okay, we know what their individual challenge is. They have been screened, or they've been assessed, or identified, but the sheer volume of students that are sitting underneath that waterline, that just get on with things because that's the way they've always done it when they could be availing of the support. And that's the thing that, for me, I'm most passionate about addressing in anything I do. So I'm so glad and genuinely Rae, we didn't talk about this before today.
No, not planned.
No, we're just on the same wavelength, which is good. That's definitely for me, a big Texthelp thing as well, is to help everybody understand and be understood, as we always talk about. So, we've talked about a lot there, Rae, you've clearly an awful lot going on there. You've achieved a lot of really wonderful things over the recent period of time in your role in Dyson, but what's next to take on? Is it about embedding? Is it about making sure that you continue to be inclusive, which I'm sure you want to do. Is it about new projects that are coming up? Or what's the priority for the year ahead and your role at Dyson?
So, I've got a lot of things that I want to focus on. A big one is embed all this great practice we've been building up this year, is making sure that is ... becomes part of our ethos and is just there all the time. A really lovely thing that's been happening and I hope it's because we've been open up the celebration conversation, as well as the difficulty conversation, of undergraduates are coming to you saying they want to be a voice for disability and for neurodiversity. And they're really keen to advocate and make it inclusive with us. So, working with the undergraduates and with undergraduate voice, it's really important.
Our academic team is constantly growing because we're growing that side of things. So, I think working with them. You mentioned about coursework assignments, and I really want to make sure that's done in the most inclusive way possible. And a big one for me is workplace, is making sure that we're getting the real ... I think we've got some really leading adjustments that we put in place for our academic side. And I think we're getting there in the workplace, but my understanding of that and developing that is something that I really want to look at moving forward.
I think I can only give you one piece of advice after hearing all of that Rae, and it's just make sure you get a good rest up this summer, because there's clearly a lot of work ahead, which is great, but it's exciting I guess, at the same time. You know-
I think it's super exciting and it's really important not just to go, "I made a good start and rest." I think I definitely want to keep that momentum of ... I really want our approach to inclusion, to be sector-leading. I don't want to rest on that. I want to keep moving with it.
Clearly leading the way there. Whenever I joined Texthelp, we have our words that describe our culture and one of the words there is empowerment, and it allows us to move on with things, to push things ahead, to drive initiatives without necessarily asking for permission at times, which is great, but it strikes me that you feel empowered in the role that you're in. You're clearly given support and tools and access to finance and stuff there, that can really help drive things forward and that's really, really exciting to hear about.
So, unfortunately Rae, we've got to wind up our podcast today. It's been a wonderful hour spent with you just talking through these steps, where there was lots of stuff covered. Your view on what the Dyson Institute have put in place, what you've been able to achieve in your role. We talked about the site licenses and more importantly, never mind site license, the availability for every student, irrespective of their needs, or identified needs, or their barriers that they're facing, to have access to the right tools.
For me, what was really exciting about today was actually looking at that accessibility first strategy. When you opened up today and you talked about the multiple screens and the multiple different formats and things, that's really exciting because that's the stuff we really want to inspire other people to do. So look, thank you for your inspiration today and your work to date. Hopefully we'll stay in touch. I would encourage any of our listeners to absolutely join the conversation using the hashtag TexthelpTalks on Twitter. Do ask Rae a question, I'm sure she'll be only too happy to answer. And Rae, are you on Twitter? I never thought to ask you this before today. Can we follow you on Twitter?
I am not currently on Twitter. We definitely have Dyson Institute accounts which are worth following. Instagram's brilliant. We've got a team that just really put good content out there, so definitely find us there.
That's perfect. So what we'll do Rae, we'll put those in the show notes and if people want to know just generally more about the Dyson Institute, where can they find out more?
Yeah, so we've got our website, dysoninstitute.com, do check out the Instagram that we put out. I also did write a piece in Advance HE, so a blog around our approach to inclusion, well, to neurodiversity specifically. So, please feel free to check that out as well.
Brilliant. And what we'll do is again, we'll put those in the show notes and we'll make sure everybody has access to those. And if it's okay with you after this episode goes out, I will on my own Twitter channel and the Texthelp channel, will link out those notes as well. I would encourage everybody to read the blog that Rae had put out. I read it a week or so ago and found it absolutely brilliant. It was a shame that I hadn't come across before now. Maybe it was only out a week ago, Rae, I don't know, but it was a really, really good piece. I think summed up your approach and the institute's approach to inclusion. A really, really good read. So Rae, thank you so much. It's been a brilliant hour spent with you today and I'll send you on your way today, to go do what you've been doing for quite some time now, which is change the world with your approach to inclusion. Rae Nowicki, thank you very, very much.
Thank you so much for having me, Paddy. Thank you.